Museums of obsolete technology

How do we exhibit technologies we no longer depend on? As in…when was the last time you wrote on handmade paper?

Today we visited Il Museo della Carta, the Museum of Paper, in Amalfi. Once upon a time…starting in the 13th c. for Europe…people wrote on paper that was made from old clothes or any textiles that were no longer useful. Paper was invented in China in the 1st c., and came to Europe via the Moslems in North Africa and the Iberian peninsula. The city of Amalfi on the east coast of Italy just south of Naples was one of the strongest maritime powers in the Mediterranean in the 13th c. (the others were Genoa on the northeast coast and Venice on the northwest coast). Amalfi is located directly on the water and at the foot of a mountain range with many natural springs. The springs were used to power mills to make all sorts of things…including paper. The mill we visited today was built in the 13th c. and functioned into the 1960s! The last owner made provisions in his will to turn the mill into a museum.

The photos below show views outside and inside the mill, including the spring that was funneled into the structure to serve different mill wheels, each of which did a different job in the creation of paper.

The basin where the textile pulp is blended with water for scooping onto a screen…to make your sheet of paper.

This is an old press for flatening the newly made paper after it has dried.

At the left of this image is a cupboard that protect workers from the wheel carrying water that moves the “textile smashers.” This was incredibly loud and dangerous! The two vertical posts move up and down in a stone basin, thus smashing the textile into pulp.

These stone basins and sluices are cut from the mountain and either allow the water to move forward or direct it via basins into the mill where it runs the various wheels.

One member of our group is dipping the screen into the slurry of pulped textile and water; she will then lift it up with “raw paper” on it. That is then pressed onto the leather at the far right where it is allowed to dry before it is “finished” with a sizing. In the Middle Ages sizing was made from boiled rabbit bones; today it is made from a vegetable product.

The screen is at right and its frame is at left. You can see the slurry of textile and water in the stone basin.

And how did they bleach the slurry and make it white? In the Middle Ages urine was used…animal and human.

This museum is at a high point in the city of Amalfi…not at the top of the mountain but high enough that the water still comes rushing swiftly through to power the wheels.

What are the “museums of obsolete technologies” of the future? Have you visited a “museum of obsolete technology”? What do you think of this museum?