Specious Space: EXERCISE 1b_ the number of hectares of forest. . .

Specious Space: EXERCISE 1b_ the number of hectares of forest. . .

The space of a sheet of paper (regulation international size, as used in Government departments, on sale at all stationers) measures 623.7 sq. cm. You have to write a little over sixteen pages to take up one square metre. Assuming the average format of a book to be 21 by 29.7 cm, you could, if you were to pull apart all the printed books kept in the Bibliotheque Nationale and spread the pages carefully out one beside the other, cover the whole, either, island of St. Helena or of Lake Trasimeno.

You could also work out the number of hectares of forest that have had to be felled in order the produce the paper needed to print the works of Alexander Dumas (pere), who, it will be remembered, had a tower built each stone of which had the title of one of his books.[1]

With an observation and imperative, George Perec, in Species of Spaces, thus invites us into the page.

More than exacting, his tabulation pits the vast references of a copyright library over and against sites of symbolic enclosure (islands, lakes without inlets). Considered together— as the climax (formerly Papal, Département de Trasimène) and exhaustion (exile on St. Helena) of Napoleonic Empire— each site is quantitatively comparable at 122 and 128 km2. Yet figuring this other national space, by ascertaining a page count for all the books in the Bibliographie de la France presents an improbable, if not impossible task.[2]

No matter. Perec, in equal parts, is precise and associative. Capitalizing on our lack of geographic imagination, he shapes our faith in standards and extrapolations into flights of fancy. Even his slips—substituting A4 writing sheets (21 by 29.7 cm) for an average A5 paperback format—establish an empathy with us, as typist, writers, and speculative anthropologists.[3]

Perec’s second embrace of the page—the invitation to ponder on the forests felled for Dumas—performs a similar ‘sleight of hand.’ Perec’s reference to Dumas’s tower aims at inverting authorial monuments and exposing alternate measures of media immortality. But, this rests on partial records. Dumas’ early editions, until his death in 1870, were printed on rag paper and not, as Perec suggests, on hectares and hectares of trees. Chemical wood-pulp, introduced in 1872, would thus be found only in the pages of ‘late’ Dumas editions.[4]

No matter. Perec’s ‘errors’ invite us to continue exploring paper, to peel apart the leaves and examine both its’ resource streams and its’ associative, social footprints and oft fantastic reading habits. So let us return, as he does, to the pages of Dumas and, “set about it more slowly, almost stupidly… to write down what is of no interest, what is most obvious, most common, most colorless. . . to see more flatly.”[5]



Absurd, but not insane, this is an amended exercise.  A single Dumas work, Les Trois Mousquetaires (hereafter Mousquetaires), provides an ideal specimen to unpack rag paper, mass-markets, and the sizable, if hidden, spaces behind books. Originally published as a ‘roman-feuilleton’ in Le Siecle  (March 14th-July 14th 1844), there were roughly ~275 editions of the Mousquetaire’s available by the time Species was published in 1974.[6]



Le Siecle’s Mousquetaire version covered the bottom third (front and back) of the paper’s first page (62×91 cm total/sheet). Edited by Dutacq, it was printed by Lange, Levy & Cie on 54 gsm (gram per square meter) rag paper furnished by the merchant Jean Baptiste Poirier. The fonts used included typical news serifs (from Didot, Laurent and Berny foundries) and the paper itself was manufactured by the Didot firm at their Croth-Sorel plant in the Eure Valley (southwest of Paris).[7]  As one of the most popular papers, Le Siecle averaged print runs between 50-65,000 during the 1840s.[8] Considered together, Dumas’s 120 page story printed 61,125 times covers nearly 4,338,652 m2 or 433.8 hectares. But that’s just a simple sheet count. What about reformatting? What about resources?

[Dumas’ Paper Sizes, Feuilleton & Muquardt editions by The Distopians (meg studer)]

The feuilleton’s three condensed column format (each, just under A4) was easily pirated and re-printed using a column/page presentation. The first Belgium edition, from Muquardt (1844, shown), took this approach, while Dumas’s contracted publisher, Baudry, released an edited version later that year.[9] A flurry followed: A6 pocket editions, A3 engraved children’s books, and everything in between. On average though, the Mousquetaire was printed as an A5 book (14.8 x 21cm). [10]  If we multiply the page count of new editions and translations by the average mass market print runs (5,000 from 1844-1880), we find that the rag paper could cover 1,110,799 m2 or 111.08 hectares. Adding on the addition wood-based paper (109,444 pages with runs from 8,000-20,000) and we find another 24,848,087 m2 (or if printed and trimmed down from A1/Siècle sheets 29,556,072 m2 or 2955.6 hectares). Paper space tallied, the question now is what is in a sheet of paper.

So, starting from the 54 gsm rag paper produced by Didot, let’s assume a similar thickness in all editions.  For rags, circa 1840, roughly 66% of collections were converted—after sorting, disinfection, bleaching, pulping, starching, etc.—to the final mass of paper.[11]  Subtracting the fairly large portions of bleach and sizing added to pulp (4 and 17 gsm), we end up with 33 gsm of rag pulp, requiring collection of 50 gsm of rags.[12] Given the relatively high cotton content of the era’s rag paper (82.5%) and the low yields of cloth fiber (8.3-20 gsm by origin and species), it would’ve taken roughly 1.748 m2 of harvest per sheet of Le Siècle and .092m2 per sheet of an A5 book.[13]  Simplified, there are roughly 2.955 ha harvested per every hectare of 54 gsm paper used.  Thus, rounding off, there are 1282 hectares of cotton harvest in the Le Siecle run and 328 in the 1844-1880 editions (variance from graphic to be discussed later).

[Dumas’ Paper Sizes, Cotton Rag Components by The Distopians (meg studer)]

Assuming a similar ratio of pulp to binding materials, we can use Spruce and Scots Pine, the standardized softwood materials of both Northern Europe and the U.S. industry circa 1900, to determine the wood footprint of post-1880 Dumas editions.[14]  Chemical pulping, by the kraft or sulphate process, dissolves wood and allows the separation of fibers. This type of paper is often know as ‘wood-free’ because it doesn’t utilize the lignin flesh in wood and thus, a gram of pulp requires about 2.2-2.5 grams of wood.[15] At 33 gsm of pulp, this necessitates at minimum 51 grams of Spruce and 21 grams of Pine. Harvest yields are much higher for woods than fiber crops (83 and 63 gsm, from m3/ton), but they also have a very different temporal structure. Spruce, in mixed plantations, is usually thinned between 15 and 74 years and then harvested, at 75, before establishing new plantations. The common forestry model, of averaged annual harvest, thus means more limbs, bark, and non-pulp-able wastes so, of the yield shown only 70% can be chemically pulped.[16] That said, if we multiply an A5 page (.031m2) by the weighted content of spruce and pine (73 gsm) and divide by the weighted yield (77 gsm at 70% usable= 53.9 gsm), we find that each A5 sheet requires .042 m2 (or 135% of its paper footprint). Thus, the paper footprint of 29,556,072 m2 requires 39,900,697 m2 or 3990 hectares.

As a grand tally, all the forests and fields harvested sum up to 5602 hectares (or 56 km2). This is roughly the lower portion of Manhattan, from Governor’s island to the top of Central Park (87.5 km2 covers the whole island). To answer Perec’s inquiry, from Union Square north to 110th St would be mixed softwood forests, with embedded 60-75 year rotations. From 14th street south to the tip of Governor’s Island, would be planted as cotton crops for a single season of harvest. Simple enough and, yet, to mix geographies and literary potential; what would New York be with without Chinatown (Little Italy), the Lower East Side, Wall Street, the Brooklyn Bridge, Holland Tunnel, and so on? What relays and social significance is lodged in the hectares of forgotten rag writting?



The Mousquetaires’ rag/cotton/flax editions stand as a great hinge: an index of the moment when literacy and literature are no longer homologous, a moment of tumultuous shifts in paper and print consumption.  Take, for example, Joseph Addison’s exaltation of ‘up-cycling’ approximately 130 years earlier. Here, serials offer a sublime resolution for rags:

When I trace in my Mind a bundle of Rags to a Quire of Spectators, I find so many Hands employ’d in everystep they take thro’ their whole Progress…I have lighted my Pipe…They likewise make a good foundation for a Mutton…[yet] to consider the Changes that a Linnen-fragment undergoes, by passing through the several Hands above-mentioned. The finest pieces of Holland, when worn to tatters, assume a new Whiteness more beautiful than their first, and often return in the shape of Letters to their Native Country… In a word, a piece of Cloath, after having officiated for some Years as a Towel or a Napkin, may by this means be raised from the Dung-hill; and become the most valuable piece of Furniture in a Prince’s Cabinet.[17]

Of course, linen rags, which constituted pulp and paper up through Addison’s era, were insufficient for 19th century manufacturing. The general adoption of Fourdrinier’s continuous sheeting machine (1807 on) and a growing body of potential consumers (Guizot’s law of 1833 formalizing elementary education) drove reciprocal increases in production capacity and end-market demand. [18] To supplement lagging linen collections, chiffoniers supplied several grades of lesser cotton rags: outshots, seconds, thirds, colours, mixed and light prints and blues (as well as various types of rope and jute rags).[19] But even together, linen and cotton remained an expensive raw resource—with rag supply crises in 1838, 1842, 1848, etc.[20]

Papeteries faced this challenge, initially, by increasing imports. Thus, the cotton rags of Le Seicle and Les Trois Mousquetaires—likely woven in either Liverpool or Roaubaix from antebellum harvests—hail from uncertain sites and durations of intermediate use. Before Fourdrinier industrialization, the rag-trade’s geography mirrored other mills resources, like the watershed, tapped for power and pulp. Regional merchants (<20 km radius) were often able to secure supplies for handicraft production. By the 1840’s, however, rags were ‘back-haul;’ linked with logistics and secured in centralized markets, near paper sales.[21] For Mousquetaires’ feuilleton edition, this would’ve been at the old markets of Les Halles, near the printers Lange, Levy & Cie on rue de Croissant, 2nd Arrondisement, Paris. In times of crisis, supplemental sources were sought from papetrier Didot’s additional print shops and paper factories in Paris, Brussels, and Essonnes. With France importing just over 700 tons by 1849, it is likely than even the chiffoniers’ stocks in Paris were just as international as Didot’s internal supplies, with local collections mixed and marketed aside German and Italian imports.[22]

Of course, with limited rag resources, papeteries also tried two additional modifications to cut costs: coatings and chemical treatments. The first approach, clay, reduced the proportionate amount of linen rags in fine papers, filling-in fiber grain for smooth printing surfaces. Introduced in 1837, clay composed up to 17.8% of fine papers by 1849.[23] The later approach, bleaching and alum addition, sought to utilize darker, dirtier, dyed grades of cotton rag. Works for the daily and emerging mass markets, like Mousquetaires, combined cheap, grey, grade-three cotton rags and bleach. To compensating for damaged fibers, aluminum sulfate was increasingly added to sizing and resin, with the initial results of better binding and surfacing. An unexpected side-effect, however, was that these industrial sulfates reacted with environmental humidity to form sulfuric acid. By the1870s, many of the preceding decade’s cotton books had consumed themselves.[24] An ironic, materialist twist on Addison’s sublime, the lack of (surviving, documented) editions of Mousquetaires between 1861 and 1879 thus secures its status as a truly mass-market book. The real hectare count from 1845-81 ought to be, at the very least, doubled to encompass the early years of private purchasing and decay (386.4 from 193.2 ha).

[Dumas’ Missing Paper Footprints, Acidic Cotton Components by The Distopians (meg studer)]

Aside acidic editions and uncertain origins, there is another, internal metric for reconsidering Dumas’s final footprint: the feuilleton circulated in collectivized forms. Many of its subscriptions were to urban cabinets de lecture, or commercial libraries, that thrived before the advent of cheap six-sous editions (1820s-50s).[25] In a cabinet—in contrast to household or individual consumption—an edition was rented daily or hourly, with reading rates as high as 40 viewers per piece.[26] Even when considered conservatively as a five-fold increase in ‘read’ editions, the amount of cotton fields (and rag collection) it would’ve taken to support individual subscriptions rises from 1282 ha to 6410 ha.  Likewise, the initial book versions also follow a similar logic. The editions of Society Belge de Librairie of 1844 and 45 were designed to permit simultaneously rentals of a ‘single’ work, splitting Les Trois Mousquetaires into seven separate volumes.[27] Thus, employing the same multiplier, we could easily guess that the book editions from 1844-1860, if individually owned, would’ve required 1650 ha to print, instead of only 330 ha.  A fairly perverse quantification, this space—the forgone footprint—calls out the distance between our private reading practices and the social circumstances of Dumas’s original consumption in the 1840-60s.



Thus, while Perec’s forest footprints are immense—3990 ha of slowly thinned spruce and pine plantations—they’re not the largest space underlying Dumas. If we consider Mousquetaires, according to all its’ additional, embedded social and material metrics—cabinet rentals and alum erosions—there is a third footprint. Neither materially rag pulp nor wood pulp at this point in time (though calculated from the first), this odd, volatile transition between ephemeral consumption and ownership forms the greatest footprint of the three. Observe:

Cabinet effects:

Le Siècle- 5128 ha

1844-1860 book editions- 1320 ha

Eroded editions:

1861-1880 book editions- 139 ha

Total Transitional Practices: 6587 ha  (Total rags: 1807 ha, incl. eroded) (Total woods: 3990 ha)

Thus, beyond the Perec’s inversions of stone and wood, the recovery of rags and reading practices stands as a more precise lesson in directed, diverted, and even disappearing flows.

Thanks for playing, mapping, tracing.

[Dumas’ Paper Footprints, Full Mousquetarires Footprints by The Distopians (meg studer)]


For those intrigued by absurd historic excavations and geographies (you know you’re game), Perec’s initial observation could be hybridized into several more research exercises:

1)     Pull up any year of Bibliographie de la France, preferably the 1830s (various editions are available on-line from google books). Make a table of title, pages, print run, printer, address (easy to do from the bibliographic entries and ads at the back). Instead of page surface area, see if you can map a geography of print shops and publishing houses. Match it against Balzac’s narratives (Moretti, Atlas of the European Novel) and the Cabinets de Lecture of the time (Parent-Lardeur, Lire a Paris au Temps de Balzac). Follow up on chiffonier regulation, and see if arrest records might provide a second series of points and nodes- this might take a trip to Paris and a slim chance that things survived fires during the Paris Commune (French office of labor, L’Industrie du Chiffon a Paris, 88.) Is there feedback between reading, printing, and rag circulation? Describe speculative connections. Pick a digital edition of Dumas or Balzac. Repeat using google’s site statistics. Who else is even reading this stuff? Trace back some IPv6 numbers. French Departments? Comparative Literature classes? Etc. Et cetera.  Email to someone in ‘book history’ or ‘media studies.’

2)     Instead of Islands or Forests, focus on everyone’s favorite 19th century vector and mapping exercise: Disease Vectors. See what you can find on rag imports, port closures, and quarantines (often comes from competing paper production nodes- South Hampton vs. London, etc.).  Color by disease, weight by volume, order chronologically and consider aside a) the massive gap in the historical record, b) germ theory and the rise of bureaucratic sanitation c) public literacy and education acts and d) shifts in print technology. Speculate on the connections. Publish your map and call it ‘paper goes viral.’ Send me a copy. 😉


Return for the list of Species exercises to come and musings on Specious Atlas formats.



[1] George Perec, “The Page: 2,” Species of Space and Other Stories, translated by John Sturrock, (London: Penguin Books, 1999), 10. Originally Especes d’espaces, (Paris: Editions Galilee, 1974).

[2] Areas from Wikipedia. “St. Helena,” accessed 8.12.2012, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St._Helena. “Lake Trasimeno,” accessed 8.12.2012, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lake_Trasimeno.

Bibliographie de la France, (Paris: Cercle de la librairie). Published since 1811, the Bibliographie is a legal record of all the French publications contained in the Bibliotheque Nationale. Based on decade averages, three million is a very rough estimate of publications held by 1974. For Perec to tabulate paper area would’ve required manually recording and summing every entry’s separate page count, spread across 163 years of Bibliographie editions. Even working inversely, from 32 double-sided pg/m2 up to 3.904-billion pages/128 km2, it’s anyone’s guess as to the final equivalence. Perec, as research librarian, would’ve reveled in the absurdity of the exercise.

[3] Ironically, Perec’s original edition of Especes d’espaces was much closer to an A5 book, at 22cm tall. Thus from QWERT to AZERT, Perec’s lose play of formats demonstrates, ad infinitum, the power of literacy and our utterly unconscious handling of paper; its’ role as material, historical a priori.

[4] Louis André, Machines a Papier: Innovations Et Transformations de l’Industrie Papetiere en France 1789-1860 (Paris : Editions de l’Ecole des hautes études en sciences sociales, 1996), 430-439.

[5] Perec, Species, 50-51.

[6] Edition counts have been collected from Worldcat, with missing page numbers derived from similarly dated editions in the same language. A thorough effort has been made to eliminate duplicate references, but leaves much to be desired. The margin of error is not insignificant, but also not entirely calculable. Searches ‘Les Trois Mousquetaires,’ ‘Dumas, Alexander,’ accessed 8.12.2012, http://www.worldcat.org.

The still standard bibliographies are outdated (1933) and/or only feature only French and English editions and secondary sources. Reed, W.F. Bibliography of Alexander Dumas, Pere, London: J.A. Neuhuys. 1933. 169-172. Munro, Douglas. Alexander Dumas Pere: A Secondary Bibliography of French and English Sources to 1983, with Appendices, New York: Garland Publishing, 1985.

[7] See BNF, Gallica digital reproductions for samples, “Le Siecleaccessed 8.12.2012, http://gallica.bnf.fr/.

Paper weight break-down is actually based on 1845 Le Siecle information on paper contracts, costs, and weight in André, Machines a Papier, 262. André lists the primary printers as A. Gregoire & Cie  in the original editions of 1836. The printing shop address remains the same (rue de Croissant, 16 Hotel Colbert) but management changed in 1837. See original printing credits, last page of each Le Seicle edition.  Likewise, André lists ownership of the Sorel factories as M. Berte. These works, however, were listed as both established by Firmin Didot, in 1811 (in Werdet, below), and as still belonging to the larger family firm in the 1884 Papermaker’s Directory of all Nations. My assumption, lacking direct access to firm documents, is that Berte was local management- hence his contract with editor Dutacq.  Werder, Edmond, Ėtudes bibliographiques sur la famille des Didot, (Paris: E. Dentu, 1864), 35. Phillips, S. Chas. “France: Eure, Eure et Loire” Papermaker’s Directory of all Nations, (London: Dean & Son, 1884), 36.

[8] Direct numbers are difficult to obtain on Le Siècle’s 1844 editions. Print runs escalated steeply and wavered precipitously due to competition, political regime, paper prices, etc. from their introduction in 1836 through the 1860s. According to Lyons, in 1841 Le Siècle’s had editions of 37,500 and finally settled, in 1861, as a premier political journal with runs of 52,300. He estimates an augmentation of 63% in both la Presse and le Siecle’s size by 1846, thus making circulation around 61,125. Lyons, Martyn.  Le Triumphe du Livre: : une histoire sociologique de la lecture dans la France du XIXe siècle, (Paris : Promodis, 1987), 50-51.

[9] PBA Galleries. “Les Trois Mousquetarires” accessed 8.29.12. http://www.pbagalleries.com/search/item.php?anr=158701&PHPSESSID=ee4ec22d25a80aa140b85fedb33a706e&PHPSESSID=ee4ec22d25a80aa140b85fedb33a706e

[10] Page sizes based on average of Worldcat bibliography information. See 6 above.

[11] Ratios of rag pulp to paper are derived from 1835, English production numbers in Munsell, J. A chronology of Paper and Paper-Making (London: Trubner & Co, 1857), 66.

[12] Internal quantities of starch, resin, etc. from Watts, Alexander, The Art of Papermaking, (London: C. Lockwood & Son, 1890), 20, 34, 119.

[13] Cotton import mix derived from United States. Dept. of the Treasury, Cotton Trade of the United States and the World’s Cotton Supply and Trade, (Bureau of Statistics, 1900),. 2608, 2628.

Harvest yields ratios based on UNCTAD, “Cotton:Crop” accessed 8.12.2012, http://r0.unctad.org/infocomm/anglais/cotton/crop.htm.

[14] The simplification to and ratio between two types of wood, Norway Spruce and Scots Pine, are based on relatively established standards for producing chemical and mechanical pulp. Charles W. Rantoul, Jr., “The Pulp and Paper Industry,” Twelfth Census of the United States, Reports, 1900 (10 vols., Washington, 1901-1902), vol. IX, 1017.

[15] Tran, Honghi and Esa Vakkilainnen. “The kraft chemical Recovery process” accessed 8.12.2012, www.tappi.org/content/events/08kros/manuscripts/1-1.pdf

[16] Yields and rotation cycles from yield- PÖyry tables in  “Brazilian pulp and paper industry, 3/2011”  accessed 8.12.2012, www.bracelpa.org, pdf p 9-10.

[17] Joseph Addison. Spectator 367 (1 May 1712), in ‘The Spectator,’ ed. Donald Frederic Bond (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1965) 380-1. I’m indebted to Leah Price’s excellent essay, tracing the sites of rag paper use, re-use and packaging, aside the evolving literary tropes and social hierarchies of books, writing, and wrapping in 18th and 19th London century.  Price, Leah. “Getting the Reading Out of It.” In Bookish Histories. Ed. Ina Ferric and Paul Keen. Hampshire:Palgrave-Macmillian, 2009. 148-166.

[18] For the complex links (and social geography) of state education and actual literacy rates in post-Guizot France see Furet, François and Jacques Ozouf, Lire et écrire : l’alphabétisation des Français de Calvin à Jules Ferry (Paris: Éditions de Minuit, 1977), Lyons, Le Triumphe du Livre, “Les bibliotheques et leur lectures,” “Le reseau de librairies,” 169-220. Allen, James, “Romantic Readership” in Popular French Romanticism (New York: Syracuse U. Press, 1981), 151-177.

André, Machines a Papier, “La Machine a papier: naissance et premiers pas” 81-90.

[19] Watts, The Art of Papermaking, 20.

[20] André, Machines a Papier, “D’une crise a l’autre” 289-314.

[21] ibid, 300-301.

[22] See relative import volumes from Mussel, A chronology of Paper and Paper-Making, 75.

See relative export areas in Valente, AJ, Rag Paper Manufacture in the United State 1801-1900 (London: McFarland & Co, 2010), 14.

[23] André, Machines a Papier, 302.

[24] ibid, 303.

[25] A good introduction to the cabinets can be found in Whitmore, H.E. “The Cabinet de Lecture in France, 1800-1850.” The Library Quarterly. 48:1 (1978), 22-34.  For a shorter intro see Allen, Popular French Romanticism, 139-145.

[26] Editor of La Presse, Emile de Girardin’s estimate can be seen as a boisterous statement design to sell ad space and the idea of the roman-feuilleton to competing publishers and authors themselves. Chollet. Roland. “Un episode inconu de l’histoire de la libraries: La Societe d’abonnement general” Revue des Sciences Humaines, 141(1971), 69-73, 82.

[27] See Les Trois Mousquetaires editions in 1844 and 1845 from Brussels: Society Belge de Librairie.