A countermark is described by Glaister as being, “a watermark often embodying the papermaker’s initials which is placed in the second half of the sheet opposite the normal watermark” (Glaister 119).

Countermarks began being introduced by papermakers in France during the sixteenth century until handmade paper began declining in fashion. Gaskell states in A New Introduction to Bibliography that, “French countermarks, which first appeared sporadically in the mid sixteenth century, continued to indicate the maker’s name (and in the eighteenth century the quality of the paper) until the end of the hand-press period” (Gaskell 62). This statement by Gaskell does not just illustrate the dates and purpose of the countermark, it also implies a change of the countermarks function by the end of the eighteenth century as indicating, “the quality of the paper” (Gaskell 62). Countermarks can also be used to indicate the authenticity of the paper being hand-made. The Oxford Companion to the Book has stated that, “their uses have varied through history ” (Suarez 83). The book also acknowledges the primary purpose of the countermark is to, “identify the original mould or dandy cover used to make a specific sheet. Since both are portable and can be used at sites other than their origin” (Suarez 83).

Fig. 1 (Barcham)

Fig. 1 (Barcham)

The production of the countermark is made similar to the watermark, “by a pattern or device incorporated into the centre of the wire mesh in one half of the mould” (Carter & Barker 229). A countermark, as previously mentioned is placed opposite to the watermark. Fig. 1 shows an example of a wire mesh which includes the impression for a countermark.

Countermarks usually depict the papermaker’s name and the year in which the paper was made. For example Fig. 1 above shows that J. Whatman made this hand-made paper in 1921.

Once the impression of the watermark and the countermark is made in the paper, it is often very difficult to make out both the watermarks and the countermarks. Fig. 2 illustrates this below.

Countermark provides additional information to watermarks which usually only illustrate symbols in the paper. Examples of extra information are, “dates, mill and maker identification.”

Fig. 2 (Henke)

Fig. 2 (Henke)

This countermark (Fig. 2) indicates the date the paper was made. Although it is visible many countermarks are very difficult to identify in paper as they blend in easily to the lines visible left by the wire lines of the mesh. Countermarks and watermarks are more detectable when holding the paper up to the light.

The Oxford Companion to the Book also depicts certain problems which may arise in countermarks. Firstly, dates which are illustrated through a countermark impression may be inaccurate. In France the “French ordinance of 1741 required all paper makers in the country to include a date in the countermark” (Suarez 84). Suarez states an example of such inaccuracies where many paper manufacturers used, “the date ‘1742’ for a number of years, since it was not stated in the original directive that the dates should change annually” (Suarez 84). As a result of this for a period, French countermarks were not deemed accurate. Suarez concludes that, “the date in a countermark must be treated with as much caution as any other mark in a sheet” (Suarez 84).

Carter, John. ABC For Book Collectors. 1952. Ed: Nicholas Barker. Delaware: Oak Knoll Press, 2006.
Gaskell, Philip. A New Introduction to Bibliography. Oxford: OUP, 1972; New Castle, DE: Oak Knoll Press, 1995.
Glaister, Geoffrey Ashall. Encyclopedia of the Book. Second edition. New Castle, DE: Oak Knoll Press, 2001.
Suarez, Michael F., and H. W. Woudhuysen. The Oxford Companion to the Book. Oxford: OUP, 2010.

Barcham Green, Simon. “Simon Barcham Green’s Papermaking Moulds” Typepad. Simon Barcham Green: 24 Aug. 2011. Web. 19 Feb. 2013.
Henke, Larry. “Wookey Hole & Other British Antique, Vintage & Contemporary Handmade & Mould made Papers” Whimsie. The Whimsie Studio: 20 Oct. 2012. Web. 22 Feb. 2013.

Contributed by Céileigh McLoughlin.


One response to “Countermark

  1. Piers Plowman × Helen

    very impressive! thanks for sharing. Only I get a vague idea about he location of watermark and countermark on the paper. can i interprets it as, on one sheet of the paper, watermark and countermark is located didgonally? What is” in the center of one half” and the center of the other half? also, is watermark also informs the papermaker, the date, the location, etc., or is watermark like the nowadays trademark, is more a design signiture than the letters. because if not, watermark and counter mark is the same thing, right? just the trace of the wires.

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