The first mention of a paper mill in England appeared in the household book of Henry VII in 1498. Located near Stevenage in Hertfordshire, Sele Mill belonging to John Tate, provided paper to the printer Wynkyn de Worde who had worked with William Caxton. This mill produced paper with a watermark of an eight pointed Tudor Star.
In 1781, a maximum legal size for papers was laid down in England which included Crown, Demy, Elephant, Medium, Pot, Post, Super Royal and Foolscap. In most cases these sheet size names can be traced back to watermark designs. Foolscap (13.5” x 17”) took its name from the jester’s head with a fool’s cap first appearing around 1540. It was replaced around 1750 by the Britannia.

Bank of England Banknotes

The Bank of England established in 1694 had a need to introduce watermarks in their banknotes following some well publicised forgeries. In 1724, Henri Portal was awarded a contract from the Bank of England to produce watermarked banknotes at his mill at Laverstoke in Hampshire.
Les Filigranes
In 1907 the four volume ‘Les Filigranes’ compiled by Charles Moïse Briquet was published.
Briquet was a Genevan paper merchant and filigranologist.  
The books illustrated  thousands of watermarks he had traced, following visits to hundreds of paper mills. Interestingly, none of watermarks featured originated from Great Britain, Scandinavia or the Iberian Peninsula, all important centres of paper manufacturing.

Watermarking – a brief history

Papermaking is one of the world’s oldest manufacturing industries, and in Europe at least, the history of the watermark runs almost in tandem. Although paper itself was an Oriental invention, it was European papermakers, with their rigid style moulds, who first began using thin bent wire to form watermarks in the thirteenth century. The earliest examples can be traced back to the paper makers of Cartiere Miliani Mill, at Fabriano in Italy. The first known watermark was produced in 1282, a Greek cross with circles at the cross-point and cross-ends.


The very earliest European watermarks may have had some religious significance, but the marks quickly assumed other purposes. Some were the personal marks of the paper maker, serving perhaps to identify their individual work, or assist in the identification of moulds, which were commonly used in pairs. However, the Renaissance paper houses soon recognised them as a means to bring identity to their businesses, thus acting as early trademarks.


Watermarks were later used to identify sheet sizes, mill locations and paper furnish. Today they serve to promote company identity through bespoke stationery and authenticate important documents such as banknotes and passports.

The advances in watermarking are inextricably linked with the progress and innovation in paper making. In 1797, a Frenchman, Nicholas Louis Robert had devised a machine to make a continuous web of paper. Robert worked at a mill located at Essonnes in France under the ownership of Francois Didot. This mill had operated since 1355 providing much of the paper used by the Ministry of France for the nation’s currency. After several trials a full scale paper machine was created. Due to some disagreements with his sponsors and the general state of affairs in France because of the French Revolution, Francois Didot contacted his brother-in-law, John Gamble to enquire whether he could raise sufficient funds to manufacture a paper machine to the Robert design. Gamble in turn contacted Henry and Sealy Fourdrinier, two stationers working in London who expressed great interest along with the agreement to help fund the venture.


In 1801 John Gamble was granted the first English patent on a paper machine. John Hall, an engineer at Dartford, was asked to examine the original machine built by Robert with the intention of improving it. Bryan Donkin, a mechanic and apprenticed to Hall was then engaged to construct a paper machine which was completed in 1803 and installed at Frogmore Mill, Hemel Hempstead, funded by the Fourdriniers.


Following Robert’s invention of the continuous paper making machine, there was a need to find a way to watermark paper on the reel. The original dandy rolls, the device invented to provide watermarks on a paper machine, consisted of a framework of lengthwise wooden ribs onto which round metal discs were attached in order to loosely support a woven wire fabric cover, to form a hollow cylinder. Later dandy rolls consisted entirely of metal. The watermark designs were originally tied on to the cover with fine wire.

The invention of the ‘dandy roll’ is attributed to John Marshall of the firm T.J.Marshall of London, established in 1792. Mr Marshall did not file for a patent on his invention. The records of the Great Seal Patent Office include a patent granted to John and Christopher Phipps of Lower Buckland Mill in Dover, dated 11th January 1825, for a cylinder formed of wire to create impressions upon the forming paper. Neither John nor Christopher Phipps pursued the construction of their rollers. They passed into relative obscurity. However, John Marshall, in 1826, proceeded with the production of a similar roller, the name of which is said to have been bestowed upon it when a worker at Marshall’s establishment exclaimed “Isn’t that a dandy!”, a word of Scottish derivation meaning smart and fine.

Joynsons Mill

The first machine made watermarked paper

William Joynson is generally credited with making the first machine watermarked paper at his St. Mary Cray Mill in Kent. The paper bore the watermarks “Joynson Superfine” or “WJ&S” over “St Mary Cray Kent”. In 1839 Joynson was granted a patent, no.7977, for his invention of ‘certain improvements in the manufacture of paper, consisting of affixing projecting letters, figures, or devices upon a revolving axis carrying arms, rings, or covered with wire cloth, such as is known by the name of the dandy roll, the dancer, the top roller, &c. for making paper by rotary machinery, and whereby I make water-marks in the paper by the indentation of the said raised letters, figures or devices while in the process of making the paper’. [1]

Paper manufactured by Joynson at St Mary Cray later was used in the first £1 and 10/- banknotes issued by the Bank of England. Up until the First World War, gold sovereigns and half sovereigns had circulated as everyday currency for nearly a century, but following the 1833 Bank Charter Act, Bank of England notes were legal tender in England and Wales only for amounts of £5 and above. On 5th August 1914 (the day after war was declared), the Currency and Bank Notes Act was passed which allowed the treasury to issue currency notes of £1 and 10/-, these notes had full legal tender status and were convertible for gold through the Bank of England.

The first notes were produced to a hurried design and, because of the lack of availability of banknote paper, were printed on paper produced for postage stamps. The £1 note was issued on Friday August 7th and the 10/- a week later. They were nicknamed Bradbury’s, since they carried the signature of Sir John Bradbury, Permanent Secretary to the treasury. [2]