The Paper Story
From 1973 to 1986, I printed platinum and palladium on approximately ten different papers. Suddenly, I couldn’t make any paper work that was ordered after January 1986. At first, I assumed the problem was related to defective sizing and/or drop in quality control. Working with Wally Dawes of Paper Source and Zellerbach, a paper distributer, I tested some fifty papers over two years with no luck. Included were some well-sized papers, both with gelatin and starch. I corresponded with paper companies; none would admit to any changes in manufacturing processes.
In 1988, I suspected an inferior grade of cotton linter, so I spent some time hand-making paper with Twin Rocker in Indiana. Using different fibers (including banana) and internal sizing, we could not prevent granulation, which caused the breakup of smooth tones, such as skies and flesh tones. In desperation, Katharyn Clark of Twin Rocker called The Crane Paper Company, maker of Crane’s Artificial Parchment paper, as well as the paper for US currency. With me listening on the other line, and for the first time, a paper company admitted that they had changed their paper in 1985. They said it was internal sizing, but would say no more.
Now, I began working with Crane, testing all their runs of Artificial Parchment (Parchment Wove, Plate). In late 1988, a biochemist from Cranes sent some pre-1985 stock that he had found in the storeroom and “suggested” that the answer might lie in pH. Sure enough, the old stuff was marked pH 4.5; the newer paper tested alkaline. When I found that the old paper worked fine, I bought all they had, 1200 sheets.
Eventually, they admitted that they (and other companies) had changed pH in 1986 to an “acid free” paper, changing the internal sizing from alum rosin to an alkyl ketone dimer. I realized that the granulation was a typical acid-base reaction, causing a propitiation of salts (the platinum coating is acidic). With paper, it is referred to as flocculation. Now the problem was to get a company to make some acid (or at least neutral) paper for platinum printers.
Crane agreed to do a minimum 5,000 lb. run, but needed someone to prepay for 20,000 sheets. I didn’t have that kind of money, so we were in limbo…and my paper supply was shrinking.
Then, in the fall of 1989, I visited a color photographer living in Charleston, N.C. whom I had known for several years. I showed him my portfolio while lamenting on my paper problems (while drinking sherry, of course). When I mentioned Crane’s, his eyebrows lifted: “Don’t you know that Winthrop Crane is my stepfather?”
Immediately after my return to Flagstaff, I wrote him a detailed summary of our paper problems. He forwarded the letter to Winthrop. Within one month, Crane’s called me, saying the run would occur in February 1990 (one hour’s press time). The rest is “history”. I let the word out and the 20,000 sheets were snatched up.
We had our acid paper and the rumor was that Crane’s liked the paper so much, they would continue to make it.
Postscript: In the intervening 25 years, Crane’s has reverted to alkaline paper. Other papers, once useful to Pt/Pd printers are now unsuitable, due to alkaline pH, as well as sloppy production methods, such as defective surface sizing. Fortunately, now, other companies have responded with neutral or slightly acidic paper specifically for Pt/Pd printing. Some examples are Bergger COT 320 and Platine.
Before buying a stock of paper, get a sample and use your pH pen, available from Light Impressions, Rochester, N.Y.