The ancient papermill and paper museum of Velke Losiny

In the Czech Republic, Perini Journal has found a papermill museum dedicated to the noble art of papermaking.

Text and photos by Giorgio Perini

Velke Losiny is located in the Czech Republic, north of the city of Sumperk in the valley of the Desnà River, and is one of the most well known tourist areas of the mountain region of Jeseniky.

Famous for its thermal waters, historical monuments and natural parks, here, at the end of the 16th century the Moravia family, the Lords of Zerotin, founded one of the most ancient paper-mills in all of Europe. The original wood building housing the papermill was previously a flourmill. The change was carried out by Jan of Zerotin Junior. The exact date of this transformation is not known, but historical documents indicate an approximate period that goes from 1591 to 1596. The first document revealing the actual beginning of production is an ancient watermark dated 1596, a heraldry representing a crowned lion next to three mountain peaks. Unfortunately, the papermill did not constitute a positive investment for the owners, and competition with the more modern and productive establishment near Sumperk, founded in 1566, marked the beginning of a period of economic crisis. So in 1603 the proprietor, Jan of Zerortin Junior, was forced to sell the mill to papermaker Ondrej Kluge. The latter began to successfully produce a wide assortment of high quality papers. Another time of crisis followed.

AT THE END OF THE 17TH CENTURY, LOSINY BECAME FAMOUS FOR THE WITCH HUNT which saw the domination of the period of Inquisition. The wife of the local master papermaker, Barbora Gotlicher, was one of the first victims sentenced by the President of the Court of the Holy Inquisition, F.J. Bowling of Edelstadt, in 1679. She was accused of being a witch, imprisoned and burned at the stake in 1680. The indebted papermill was bought in 1692 by the Zerotin family who completely renovated the building and began papermaking again. After new and countless failed efforts to promote production, the new owners lost all interest in the mill and, in 1778, sold it once again.

AND IT WAS SO THAT THE PAPERMAKER MATYAS WERNER BECAME THE NEW OWNER. Under his careful leadership the mill enjoyed a period of great prosperity which lasted from the beginning of the 18th century and continued on into the 19th. The building as we see it today, with its classical attic form was restored and its present internal and external architecture was completed in 1825 by the master papermaker Filip Wenzel. His initials and the date of completion of the work are still engraved on the door of the main entrance to the papermill. In 1855 the new owner, textile entrepreneur Anton Schmidt, stopped paper production and began working with textiles. In 1860 the new company, called Ant. J. Schmidt's Sohne shifted production completely over to textiles but, after the 1870 economic crisis in this sector, went back to hand-made paper production. In 1949 the mill was integrated in the Olsany Paper Mills industrial complex, located in the town of Olsany, near Sumperk.

TODAY, THE VELKE LOSINY MILL AND MUSEUM ARE PART OF MORFA, an industrial company headquartered in Sumperk, owner of other technologically advanced papermills. After 400 years of uninterrupted existence, the Losiny papermill, with its precious production of artisan-made papers and with its characteristic external architecture, represents a unique monument of historical and cultural value. It is the only papermill in the Czech Republic where handmade paper is still produced, and is also one of the most ancient in Europe. The paper produced here is completely free of chemical treatments and agents, the base being comprised solely of pure cellulose and cotton. The high quality of the product is appreciated by the several artists who buy the sheets for their artworks here, whether these be water colors, charcoal drawings and other techniques. In 1987 the paper museum was inaugurated on the building's first floor with a special exhibition documenting the history of paper production in Czechoslovakia and in the world. Inside the museum are found some ancient moulds for watermark production as well as a collection of original machinery for manufacturing the paper sheet. One area of the museum is dedicated to modern machinery for paper production that can be found in today's papermills.


On 20, 21 and 22 October 2000 at the Molì Paperer di Capellades Museum (Barcelona, Spain) was held the first of three seminars which form an integral part of "The Watermark Route" Project, created with the collaboration of the European Commission through the Raphael Program. The Watermark Route Project encompasses a series of initiatives organized by the three partners which make up the program: Spain -Molì Paperer Museum of Capellades, Germany -Papiermühle Alte Dombach and Finland -Verla Mill Museum and Ankkapurha Industrial Museum. The Perini Journal was invited to participate at this and two other meetings, in Finland and Germany, which are all part of The Watermark Route Project. Perini Journal correspondent Giorgio Perini held a brief conference introducing the magazine itself to the delegates of the Museums and Historical Papermills of Europe, as well as a series of editorial initiatives that the Perini Journal has in store for the near future. This first seminar had paper museums as its main subject and the conservation and diffusion of hand-made paper in Europe. The next seminar will be held in Finland in June at the Verla Mill Museum and the Ankkapurha Industrial Museum. The third, in Spring 2002, will take place in Germany at the Papiermühle Alte Dombach. The objectives of this singular project are to promote cultural exchange among the historical European papermills, to present and publicize the historical identity of hand-made paper within the European context, increase the interest and appreciation for this ancient product, make major efforts to promote the knowledge of paper and attract visitors to the paper museums of Europe.

The historical buildings and working procedures associated with this extremely vital material for the widespread of culture constitute an essential part of this intent. With the birth of The Watermark Route, three museums located inside ancient industrial buildings exhibit the first original equipment and machinery and the primordial techniques for the fabrication of the sheet of hand-made paper. At this first seminar, superbly directed by Ms. Victoria Rabal i Merola, director of the Molì Paperer Museum of Capellades, participated the representatives of the other two museums in Germany and Finland which are part of the project. But present were also representatives of the Paper Museum in Belgium, Austria, Switzerland, Sweden, Poland, France, Hungary, England, Holland, Italy, and Portugal. Different cultures with one identical scope: to diffuse, promote and increase the appreciation for paper, this ancient writing support which has taught each one of us the history and cultural of all peoples. A dynamic event, just as dynamic is the primary inspiration of The Watermark Route. Three international seminars, a guide to the historical papermills of Europe on video and CD, a series of Internet sites which will contain dates and places to mark these appointments, exhibitions and events connected to the museums and historical papermills, a permanent association of organizers for the exchange of information, materials and human resources for the conservation of the culture and historical heritage of hand-made paper.

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