Imperato: tradition and quality in a family-owned paper mill

The Imperato Paper Mill: a company in the centre of Palermo where history, experience and family tradition have given rise to a small miracle.

Lucia Maffei

Palermo welcomes us with a beautiful sunny day, completely dedicated to a visit to the Imperato Paper Mill. It is a small company that produces and converts tissue and other kinds of paper, right in the heart of the town.

This company is located in the Italian region of Sicily, in the centre of a town that counts 800,000 inhabitants; although small, the Imperato Paper Mill possesses an extraordinary flexibility and a great capability to “coexist”.

This family business seems to contradict today’s world, in which everything is in the hands of large groups, with small activities surviving with difficulty. This paper mill is surprisingly capable of opposing the general trend of the competitive market of paper, apparently dominated by a few big players.

But the Imperato brothers’ flourishing activity has a small secret: this family has been “living” in the world of paper for generations.

IT IS CERTAINLY NOT POSSIBLE TO SUDDENLY BECOME PAPERMAKERS; it takes a lot of years to acquire that magical sensibility that allows to “feel” the paper machine without even seeing it, to “understand” paper just by touching it. The language and particular life style of papermakers are something difficult to get to know. The Imperato brothers - Giuseppe, Domenico, Walter and Antonio - know both very well. Indeed, the Imperato family originates from Amalfi, an antique town known as one of the first paper production sites in Europe.

It is common knowledge that paper diffusion in the West followed the Arab expansion, and the commercial connections and diplomatic relationships between Amalfi and the Arab world first favoured the import of papermaking techniques and tools to Europe.

THE IMPERATO PAPER MILL WAS BORN IN AMALFI AROUND 1858: it was headquartered in a historical building located in the narrow Mill Valley. One can still see the ruins of the old mill and its machines, now submerged by the surrounding Mediterranean thicket.

In those years the Giovanni Imperato Paper Mill produced a large quantity of a special paper for notarial use, public deeds, edicts and official communications. The paper of Amalfi was widely requested and very precious and often, in Italian archives, deeds belonging to the Church or to noble families can still be found written on paper with watermarks from the Amalfi paper mills. The production of this special paper required a large quantity of rags, which the Imperato family purchased by the ship-full in Palermo, and Sicily itself became the most important market for the Imperato Paper Mill. At that time both Amalfi and Palermo belonged to the “Regno delle due Sicilie” (the Kingdom of the two Sicilies), so the absence of customs duties favours export and facilitates the Imperatos’ expansion.

Sailing ships would leave from Amalfi and reach Palermo full of finished product and would come back bringing further raw material.

The Imperato family is active in Amalfi until 1950: in 1946 they install their first yankee dryer, incredibly brought, not without difficulty, up the valley along the steep stone stairs.

By this time, the paper mills of the Mill Valley were suffering from a crisis caused by the new technologies and market demands: that is when Francesco Imperato, the father of the present generation of entrepreneurs, decided to leave Amalfi determining an unusual case of southward imigration. The family moves to Palermo where it already has close and well-established commercial relationships. Francesco Imperato founds another paper mill, in Via Roma, just a few hundred metres from the seaside, near the notoriously famous Ucciardone prison. In the 1950s, this was still a peripheral area, but with the rapid development of the town, the paper mill shortly finds itself in a very central position.

In 1960, Francesco Imperato buys another property in the outskirts of Guadagna, with its own water reservoir, and here transfers his activity. In 1975 the old PM is replaced by a new one manufactured by Over, which would later be rebuilt by Recard and De Lulli of Cava dei Tirreni.

THE 1970S REPRESENT THE YEARS OF THE FAMILY’S GREATEST EXPANSION: with the wide diffusion of electrical appliances, the demand for paper for corrugators highly increases and the Imperato brothers immediately answer this need with a new high-quality product.

As of today, Cartiera Imperato’s business is mainly focussed on the production of tissue parent reels, smooth paper, all kinds of crepe paper, industrial rolls and hospital sheeting; its annual production totals about 5000 tons.

CARTIERA IMPERATO’S CAPABILITY TO FIT INTO DIFFERENT ECONOMIC SITUATIONS IS SOMETHING SURPRISING AND ADMIRABLE. Through its PM and its experience it can produce tissue and other types of paper, 100% cellulose, mixed, or 100% recycled fiber, with production changes in less than half an hour.

The same flexibility also characterises the commercial aspect of the Imperatos’ activity: the paper mill supplies parent reels as well as finished products and rapidly answers customers’ demands for quality and quantity thanks to a well-stocked warehouse.

Such efficiency enabled the Imperato Paper Mill to expand also to foreign countries, to which it owes today a great deal of its turnover: it exports to Spain, Israel, Greece and can boast of having a giant such as Kimberly-Clark among its customers.

With the purpose of continuously enhancing its technological and production level, the company has obtained the ISO 9002 quality certification.

“Among our future projects, we are going to develop a new company related to the paper mill”, says Giovanni Imperato, Managing Director, “where to convert semi-finished products so as to no longer rely on external companies. We think we will develop and carry out this project over a couple of years’ time. Our purpose is to supply the market with finished products, not only industrial rolls as we have been doing for years, but also products for other market segments”. •

The oldest paper document can be found in Palermo, Sicily. Perini Journal has gone to see the “Mandato di Adelaisa”.

We have often wondered where and exactly what is the most ancient paper document in Europe. The answer comes from the State Archives of Palermo, in Sicily. The “first real paper” dates back to March 1109 and is called the “Mandato di Adelaisa”.

The legendary Adelaisa, countess of Sicily, is still today a beloved figure of history by the people of Palermo. Mother of Ruggero, grandfather of Federico II – the so-called stupor mundi – she is said to have been a strong-willed and fascinating woman. The Mandate, written in Greek and Arabic, recommends protection for the Monastery of Saint Filippo.

Today, this document has been restored to its ancient beauty with extreme patience and respect by the Centro di Restauro of Rome and is housed in a dark strongbox in the Palermo State Archives. The restoration work, carried out through the use of the most modern technology, has revealed that the document was written on paper of Arabic origins. From microscopic analysis, it was discovered that the pulp mixture is comprised of unrefined, fragmented linen cellulose fibers. This basic raw material, the absence of watermarks and the large quantity of wheat starch found in the fiber confirm the Arabic origins of this unique “first piece of paper”.

Login or Register to publish a comment