Fabriano: a piece of paper… 750 years long!

Nico Zardo

Nowadays, things change very quickly and it is difficult to perceive the value of such a long history, respectful of a great tradition and at the same time rich in innovations that have kept paper production tied to Fabriano and to its territory. Seven-hundred-fifty years is certainly a long time!

We know that the long journey of paper begins in the China in the 2nd century B.C. Originally produced using fiber from the bark of mulberry trees, it was a less expensive alternative to silk sheet and favored diffusion of the first forms of communication. Following improvements in the production process and enriched raw materials (tea or rice straw and rags) thanks to Ts’ ai Lun, minister of agriculture at the court of the Han Dynasty, in 105 A.D. paper attains a degree of perfection such as to obtain the approval of the Emperor, who authorizes its use throughout the entire Empire.



leaves the boundaries of China after the 7th century and becomes known in Korea and Japan. Two Chinese paper producers made prisoners by Muslims in Samarkand favor its diffusion toward the West: it reaches Baghdad in the 9th century, travels to Damascus (10th century) and in 1100 it reaches Tunis, then Spain and Italy and finally, Fabriano. It is in this center of the Apennine Mountains of the regions of Umbria and Marche, seventy kilometers from the cities of Ancona and Perugia, favored by the presence of water from the Castellano River, that paper begins to live a new life. From the 13th century, here it becomes a high quality product, so much so that it is highly requested not only in these two Italian cities but also in Venice, Florence and Lucca and even abroad, in Switzerland, Austria and France.



who replaced mulberry bark and rice straw with linen and hemp rags, in Fabriano paper undergoes further innovative processes. By changing the techniques used by woolmen who beat the wool in order to matt it, the master papermakers of Fabriano use the multiple hammer mill to break the rags and turn them into pulp. They replace the glue of vegetable origin with an animal gelatin that, besides improving the impermeability of the sheet, also guarantees its conservation, thus allowing to use paper for drafting public documents. They adopt a loom in wire rods (instead of wooden rods) for the bottom of the structure where the pulp is collected from the vat, favoring the creation of that watermark which, seen in transparency, distinguishes the sheet, identifying its origin like a trademark.

But despite the efforts to keep production practices secret, increasing requests both in Italy and in Northern Europe cause a rise in the birth of new papermills: in France, in Troyes in 1338, in Grenoble in 1346, in Essonnes, near Paris in 1354. The first German papermill was born in Nuremberg in 1390, thanks to the contribution of papermakers from Milan.



halfway through the 15th century, demand for paper increases substantially. Books, bills of exchange and deposit certificates multiply, following an economy that is becoming more structured and is increasingly entrusting to paper the task of representing goods and securities. The Bank of Sweden is the first to issue paper money for public use and in Great Britain banknotes begin to be printed between 1660 and 1694. Posters, leaflets, newspapers (the first was the English Daily Courier, in 1702), and the newly-born postal services require an increasing use of paper.

In 1600, the number of papermills in Fabriano is drastically reduced due to several adversities: repeated epidemics impose burning rags in order to avoid contagion, thus eliminating a precious raw material; heavy taxation imposed by the Reverenda Camera Apostolica; a certain degree of technological backwardness compared to other European producers who, thanks to the Hollander beater, obtain a finer and more homogeneous pulp and a whiter, thinner sheet of paper.



 the activity is reborn thanks to Pietro Miliani. Forefather of a dynasty that will foster the activity until our days, he takes control of the papermill belonging to Count Antonio Vallemani, that in 1782 will take on the name of “Cartiera Miliani”, broadens the activity by encompassing other production sites in the area, and undertakes a process of technological renewal and development of the systems.In 1783, after five hundred years, hammer mills are abandoned for Hollander beaters and in 1796, thanks also to the spur by typographer Giambattista Bodoni, production techniques - perfected in England and France - allowing production of wove paper are introduced.



both for the impoverishment of the territory caused by strong demand for indemnity advanced by Napoleon to the Papal State following the Peace of Tolentino (1797), and for the plundering of Fabriano by French General J.C. Monnier (after the insurrection of bands from the region of Marche led by cisalpine general Giuseppe La Hoz), and also due to a serious drought that in 1802 will lead him to look for hydraulic energy in other production sites: Nocera Umbra, Esanatoglia and Pioraca.

Pietro Miliani’s inheritance (1744-1817) is collected by his grandson Giuseppe Miliani (1816-1890) who at just twelve years of age begins to dedicate himself to the profession of papermaker, under the guidance of his uncles Niccolò and Tommaso. He develops the company through the acquisition of new papermills, favors technological progress both in the machines and in the refining of the watermark that, under his direction, attains levels of true art form. Besides receiving acknowledgements for production quality at the Great Expositions of London, Paris and Vienna, Miliani begins producing securities that are still today appreciated by customers the world over.

With Giambattista Miliani (1856-1937), Giuseppe’s son, the company passes from the 19th century family-run model to a structure with division of roles and responsibilities. The systems are renewed and upgraded. Besides the entrepreneurial activity, Giambattista Miliani also holds public roles as Minister of Agriculture in the government under Vittorio Emanuele Orlando; in 1927 he is nominated podestà and in 1929 senator.

After WWII, the company changes name, becoming “Cartiera Miliani Fabriano”. In 1980 control passes to the Istituto Poligrafico e Zecca dello Stato (State Mint and Polygraphic Institute) and in 2002, to Verona’s Gruppo Fedrigoni.



has had in our history and continues to have to our day. We recognize its watermark in the letters of Michelangelo Buonarroti, in the books printed by Giambattista Bodoni, in the musical scores of Ludwig van Beethoven, in the artistic works of Georgia O’Keeffe, Francis Bacon and Bruno Munari. We find it in the quality of the “technology-based” paper used to produce the euro currency, in our children’s notebooks or drawing albums, in photocopy paper or in notepads where we list the things to buy at the supermarket… A 750-year-long sheet of paper!

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