TidBits 011: The Straw Stock Exchange

Before May 10th, 1976, in Italy, almost everyone in everyday life in some way used that old fashioned yellow material, so fibrous and pleasantly rough that everybody calls straw paper.

But on that day, Gianfranco Merli, a politician from Leghorn, in his efforts to protect water as an environmental asset, fathered a law that, in a fraction of a second, made that type of paper too onerous to be produced in the territory. The lifespan of the yellow paper (as it is often called) had lasted about 140 years. A Tuscan its hangman, but a Tuscan its father, too: Stefano Franchi, a pharmacist from the town of Villa Basilica, who invented straw paper in 1834. Once again the town of Lucca and the history of paper walk side by side. In Borgo Giannotti, a borough outside the City Walls of Lucca, there was what nowadays we would call a Straw Stock Exchange. The cost of the raw material was decided here, a price then used all over the European continent. Hemp, linen, cotton; and also nettle and sedge (the sun-dried plant which wraps the typical Italian fiasco-style wine bottles) as well. All of these materials had been used to try and produce paper...until some straw mixed with a bit of lime led to a product that even today many of us still remember and miss.

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