Saturday, April 17th, 2010...12:32 pm

Mummy Dearest

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One of the things that I enjoy about attending scholarly conferences is hearing about scholars’ passions, their intellectual passions, that is.

So last night at a reception, I learned from S. J. Wolfe about the robust trade in linen mummy wrappings to feed America’s hunger for fine rag-content paper in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Apparently, Egyptian rag merchants were bringing out their dead, divesting them of their linen wrappings, and shipping the rags to the US, where fine paper (including that used in American currency) was made from them. (The mummies, in many instances, were converted into fertilizer, nourishing the roses of British monarchs.)

Wood pulp paper, developed in the 19th century, is acidic and not of fine quality (as anyone will remember from first grade when we wrote on paper, as Bill Cosby used to say, that still had big chunks of wood in it).

Wolfe, a cataloger at the American Antiquarian Society, is the author of Mummies in Nineteenth Century America: Ancient Egyptian as Artifacts (McFarland, 2009).

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