Gustav M. Bruce writes in Luther as an Educator:

The first paper mill was established in Italy in 1276, and the first paper mill in Germany was opened at Mainz in 1320."

On the other hand, a website providing information about Nürnberg writes:

"dass die früheste Papiermühle in Deutschland von Ulman Stromer im Jahre 1390 vor den Toren von Nürnberg errichtet wurde."

Translation: The first paper mill in German was build by Ulman Stromer in the year 1390 outside the gates of Nürnberg

How good is the evidence for the existence of the mill in Mainz?

  • The first paper mill was in China, about 200 BC. – fdb Jan 1 at 19:19
  • @fdb : As far as I can research the Chinese had paper very early but it was created at the time with manual labor and not with a mill. As a result the production costs are different. – Christian Jan 1 at 19:54
  • Was Italian mill of 1276 not manual? – fdb Jan 1 at 21:29
  • "vor den Toren" means "outside the gates", not "in front of the doors". – fdb Jan 2 at 0:57
  • I also saw a reference to Ravensburg in 1190, fwiw. – John Dee Jul 23 at 21:00
up vote 3 down vote accepted

In his essay Materials for Writing, and Forms of Books (available online in the 1978 History of Books and Printing edited by Paul A. Winckler), Falconer Madan reiterates the claim that a paper mill was established in Mainz, in 1320

. In Germany the first factories seem to have been established between Cologne and Mainz towards the end of the thirteenth century, and in Mainz itself about the year 1320.

In From Paper-Mill to Pressroom by William Bond Wheelwright and published in 1920:

The oldest-known document on cotton paper is a deed of King Roger of Sicily, dated 1102. It is probable that the famous mills of Fabriano sprang from Sicilian sources; their establishment was followed in 1360 by a mill in Padua, and later in Treviso, Bologna, Palma, Milan and Venice, while the first paper-mill of Germany was that of Ulman Stromer at Mainz in 1320.

At least one error in the preceding quote - Ulman Stromer was not the founder of an Mainz papermill in 1320, because: he was born in 1329, in Nuremberg, and kept a diary chronicling the founding of his Papermill in Nuremberg in 1390.

From Scribes, Script, and Books: The Book Arts from Antiquity to the Renaissance, by Leila Avrin [1991]:

In the fourteenth century, papermaking spread northward. By the 1320's there were mills in Cologne, Augsburg, and Mainz, and in 1390, Italian papermakers operated the Stromer Mill just outside Nuremberg.


Recap:

The provenance of Ulman Stromer's paper mill in Nuremberg, founded 1390, is well established from his (extant) diary. There are conflicting claims of earlier mills, in the Rhineland, predating Stromer's by 70 years; however I can find no corroborating evidence of these claims beyond vague references in 20th century documents. I will give the last word to The Gutenberg Museum in Mainz, who one might expect to have a bias (if at all) favouring a Mainz claim:

Documents tell us that the first paper mill in Germany was Ulman Stromer’s Gleismühl in Nuremberg which started manufacture in 1390.

Wikipedia states that paper use in Europe originated in Islamic-controlled Spain in the 11th century, migrated to Christian Spain shortly afterward, France in the 12th century, and Italy in the 13th. From there, it made its way to Germany in the 14th century, Mainz in 1320, and Nurnberg in 1390.

The source cited for the "Mainz" claim is a 2002 paper written by Neathery Fuller. She is the wife of Archaeology lecturer Michael Fuller, and the two of them together won a Distinguished Service Award in 2009 given by the Archaeological Institute of America. Mrs. Fuller is a middle school teacher who leads summer archaeology field trips to Europe and Africa.

  • @PieterGeerkens and TomAu Google books search results for "Mainz paper 1320" contain a number of early 20th-century references to mills in Mainz, or mills between Mainz and Cologne, around 1320. Although these are simple assertions of the Mainz theory, the search results show that the theory has been around for awhile. – Spencer Dec 31 '17 at 15:05

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