The Origin of Mohawk Superfine

Quite likely, every bookbinder and book conservator located in North America has used Mohawk Superfine paper.  It’s a wonderful paper for many applications: textblocks for models, endpapers for circulating collections, lining boards and spines, labels, and so on.

Surprisingly, at least to me, the name does not come from 1970s urban slang, or the 1960s Garage Rock band The Superfine Dandelion, but was coined in 1946.

Mohawk originally developed Superfine as the result of a challenge from Yale University Press to produce an attractive, archival text paper for their reprint of The Papers of Benjamin Franklin. A Mohawk representative showed a sample of the new paper to a customer in Boston, who reportedly said, “this is a superfine sheet of paper.


One Reply to “The Origin of Mohawk Superfine”

  1. I would be wary of believing the stories spread by advertising copywriters, especially when they are repeating something the company’s CEO said. My 1940 copy of the American Paper and Pulp Association’s Dictionary of Paper defines “Superfine Writing” as “(1) Highest type of writing paper such as loft-dried 100 per cent rag fiber of best quality. (2) A writing paper with a fine smooth finish and a closed formation, made of sulphite, soda, and some rag pulp. It is not loft-dried. The better grades of flat writings and vellums would fall into the superfine group.” Superfine was evidently not a new type description in 1946.
    The OED’s third definition of “superfine” is “Consisting of very fine particles or threads,” with examples back to 1656. It does say that this meaning (surface finish as opposed to quality) is obsolete; but it was clearly in use among American papermakers. Those of us who read Georgette Heyer will remember references to gentlemens’ coats of superfine cloth….er…um…Georgette who? Never heard of her. Never heard of her. I’ve been out reading Hemngway…
    There would have been less demand for supercalendered printing papers before the 1940s, since offset printing for text was less common than letterpress. Mohawk Superfine may have been an early example of fine-surfaced printing, rather than writing, papers. But the extension of an established term to a new part of the product line hardly deserves the hoopla given to it by Mohawk’s flacks.
    I have always been confused about just which papers were actually Mohawk Superfine. There used to be at least two, clearly distinguishable by surface finish, sold by different retailers. The more matte of the two was apparently the same as what other retailers sold as “Mohawk Letterpress.” I suppose I could have ordered a sample book for the line; but I never got around to it.

    Tom Conroy,
    cranky in California.

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