Collecting a Paper World: Experiment, Commerce, and Plant Fibres for Papermaking at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

Francesca Kubicki

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis


Situated at the intersection of historical geography, history of design, and the history of science and technology, this thesis considers a period of experiment in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, when botanists and industrialists were driven to find answers to the paper fibre shortages they faced, as demand for materials outstripped supply.

Part I presents an overview of the historical context, including relevant literature and an introduction to the paper collection at Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Chapter 1 introduces the topic, including a contextual account of the paper shortage in the
nineteenth century, an introduction to Kew’s Economic Botany Collection (EBC), and
the approaches, methods, and sources for the study. Chapter 2 is a selective review of the wider literature on the history of papermaking and the use of plant materials as approached from various disciplinary perspectives. Chapter 3 examines paper-related specimens within the EBC.

Part II considers the relationship between Kew, its paper specimens, and the paper
trade. Chapter 4 addresses the acquisition and circulation of papermaking specimens in the wider context of the relationship between Kew and the British paper trade. Chapter 5 investigates industrial paper on display, focusing on EBC specimens in the contexts of the world fairs and commercial museums. Chapter 6 examines a case study of the significant working relationship between Kew and Thomas Routledge, a papermaker and paper fibre pioneer.

Part III looks at two case studies of innovation, practice, and experiment in the search for and implementation of new paper fibres. Chapter 7 considers the use of esparto fibre in the British paper trade. Chapter 8 focuses on bamboo fibres and their development in a British imperial context. The thesis concludes in Chapter 9 with a synthesis of arguments and findings, and an outline of their wider implications.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Driver, Felix, Supervisor
  • Nesbitt, Mark, Supervisor
Thesis sponsors
Award date1 Jul 2023
Publication statusUnpublished - 2023


  • paper
  • Commerce
  • experiment
  • papermaking
  • historical geography
  • history of design
  • history of science
  • History of Museums
  • Kew Gardens
  • Fibre
  • collections
  • World Fairs
  • esparto
  • bamboo
  • Industry

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