In reading Yasmine Kerber's question to yesterday's MMDigest, several
comments come to mind.
My first comment is that music roll paper is still being produced
today, and its manufacture was certainly not localized in Germany.
American music roll producers, of which there were many (and still
are a few), certainly did not go to the trouble and expense of
importing tons of paper from Germany or anywhere in Europe -- the
paper was manufactured right here in the U.S.A. or Canada, where wood
is plentiful and papermaking was a thriving industry.
My second comment is that the qualities of the paper used for music
rolls differed slightly depending on whether the machines used for
playing the rolls were indoors or in an outdoor location, exposed to
the varying air and weather conditions found in an unenclosed setting.
The quality of dimensional stability mentioned by Yasmine becomes much
more important for music rolls that will be played outdoors.
I cannot believe that air-tightness was a big consideration in
music-roll paper production. Any paper strong enough to survive the
constant replaying of a music roll is going to be airtight enough for
that use. More important is resistance to abrasion, so that as a music
roll passes over the tracker bar a minimum amount of its surface is
Surface abrasion leads to clogging up the tracker bar or the valves of
the instrument's pneumatic system with "paper dust" worn off from the
roll surface. This is minimized by proper calendering of the paper in
the manufacturing process or, more fundamentally, by the composition of
the paper itself. Some papers are said to be waxed (impregnated with
a wax coating) to reduce surface abrasion, and this may also improve
the properties of the paper necessary for good, clean perforation of a
maximum number of copies at one time.
If Yasmine is still conducting analyses of music roll paper, I would
like to send her some samples of Wurlitzer's famous "green paper"
used by the company in music roll manufacture. There are various
unproven stories about that paper:
- that it was imported from a Canadian mill;
- that it was made in Erie, Pennsylvania;
- that it was impregnated with a special surface coating;
- that the paper was made with a high resin content.
What is known is that the Wurlitzer paper was always green (except
for a few very early rolls on red paper or other colors), that it had a
distinctive semi-translucent look, that it was very durable and lasted
for decades with virtually no surface abrasion. Wurlitzer rolls from
the early 1900s are in use today and their paper, where it has not been
exposed to the elements (acid air) and sunlight, can still be played
One factor that affects the shelf life of any paper is the lignin
content of the wood pulp used in making the paper. Newsprint, for
example, is almost entirely wood pulp and has a very high lignin
content. That is why newspapers begin turning yellow, then brown,
and disintegrating within months of their publication, and why
libraries must microfilm their newspaper collections to preserve them.
Those same libraries contain printed books from the incunabula era
(15th century), whose paper is still strong, sound, and un-yellowed.
That is due to the fact that the paper used in those early years had
a high rag contents and little or no lignin. Today you can buy
specially-manufactured "archival" paper, when its use justifies its
The Library of Congress' Preservation Directorate has done extensive
research on paper, the factors affecting its performance, and its
preservation, as well as on more modern media for the recording of
data, such as film, tape, and digital media. One sad conclusion is
that no medium lasts forever and that all recording media have a finite
I think that one of the problems Yasmine is up against in conducting
her research is that paper mills are huge outfits, manufacturing many
different kinds of paper for many different uses. Today's music roll
makers find that, in order to interest a paper mill in providing the
kind of paper needed in the weight needed, the customer must be
prepared to buy literally _tons_ of paper. The next time the customer
tries to reorder that paper he finds that the paper mill is not
manufacturing it. Ask John Malone, owner of Play-Rite Music Rolls,
Inc., Turlock, Calif., or any buyer of music roll paper. The story
is pretty much the same.
No doubt in the old days Welte or QRS or Wurlitzer or Seebnrg had an
easier time finding a constant and reliable source of paper for their
use. But how many of them used a paper mill that specialized in music
roll paper? I doubt any of them did. Hence the difficulty in finding
written data about music roll paper manufacturing methods.
Irondequoit, New York
[ Matthew retired in 1997 after 35 years of service in the Rare Book
[ and Special Collections Division of Library of Congress. -- Robbie