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Trivia Contest Solved: The Dragon is a Watermark

Nobody correctly guessed the answer to the trivia contest, which was to explain what this dragon was:124133 The correct answer is that the dragon was a watermark used by a printer in Ulm, Germany in 1449.
The image comes from the Piccard Database, an online collection of watermarks. Paper was first created in Europe in Moorish Spain toward the end of the 11th century, the first paper mills in Italy date to the 12th century. Watermarks like the one above were created by twisting wire in to the shape of the watermark, then placing it on the sieve where the paper was pressed into sheets. The wire made the paper slightly thinner, tracing the shape of the watermark as faint lines. The exact purpose of late-medieval watermarks is disputed; one theory was that they signified the class of paper.

Watermarks are particularly important for dating manuscripts. Generally, the run of paper bearing a particular watermarks would be used up completely within two years, permitting researchers to date various works and sections of works by finding exact matches of watermarks. The problem is, there were thousands of similar marks being used. Therefore, scholars, including Charles-Moise Briquet and Gerhard Piccard (g) set about collecting databases of them. Upon his death in 1989, Piccard had a collection of 95,000 watermark tracings, most of which are now online in the Piccard Database of the State Archive of Baden-Württemberg. Most of this information, by the way, comes from an article by Sven Limbeck on pp. 46-47 of this fascinating publication (g) which I picked up at Wiblingen Monastery.

Perhaps this contest was a bit too hard; I decided to cut out only the shape of the dragon, thinking that its 'wiry' form might be clue enough. Anyway, thanks to everyone for throwing their hat in the ring.

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