“Ladies, save your RAGS.” That was the headline of an ad that appeared in a Worcester, Massachusetts newspaper dated February 8, 1801. It went on to state “every woman who has the good of her country and the interest of her own family at heart, will patronize (the new paper mill) by saving her rags, and sending them to their Manufactory, or to the nearest Storekeeper…who will give a generous price.”
We don’t see ads like that anymore, even though the thought of recycling just about everything is more prevalent than ever today. Two hundred years ago making due with whatever was available was a way of life and a business necessity. In the paper making industry the use of discarded linen rags was absolutely essential to producing fine quality paper. A premium was paid to anyone who would sell old cloth to be made into paper. It was for that reason that the founders of Crane & Company paper mills advertised, and appealed to the patriotic side of women to help start their new business in southern Massachusetts.
The Crane company, which began production in 1801, has specialized in quality paper ever since. Crane paper has been put to many uses over the years, including paper collars, fine stationery, and wrappers for repeater shells used in the Winchester Model 1873 rifle. Specimens of Crane watermarked papers are avidly sought by collectors as commemorative sheets and examples of the paper maker’s art. The company continues in business today under the same name, with mills on the Housatonic River in Dalton, Massachusetts.
Long before the United States issued its own paper money, Crane supplied the paper used for notes issued by private banks. In the 1920’s George Walker lost two travelers checks issued by a Colorado bank. Eighteen years later they were found 500 miles away in an eagle’s nest near Butte, Montana. They were fully redeemable because their design was still clear. The checks remained intact because they were printed on high-quality rag paper manufactured by Crane & Company.
It was not surprising then, that when the United States began making its paper money at the outbreak of the Civil War, Crane was selected to be the prime source of supply. Since that time the company has produced nearly all of the paper used for manufacture of American currency. And what is the secret for making the world’s most durable paper money? Rags! Yes the formula is still very much like the original recipe for making linen paper. The process is a little more conventional today and the rags are mostly scraps of cloth left over from the clothing industry, but they still serve the same purpose of providing long fibers to make paper as sturdy and serviceable as possible.
In the recent past a dollar bill lasted about nine months in circulation. Today the average dollar bill can survive 19 months of use, and withstand 8,000 folds. The success of Crane paper is all because of the rags that go into making it. If it were not for cut up T-shirts and underwear your money would probably be worn out in a matter of weeks or a few months at most. So, don’t be offended if someone refers to money as rags. The name is well justified. And because of this paper collectors are sometimes called “rag pickers.” A title they accept with great pleasure.