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Priceless antique papers to be digitised

Wednesday, 29 June 2016
By Print 21 Online Article

From the Zonghi collection

A treasure trove of antique papers dating back to the 13th century has been acquired by the Italian-based Gianfranco Fedrigoni Foundation ISTOCARTA, which plans to digitally scan the collection for online study.

The foundation says it has fulfilled its longstanding wish to acquire the priceless collection of antique papers assembled by filigranologist Augusto Zonghi (1840-1916) thanks to “the remarkable generosity of a sustaining board member.” The collection was also being sought by the US Library of Congress in Washington D.C. and the Labarre Foundation of the Netherlands.

The Zonghi collection consists in of ten large archival cases containing 198 folders holding original fragments and whole sheets of historic paper samples from Fabriano – the earliest of which date from the thirteenth century – and the album of tracings of the “Watermarks from the historic mills of Fabriano,” organized in 134 tables, with 1887 watermarks traced from 3,372 paper samples examined by Zonghi.

In a statement, the foundation said: The Gianfranco Fedrigoni Foundation ISTOCARTA intends to initiate the digital scanning of the papers in the collection, enabling them to be eventually added to the existing European network of paper sample collections with reference to the project Bernstein ‘Memory of Paper’, supported by the European Commission.  The project aims at creating a European network online for the study of antique papers and the simultaneous consultation of the databases.  In addition, the Foundation aims to support Fabriano as a center for historical paper studies.


The Zonghi collection has long been held in high regard by researchers and paper historians around the world, and was exhibited as early as 1900 at the Universal International Exposition of Paris, where it was pronounced ‘unique in the world’ by the Judiciary Committee and acknowledged as a valuable reference source for the study of paper made in the Fabriano area, one of the most historically important papermaking centres of Europe.

Upon Augusto’s death in 1916, his collection came into the possession of the Colombo Baravelli family of Fabriano, who preserved it until the present day.

After several mid-20th century attempts to purchase the Zonghi papers and take them out of the country, Adriano Casciola, then-director of the Fabriano city library, persuaded the Ministry of Public Education to declare the collection of ‘significant historical and cultural importance’ and issue a decree preventing their sale outside of Italy.

The decree was officially signed by the Ministry on September 17, 1951, thereby preventing any national or international entity from removing the  collection to a location outside of Italy.  After publication of the limited edition volume Zonghi’s Watermarks by the Paper Publications Society of Hilversum, Holland in 1953, interest in the collection by librarians, scholars and historians continued to grow. Organizations such as the Labarre Foundation of the Netherlands, the Library of Congress of Washington D.C. in the USA, and the Istituto Centrale per il Restauro e la Conservazione del Patrimonio Archivistico e Librario (ICRCPAL) of Rome all communicated the importance of accessibility of the collection of original papers to interested researchers from all over the world.

Recently, the Gianfranco Fedrigoni Foundation ISTOCARTA made an offer to acquire the collection from its present owners, and a 60-day waiting period transpired while the right of first refusal by the competent authorities was in effect.  Upon completion of this step, the announcement was made that the path was clear for the acquisition of the collection by the non-profit organization ISTOCARTA.


The Augusto Zonghi Collection consists of ten large archival cases containing 198 folders holding original paper samples which date from the thirteenth century.  The samples were collected by Prof. Augusto from local archival documents and illustrated by his brother Can. Aurelio Zonghi, a celebrated figure of Fabriano. The papers have since been kept in a custom antique wooden chest (pictured).

An album of tracings of the “Watermarks from the historic mills of Fabriano” collected by Professor Augusto Zonghi accompanies the collection.  Zonghi carefully reproduced 1887 watermarks in outline form organizing the images in 134 Tables.  The watermarks were traced from 3,372 paper samples examined and manually described by Zonghi in a register, where he recorded the following information: catalogue number, date of the document, description of the watermark design, number of chain lines present in the sheet, dimensions of the whole sheet, and provenance and reference information regarding the source of the fragment or full sheet.  This data establishes essential parameters for the individual watermarks (when present) and the historical and technical characteristics of the individual paper sheets.

The collection is of inestimable value for paper historians, librarians, conservators, collectors and other interested scholars, that will only increase in importance with the additional information certain to be revealed by further study from numerous perspectives: historical, technical and scientific.

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