Arches Watercolor Paper Watermarks And Embossed Seals

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on 27 Apr 2013 9:56 AM

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Throughout the years, Arches has changed both their watercolor paper and their watermarks numerous times.  While they claim that their paper is the same now as it was in 1498, it’s not.  They also claim that they have been making paper since 1492, but I have several extremely old examples of Arches watercolor blocks with the 1498 date on them. 

As for the watermarks and embossed seals that Arches uses, there are quite a few different ones, however there is very little, if any information as to when they began using these various marks and why.  All of the examples I have seen have the common “Arches France” watermark, however there are variations in the size of the letters used.  The oldest example I have has an oval embossed seal on the upper left corner with the words “Veritable Papier D’Arches” around the inner border and “torchon” in the center.  This paper also has four natural deckle edges. Aside from paper that I have, I have not seen or heard anything about this seal.  Later sheets contain the “Veritable Papier D’Arches Torchon” on the corner of the sheet.  This stamp then changed to say “Aquarelle Arches”.  As for the watermarks, I have seen sheets with various numbers, letters and symbols.  The newest sheets contain the “Infinity” symbol, but previous examples include letters such as “A” an upside down “T” & an upside down “U”,  Numbers such as “61” “71” & “88”, and various other symbols.

Does anybody have any information as to why the various symbols were used, and when they started and stopped using each?

From my own experience over my 45+ year career as a professional watercolorist and teacher, I know for sure that the watercolor paper Arches produces today is not the same as it used to be.  This is also evident in the vast difference between the various sheets I have from different periods of time, primarily in surface texture prior to the year 1980.  I wonder if the various different watermarks used by Arches were a means of keeping track of batches of paper created using slightly different formulas or processes. Why they would have even done this remains a mystery to me since Arches claims that their paper has not changed since the company was established over 500 years ago.

Please add whatever you may know about the years the marks were used, any other marks you may have encountered, and any reasons why these various marks were used. 

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on 11 May 2013 6:30 AM

Just a bit of background info to accompany our previous post. My name is William J Senior, however, for the sake of familiarity, just call me Bill. I have been a professional watercolorist for the past 45 years and along with my son, Tim, who is an art historian, have assembled a collection (which I had began in the mid 1970s) of various types of handmade and mould made watercolor papers ranging in dates from the mid 19th century to present. I do use, and have always used quite a bit of this paper for my personal artwork, however the majority of the paper in our collection is not for use or for sale, but rather for the purpose of preservation and education. While we do not have an overly excessive amount of any one type, we do have quite a variety. In our search for information pertaining to these various papers, and their manufacturers, we have found very little about them, save a few which include primarily Whatman and D’Arches. 

In our quest to gather information, which we intend to compile as a means for others to benefit from as well by way of a research library which will not only include both descriptions and various photographs. We are always looking for more information so that our collection will benefit the widest variety of researchers from beginning painters to experienced professionals in the areas of the creation, restoration and history of fine art watercolor painting in the United States and parts of Europe. We have chosen to begin with D’Arches, despite the fact that it is not alphabetically the first on our list. There are several other manufacturers that we are looking to gather info on, some already have some history that can be found, others seem as though they never existed based on how little we have been able to find, which in some cases is no information whatsoever. D’Arches seemed like the best place to start, since it is one of the most widely used, and due to the vast amount of changes that have occurred in not only its surface qualities, but also, in some cases its overall quality in general.

While the papers available today are suitable for professional work, including some of the newer handmade sheets, which have entered into the realm of fine watercolor paper, they still do not have the same durability as the papers from the past. It would only be fair to note at this point that the makers of Twinrocker paper have produced an outstandingly excellent sheet of paper from the standpoint of overall quality of craftsmanship, but also in terms of the excellence of surface texture. However, even this paper lacks the ability to retain its surface integrity when placed under the demands of some of today’s more innovative contemporary watercolor techniques. Even when the papermaking process transitioned in many cases from hand made to mould made processes (Whatman began producing mould made watercolor paper as early as the mid to late 1800s), the papers still maintained a high standard of all of the above-mentioned attributes. There is no reason why these high standards cannot still be met today, especially considering the advancements in the ability of papermakers to not only chemically, but also physically analyze what made the outstanding papers of the past as great as they were. 

So, what we intend is to continue this forum as a means of not only the gathering of information, which we lack at this given time, but also as a means of creating an atmosphere of the asking and answering of questions that may lead to the accomplishment of our original goal of an online reference library. Hopefully, it will also act as a means of calling forth a company or paper manufacturer who is willing to rise up to the challenge, which will be presented through the construction of a difficult, yet not impossible list of criteria by which a truly great sheet of paper can once again be produced.

Please add whatever thoughts, comments or ideas you may have. We intend for this conversation to be lively, and informative for all who participate. If anyone knows of any other forums that include information similar to that which we are trying to obtain and compile, please let us know so that we can participate in those as well.

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on 17 Aug 2013 5:07 PM

Dear Bill,

I'm an art historian currently cataloging an artist's drawings for an exhibition catalog. Many of his drawings (which date from the early 1960s through the 1980s) were done on Arches paper. I wondered what the status was of your compilation as I have some questions about watermarks that I wanted to ask you. Is it possible to email you directly? Thanks.

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on 18 Aug 2013 2:08 PM

Hi Daphne,

We have done quite a bit of research on this topic and have found very little.  The Arches Company does not readily release much information regarding the various watermarks they use.  Upon starting this project, one of our primary goals was to try to establish a means of dating and documenting the changes that occurred over time in the paper itself, as well as the introduction of the different watermarks and embossed seals.  This information has so far been quite elusive.

When we started, we tried several forums.  We received the largest response from the post we submitted to the Wet Canvas Forums, so we focused primarily on that site to continue the discussion.  If you want to visit it, it contains a good amount of helpful info, provided by us, as well as other people.  You can find it here:

http://www.wetcanvas.com/forums/showthread.php?p=19595356#p19595356

Since it can be hard to date paper primarily by the Watermark, and since most artists don’t even look at the watermarks, we decided instead to begin with the various Arches watercolor blocks we have in our collection.  We felt that the blocks may be easier to try to date, especially since there are several key differences between the examples we show.  Our hope was that, by establishing dates, or date ranges, for the blocks, we would then be able to approximate the dates of the various watermarks based on the similarities between the paper in the blocks and the sheets we have.  Unfortunately, we had to stop posting to the forum due to several factors, however, I do intend on adding more info in the coming weeks. 

We would be happy to answer any questions you may have to the best of our abilities, so please don’t hesitate to ask. You can contact us directly at:

 hiffnhoffer@verizon.net

Hope we can help,

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Tim & Bill

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on 20 Aug 2013 3:16 PM

Hi, I posted a longer reply a couple days ago, but it still isn't showing as of today, August 20.  Hope this one goes up sooner.  You can contact us at hiffnhoffer@verizon.net.  Hopefully we will be able to provide some help.  

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