10.05.2006

minor casualties of the 21st century

My friend Doug and I are making some letterpress notecards (who isn't these days?) and we're looking for something to print and line the envelopes with. Onion skin I thought. Kind of like the old air mail paper. Its mottled translucence, theoretically, could be interesting and it has that crinkley, unusual sound. Nice. So I started calling some stationery shops and got some chuckles on the other end of the line. One nice man mused, surely with some hyperbole, "we sold that about 40 years ago." Another said, with amusement, " you have to talk to Abe, he remembers that," and put me on hold. Alas, when Abe, evidently too busy to be troubled with memories of antiquated stock, picked up he simply said, "No, we don't got that." Todd Bielen over at Papertec Inc, which specializes in, well, "specialty papers," was very helpful. They had onion skin that, according to their site, "was approved for use by the US government and meets military spec P-157A... used in the production of military flares, munitions, and detonators." Unfortunately it was the cockle finish I was looking for and there was none left. Not only that, the "only mill in North America" that made onion skin had just ceased production. "So whatever's out there now," said Mr. Bielen with sympathy,"that's it."

I thought of something I'd read somewhere about a group of sound engineers in the 1970s who went around with microphones and reel-to-reels recording everyday sounds that were "endangered" like hand cranks and, presciently, telephone rings...


Doug and I have several options (we can try eBay, we can try Bible paper, we can go another route entirely) but I find it strangely sad.

Addendum: I've gotten an (relatively) outrageous amount of traffic from onion skin queryists. Now, in the comments for this post, The Paper Mill Store reports they have onion skin-- although I do not see any of the much-celebrated cockle finish...

15 comments:

Anonymous said...

I have a few (30?)sheets of cockle finish onionskin paper that I recently found in a box I've been carrying around for years. I think it has the type of finish which allowed one to easily erase typing mistakes. You don't give a way to contact you, or I'd just send it to you...

angela said...

OH! Aren't you wonderful...

If you read this, please contact me at

angvouATgmailDOTcom


Many thanks!

David Zaza said...

this is gonna sound ridiculous, but i have the same melancholy about the old waxed-paper wrappers that used to enclosed reese's peanut butter cups. opening up that paper and hearing that sound and following it with some yummy chocolate was something that in young adulthood could immediately transport me back to childhood. alas, they changed the wrappers to plastic, for freshness's sake, so they told me when i called to complain. but i don't remember the old ones ever being stale. these decisions, including the one to discontinue your onion skin, are just about the bottom line, i fear. [sigh]

angela said...

David-- I know exactly what you mean! I like wax paper and glassine, too. I remember my grandmother buying Land O Lakes whipped butter in waxed cardboard containers. I was just thinking about how in London you can still (I think) get chips or some kinds of take away and they'll just hand you something in wax- or butcher paper. Just like that-- no plastic, no styrofoam. Just that small throw-back is pleasantly disorienting

Marty Weil said...

I have some antique onion skin paper; I found it on a neighborhod trash day. I have about half a ream or so left. I use it in the laser printer when I don't want to burn up the good paper. Although it has a "sticky" feel to it, it amazingly still runs through the HP LaserJet printer. When I do so, the result is what looks like an old "typed" letter.

Anonymous said...

Hi folks,

We sell onion skin at The Paper Mill Store .com web site. We have tons of it, 25% cotton.

Anonymous said...

Try this place:
http://www.papertecinc.com/specPaper.cfm

They offer onion skin paper with cockle finish you are looking for.

Suzanne said...

Wow! Someone after my own heart! When I was in high school and college in the 60's, I loved going to stationary stores and picking from a beautiful array of pastel-tinted onionskin paper and envelopes in those "thin" little boxes. I would write meaningful letters with a fountain pen (another rarity nowdays), and I, too, enjoyed the crinkly sound, as I would handle and fold the letter.

Actually, my daughter and I are actively writing a book about how all the new technology is causing us to become de-personalized persons! The title is a clever one and is under lock and key, but the demise of onionskin is yet another sad example of this phenonenon. Contact me at suziemckay@gmail.com with similar stories to share....If I find out any sources, I will let you know.

notgretchen said...

Just this morning I found a letter I'd written to my sister a long time ago. Postage was 8 cents; I had just started college, she was in high school, and we were sharing mascara and plaid tops by mail.
I was as passionate then as I am now for onion skin paper. This letter I'd written was on the soft, pale yellow I still favor today, deckle-edged and with that sublimely crinkly feel and rustle and the deliciously smooth texture. There is nothing else like it - although I recently had a bar of exquisite lavender milk chocolate that came pretty close to amazing me with the refinement and surprise of onion skin stationery.
The envelope was lined with a photographic inlay of a wild flower meadow. The paper shows no signs of perishing after all this time. I would, like the rest of you, dearly love to be able to find some cockled onion skin stationery. Yes, there are the two sites online that provide regular onionskin paper, and I too have drawn a blank so far on discovering hidden troves of what we are hoping to find. I'll let you know if I find anything!

Anonymous said...

I asked a young guy at Office Max if he had onion skin paper. He said "what's that?" I said you use it with carbon paper. He replied "What's carbon paper?" I have a limited supply which I cherish. Best I can find is 15# paper. I also have some NCR paper about 13# in green, but it has a distinctive odor.

Jessica said...

Last year in Detroit, a friend and I bought a few boxes of onionskin at a drug store, laughing that it must have been sitting on the shelf for decades. Little did we know how true that was! I went into the typewriter store to replenish my supply and found out that it is no longer made. Now I am on a quest to find some. If anyone finds any, please let me know (jee5 AT calvin DOT edu). I love my eagle papers type-erase the best.

Brian Cowie said...

We have smooth 9 lb Onion Skin and have a mill that makes it especially for us.

www.thepapermillstore.com

Anonymous said...

I wrote love letters to my husband 42 years ago on lovely onion skin paper. The paper came in lovely pastels...I remember light blue and minty green. It had tiny pink rose buds all over it. And it was SCENTED. And came in the thin box someone spoke of. Could also buy matching scented envelopes. I love ALL onion skin paper! Am looking for some now. Also love the old blue air mail envelopes that start as a sheet of paper and then fold into an envelope. It's wonderful to know of others with the same attachment.

angela said...

How lovely! Since I wrote this I've gotten a number of comments pointing me in the direction of either vintage paper available or toward places which still might sell it. I am still partial to the crinkley kind.

This piece would probably be worth an update!

Tera said...

HA! Yep...I went on the hunt for onion skin paper two or so years ago and became depressed. I remember my parents having a constant supply. I still have the typed letters from relatives to me when I was in college all on onion skin paper. I also have one school and college report on what was probably the last of the onion skin paper...in the world. I was born in 71. So much has changed. I wanted it to type out a few letters one year. Was going to make a new year's resolution to get back to tactile living, more typewriters, snail mail, pencils...short lived because the lack of onion skin paper made me sad. Loved this post and your blog!

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