At Crane, Peter Hopkins Keeps the Flame

Written by in Profiles


“I’ve never had a good elevator speech,” Peter Hopkins told us over the phone this week. What he does have is one very forceful rhetorical question: have you ever made paper before? “Ninety-nine out of a hundred people answer ‘No, I never have,’ and I say, ‘Well, you should.’ Because you’ll always remember the first time you had sex, and you’ll always remember the first time you made paper.”

Hopkins, who is a paper historian and media relations consultant for Crane & Co., writes The Crane Insider, a blog which celebrates the tradition and craft of the great stationery maker and serves up the occasional slice of rural New England life. (This week: bagpipes and reenactments of colonial history at Pownal Elementary School.) Hopkins recalled for us the moment he knew he was paper-crazy. “It was back in 1989, and it was my first tour of the paper mill at Crane: the Pioneer Mill, which was built in 1870.

“I was with the machine boss, whose name was Lauren Gingras—a wonderful papermaker who was just a few years from retirement—and we were walking next to the paper machine in the mill. All of a sudden he stops dead in his tracks. I asked him, ‘What’s wrong?’ He said, ‘I’ve got a bearing going out in the dryer section.’ ‘Really? Did you hear that?’ ‘No, no. It came up through my shoes. I could feel it.’”


Hopkins’s writing and conversation are distinguished by curiosity and delight—by a plain and honest sense of wonder. When we told him we’d expected a paper historian to be more of a grumpy Luddite, he laughed and said that history “need not be totally nostalgic or burdensome to what you’re doing in your life. History is alive, and becomes more so with each new discovery… I don’t miss phonebooks, I don’t miss road maps. I use technology just like everybody else. But unlike a lot of people, I use technology to convince people to use paper.”


For Hopkins, the use of paper isn’t a question of technological convenience. It’s a moral question. He’s confident that even the savviest of the tech-savvy can appreciate that. “This past holiday season, Facebook printed up this magnificent package to send to their best advertisers. They didn’t send them an e-mail. They didn’t send them an e-card. They sent them this fabulous package of 100%-cotton paper, letter-pressed paper, paper from a printing tradition that goes back hundreds and hundreds of years. [That is, Crane Lettra paper. See sidebar.] They did that because it counts.

And as for Luddites: “It wasn’t that long ago that those who adopted technology—the early adopters of cell phones, e-mail, IM, texting—these were the folks who were on the edge. Now they’re just the faceless masses. Those who use paper are the people who now stand out. There are times that actually demand that you pick up pen and put it to paper. If you don’t, you’re the Luddite.”

A Few More Questions for Peter…

Peter Hopkins searched for the key to Crane Lettra paper’s supreme “pillowiness,” and discussed a paper-history mystery. Let’s talk about Crane’s Lettra brand. You’re on the record calling it “pillowy.” Explain.

I can try. I remember watching the letterpress do its thing with Lettra, and the action of the press and the resulting impression—it’s like punching a pillow, when you’re trying to get it into just the right shape to go to bed at night. There’s a lot of air in Lettra paper. Not a lot of big science here. It’s hard, thick cotton paper, but it’s got a lot of air in it. How they do it, I have no clue.

Lettra is one of the few times that a paper has actually elevated an art form. Usually it’s the art form that stands out from the substrate on which it’s presented. Lettra has completely transformed letterpress as an art form. It adds a third dimension to letterpress. The impressions are so deep and so hard-cornered that you see shadows—you don’t just see ink, you see shadows—when the light moves one way or another. And it adds a whole new element to designing on paper. It allows for very, very fine line detail, and it allows for much more subtle inks to be used, because of those shadows. It is magical stuff.

Last month you discovered a mysterious paper machine in the Lenox, MA basement of a deceased Yugoslavian industrialist. Have you made any further discoveries about this thing? You realize this makes you the Indiana Jones of paper historians.

This is such a hoot. (It’s also something that shows you I’m paper-crazy.) I’m in the basement of this guy’s mansion after he’s died and there’s this hand paper mill here. I couldn’t save anything else out of this place except this thing that says it’s a Mikro-Papiermaschine.

I don’t have any further discoveries about this thing, but I have a friend who works for the marketing department of TAPPI (the Technical Association of the Pulp and Paper Industry) in Atlanta, and he’s going to be sending my blog post in the next worldwide newsletter. So I’m betting somebody somewhere is going to know something about this thing. There’s nothing anywhere I can’t find. I’m pretty good at finding stuff. I have a feeling that somebody in one of the Slovakias is going to say, “Ah! I remember!”—and hopefully, they’ll get back to us.

Even if I never get a grasp on the machine’s history, I will—somehow—get it to make paper someday. It has to happen.

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  1. 01

    You’ve definitely captured Peter and all he stands for… Great article!

  2. 02
    Matt Porter said:

    Let’s hope we see Peter soon teaching the fine art of paper making in Atlanta!

  3. 02
    mrted57 said:

    Elevator speeches are so overrated.

  4. 04
    Susan Sivak said:

    As an independently owned stationery store, we think Peter’s quotes on the compatibility of technology & paper are wonderful!

  5. 10

    I definitely want to read a bit more on that site soon. By the way, pretty good design that site has, but what do you think about changing it from time to time?