Watermarks in the documental collection of the Church of Our Lady of Loreto, in Lisbon: 16th and 17th centuries




The study of watermarks makes a valuable contribution to the history of paper, providing important data on manufacturers, mills and paper mills, and opens up complementary and significant analytical perspectives for the Economic History.

Unlike in Europe, in Portugal studies on watermarks are recent and scattered. New (and current) perspectives on the classification of watermarks emerged from the recent study by Maria José Santos, Marcas de Água: séculos XIV –XIX. Coleção TECNICELPA (published with the support of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation), which also established methodological proposals that may be replicable in similar studies. 

However, in this work, given the characteristics of the collection, the technical issues of watermarks surveying were not sufficiently addressed. In fact, in the past, the collection of watermarks (in single documents or printed books) was done almost exclusively through direct decal, whereas today the use of digital photography with transmitted light constitutes a more rigorous method and, in addition, less invasive to the conservation of the paper itself. Moreover, whereas in the collection of watermarks, the use of a table topped with light may be enough for photographic registration of loose documents, the collection of watermarks in codices or printed books is best done with equipment of optical fibre, due to the flexibility of the cold light blade, which enables a high definition image recording. When it is not possible to obtain a quality picture, due to the state of preservation of the sheet of paper or ink, the photographic record can be completed with a second survey, through a decal from the picture, done with a digital panel and a digital vector drawing program. The innovation of this project lies precisely in this use of new resources. It aims to gather a collection of watermarks from the documents of the 16th and 17th centuries existing in the archives of the church of Our Lady of Loreto in Lisbon, according to the norms of the International Association Of Paper Historians (IPH) and using the current technologies for their surveying and reproduction. The documentation consists of about 2000 single sheets and some books. The collection and classification of watermarks will follow the standards proposed by IPH. Regarding their description, we will use the terminology proposed by the Bernstein Vocabulary (Watermark-Terms, Vocabulary for Watermark Description), which constitutes a complementary resource to IPH's standards, thus promoting a coherent, specific and collective language concerning the terms used by different researchers in the description of watermarks.


Start: 2016

Duration: 11 months

Principal Investigator: Nunziatella Alessandrini (CHAM)




- Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian

- Faculdade de Ciências Sociais e Humanas / Universidade Nova de Lisboa


- Cátedra de Estudos Sefarditas «Alberto Benveniste»
- Igreja Italiana de Nossa Senhora do Loreto