Bookbinding and the Conservation of Books
A Dictionary of Descriptive Terminology

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esparto grass

A coarse grass, native to Southern Spain and Northern Africa, obtained from two species, Lygeum spartum and Stipa tenacissima, and used in the manufacture of paper. Esparto fibers have thick walls and are short, normally less than 3 mm in length, with an average length of 1.5 mm. The fiber diameter varies from about 0.005 to 0.015 mm, with an average of about 0.012 mm, giving a length to diameter ratio of 125 : 1. The fibers also tend to be curved. One of the principal characteristics of esparto is its hairs, which are located on the inner surface of the leaf. Looking something like commas, they are commonly referred to as "comma hairs." They are also called tooth cells since they also somewhat resemble teeth. In addition to the hairs, small cells with serrated edges, appearing something like miniature concertinas, are present. Both hairs and cells have a length of less than about 0.06 mm. The best grade of esparto grass is known as Spanish, while the cheaper grade (from Africa) is called Tripoli.

Introduced in England in 1850 by T. Routledge, esparto is used extensively in Great Britain, but is seldom employed in the United States, mainly because of the cost of transporting the grass or pulp made from it. In England, it is employed principally in the production of better grades of book paper.

The presence of esparto in paper is determined by the iodine-zinc chloride test, which stains deep violet, or by boiling the specimen in a 1% solution of aniline sulfate, which turns the paper pink in the presence of the grass. Also called "alfa grass," "halfa grass," and "Spanish grass." See also: ESPARTO PAPER , (17 , 143 , 198 )

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