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Canson® History

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1557 Birth of a saga


While François de Guise is arming troops to recapture the kingdom of Naples from the Spanish, and at a time when tensions prevail between Catholics and Protestants, Ambert papermaker Jacques Montgolfier leaves his native Auvergne to settle in the Beaujolais area.
This marks the beginning of the geographical expansion of this family which, across several centuries, is to set up a large number of paper mills.


1692 Vidalon, cradle of paper inventions


Michel and Raymond Montgolfier – the sons of the Beaujeu papermaker – arrived in Vidalon where the Chelles papermaking family of Auvergne was involved in paper sizing. They fell in love with the master's daughters and, two weeks later, married Françoise and Marguerite, a union which rooted the Montgolfier family in Vivarais.

That year, the Bibliothèque Nationale opened to the public.


1777 The beautiful vellum of Annonay, heralding the technical revolution


Those with a penchant for nostalgia dreamed of beautiful parchment stemming from the skin of stillborn calves – vellum. If only we could produce a smooth paper, without any traces of laid lines… The Montgolfier achieved it by reproducing the technique of the English, followed by the papermakers Johannot and Réveillon, at the time when the first French newspaper, the Journal de Paris, came into being.


The Vidalon paper mill. The wooden dryers above the stone ground-floor. © Musée des Papeteries Canson et Montgolfier


1780 Seeking whiteness with the Hollander beater


Importations of white paper from Holland offset the kingdom's trade balance. This worried the Languedoc authorities who decided to encourage the papermaking firm most likely to be able to process rags according to the Dutch method. The Montgolfier firm was chosen. Despite the onset of labour strikes, industrialisation is on its way, while the country's financial situation plummets and social inequalities between the three orders widen.

Pierre Montgolfier




1782 From paper to the conquest of the skies and space


On 14 December 1782, a strange paper bag inflates above a fire in the Montgolfier brothers' garden. It straightens up and lifts off into the sky. It crosses the river and gently lands on a hillside. Joseph and Etienne Montgolfier transformed the dream of Icarus into a reality. One day, man will fly like a bird…

1782 was a fundamental year for science: Lavoisier discovered the composition of water.






1784 The Manufacture Royale of Vidalon


On 19 March, the Montgolfier paper mills were hoisted to the rank of Manufacture Royale, a highly coveted title by all of the kingdom's papermakers. It was bestowed on those whose innovation potential ranked them at the top of the profession.

A few years later, the Bastille fell. The king's favour would no longer be seen as desirable.

In 1784, the Manufacture took on a motto and a coat of arms: the red and gold check of Annonay, the hot-air balloon invented by the Montgolfier brothers and the motto Ite per orbem (Go around the world) which evokes the already international spread of papers.


1801 Birth of Canson and Montgolfier


Etienne de Montgolfier has been dead for two years. His son-in-law, Barthélemy Barou de la Lombardière de Canson takes over from him.

This is when the name Canson® first appears in the history of papermaking, a name which will become mythical for artists and lovers of beautiful papers.


With the founding of the Banque de France, purchases are now paid for in germinal francs.



Barthélémy Barou de la Lombardière de Canson


1809 Transparency and colour, the papermaker's innovation


The Canson® family continued to focus on innovation like the Montgolfier before them. In the greatest secrecy, they invented tracing paper, this transparent medium which avoided the need for architects to redraw the same plan again and again. Then, they started colouring paper in the pulp, giving the sheets a lasting, uniform colour.

Napoleon continued his conquest of Europe.

Tracing © Sandrine Alouf​


1824 The suction box – the beginning of modernisation


The Canson® family constantly strives for improvement.

Etienne invents the famous suction boxes which improve water drainage by sucking out the water under the metal mesh, thereby giving more resistance to the sheet being formed.

While Charles X ascends to the throne, communication is being revolutionized by the family cousin Marc Seguin, also great grandson of Pierre Montgolfier, as he builds the first suspension bridge across the Rhône.


1827 Internal sizing, a new step


With the paper machine, it became urgent to modernise sizing. How could such long sheets be manually be dipped in a gelatine bath? Barthélémy and Etienne de Canson develop a sticky wax-based product which is mixed into the paper pulp.

The technological revolution also spreads to railroads with the commissioning of the Saint-Etienne-Andrézieux line, the first in the European rail network.


1853 Vidalon photo papers


Nicéphore Niecpce added a new dimension to art, that of photography. In the Vidalon laboratory, the papermakers create a paper which avoids the costly use of gold chloride or platinum.

They obtain numerous patents in France and abroad.

Napoléon III marries Eugénie de Montijo.

Emperors succeed one another, battles are won, but Canson paper remains.


1910 The Montval® adventure


Finding quality rag paper for the printing of artwork was becoming increasingly difficult. Artistide Maillol asked his nephew Gaspard to make him some nice sheets of paper for his woodcuts. He set to work in Montval® , near Marly-le-Roy, but the war interrupted his efforts. On his return, he settled on the bank of the Deûme to produce the famous Montval® paper with its bather imprint. The fauvists, the cubists, Kandinsky and Paul Klee surprise the public at their first exhibitions.

And man is still trying to fly: the hydroplane of engineer Henri Fabre, a cousin of the Montgolfier, manages to fly over a distance of 800 metres above the Etang de Berre.

Montval® paper sampler, 1925-1930 © Musée des papeteries Canson et Montgolfier​


1926 A subsidiary in New York


Having an agent in the United States, like in numerous other countries, was no longer sufficient to the Canson®paper mills. On 1st July, Canson® & Montgolfier Incorporated was inaugurated.

At the same time, Edouard Herriot takes over from Artistide Briand, and the French standardisation association AFNOR comes into being.


1947 The Canson® pack in all school bags


Art teachers weighed down by piles of notebooks to mark, drawings that cannot be exhibited… The Canson®paper mills find the solution: a paper pack to sell sheets by the dozen and preserve them. The famous pack was born, withstanding the passage of time and fashions.

Meanwhile, Christian Dior presents his very first collection, and Boris Vian publishes L’Ecume des Jours.

First French Canson® pack produced in 1947, © Musée des Papeteries Canson et Montgolfier​


1956 Arjomari, a turning point for Canson®


Three years earlier, the famous Johannot d’Annonay paper mills had joined the Arches and Marais paper mills.

They were then joined by Blanchet and Kléber de Rives, thus giving birth to Arjomari (Arches, Johannot, Marais, Rives).

The Annonay buildings were sold to the Canson® & Montgolfier paper mills which, twenty years later, would also joined the Arjomari Group.

Serge Gainsbourg's song Les P’tits Papiers is recorded by Régine in 1965.


1985 Heritage and technical drawing


For Canson® , computer aided drawing and the conservation of archives are the subject of the same concern: developing and marketing products which meet current needs. Computer aided design (CAD) and the High Quality Conservation (HQC) label appear in the catalogues.

Far away, the explosion of a boat is heard in the port of Auckland.


Canson® tracing paper


1987 Looking to the past to enhance the present


The Canson® & Montgolfier paper mills create their museum in the native home of the inventors of the hot-air balloon.

Innovations of yesteryears and avant-garde machines were now to become accessible to the general public.

In 1989, visitors swarm to see the glass pyramid built in the Louvre's Cour Napoléon.


2007-2008 Return to a family cradle


Canson® joins the Hamelin Group, a family business which is European leader in school and office products and holder of the spearhead brands Oxford and Elba. The brand continues to adapt to new requirements.With Canson® Infinity, paper is now available to photographers and artists wishing to print their works on an outstanding paper.

The summer Olympics are held in China, the cradle of paper.


Canson® Infinity Rag Photographique


2010 Strong bond with artists


  In its permanent quest to be close to artists, Canson creates the Fonds Canson® pour l'Art et le Papier, aimed at promoting artists working with the paper.
The first Prix Canson® is awarded to the young artist Fabien Mérelle by a panel of judges headed by the painter Gérard Garouste.

Canson® also becomes a major partner of the Louvre and partners the online publication of its graphic arts collections.

French gastronomy is added to UNESCO's cultural heritage list. France is the cradle of the art of good living…


© John Actéon Deer, 2010, Watercolour and ink on paper, Fabien Mérelle




Suggested products

Canson® 1557®

See also

Paper manufacturing
La Fabrication du Papier
Paper is a mat of plant fibres. The raw material is thus paper pulp, produced from a variety of fibres:
Manufacturing: Traditional papermaking: cylinder mould
Papermaking on a cylinder mould is a highly traditional process, the closest to handmade paper (but without its drawbacks – defects, irregularities, etc.). Its principle has remained unchanged since its creation at the beginning of the 19th century.