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Paper mill ensures long shelf life

The paper mill at Grellingen is more than 100 metres long. Ziegler Paper

A small Swiss paper mill has provided the raw material for a British dictionary, which is being hailed as a major publishing achievement.

This content was published on October 26, 2004 - 20:20

Ziegler, based near Basel, supplied around 600 metric tons of paper for a work that was more than 12 years in the making – the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

One qualification to warrant an entry in the dictionary, which takes up 3.35 metres of shelf space, is you have to be dead.

It also helps if you have shaped some aspect of Britain’s past. But a few colourful characters from Switzerland are also featured in the work (see related story).

And it was not just any old paper that went into the 60 volumes, which contain 60,000 pages and about 60 million words.

The paper is acid free and has a shelf life of between 300 and 400 years.

“We are very proud to have been able to produce this paper. Oxford University Press is a good customer. It’s a very good reference to supply such houses,” chief executive Urs Ziegler told swissinfo.

“It is a paper grade which we have produced the same way for over 30 years. If, for instance, a publisher wants to reproduce a book which he produced 30 years ago, he can do it exactly the same way – same shade, same type of paper,” he added.

High opacity

The paper, which has a high opacity, took around three to four days to produce at the company’s mill on the banks of the small River Birs.

Although not a large order compared with the 250 tons of paper produced daily by the firm, it represented a big order for a single project.

“We have a very consistent quality, which is tremendously important for this kind of work. You can imagine if the thickness of the sheet is not consistent, for instance, there would have been a lot of problems producing this book,” said Ziegler.

“Certainly there are some paper mills in Europe, even in Britain, which can do this job with this quality. The edge we had was the consistency, the tradition and the reliability,” he added.

The company, a niche player in a market that is dominated by four or five industry giants, believes that the future lies in the development of specialist products.

It makes a range of paper for the graphical industry and special paper for further industrial processing.

Ziegler says the way forward is to be flexible and to show a face to the customer. “It’s all about service. We are not a producer of commodities,” he said.

Company history

The history of the company dates back to 1861 when Josef Ziegler-Thoma moved from Solothurn to Grellingen because of the flourishing silk ribbon industry in the Basel region.

Every hat needed a silk ribbon decoration, which in turn needed to be packed in paper.

He chose Grellingen because of the availability of water power and its proximity to Basel, only 15 kilometres away.

Today the company has one state-of-the-art mill, which is more than 100 metres in length and the physical heart of operations.

Ziegler generates its own electricity from four hydroelectric power stations and also uses natural gas as a source of clean energy.

And to aid the fish population of the Birs, it has built a fish lift next to the Grellingen power plant, which is unique in Switzerland.

swissinfo, Robert Brookes in Grellingen

Key facts

The Ziegler Paper company was founded in 1863 and is now in the hands of the fifth generation of the family.
It has annual sales of SFr90 million ($71.5 million) and employs 180.
In August it became the first independent paper mill in the country to attain the Forest Stewardship Council chain-of-custody certificate.
Fresh water from the company’s own catchment area is used over and over again.

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In brief

Ziegler produced about 600 metric tons of high-opacity paper for the printers of the new Oxford University Dictionary of National Biography.

The paper is acid free and has a shelf life of between 300 and 400 years.

The challenge of manufacturing such paper is to achieve a consistent thickness and consistent shading, without dust.

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