|By Larry LeMasters
OK, let’s start with the question on everyone’s lips this week, “How can there be a shortage of toilet paper?” A “Toilet Paper Fun Facts” site on the Internet adds to the mystery: “The daily production of toilet paper is about 83,048,116 rolls per day,” yet Kroger, Wal-Mart, and Amazon all claim to be out of toilet paper. Where do we all live — The Twilight Zone?
Everyone knows toilet paper is a soft paper product used to maintain personal hygiene. Right?
Wrong! According to the same website, “Nearly 4 billion people, worldwide, do not use toilet paper. That is nearly 70 percent of the world’s population that, for lack of trees or lack of money, do not use toilet paper to clean themselves. For them, water is the universal solvent, not paper.”
If you can’t find toilet paper in the stores, you may want pursue the antique malls. There is a growing number of toilet paper collectors in America.
Historically, the first use of toilet paper dates back to China in the 6th century AD. In 589, Yan Zhitui wrote about toilet paper, “Paper on which there are quotations from Five Classics, I dare not use for toilet purposes,” so by this early date, toilet paper was known, but read, not used.
During the Yuan Dynasty (early 14th century), it was recorded there was an annual manufacturing of toilet paper amounting to ten million packages. But even as the Chinese manufactured toilet paper, other people around the world still used wool, lace, hemp, leaves, grass, sand, moss, snow, cornhusks, corncobs, fruit skins, and hands. Archeologists have even uncovered wooden toilet paper (like pieces of small lathe) in ancient Japan (Nara period, circa 750 AD).
Joseph Gayetty is credited with inventing modern, commercially available toilet paper. Gayetty’s Medicated Paper, first introduced in the United States in 1857, was still sold as late as the 1920s. The “Medicated” term in the name referred to the fact that all of the sheets were treated with crushed aloe vera leaves. From its invention until 1890, Gayetty’s Medicated Paper was one of only a few commercially available toilet papers on the market. Gayetty’s toilet paper was sold in flat sheets, watermarked with the inventor’s name. Gayetty’s toilet paper lost consumer support when splinter-free toilet paper was invented in 1935 by the Northern Tissue Company, making one wonder how painful it was to use Gayetty’s toilet paper, with its splinters, on one’s delicate behind. This paper is highly sought after by collectors today, making it the Holy Grail of toilet paper.
Novice collectors should beware: reproduction rolls of Gayetty’s toilet paper have been reported, and they are all but worthless — like flushing your money down the toilet.
Albany Perforated Wrapping Paper Company also produced medicated toilet paper from 1871-1884. Advertising for this toilet paper claimed it prevented and cured hemorrhoids.
Another highly sought after vintage toilet paper is the anti-Hitler toilet paper offered during World War II. This paper was medicated with Izal germicide to leave your bottom smelling germicidal fresh. While the average role of collectible toilet paper normally costs about $12, some, anti-Hitler World War II toilet paper sells for as much as $7 a square, usually framed.
Another World War II toilet paper to look for is the Victory Toilet Paper that featured drawings of Hitler, Mussolini, Hirohito, and a swastika flag. Victory Toilet Paper Company used the catchy phrase, “Patriotic Americans use Victory Toilet Paper” because “One sheet a day keeps the axis away!” In 1944, this paper sold for 10 cents a package. Today it sells for $8 to $10 per single square.
From 1900 until 1960, many companies entered and left the toilet paper business, so there are a lot of different types of toilet paper to collect. Most collectors seek unopened rolls or flat boxes so that the toilet paper is in good to mint condition.
If you decide to enter this field of collecting, it may help to know that different names are used for toilet paper in countries around the world. When looking for toilet paper, try searching for “bog rolls,” “toilet rolls,” loo rolls,” “dunny rolls,” or simply “AP,” for all purpose rolls of tissue.
And, don’t forget Crapper Paper. Thomas Crapper, an English businessman and plumber, patented several water closet (bathroom) improvements for toilets in the late 1800s. In fact, Thomas’ last name is often used as a slang word for toilets or chamber pots. Collectors still seek his W. C. Paper (Water Closet Paper).
And, for those of you who want more useless facts: seven percent of Americans steal rolls of toilet paper in hotels or motels, the average person uses 100 rolls of toilet paper per year, there is an in-office machine, which turns used copier paper into toilet rolls, right there in the office, and if you hang your toilet paper so you can pull it from the bottom, you’re deemed to be more intelligent than someone who hangs their toilet paper and pulls it from the top.