Obituary: George Mandl

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The Independent Online
It was the paper made in Bohemia that betrayed the noble client in Sherlock Holmes's first recorded adventure, and George Mandl never lost his definably Czech accent and other characteristics. Holmes could have placed him at once, not that he made any secret of his origins or the devotion that he felt to the paper trade in which he was brought up.

Born in Prague in 1923, he escaped to England (where he had been at school) when war overtook him, and served in the Army. He returned to Czechoslovakia to manage the family paper-mill near Carlsbad, but it was expropriated in 1948. He arrived in Britain with very little money, but wide contacts. The English paper trade, wrestling with rationing, was slow to pick up its pre-war continental associations. Mandl saw the opportunity and became an agent, first in partnership, then on his own account, specialising in the representation of Scandinavian mills.

He bought his first mill in England in 1962. Fourstones at Hexham was one of a group of Border mills, of which it is now the only survivor. This is due to Mandl's percipience. He early realised that the traditional white paper market was in decline, and that the future lay in specialist products, filter- papers and hospital tissues. In 1964 he also acquired Thomas & Green, the mill set up by John Barcham Green and William Thomas in 1680, and he was very proud of this historic connection, although the site of Soho Mills at Wooburn Green in Buckinghamshire has long since been sold. To this he added paper-converting plants at Manchester and in Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands and Switzerland. In 1995, to his delight, he was able to retrieve the family mill, and he was made an honorary member of the Czech Paper Industry Association.

Mandl was also a substantial and inveterate collector of books and manuscripts. It began at school when he sent George Bernard Shaw a Czech translation of one of his books with the request that he inscribe it, which Shaw rather uncharacteristically did. He had a special penchant for music manuscripts, including a Bach document, an early Mozart canon written in Italy while the composer studied with Padre Martini, and a letter from Handel to his librettist Charles Jennings about The Messiah. Almost every major composer was represented, and (Mandl would have said) every major figure in European history, from Michelangelo to Churchill. He even acquired the first autograph of the Emperor Hirohito to be offered for sale. On a more serious level, he had over 2,000 books on paper history, including the residue of the great American paper-maker and historian David Hunter's papers.

All this is to become a foundation at Netstal in Switzerland, where Mandl's business was based. Besides these interests, Mandl was proud to be a liveryman of the Stationers' Company, of which he became Master in 1992.

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George Herbert Thomas Mandl, paper-maker: born Prague 8 August 1923; MBE 1991; FRSA 1992; married secondly 1992 Giselle Hug; died Netstal, Switzerland 4 February 1997.

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