The Story Behind Cheap Joe’s Kilimanjaro Watercolor Paper

Back in the day, spring of 1998 to be exact, Cheap Joe’s annual reference catalog hit the mailboxes of America and other far-away places. Billed as a catalog “For Art Supplies, Creative Inspiration and Peace of Mind”, the 128 page full-color book, featured many new and many tried and true art materials. Bear in mind, this was before we invented the internet and cell phone shopping, and we still had a dial-up AOL email address.

One of the new products that we introduced that year was a brand new watercolor paper called “Kilimanjaro” and we hailed it as the whitest watercolor paper ever produced and the watercolor paper of the next generation.

Fast forward to 2018 and what most people don’t remember is that for every product we introduced during that era an accompanying story about its development was included. In the two-page spread featuring the “whitest of the white’s” watercolor paper, was a story, written by Joe himself, about the origins of Kilimanjaro.

And although we are living in a brief is better-bullet point time and are told people don’t read much anymore, what follows is the text from that 1998 catalog. So, take a moment and re-live with us the story of a Safari to Kilimanjaro.

The Natives are restless…The elephants are loaded, patiently standing tail to trunk awaiting word to move out. The scent of the campfire wanes as the embers die down. Dawn is beginning to break over the distant peaks…this is one Art Safari you won’t want to miss! Cheap Joe (a funny little ‘ale man) is going to be our Fearless Leader and Sherpa Guide. (Good luck!, cause you’re ‘gonna need it with him at the helm!) Time is drawing near…the elephants are packed with the
(All New!) American Journey Watercolors, Dreamcatcher brushes, Golden Fleece brushes, Dragon’s Tongues and Lizard’s Lick Brushes, just to name a few. What about the paper? Now that’s a tough one! And, that’s just what this paper must be to endure this trip…tough. It’s also gotta be the Whitest of White (to capture the Snows of Kilimanjaro) and masking fluidable, scrubbable, liftable, scrapeable, tapeable and safariable. (are these really words?)                         

O.K., enough of your stupid Safari story, Sherpa Joe. What paper is it? Introducing… KILIMANJARO! The Whitest of the Whites, with a beautiful medium toothed cold pressed surface and 4 rugged deckle edges. All ’round it’s the pretti­est and finest watercolor paper I’ve ever used. I do sincerely believe that Kilimanjaro will become THE watercolor paper of the next generation!

It’s now time for our Safari to head out, will you join us? The fun is just beginning! I’m crazy about art and I’m even crazier over my new Kilimanjaro watercolor paper. And you’ll be crazy about your art too, when you try this amazing new paper. The intense whiteness of Kilimanjaro will make your paintings more lustrous, more transparent and brighter than ever before! Prepare to see your art spirit soar…even to the top of Kilimanjaro!” Have a good trip!

Your Friend, Sherpa Joe

Actual Page from 1998 Catalog:




After I wrote this little article, I asked Joe about the beginnings of Kilimanjaro and this is what he said:


“The idea about creating a brighter, whiter watercolor paper came to me around 1995. I thought that there was a place in the art market for it and I began to search for a paper mill that could produce such a paper. What I found was that there were no paper mills in the United States with the capability to do so.

Then, at one of the major art supply shows in Chicago, I met Richard Dixon who was president of the St. Cuthburt’s Paper Mill in England. We instantly became friends. During the show I discussed with him the idea of a brighter, whiter paper and he said that he would see what he could do with that when he returned to England.

It wasn’t long before I received the good news from Richard that he had produced some super white paper and was sending me some to try. I was like a child waiting for Christmas to come while I waited for the paper to arrive.

When it finally arrived I was excited to see that it was much whiter than any of the other “big name” watercolor papers on the market. My next step was to put the paper through the wringer. I used masking fluid and artist tape on it to see if it would come up without tearing. I scrubbed it with a Fritch Scrubber almost to the point of abuse and it passed my test.

We introduced our very own watercolor paper called Kilimanjaro in the 1998 reference catalog. During the next few years we increased the amount of sizing in the paper because of some surface issues and in the long run moved the production of our paper to the Fabriano Mill in Italy, where it is still made today. We now feature both bright white and natural white in 140 and 300 lb. versions. Our Kilimanjaro paper is mould-made of 100% cotton and since it is still a hands on process.

On a tour of the Arches Mill in France I was told by the quality control person that the best cotton for watercolor paper came from North and South Carolina. He told me that the cotton fibers are longer form these two states than from anywhere else in the world. So, the contents of your Kilimanjaro paper from overseas could possibly be from the U.S.A.

I have often been asked where the name Kilimanjaro came from. Ernest Hemingway wrote a short story entitled “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” first published in the Esquire Magazine in 1936. I had read that story years ago and had always loved his writings. So, thank you Ernest for the name of our great paper.”

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