These claims were made in the bounty announcement for this question:
Although Onion Paper, India Paper and Bible Paper are used interchangeably, the evidence is that in the book trade the term 'India Paper' has the greatest circulation.
Thus, two separate claims were made:
- "Onion Paper" (which I take to mean any of the onionskin-related terms for paper, including "onionskin", "onion skin paper" and "onion paper"), "India Paper" and "Bible Paper" are used interchangeably.
- The "evidence is that in the book trade the term 'India Paper' has the greatest circulation". "Circulation" is tough to interpret here; I decided it signified some amalgam of both contemporary and historical currency.
The sphere of interest implicated in these claims was "the book trade", which I assume includes anybody more than casually involved in the buying and selling of books.
The claims do not match my experience, which includes more than a half century of more than casual involvement in the book trade.
Of claim 1, I can say from my own prior experience that it is sometimes true that 'onionskin' (var.) is used interchangeably with 'India Paper' and 'Bible Paper', but more often not. Evidence subsequently gathered (in the course of this investigation) suggests that the more involved people are in the book trade, the less likely they are to use those terms interchangeably in their workplace, although they may more readily understand those terms, and may be more likely to appreciate, when the terms are being used interchangeably or wrongly.
Of claim 2, because "the evidence" is cited, my personal experience has less bearing--yet my personal prior experience is some evidence. My prior experience, and so that prior evidence, does not bear out the claim that 'India Paper' has more overall currency than either 'Bible Paper' or 'onionskin' (var.). Such other evidence as I've subsequently been able to gather in the course of this investigation--evidence which is thus now also part of my experience--does not bear out the claim.
'Onionskin' is the most commonly used term, by those more than casually but, most frequently, less than intensively involved in the buying and selling of books.
'Onionskin' also more closely matches the stipulation of the original question: 'onionskin' is a single word, which the questioner specifically asked for by tagging the question with "single-word requests".
Note that while the questioner also used the tag "idiom-request", the description of that tag does not suggest the "idiom-request" is a request for an idiomatic phrase. To the contrary, the tag for an idiom-request suggests that if a phrase is sought, the "phrase-requests" tag should also be used, if desired:
This tag is for questions seeking an idiom that fits a meaning. If you're also seeking a phrase, see the "phrase-requests" tag too.
I employed three principal sources while compiling evidence during this investigation. Those were
- The AbeBooks (AB) used books website, including listings and other descriptive material.
- Bookbinding and the Conservation of Books: A Dictionary of Descriptive Terminology (BCB, 1982 edition), Matt T. Roberts and Don Etherington, with Drawings by Margaret R. Brown.
- Google Ngrams (GN).
I shouldn't have to stipuate that none of these sources are perfect. They are all, however, more or less reliable for my purposes. False positives and duplicate entries are, for example, as inevitable in GN results as they are in results from searching used book listings at AB. Additionally, finding ideal terms for use at those sites is not possible. I chose appropriate terms to the best of my ability.
The 1982 edition of BCB is only 33 years outdated, which I attempted to correct for by checking information from it against other, general reference, sources.
First, I took as a given that most of the people more than casually involved with the buying and selling of books are not specialists in book making or printing. Specialists in those areas are thin on the ground and, while they may at work use the specialized terminology customary in their workplace, at any other time they are likely to adopt the terminology they know they can use to communicate with non-specialists without also having to repeat unmemorable, long-winded definitions and explanations.
As a side note, it should be observed that specialists who buy paper for books may use the invoice term cited by tchrist, lightweight offset paper, if they are using an offset press (or otherwise have a use for offset press paper). Along with that term they may use a description including weight and size, etc., as needed for their particular project. It is, however, unlikely that the term will be used informally, even when talking with their peers in the workplace. In such informal use, the likely terms will be 'onionskin', 'bible', 'india' or, less frequently, 'oxford'--in short, whatever term is customary at their workplace.
As background, the following are specialist definitions from BCB for the types of paper at issue. The first definition given for each term was taken from BCB. Any additional definitions included for the terms were taken from Collins English Dictionary.
Onionskin, var. Onion Paper, Onion Skin Paper.
A durable lightweight paper that is thin and usually nearly transparent—so called because of its resemblance to the dry outer skin of an onion. It is used for making duplicate copies of typewritten material, permanent records where low bulk is important, and for airmail correspondence. It is produced entirely from cotton fibers, bleached chemical wood pulps, or combinations of these. The fibers of the paper are long and the paper is sized with rosin, starch or glue; it is usually supercalendered or plated to a high finish, or is given a cockle finish. Basis weights range from 7 to 10 pounds (17 x 22). See also: MANIFOLD PAPER. [BCB]
- (Printing, Lithography & Bookbinding) a glazed translucent paper.
[onionskin. (n.d.) Collins English Dictionary – Complete and Unabridged. (1991, 1994, 1998, 2000, 2003). Retrieved October 29 2015 from http://www.thefreedictionary.com/onionskin.]
A very lightweight, highly opaque paper, used primarily for low bulk books, such as Bibles, dictionaries, etc. Its basis weight generally ranges from 14 to 30 pounds (25 X 38). Bible paper of a basis weight of 20 pounds bulks up to 1,100 sheets per inch. The paper is generally produced from bleached chemical wood pulps, often with the addition of mixes of linen and/or cotton fiber, along with rag pulps, flax, and the like. Bible paper is heavily loaded with titanium oxide or other high grade pigments to improve opacity. Other important characteristics, other than printability, include strength, good folding endurance, and permanence. The term "Bible paper" is sometimes used with reference to any book paper having a basis weight of 30 pounds or less. See also: INDIA PAPER. [BCB]
- (Printing, Lithography & Bookbinding) a thin tough opaque paper used for Bibles, prayer books, and reference books.
- (Printing, Lithography & Bookbinding) (not in technical usage) another name for India paper.
[bible paper. (n.d.) Collins English Dictionary – Complete and Unabridged. (1991, 1994, 1998, 2000, 2003). Retrieved October 29 2015 from http://www.thefreedictionary.com/Bible+paper.]
India Paper, var. Oxford India Paper
From about 1768 to 1875. a soft absorbent paper imported from China for use in making proofs of engravings. Since 1875 it has been made from chemically processed hemp and rags. Today it is generally a thin. opaque sheet made in a basis weight of 20 pounds, bulking approximately 1,000 pages to the inch.
- (Printing, Lithography & Bookbinding) a thin soft opaque printing paper made in the Orient.
- (Printing, Lithography & Bookbinding) another name (not in technical usage) for Bible paper.
(India paper. (n.d.) Collins English Dictionary – Complete and Unabridged. (1991, 1994, 1998, 2000, 2003). Retrieved October 29 2015 from http://www.thefreedictionary.com/India+paper.]
In contrast to BCB's more complete set of, and more precise definitions, the types of paper listed in AB's "Guide to Paper Types" do not include 'onionskin', 'onion skin' or 'onion'. Nor is 'bible paper' listed. 'India paper', however, is used with reference to two distinct types of paper: 'India proof paper', which is equivalent to 'China paper', and 'Oxford India Paper'.
From these observations, and especially the differences between the specialist definitions in BCB and the non-specialist definitions in Collins, it seems evident that 'onionskin' (var.) will most commonly be used as the generic term for tough, lightweight paper by non-specialists and specialists alike. However, more evidence supporting that conclusion will come from analysis of the AB listings as well as GN graphs.
Searching AB listings (on Google, using '"[term]" site:abebooks.com'), which are prepared and submitted by various sellers, yields the following results in raw numbers for the various terms:
onionskin = 1480
"onion skin" = 2450
"onion paper" = 222
"india paper" = 1060
"indian paper" = 409
"bible paper" = 1770
"china paper" = 609
Although these searches were made only at the abebooks.com site and exclude results from abebooks.co.uk, and the results for 'onionskin' (var.) include many items that are not books (dust jackets, single pages, books about onion skin, etc.), it is clear that many more results for 'onionskin' (var.) are returned than for 'india paper' or 'bible paper'. This again suggests that 'onionskin', the generic term for thin, tough paper is more likely to be used than 'india paper' (var.) or 'bible paper'.
The use of another common (and equally as well as similarly flawed) measurement instrument, Google Ngrams, suggests that the generic term 'onionskin' is the most common term used in the broader corpus.
The preponderance of generic onionskin-related terms, as depicted in the graph, does match my personal sense of the relative frequency of the use of those terms compared to the trademark 'India Paper' plus its generic equivalent, 'China Paper'. 'Bible paper' is likewise situated with respect to 'onionskin'. Satisfied, therefore, I abandon my devils advocacy for onionskin.