James Whatman (1702–1759), the Elder, was a paper maker, born in Kent, who made revolutionary advances to the craft in England. He is noted as the inventor of wove paper (or Velin), an innovation used for high quality art and printing. The techniques continued to be developed by his son, James Whatman the Younger (1741–1798). At a time when the craft was based in smaller paper mills, his innovations led to the large scale and widespread industrialisation of paper manufacturing.
Whatman had been approached by John Baskerville, who needed paper that would take a light impression of the printing plate; this was used for the edition of Virgil's poetry, embellished with Baskerville's typography and designs. The earliest examples of wove paper, bearing his watermark, appeared after 1740.
Their business, in addition to producing the finest paper, is probably responsible for the invention of the wove wire mesh used to mould and align the pulp fibres. This is the principal method used in the mass production of most modern paper. The Whatmans held a part interest in the establishment at Turkey Mill, near Maidstone, after 1740, this was acquired through the elder Whatman's marriage to Ann Harris.
The "handmade" paper bearing the Whatman's mark is still produced for special editions and art books.
The company he founded, Whatman plc, later specialized in producing filter papers and is now owned by GE Healthcare.
Whatman's name has entered the Russian language, where vatman (vatman) is a generic word for heavy high-quality paper used for drawing and watercolors.