Marbled Paper And Book Arts

“Marbling” is a method whereby specially prepared ink or dye is floated on a liquid base, manipulated to create a pattern or design, and then transferred to cloth or paper through contact with the liquid surface. The result of this process is a one-of-a-kind print that, depending on the method of ink manipulation, closely resembles the patterns of veining seen in varieties of marble stone. This method of decorative printing can trace its origins to 12th century China as well as Japan, where it was known as suminagashi and was used for dying fabric and making stationary.

It was not until the 15th century in the Islamic Near East that marbling became a paper craft primarily associated with calligraphic arts and illuminated manuscripts; Turkey continues to have a robust marbling tradition under the name ebru. During the next four centuries the marbled paper tradition continued to spread north through Europe and then to the Americas, and marbled papers became the predominant material used for endpapers in handmade bookbinding. This period was the height of marbled paper as an industry, when highly skilled craftsmen closely guarded the secrets of their trade and monopolized local production.

In the 19th century the first manuals began to be published on marbled paper, which the chemical processes and artistic techniques behind its creation. By the end of that century, book printing and binding was becoming increasingly mechanized due to Industrialization and yet marbled paper was still being made by hand, despite some of the best efforts of inventive marblers. By the 20th century, there was no longer any real commercial market for marbled paper and the craft declined in popularity, with the exception of fine press printers and devoted craftspeople who continue to assert the unique beauty of this art form.

Akgun, Tevrik. “The Digital Art of Marbled Paper.” Leonardo 37, no.1 (2004): 49-51. JSTOR: A unique article presenting an application program created by the author to make marbled paper digitally in real-time on a desktop computer. The key conundrum of this project is to effectively mimic the physics of liquid flow in a digital space. The stated goal of the project was to create a new method of digital art-making that would mimic and draw attention to the traditional art form. The paper includes images of the programs results. This is a worthy project to examine in considering the future of marbling arts in the digital age.

Easton, Phoebe Jane. Marbling: a History and a Bibliography. Los Angeles, California: Dawson’s Book Shop, 1983. Z271.3.M37 E27 1983 : Easton’s book is a thorough reference on marbling practices past and present. The historical chapters retrace familiar ground but with more personal details on individual marblers categorized by geographic region. The bibliography is not to be overlooked, as it provides a diverse array of texts from many time periods and cultures. Easton also includes a guide to museums and libraries with notable collections of marbled papers. However, considering the book is over 30 years old its references should be double-checked as they may be outdated.

Halfer, Josef. The Progress of the Marbling Art. Taos, New Mexico: Fresh Ink Press, 1989. Z271.3.M37 H354 1893a: This is a facsimile reprint of the 1894 American edition of Halfer’s original German text, originally published by The American Bookbinder Co. and translated by Herman Dieck. It contains the original text, a detailed instruction on the marbling process, along with color photographs of the original marbles samples and reproductions of advertisements printed in that edition. Halfer was a veritable celebrity in 19th century bookbinding trade and many histories refer to “pre-Halferian marbling” and “post-Halferian marbling.” This text is a useful source on a significant individual and on an era when paper marbling was attempting to keep pace with industrialization.

Heyeck, Robin. Marbling at the Heyeck Press. Woodside, CA: The Heyeck Press, 1986. Z271.3.M37 H49 1986 : Heyeck’s book is both a reflection on her personal practice as a marbler and a bibliography of books made by her press featuring her marbled papers. Her description of the marbling process is serene and poetic and offers a unique interpretation of the process as meditative art form, in contrast to more technical descriptions of the process seen in other sources. The book is a unique insight into more contemporary independent letterpress publishing and fine art presses. Throughout the book are several tipped in samples of Heyeck’s marbled paper that are testament to her skill as a marbler.

Kroupa, Sandra, Katie Blake, and Johanna Burgess. “Decorated and Decorative Paper Collection. ” University of Washington Libraries Special Collections Division. Digital Collection: This is the digital collection homepage for the University of Washington’s marbled and paste paper collection. In addition to the digitized prints of individual papers the online collection also includes a guide to common marbled patterns and two short essays on the history of decorative papers. Of the 500 some prints available in the collection, many of the 20th century paper samples have artists and printing companies attributed to them but few historical samples do, highlighting the inherent difficulty in doing research into this art form. This is a useful resource and catalog model for anyone interested in digital archiving of decorative papers.

Marbling Methods and Receipts from Four Centuries: with other instructions useful to bookbinders. Edited with an Introduction by Barry McKay. Kidlington, Oxford: The Plough Press, 1990. Z271.3.M37 M192 1990: This is a valuable book that makes new contributions to marbled paper scholarship by including six essays on marbling that have never appeared again since their original publication. Contributors cover a range of topics which situate the marbling art in context to different time periods: Daniel Schwenter (1653) and Joannes Zahn (1686) writing on Turkish marbling, the first account of marbling in England by John Evelyn(1662), James Sumner’s rare text The Bookbinder’s Pocket Companion (1854), the first publication by Josef Hafler (1885), and a compilation of articles by an anonymous Manchester marbler that ran in The Bookbinding Trades Journal from 1909 to 1912.

Three early French essays on paper marbling, 1642-1765. Introduction by Richard J. Wolfe. Newton, PA: Bird and Bull Press, 1987. Clark Library Press Collection: French bookbinders were among the first Europeans to begin studying and using marbled paper in book arts. However, their expertise was eclipsed by the English and Northern Europeans by the 18th and 19th centuries. These essays, one of which has never before been published, illuminate the important role that French bookbinders played in bringing the marble paper craft to Europe and incorporating it into book arts where it became a fixture of production. Bird and Bull Press, the publisher of this book, is an independent American press that has published many resources on book arts and paper-making.

Wolfe, Richard J. Marbled Paper: Its History, Techniques, and Patterns : With Special Reference to the Relationship of Marbling to Bookbinding in Europe and the Western World. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1990. Z271 .W638 1990: Wolfe’s comprehensive and meticulously researched history of marbling is quite possible the essential text. The history of marbled paper production and use is thoroughly detailed, from its origins in the Far and Near East through its heyday in Europe and America and then through its commercial decline. Special attention is also paid to the various technical approaches to its manufacture and to the origins of many standardized patterns of marbling. An authoritative and easy reference that many later sources still make reference to.

Woolnough, Charles W. A Pretty Mysterious Art: A Lecture by C.W. Woolnough to the Royal Society of Arts. Introduction by Barry McKay. Huddersfield, England: Fleece Press, 1996. Z271.3.M37 W66 1996: Charles Woolnough was arguably the greatest English marbler of the nineteenth century and the first to publish an English manual on marbling, The Art of Marbling, in 1853. This book is a reprint of a lecture he gave in 1878 to the Royal Arts Society, at a time when marblers were first beginning to share their secrets and techniques with the public audience. The text includes a transcript of the discussion and demonstration he gave following the lecture. The book comes in a clothbound case and contains several tipped in marbled papers done by the artist Anne Muir.

Yagi, Tokutaro. Suminagashi-zome. Translated by Kyoko Mueke. Forward by Robin Heyeck. Woodside, California: The Heyeck Press, 1991. Z271.3.M37 Y35 1991: A primary source on Japanese marbling and a welcome introduction to the craft’s history and legacy in East Asia. The contextual and historical background is admittedly brief with most of the text being dedicated to detailed instructions on the suminagashi method of marbling, which is notably different from later European methods. Also of note is the publisher, the Heyeck Press, an independent letterpress printer specializing in contemporary poetry editions and paper marbling practices. The cover of this text is bound in hand-marbled silk, and examples of classic suminagashi patterns are found throughout.