The application of an aqueous surface design onto paper, which can produce patterns similar to smooth marble or other kinds of stone. This entry refers to the making of extremely complex repeatable patterns which require very high levels of skill.
|Historic area of significance|
|Area currently practised|
|Origin in the UK||17th century|
|Minimum no. of craftspeople required|
|Current no. of trainees|
|Current no. of skilled craftspeople||2|
|Current total no. of craftspeople||1-5|
Marbling consists of floating ink or paint on a surface to create a pattern. The colour may be simply dropped on to create random blobs or the ink/paint may be blown or swirled using an implement to create a pattern. A sheet of treated paper is then carefully placed on the paint and the pattern transfers to the paper. The process was first developed in China and Japan, before travelling to Turkey and reaching Europe in the seventeenth century.
In Turkey, marbled paper was used it as a background for writing important documents, each sheet being unique and thus making it impossible to forge a document. In Europe, marbled paper was used both for book covers as well as for the endpapers. The patterned paper ensured that slight damage due to constant or rough handling wasn’t so obvious than if the cover had been plain.
Marbling became popular as a handicraft in the nineteenth century after the publication of the The Art of Marbling by Charles Woolnough in 1853.
Marbled paper used for book endpapers and for a scroll case lining. Photo: Patricia Lovett MBE
Each sheet of paper produced by marbling is unique and workshops developed a number of different patterns.
The tools and materials used for paper marbling are relatively simple. A watertight tray is filled with a substance that will hold the ink on the surface. Water will do this, but to control the marbling effectively, something more viscous is better. Irish carrageen moss produces a gel which is ideal. One or more colours of paint is then dropped on to the surface and allowed to spread for a random pattern, or combed or twirled to produce more controlled patterns. Paper which has usually been treated with alum is gently laid on the surface and the pattern on the gel transfers to the paper. The paper is then carefully lifted and washed to remove excess colour. (Lovett, 2015). See here for an explanation of the process by Jemma Lewis for the Folio Society.
Issues affecting the viability of the craft
Rise of digital printing
Fewer traditional bookbinders
No big marbling houses left to train apprentices
Craftspeople currently known
Cockerell and Son were well-known for their marbled papers, but their studio closed in 2012.