Book Arts

Marbled Paper

End-papers from Pilkingstons Dictionary of PaintersLook twice the next time you see marbled end papers in your favorite book. If the design you see is hand done, and not a lithographic facsimile, the resulting pages are very special indeed. An attentive browser might find numerous examples in the reference collection despite that marbling remains all but hidden with the books shelved. Look for the older books with the mottled covers and don't be afraid to pull a few and check. Finding these gems is not nearly as difficult as creating the paper. As the entry from Glossary of the Book attests, the process is quite labor intensive, "Strained size is poured in a shallow trough. Specially prepared water-colours mixed with ox-gall are floated on the surface and combined or twisted into patterns. Meanwhile the book edges or sheets are sponged with concentrated alum water as a mordant for the colours. After drying for ten minutes the books are held tightly closed while the edges are touched down on to the surface of the size, or if it be a sheet of paper this is gently laid down. Colours transfer at once, any dirty size being washed off with water."

The page ends from Pilkington

As former Ingalls Library director and paper marbling enthusiast, Ann Abid states, "It's hard; it's totally a chemical process, treated paper, treated water, treated paint." Paper marbling dates to 800 AD in Japan, but it took many more years for the technique to spread. Persian bookbinders utilized marbled end papers from the 15th century. By 1598 the practice spread to Holland, then later to Paris and England. Examples in the Ingalls Library collection are numerous, several can be found by browsing the Reference Collection, but clearly the work of some is greater than others. The photograph album of Ripplestone the Gates Mills estate of museum benefactors, Greta and Severance A. Millikin, is a splendid example of marbled paper made by former Clevelander, Jarmilla Sobota. It's a wonder anyone opens the book at all.