As bookbinders who do a lot of book restoration and period style bookbinding, we are from time to time asked to reproduce marble paper. Sometimes the client wishes us to bind a book following the original, now deteriorated-beyond-repair binding, or in this case, to replicate the existing binding of other books in a set. This occurs when someone brings together a set of books from various sources and now wishes them to be bound uniformly. For this project, a client had us bind seven volumes of the Annals of Albany [NY] similarly to the three volumes previously rebound a number of years ago. The desired binding was typical quarter leather, dark green goat spine with raised bands and two labels, with marble paper boards.
Being able to procure a matching reproduction marble paper could have been a problem. Certainly, with the infinite varieties of colors and patterns, no supplier would have a matching marble paper on-hand. Perhaps we could have commissioned a marbler to reproduce the sheet, though that would add complexity to managing the job. Since we marble all the paper we use in the shop, what might have been a problem in reproducing an existing sheet was no problem at all.
This was a pretty simple marble paper to reproduce using only three colors. Really, only two colors—indigo and green—though the green was made in two applications, the second time with a drop of oil added to create what is called a ‘shell’ pattern. The addition of the oil yields a slight halo effect lightening the color around the edge of each drop. The base sheet of paper was green, too. The original sheet has a bit of a yellow cast to the green, while the paper we were able to procure is of a bluer tone, so this did slightly affect the colors as they appear on the finished sheet. Here we illustrate the steps we follow to reproduce marble paper and show the final result with the original book.
Marble paper is created by filling a tray, slightly larger than the sheet to be marbled, with a viscous size made of caragheenan derived from caragheen, or Irish seaweed. Once upon a time not so long ago, a paper marbler had to prepare his own size from the seaweed. Now, we are able to buy the prepared powder and mix it up ourselves saving several smelly and time consuming steps. Caragheenan is much used in both cosmetics and the food industry. You may find it in the ingredient list on your box of ice cream, for example. The marbling colors are similar to artist’s watercolors, though they are specially formulated to work well for marbling. They are sprinkled over the size using various brushes, whisks and droppers. The colors float on the surface of the size without mixing or blending into adjacent colors. Optional ingredients may be added to the colors to give special effects, including oil, as in this case, or turpentine, potash, creolin and sodium carbonate. After the colors are applied, they may be manipulated into patterns use rakes, combs or a stylus.
To reproduce marble paper, the first step is to note the colors used on the original sheet, the order in which they were applied and to examine the direction of the ‘waves’. The first color to be applied will be the darkest, as it is compressed by the addition of later colors. In this case it is the indigo. The second color, the green, drives the indigo into veins. A stylus drawn in alternating opposite directions across the tray forms the ‘waves’. The third color, the green with the addition of oil, is sprinkled over the stylus pattern to form the small circles of color. In the accompanying photo, the halo effect caused by the oil is prominently shown. The colors as they lay on the surface of the size now look essentially as they will on the final sheet.
A sheet of paper, treated with alum, to cause the colors to adhere, is carefully laid down over the colors. The movement must be smooth and even. Any hesitation will cause a pale line across the pattern while any air bubbles will cause clear blotches on the finished sheet. As an aside, a common 19th century pattern made use of the pale lines caused by the hesitation in laying down the sheet by gently ‘rocking’ the sheet as is was lowered creating a repetitive wave pattern. The challenge is to rock the sheet evenly to create a uniform wave.
After the sheet is fully laid down, it is immediately lifted off the size and gently rinsed to remove any size or loose color still clinging to the surface of the marble paper. The sheet is then hung to dry. All of the color has been lifted off the surface of the size, leaving only that which extended beyond the margins of the marble paper. This is skimmed off the size using a strip of newsprint and the whole process begins again for the next sheet. Since the colors need to be laid anew for each sheet, every sheet of marble paper is different from the any other. The colors and the pattern will be the same, but since the application of the color is variable every sheet is unique.
Finally, we show two examples of reproduction marble paper. The first, shown at the top of this page, is our project discussed here. The original book is laid on top of our reproduction of the marble sheet. The second shows another example, of an 18th century marbled paper that was used for the endpapers of a book published in Dublin laid on top of the sheet we created to match. Being able to reproduce marble paper here in the shop, or to create new designs and color combinations, enables us to provide an appropriate sheet for any project.