History of Marbling

 

The origins of paper marbling is a bit obscure and often disputed. Depending on what you read its most early development is claimed by several countries including China, Japan and the countries of the Middle East dating back to the 10th or 11th century. Eventually, marbled patterns captured the attention of English and European travelers to these areas of the world who began importing marbled paper around 1600. Its primary use was in bookbinding with many historic books and manuscripts featuring beautifully marbled endpapers. Unfortunately, with a flourishing book trade there came a time when it became cheaper to mass produce books making handbound books more rare. Just as rare is documentation of these ancient marbling techniques. Historically, marbling has been a very well guarded craft with just a handful of books written to document centuries old marbling methods and materials. This adds to the mystic of the craft which modern marblers continue to decipher. 

ABOVE:
An engraving of marbling tools (vat, pigments, and comb) from School of Arts (1750) as reproduced in The Art of Bookbinding by Joseph William Zaehnsdorf.
BELOW:
Artisans hard at work in a paper marbling workshop, as depicted in the 18th century French "Encyclopédie, ou dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers",  an encyclopedia devoted to sciences, arts, and crafts edited by Denis Diderot and Jean le Rond d'Alembert.