History of Marbling

Marblers hard at work inside an 18th century marbling studio.


The origin 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, 11th, or 12th century. Marbled patterns captured the attention of English and European travelers to these areas of the world and began importing marbled paper around 1600. Its primary use was for 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. As a result, handbound books became more rare. Just as rare is documentation of the ancient marbling techniques. Historically, marbling has been a very well guarded craft with just a handful of books written to document centuries old methods and materials. This adds to the mystic of the craft which modern day paper marblers continue to decipher. 

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.
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.