This post was written by Vanessa Haight Smith, Head of Preservation Services.
The Book Conservation Lab makes use of hand-made marbled papers in some of our book treatments and projects. Originally used for decorative book covers and endsheets, marbled papers are occasionally replaced during treatments with new handmade papers when the originals are substantially damaged or missing.
The art or process of imitating certain patterns of marble by creating a veined or mottled appearance is produced by floating colors on a gelatinous liquid or water and formed into patterns using specially designed combs, stylus, or rakes. The individual patterned colors are transferred by laying a sheet of paper on the surface.
Marbled paper was introduced to Europe from the Middle East; early evidence of its use exists in Dutch bookbinding by the end of the 16th century. Examples of decorative papers that were created throughout the following centuries are found within our collections.
Today, our conservation lab orders papers from a distributor of Florentine marbled papers, Libre Livre, Ltd. The marbling is done with acrylic paint on acid-free paper in traditional patterns and we have used them in several applications including: replacement endsheets; presentation bindings; and enclosures. Unlike machine-made papers, no two patterns are alike – creating an aesthetically pleasing solution to common conservation approaches.