The History of Marbling

Marbling is one of the oldest methods of decorating paper

Little is known of the early history of marbling, but it is thought to be of Oriental origin. It was first used for decorative purposes, such as the groundwork for manuscripts or backing of illuminations.

Early travellers to Middle and Far Eastern countries brought back samples and among the first published accounts was ‘A Relation of a Journey Begun An Dom. 1610’, by George Sandys. In his description “Of the Turks, their Manners, he wrote:
“They curiously fleek their Paper, which is, thick; much of it being coloured and dappled like Chamblets; done by a trick they have in dipping it in the water.”

Sir Francis Bacon in Sylva Sylvarum, printed in 1627 also observed:
“The Turks have a Pretty Art of Chamoletting of Paper, which is not with us in use. They take divers Oyled Colours, and put them feverally (in drops) upon Water; and stirre the Water lightly; And then wet their Paper, (being of some Thicknesse) with it: And the Paper will be Waved, and Veined, like Chamolet, or Marble.”

By the end of the seventeenth century marbled paper was being produced in central Europe, but it was not until the 1660s that it was in common use in British bookbinding.

C.W. Woolnough, England’s self-taught Master Marbler published two definitive texts describing the technique using water based pigments floated on a gum tragacanth size (glutinous substance used to give surface to paper).
The Art of Marbling appeared in 1853 and was followed by The Whole Art of Marbling in 1881; both were highly influential and seem to be the basis of many later instructional manuals. His “full description of the nature of the materials used with numerous illustrations and examples” met a very favourable reception.

A simpler method was introduced by Joseph Halfer of Budapest in 1884 which incorporated the use of prepared pigments, but used a size made from Carrageen Moss (Irish seaweed).

Halfer marketed his methods and materials in the early 1900s. His promotion of this simpler method prolonged the popularity of hand marbling at a time when printed and machine produced decorative papers were emerging.
Marbeling has continued using many mediums and has become an artisan craft with many applications including paper, ceramics, fabrics and wood just to name a few.

Robert McLaren

McLaren Marbling & Marbled Papers


P: 0409 567 327

Address: 29 Corbetts Road, Gordon, Victoria