The art of paper marbling first started with coloring only the surface of paper in order to conserve it longer. As new and more sophisticated techniques came about and people became more educated, beautiful decorated papers were made to cover sacred books.
Marbled papers have been used a lot for bookbinding either to simply cover brochures or to add precious fly-leaves to leather bindings. There is a specific difference between the printed and the hand-decorated paper.
The art of hand-decorating paper, probably started by the Arabians, is mainly used to finish the leather bookbinding. Easier techniques of paper coloring consist of manually spreading the color onto the paper. The earliest known type of paper marbling dates back as far as the 8th century in China.
It was a the more complex floating technique that was brought to Europe through the Islamic Orient by the end of the 16th century. The color is thinned with gall and then dripped on a jelly substance made with boiled sea lichen or tragacanth; the paper is then imprinted with those colors that had been previously manipulated in order to create any type of pattern. The most popular patterns are: simple marbled also called "Turkish or Cailloutè", marbled vein or "marbrè italien", "shell-shaped" made with colors combed in small spirals, "cat eye" or marblè soleil made by adding dissolving drops to the color (potassium, albumin, creolin), rippled or shaded in which the paper is progressively laid on water in order to get parallel stripes (called marbrè espagnol) or waved stripes (called moirè espagnol). Combs are used to create an infinite number of designs: the color is first combed in parallel lines and then another design is made on top of it with a comb to get designs like little waves, shells, peacocks, fins, leaves and fans.
During 1970´s the marbling art was brought back to life in Florence.
The art or process of producing certain patterns of a veined or mottled appearance in imitation of marble by means of colors so prepared as to float on a mucilaginous liquid which possesses antagonistic properties to the colors prepared for the purpose. The colors are floated and formed into patterns and are taken off by laying a sheet of paper (or touching the edge of the book) on the surface of the size. The size is usually prepared from carragheen moss or gum tragacanth, boiled in water, but it may also be made from flea seed, linseed, etc., although flea seed and linseed are not as effective as the two gums and cannot be used in the production of certain marbles, e.g., the combed marbles. Water colors are generally used in marbling, although oil colors can also be used; however, they do not permit as fine control or produce the clean, sharp lines of water colors. Mineral colors are seldom used because of their tendency to sink to the bottom of the trough due to their weight. Little is known of the origin of marbling, but there seems to be little doubt that it was introduced into Western Europe from the East. Examples of Japanese marbling produced as early as 800 A.D. exist under the name of Sumingagashi . The Persians are considered to have been the first to use marbled papers in books, and examples of their work are found on the borders of some of their 16th century manuscripts. Marbled paper was in use in Holland by 1598, but its earliest use in England dates from about 1655; in America it was in use by 1679. By the 1670s it was in common use in England, although not in trade bindings. The most commonly used pattern was what we call OLD DUTCH MARBLE , most of it actually coming from Holland. Beginning in about the last quarter of the 18th century the Old Dutch pattern was gradually superseded by the French Shell, Stormont, Antique, Spot, and others, all of which were uncombed. These then declined in popularity by about 1840, and were replaced by the Nonpareil and Spanish patterns. Both of these were revivals of the 17th century patterns which did not have the "set" look and high glazing of their 19th century counterparts. The Spanish marble is believed to have been used in England towards the end of the 18th century. Both revivals were used extensively throughout the 19th century, and then, later, mainly for the endpapers and sides of inexpensive half-calfskin bindings, and for the sides of cheaper stationery bindings. Other patterns, used mainly during the second half of the 19th century and generally for cheap or medium cost bindings, included the Gloster, Italian, Spot, Antique, West End, and Gold, the last being introduced in about 1880. During this same period, German marbles , which tended to be drab and heavily spotted with black on a colored background, were also used extensively, but seldom for the superior grades of work. The most frequently used pattern was a modern variation of the Dutch pattern.