Marbled paper has been used for centuries in bookbinding, generally as endpapers—front and back—sometimes as outside decorative covers. It is made by floating pigments upon a mucilaginous “size”, arranging the chosen colors as desired using toothed combs and other tools, then laying a sheet of paper or fabric onto the floating pattern to pick it up. It is a graphic printmaking process really—no two prints are exactly alike. In 1881, C. W. Woolnough described marbling as “this pretty, mysterious art.” He also said, “This process is not very easy to describe, and yet to anyone beholding it for the first time it appears extremely simple and easy to perform, yet the difficulties are many, and the longer one practices it, the more he becomes convinced that there is ample room for fresh discoveries and more interesting results than any that have yet been accomplished.”
In recent decades, modern marblers have indeed done wonderfully interesting things with the process, ranging from beautifully crafted classic designs to representational images and scenes . . . fish, flowers, landscapes, all sorts of things. An article I wrote for the August 1978 issue of American Artist magazine (oftentimes available on eBay) details the basic process, and shows a few examples.
The naming of marbled paper designs is complex and confusing. Names have been assigned over the past two or three centuries variously in various places. Many patterns are commonly known by several different names. A good general discussion of this can be found on the site of the University of Washington library here, and an excellent showing, pattern by pattern, here. Additional marbling sites include this one and
Below is a showing of vintage marbled paper of various types, plus some of my own fiddling around with the process done during the process of developing a Masters Degree thesis . . .
Clicking on a thumbnail image opens a larger image . . .