Kickstart Your Paper Collection

For all you decorated paper enthusiasts, item #1 from bookseller Barry McKay's latest catalogue:


"This collection of 161 examples of Franco-German paper decoration was salvaged by a German bookbinder in the 1990s from a collection of slender volumes of birth, marriage and death certificates from the Rhineland Palatinate in present- day Germany. The compilation of such volumes was introduced by French authorities after their occupation of the region in 1790. The French headquarters was the garrison town of Landau in der Pfalz, which is still the main town of the area. The region was an arrondissement of France between 1792 and 1813; thereafter it passed variously to Austria, Bavaria, and Prussia during the nineteenth century.

"The papers in this collection were salvaged by a German bookbinder in the 1990s. The papers are from covers of registers that were made to order in Kaiserlautern between the 1790s and the third quarter of the 19th century. The paper used for decoration during the region’s French occupation was manufactured in France. Thereafter the paper was manufactured at two mills by Roedter, and Gossler, in the village of Frankeneck near Neustadt and der Weinstrasse.

"Until about 1800 the boards consisted on of two pieces of thick paper laminated together, generally a coloured wrapping (usually blue) was used with a white lining paper. Thereafter a low-grade laminate cardboard was used. Some of the binding covers consist of a single sheet of coloured paste paper while others are formed of two pieces pasted together to form a whole.

"In the earlier period the volumes appear to have had manuscript labels pasted down on the front cover, perhaps with a distinctive shape for each year. ‘shadows’ of these labels are clearly visible on a number of the examples. From the early-mid 1820s, printed labels with the title and date set within ornamental borders were used in place of the earlier manuscript ones.

"The patterns found on these papers fall into four, very broadly classified, types: a sprinkled pattern, a simple dabbed- brush pattern, a paste & pull pattern, and a paste & pull pattern further ornamented with a circular patter thereon. The latter pattern is one that, based on our own experience, is achieved by dabbing a dry binders’ brush vertically down onto the coloured paste while it is still wet.

"Blue (of several shades) is the predominant colour used although there are also examples using black, green, red, purple, and sepia pigments."

The link to Barry's site (barrymckayrarebooks.org) doesn't seem to be working; if interested write to him (mail [at] barrymckay1.plus.com). The collection is yours for £3,950. Better hurry before Claudia finds out about it...


A Secret Stack

Day late & a dollar short; here's what I got. Having trouble with the news feed for Decorating Paper, so those Q&As are on hold. Maybe one more to come, we'll see. I've spent the past week working on a secret project. Just finished the binding today. Can't say much about it for now. It's a surprise for the authors, who will be receiving the entire edition of 10 copies to distribute however they see fit. If they don't hate it, I'll come clean with some details in a few weeks. If they do hate it, maybe your local Dumpster diver will find a copy.


Just found out that a Web site for the Limited Editions Club has appeared. I've been wondering what was up with LEC. Sidney Schiff's death in 2010 probably put was the cause for an interruption in its activities. The new site shows titles still available, all from Schiff's tenure. By the time he bought the LEC, it had gone through some pretty grim years in the '60s and '70s, producing a lot of indifferent and banal titles. Schiff's plan was to focus on the other end of the market, reducing edition sizes and recruiting established contemporary artists to create original works for the texts. He really turned things around, and made the LEC into a very different (& in my opinion, much more interesting) kind of publisher.

(An aside for readers who followed the Agrippa post & project from earlier this year: the Paz/Motherwell project that Agrippa publisher Kevin Begos spoke about can be seen on the LEC site.)

Not much information on the site beyond the titles in print. Nothing about new projects. The bookseller Carol Grossman has been working on a history of the LEC for some time, to be published by Oak Knoll. Publication seems to keep getting pushed back. An article she wrote for Biblio in 1999 can be found here. This is another good summary of the LEC's history.


Decorating Paper Interview 4a: Patria

Someone who shall remain nameless isn't being very helpful when it comes to doing her writing assignments, so this installment of the Decorating Paper interviews features just Barbara (who probably has never missed a deadline in her life) telling the story about one of the more uncommon papers included in the compendium...

BH: Decorating Paper includes an especially lovely set of papers from Patria, a French manufacturer.

We didn't know much about these papers, but we knew from the labelling that they were sold in 1920, and we knew the names of the pattern designers. However, we could not track down information about the process used to make them and suspected that they were block printed. Then, through a chance discovery of an article called “New French Colored Papers,” by V. Fauchier-Magnan, in a magazine called La France, An American Magazine (volume 2, 1920) we found out that they were made by stencilling, a process known as “pochoir.” This detail was found too late to include in the book, but we were at least able to place the papers in the correct section.

Patria, a Paris studio, created bookbinding papers to make up for the shortfall caused by World War I, when the papers normally purchased from Germany were no longer available due to importation bans.

Patria was the operation of Emile Greningaire, who came from a long line of Parisian “colorists.” The designs were created by numerous well-known pattern designers of the day and were executed in delicate stencilling by war victims. In numerous instances, patterns were produced by two processes: stencilling and block printing. With the aid of sample books, we are able to attribute the different patterns to their designers.

Next week we'll have part 4b, about contemporary decorated papers being made on 18th-century papers...


[Intermission: Print It Black]

The next Q&A (#4) with Claudia and Barbara about Decorating Paper will go up next week. Need to get a few more pix & details. Meanwhile, FYI, the edition is fully subscribed. Copies may still be available from the booksellers listed at right, but don't dawdle; I think most have already been placed.

Spending a few days doing an Intro to Intaglio Printing intensive at New Leaf Editions. Have plans to start combining intaglio and letterpress here in the studio, i.e. both on the same sheet. Finally got a proper bed for the little etching press HM acquired last fall & have started to play with it. First stage in a longer experiment; the purpose of all-black sheets will be revealed at a later date.

Tonight Vancouver Alcuin Society will be presenting the Robert R Reid Award for printing to Jan & Crispin Elsted of Barbarian Press. Huzza!


Decorating Paper Interview #3: How?

A shaky photo taken by an ally who gained access to Claudia's bindery, showing the first batch of completed Decorating Paper sets. This week the final piece will be set in place: the samples in each copy will be calligraphically numbered in sequence, and a separate reference sheet providing details about each sample will be included. Claudia needed to get the bindings and sequencing finalized out before we could set and print these sheets.

This week's Q&A asks a few technical and logistical questions about creating a reference that spans two volumes and over 500 unique paper samples...

How many methods/techniques are illustrated/included in the book; how many paper samples are there in total; and how many of those samples were created by you for the book vs being sourced from others?

Barbara Hodgson: Decorating Paper covers eight of what we’ve identified as major paper-decorating methods. Within each category, we discuss various techniques. This is how we’ve organized the book, dividing the subjects into the two volumes, the first for papers made by hand, the second for papers made by some kind of printing technique.

Volume One:
  • Random-Patterned Papers: Sprinkled, False-Marbled, Crinkled
  • Pulp-Patterned Papers: Watermark & Water-Pattern, Pulp Innovations
  • Paste Papers: Paste-Paper Techniques, Paste-Paper Style
  • Marbled Papers: Suminagashi, Turkish & European Marbled Papers
Volume Two:
  • Stencilled & Resist Papers: Katazome; Screen Printing; Silhouette Paper; Brushed, Sponged & Wiped; Spattered, Sprayed & Airbrushed; Batik; Shibori; Itagime
  • Lithographed & Glazed Papers: Lithography & Chromolithography, Offset Lithography, Glazed & Metallic
  • Embossed Papers: Dutch Gilt, Blind & Metallic Embossed, Leather Imitation
  • Relief Printed Papers: Woodcut; Karakami, Chiyogami & Zuancho; Domino & Calico; Remondini & Rizzi; Flock; Wallpaper; Rotary Block & Letterpress; Linocut & Stamps
In many instances, the techniques are subdivided. For example, under water-pattern techniques, within the category of pulp-patterned papers, we discuss mizutamashi (water-drop paper), suiryushi or ryusui (flowing water), rakusuishi or resugami (stencilled spray water, “lace” paper), hikikakegami, and danshi (“Sandalwood” paper).

What’s the most uncommon, strange, and/or hard-to-source sample in the book?
Claudia Cohen: The easiest to find are the marbled papers, because they’re the most common. The hardest to find were the 18th century ones. The resist paste papers (mentioned in Q&A #1) also are very hard to come by. It was a technique used for such a brief period of time, and you certainly can’t buy it commercially now.

I inquired with a lot of book dealers in Europe, but very few had any papers to sell. I bought some papers from auctions in Holland. There’s an auction house there that has two auctions a year, and I got some really nice early papers in an odd lot. You never know what you’ll get with those. There seem to be a lot of serious paper collectors in Holland, so it’s a good place to go looking.

One of the nicest samples in the book is the block-printed dominoté, a yellow sheet with small dots (see above). Those were made no later than 1820. I bought four sheets of the same pattern in two different auctions, which was a real coincidence. To find four whole sheets of old paper is very rare. Then one the hardest thing’s about doing this book is cutting up a sheet of 18th century paper, to make the samples!

Another sheet in the book that was hard to find is the Rizzi (below). Those came from a trade with another collector. I was lucky enough to stumble across multiple sheets. I was told by a bookseller who had them that the reason Rizzi papers have become so uncommon is that Tanya Schmoller hoovered up all the samples she could find for her book about them (Remondini and Rizzi: A Chapter in Italian Decorated Paper History, Bird & Bull 1990). I don’t know if that’s true, but it’s a good book. It’s the reference book on Remondini papers. 

BH: One particular technique eluded us: silhouette paper. This is one of the earliest types of decorated paper, originally created in Persia and Turkey, and popular in Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries. They were often used to decorate albums. It’s a simple but fiddly technique, felt or leather is cut into patterns, soaked in dye, and then pressed between papers. The colour transfers to both papers. I made dozens of small transfers, using leather, wool, felt, and chamois cloth for the patterns; dyes or paints for the colouring; and a variety of papers. None resulted in anything that I thought worthy of the book.

Papers that we made ourselves include ebru [Turkish marbling - the round samples shown on this page were all made by Barbara], shibori (Japanese tie-dye paper), kakishibu-coated crinkled paper, paste papers, and marbled papers. 

Were any of the techniques discussed hard to research (i.e. a lack of information) or difficult to find examples of? How many of the techniques are essentially obsolete, or even forgotten, now?

BH: Several techniques are now a rare specialty, for example, batik paper (samples below). This is made with a wax-resist technique, similar to the way batik cloth is made. Our information for how it was made commercially came from August Weichelt's Buntpapier-Fabrikation (1927). Translating Weichelt’s German text was made extra specially difficult for this reader of rudimentary German, as many of the technical terms are obsolete and not found in any dictionaries, print or on-line. I made a glossary of such terms that I could find, cross-referencing and slowly filling in the missing words (a process made somewhat simpler by the delight Germans take in making compound words). I eventually managed to piece together the rough technique. If someone ever translates Weichelt’s book into English, they will be doing the world of paper a big favour.

But the saga of batik paper doesn’t end with Weichelt. It was also made by artisans, including Emil Kretz (Swiss) and Ingeborg Börjesson (Danish born). But, where we classified the commercial technique as wax-resist stencilling, we classified the artisanal type as paste-paper, because of the actual application of colouring. Although we are able to follow the general methods that Kretz and Börjesson used for making their papers, each no doubt carried to their graves that “something special” that makes their papers uniquely theirs.

Tell me a bit about how you decided to physically present the samples in the book. What are some of the challenges or issues you had to deal with?

BH: We chose to present the papers as either small specimens, grouped together to make up a whole sample sheet, or as larger, full-page samples. Specimen sheets are a time-honoured tradition among paper makers and are still used today. Because both Claudia and I value specimen sheets as much for their aesthetic qualities as for the information they display, we decided to make our specimen sheets as visually pleasing as possible. We explored the varieties produced by the decorating paper factories of the past, especially those of Aschaffenburg. Ours is designed along the same lines, but we made ours more flexible, to accommodate a variety of different sizes of specimens.

Sometimes small samples appear with the text. Most are clustered at the end of each chapter, ensuring that the flow of the text was not interrupted.

CC: The main challenge with a book like this, with so many tipped-in samples of all different shapes and sizes, is you can end up with a pie-shaped book if you don’t compensate for all the thickness you’re adding with the samples. The Decorating Paper volumes are sewn on a medium-weight Japanese paper concertina. There’s a zig-zag between each signature, sometimes two, so that the spine ends up the same thickness as the text block with all the samples inserted. You have to sew a couple of copies to get it just right.

Another technical issue was how to protect and contain the loose portions of the tipped in samples, and the gatefold spreads. Because remember we wanted people to be able to inspect the back of the samples as well as the front, you had to be able to fold or turn the samples to see the verso. So I had to include tabs throughout the book to hold the larger samples in place - there are scores in each volume - so they don’t flap around.

Another trick I used - which people may think is purely decorative but it had a function too - was adding samples cut in circles throughout the book, often near the fore edges, to help build up the thickness at the outer margin to match the middle of the text block, where most of the bulk of samples lay. It was a structural issue, tempered by aestehtics. I love cutting decorated paper in circles. It’s like a spotlight. It intensifies the pattern.

Next week's post looks at some intriguing contemporary decorated papers being created in the U.K.


Decorating Paper Interview #2: What?

The second of five Q&A posts with the co-creators of Decorating Paper, a new compendium of traditional techniques for embellishing paper with color and patterns, featuring over 500 original samples of the methods discussed. The breadth of the topic - with techniques dating back centuries - and the number of samples included dictated that it be broken into two volumes. The first covers hand/manual techniques (i.e. marbled, paste & pulp), while the second covers mechanical methods (i.e. stencilled and various kinds of printing).

Last week's post focused on why this topic drew the creators' attention; this week we look at what the book is, in terms of form and presentation...

I imagine/presume that when approaching a book like this, there is the potential danger for it to come across as (just) a sample book, which Decorating Paper absolutely isn’t. If that was a concern, how did you approach it?

Barbara Hodgson: Although it was a real concern that Decorating Paper not look like just a sample book, we have replicated, in part, the “sample book” look by including printed specimen pages on which sample swatches are applied. Both of us are admirers of the sample books produced by the great decorated paper factories, such as those in the German city of Aschaffenburg. To be able to create our own versions of those pages was a delight.

The samples, however, are only a part of Decorating Paper. The text is comprehensive and gives a great deal of information about techniques, history, and patterns and styles.

Claudia Cohen: There’s a presumption in that question that there’s something wrong with sample books. Barbara and I both collect sample books of every ilk. I think they’re vital contributions to the study of color, paper, patterns. But sample books generally don’t have much information about the methods or materials, or it’s only very cursory. Decorating Paper gives real technical content - the written content and the samples bear equal weight. It goes back to my explaining that it’s a study collection. It’s an introduction to all the techniques, with samples to examine as you’re reading.

Also, the book gathers together a group of paper samples that you’d never find together anywhere else, especially since we’ve gone off the beaten path of what’s generally considered decorated paper. Even sources like Buntpapier.org really only focus on traditional surface decorating methods, but we’ve included things like pulp papers. We intentionally included a very broad range of techniques.

At any point during the planning stage, did you consider issuing this not as a bound book, but with the samples loose in folders or some similar format? Why did you choose the book format?

CC: We never considered a format other than a book. There’s not much value in separating the text from the samples. Plus, an integral part of this book - and a big part of the fun for me - was assembling groupings of papers page by page. Some spreads have 36 different samples! The challenge of this book was to make every spread a surprise and different, to get a flow so that every page is unique.

Basically every page is a collage created from decorated papers. 

BH: We did have discussions about separating the paper samples from the text. Personally, I wanted them together, to juxtapose examples with description. This way the reader finds it easier to move back and forth between text and example.

In addition to discussing techniques for decorating paper, the book also explains why/how the papers were needed or employed. What are a few examples of techniques created for specific commercial purposes?

BH: A number of papers were made for specific purposes. Many papers, including woodblock printed, marbled and paste decorated, were made for use in book binding, specifically, endpapers or coverings. One of my personal favourites, though, is the Japanese stencil dyeing, or katazome. In this technique, a stencil cut into persimmon-dyed paper is used for transferring patterns onto cloth. Stencils [an example is shown directly above; paper sample shown below] made for this technique are so intricate and beautiful that they become decorated papers in their own right.

Next week's post will offer glimpses at some of the creators' favorite papers and techniques from the project.

Decorating Paper is being published this summer in an edition of 30 uniformly-bound sets. Copies may be available through HM's regular booksellers, listed at right; please direct inquiries to them.


HM has been maneuvered into starting a Facebook page. It probably will be just a temporary thing, but while it's around we'll post things to it as & when, probably more frequently (& much more tersely) than this blog. Please be my friend....


Decorating Paper Interview #1: Why?

With the first copies of Decorating Paper due to be shipped out in about a month's time, I thought it would be interesting for people to hear from co-creators Barbara Hodgson and Claudia Cohen a little about how the book developed, and how some of the (many) challenges posed by the topic were addressed. Over the next five Mondays we'll post a series of discussions with them about specific aspects of the project, starting this week with the why of it all...

Why did you think that this project was worth all you’ve invested in it? Loving decorated paper isn’t enough; you have to have also felt you were adding something to subject, if not original information, then in what & how the information is presented. 

Barbara Hodgson: I am as interested in the techniques and history of decorated papers as in the end uses of the papers. Historically, decorated papers were created mainly to enliven objects such as books and boxes, while protecting them; they were also applied to walls and furniture, and, in some cases, were displayed as art for the ordinary person.

What especially intrigues me is that it's possible to replicate hand-decorated papers made centuries ago. In order to do this, one has to know how the papers were made: the printing technique, paper type, pigments, and so on. 

The more one studies the history of the techniques, the more the papers come alive as expressions of the artisans who made the papers.

Claudia Cohen: The kinds of papers in this books, all these different decorated papers that were once so ephemeral and common, really don’t exist anymore, except in the most precious way - salvaged samples and rescued fragments. The wonderful papers that were made by the big machines in the 19th century, these intensely pigmented wrapping and wall papers,

The wonderful big machines in the 19th century that made reproductions of marbled and airbrushed patterns, all kinds of book papers, and the intensely pigmented wrapping and wall papers - it’s finished, it’s gone. It’ll never happen again. That’s one reason I wanted to make a book exhibiting as many examples as possible, samples of papers that are never to be made again.

Also, there isn’t a good reference book in English on the subject. There’s Albert Haemmerle’s Buntpapier, or August Weichelt’s Buntpapier-Fabrikation, but nothing similar in scope & depth in English, and as a paper collector that’s been frustrating. Most of the books in English are about marbled papers, and those focus on identifying various types. I’m not interested in that.
I wanted to create a study collection of these techniques and papers, filled with actual examples.

I’m interested in asking the question, 
How were these papers made?  

Claudia made the comment while flipping thru the book that she loves how so often paper is pretending to be something it isn’t; expand on that: whato do you mean, & what are some examples? Put another way, what’s with your passion for paper?

BH: Decorated papers were cunningly used to emulate all kinds of other materials. They were patterned with swirls and streaks to imitate marbles, onyx, agate, and many other kinds of stone. They were decorated with representational images such as animals, people, plants to become faux tapestries or weavings. Textures were embossed into them to produce fake wood or leather. Someone who cannot afford to have a leather-bound book, can substitute a paper-leather binding. Depending on the skill of the maker of this paper, the substitution can be very convincing.

CC: Paper is cheap and plentiful, and it can be made to look like materials that are much more expensive or scarce. It's not trompe l'oeil, you're not fooling anyone, but it's an affordable substitution. Papers can pretend to be leather or cloth or wood, lithographed papers pretend to be marbled, it goes on and on. All because paper is such a versatile raw material. 

Whatever your initial reasons for/thinking around the project were, how did it develop or mutate in directions/ ways you hadn’t anticipated?

BH: One of the difficulties of this project was first defining, then limiting its scope. Claudia was the initiator, and her vision of it was organic, rather than academic. She developed the idea from using decorated papers in bookbinding; making decorated papers herself, especially paste papers and marbled papers; and collecting papers over a long period of time from many sources, in some instances knowing the maker, in others finding older examples with fascinating pedigrees.

As we began to organize her initial ideas, the fundamentals—the origins, the basic techniques, the development of styles and patterns—led to increasingly complex topics. From the start, I wanted to present the subject in an organized way, but I knew that anything to do with human creativity was going to challenge any such attempts. In reviewing other, noble efforts at organizing the history and techniques of decorated papers, I found repetition, detours, orphans, and many other obstacles to a straightforward presentation. Following chronology is usually a reliable method but, given that decorated papers have been made around the world, chronology meant moving back and forth through time, depending on where the paper was made.

We began the book with an overview of origins, techniques, and patterns. As for the specific techniques, we eventually settled on an organization by technique, starting with papers made by hand. First we looked at the simplest papers: those made with randomly-applied colours (by spraying, sprinkling or brushing, for example) or by crinkling. Next were papers decorated by manipulating the paper pulp itself. From there we moved to the more systematic production of paste papers and marbled papers, all still done by hand.

Printed papers were the next main category. These included those made by stencilling and resist techniques, lithography, embossing and relief printing.

Because of the large number of samples, we decided we had to break the book into two volumes. Dividing it into the two categories of hand-made and printed made the most sense, with the samples set in after each chapter.

CC: I’ve been collecting paper for over 30 years, but much of that was me as a bookbinder gathering as many raw materials as possible to use in binding. I did have to buy a fair bit of paper to make this a satisfactory book. And I couldn’t stop, I kept finding one more person I wanted to include.

In terms of the techniques covered in the book, we've tried to be as comprehensive as possible  - we’ve included all of the major techniques used over the past 300 years. Then the question became, What samples do you include for each process? For the ones that really are obsolete now, it was a function of what we could source. For techniques still being practised, it was completely subjective on my part. While the book is comprehensive in terms of techniques, it was never intended to be a compendium of every living person practising these methods. I wanted the best examples of what I liked that I could get. For example, with marbled papers I could have gone in many directions, but I focused on the work of Karli Frigge and Eva von Breughel because they’re my favorites.

So the book is one binder’s favorite papers. I couldn’t include everyone. I could have kept collection for another 30 years, but then there’d never be a book. Finally Barbara had to say No more paper! But I kept sneaking some in. The last sheet [below] just arrived from Copenhagen. It’s from the 1950s, by Ingeborg Borjesson, who practised in Stockholm. It just finishes the book off perfectly. It’s a resist paste paper, which is sort of a combination of a mixture of batik and traditional paste paper. No one is doing it anymore.

What’s the difference, or value, of showing people actual samples vs photographs?

CC: Reproductions aren’t good enough: there’s no way to understand how the papers were created unless you’ve got an actual sample in front of. You need to be able to handle it, and we designed the book so that people can see both sides of the samples. It’s important to see the back because it helps explain how the sheet was created. 

BH: A number of very useful books have been produced with reproduction samples. We decided that the most valuable aspect of Decorating Paper is the combination of description and actual samples. Being able to see and touch the paper itself is more than just a sensory addition. With the real samples, one can see precisely how the papers were printed, how pigments were applied, the depth of the embossing or crinkling, and what the reverse side looks like.

Decorating Paper is being published in an edition of 30 two-volume numbered sets uniformly bound. Each of the two volumes contains well over 200 samples, accompanied by a separate sheet identifying each sample by type (i.e. method of decoration) and, when possible, maker. If you are interested in knowing more, please contact one of HM's booksellers, listed at right. 

Next week's post will be focus on exactly what Decorating Paper presents and contains, and some of the related design and production challenges.