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3980Edge marbling

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  • Jake Benson
    Mar 13, 2007
      Hi Joan,

      Regarding edge marbling; there are two distinct approaches. Iris had detailed for you the
      most common method in which you carefully roll the three edges at the same time onto
      the carragheenan bath. Like her, I use the clamps. At the Government Printing Office
      (GPO) in Washington DC, they still do it this way WITHOUT the clamps and the pressure of
      the hands alone, but it is now only done on a few hundred books each year.

      You can watch a short, old video, part of the "America at Work series produced by the
      AFL-CIO. This clip was John Ang posted a couple of years ago. I think it was probably
      filmed at the GPO, as it is one of the few shops that I'm aware of that was still edge
      marbling and working with unionized staff. Although it may be filmed at Merriam
      Webster. The segment is featured from 3:15-4;13 minutes into the film. the man tilts the
      books in between marbling each side, but I think this is just for show, so that it could be


      One small piece of advice- practice on blank paper pads or blank books before you do this
      for someone else. Another tip comes from edge gilding. Some kinds of paper that are
      highly absorbent and apt to feature bleed lines can benefit from a dusting of talc on the
      pages prior to clamping. Typically a soft cloth is used and the edges of the books are
      fanned open and gently dusted with a very sparing amount. If you use a size that is
      "tougher" resulting in a harder bond (such acrylics on methyl cell size), this step also helps
      to keep the edges from staying stuck to one another. the edges need ot be carefully
      fanned when done so as not to tear. That said, it's not always necessary to do this.
      Finally, I would suggest convincing the client to have only the top egde marbled, as it will
      save a lot of time. Use a little drafting tape to mask off the top corner of the foredge
      (more about that below).

      While the above method is fastest and easiest method for marbling all three edges, it is
      not without certain drawbacks. If the binder rounds and backs the block after marbling in
      this manner, the pattern is visibly distorted and seem to slope downward at the front and
      back. Also the foredge will show "stepping" in the same areas where each section
      protrudes, interrupting the design. Hence it is best done on small or thin books that will
      not be rounded, backed, and are usually case-bound bound in various cloth.

      For a more refined approach suitable to tight-jointed full leather and fine bindings, a two-
      step process is used. First, you marble only the foredge, then you let it dry under the
      clamps. Once dry, the spine is rounded. At this stage, the books were often trimmed at
      head and tail on a guillotine. Then after rounding, you marble the head and tail edges,
      usually tail first, flipping the spine down to do the head.

      The second method results in no distortion of the pattern. It was a method commonly
      used for marbling account book edges, and this method was told to me by John Dean, the
      retired Chief of Preservation at Cornell University. John Dean served his apprenticeship in
      Yorkshire in the 50's and marbled a lot of account books. my old boss Don Etherington
      concurred that this was the method used at the Company of Stationers in London.

      I came up with a slight variation to eliminate the trimming step. I trim the blocks at the
      foredge and then head and tail. After I lock up and alum the edges, I adhere a little bit of
      drafting tape (masking tape is too sticky) at the head and tail edge, right at the corner of
      the foredge. This masks those edges off from any color. Recently, I thought to try a kind
      of tape that is made for masking trip when painting a room.

      Once dry, remove the tape, and then tape the top and bottom corners on the foredge
      before marbling the head and tail.

      There is one other way that books were marbling after the boards were attached. The
      boards were flipped back. If rounded and backed, the foredges can be straightened back
      out with a device known as a "trindle", which is inserted between the spine and the gap
      where the board is laced in. You can see this in the second image of the Diderot
      engravings. this is very complicated, but it is what was done historically. You can see
      some images here, from Crane's Bookbinding for amateurs, courtesy of Denis Gouey.


      Additional references can be found on

      <www.aboutbookbinding.com> and Denis Gouey's site <http://www.bindzbook.com/>

      Here are some direct links:

      Paul Adam, Practical Bookbinding


      Joseph Zaehsdorf, Art of bookbinding


      Renato Crepaldi provided this link to Harper's magazine a few years ago:


      Also Richard Norman has provided a free e-book on this topic on his web site:


      Also, Halfer has a terrific chapter on edge decoration.
      the master gilder John Mitchell wrote a book on edge decoration a few years ago that is
      quite good. While the marbling section leaves a little to be desired, the pictures are good.

      I think that the second issue of the defunct magazine "Marbling Bath" from about 1995
      has an article on edge marbling. If I remember correctly, it was a reprint of an older article
      by "Macunius". After checking the revised bibliography of Phoebe Jane Easton, I do not
      find the citation listed. If anyone could kindly provide that citation (and for that matter, all
      the articles published in both issues), it would be really great to get the content of those
      issues documented.

      A woman named Jamie Rhodes has completed a great deal of the editing of the document,
      and I hope to present it later in the year, once other projects are oyt of the way.
      Meanwhile, numerous delays and technical problems have resulted in the delayed
      publication of the 2006 Marbling Annual, but I hope to announce publication of it soon.
      John Ang has done a "marbleous" job of fully revising the web links page by subject
      categories as well, but it can't be published until the others issues are resolved. I'll post
      an annoucnement when the site is ready.


      Jake Benson
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