Judging by appearances

Judging by appearances

Five ledgers seen from above with a variety of different colourful marbled patterns.
Marbled edges of M.938/1-5.

This series of striking volumes are decorated using marbled paper edges and endleaves. Paper marbling is common for endleaves in the library, but the collection has fewer with marbled edges. Marbling was common in the eighteenth and nineteenth century, particularly marbled endpapers for books. Although there are different techniques, the basic method is to float coloured inks or paints on water, drag a tool through them or use different chemicals to create patterns, and then lay paper on top to transfer the ink to the paper.

Marbled grey pattern over purple and white stripes.
Flyleaf of M.938/5

The technique is thought to have come into Europe from Persia via Istanbul. Imported marbled paper was used in Europe by the late sixteenth century. Marblers jealously guarded their techniques, and although the method of creating a basic marbled pattern was known, it needed significant expertise to create a consistent type of marbling. France and Germany were leading manufacturers in the seventeenth century, and British printers usually imported their paper until the eighteenth century, when the industry grew in Britain. By the nineteenth century, specific paints and machines had been created for marbling.
One reason for the popularity of marbled covers was that slight damage to a marbled page was less obvious; endpapers were also more likely to be subjected to rough handling and damaged than the rest of the text.

Different patterns went in and out of fashion, and could be created by using tools such as a comb or stylus. A collection of patterns can be seen here: https://www.payhembury.com/Payhembury_Marbled_Papers/Patterns.html. Marbling may look like a luxury ornament to a book, but it also had a practical purpose. The picture at the top is a series of cash books dating from 1967 to 1993 and it is likely that the marbling is a transfer, rather than hand-crafted. Earlier financial ledgers or income books in the archive also have marbled edges, even if they do not all have marbled endpapers. This was an attempt to counter fraud, because the marbling would be visibly disrupted if pages were removed from the book. For the same reason, modern ledgers have pre-printed page numbers, while the older ones simply have numbers written in ink.

The level of detail recorded in the ledgers brings the financial life of the College into sharper relief. We can see payments to builders, for the choristers’ laundry, and for vestments; entries which have existed for centuries. In the modern ledgers, they coexist alongside payments for printing orders of service, telephone bills, and subscriptions to newspapers.

Marble fore-edge in orange, red, green, and light blue, creating a scalloped pattern.
Fore-edge of SGC M.938/5
Marbled fore-edge in red, yellow and green.
Income book of the Minor Canons, 1773-1817, SGC XII A.5.

Anne Courtney, Archivist & Chapter Librarian

The King's Free Chapel. The Chapel of the Most Honourable and Noble Order of the Garter. The Chapel of the College of St George.