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Marbling leather


THIS part of bookbinding is a matter of some importance, especially as tree-marbled calf patterns have again recently revived in popularity. We will first speak of the preparation of the colours and solutions necessary. Binders differ much amongst themselves in the formulae they prefer; but the following, mainly those given by John Hannett, in his " Bibliopegia," may be relied upon.

All the woods and other ingredients named should be reduced to powder or small pieces before being used.


1. Dissolve 1lb. green copperas in a couple of quarts of water. The oxide contained in the sulphate of iron will combine with the tannin of the leather and produce a good black.

2. Boil in a cast-iron pot a quart of vinegar with a quantity of rusty nails or steel filings till reduced one-third, taking off the scum as it rises to the top. This liquid improves with age. To keep up the quantity, boil with more vinegar.


1. Half-pound of good Dantzig or American potash dissolved in one quart of rain-water, and preserved in a bottle, well corked.

2. Salts or oil of tartar in the same proportion as above.

3. A beautiful brown may be procured from the green shells of walnuts.

To prepare this, a quantity of the green shells, when the nuts are gathered, must be pounded in a mortar, to extract the juice, and then put into a vessel capable of holding a sufficient quantity of water. The water being put in, the whole should be frequently stirred, and left to soak with the vessel covered. Afterwards, the liquid must be passed through a sieve, the juice well expressed, and bottled, with some common salt, for use. This liquid, after fermentation, will produce the best effects for the uniform tints, as it tends to soften the leather, and will not corrode.


It is usual with many binders to use " Scott's Liquid Blue," but it is well to know the composition of the colour. Perhaps the best and most simple one is that given by Poerner, which is as follows: In 4oz. of sulphuric acid of 66deg. mix gradually 1oz. of finely-powdered indigo, so as to form a kind of pulp. Place: the vessel in another containing boiling water for some hours, and leave it to cool; afterwards put in a small portion of good potash, dry and finely powdered, stirring the whole well, and letting it rest for twenty-four hours, when bottle, and use as required. This colour will appear nearly black, but may be made any shade by adding water to it. If any portion remains after being diluted, it must be put into a separate bottle, as if mixed with the first preparation the whole would be deteriorated.

2. A readier blue may be prepared by mixing loz. of powdered indigo with 2oz. of oil of vitriol (sulphuric acid), and letting it stand for twenty-four hours, and then adding 12oz. of pure water. Purple.Boil half a pint of archil, or logwood, with vinegar and water, of each half a pint.


Same as the purple, with the addition of about two tablespoonfuls of potash. Violet.Half-pound of logwood chips and loz. of Brazil dust, boiled over a good fire in four pints of water, until reduced one-half, and left to clear. Then throw in loz. of powdered alum and 2gr. of cream of tartar, and boil again till dissolved. This liquid must be used warm. Fawn.In two pints of water boil loz. of tan and a like portion of nutgalls, till reduced to a pint.


1. To Io2;. of good caked saffron, turmeric, or French berries, add a portion of spirits of wine or hydrochloric acid, and leave the mixture to macerate. This liquid is used cold, and may be varied to any shade by adding water as required.

2. In two pints of water put 8oz. of French berries, and boil till reduced one-half; then pass it through a sieve or fine cotton, add a small quantity of powdered alum, and again boil, using it warm.


In a pint and a half of potash liquid boil £lb. of fustic chips till reduced one-half; then put in loz. of good annatto, well beaten, and, after boiling, a small portion of alum, and use warm.


1. Liquid blue and yellow, mixed, will best suit for general purposes.

2. Dissolve in a bottle loz. of verdigris in loz. of best white wine vinegar, and place the whole before a fire for four or five days, frequently shaking the bottle.


There are three sorts of red, viz., common, fine, and scarlet. Common :

1. In a tin kettle, boil 1lb. of Brazil wood, 8gr. of nutgalls, both powdered, and three pints of water, till the whole is reduced one-third. Then add powdered alum and sal ammoniac, of each loz., and, when dissolved, strain through a sieve. This liquid must always be used warm.

2. Boil 1lb. of Brazil dust, 2oz. of powdered cochineal, and a little alum, in two pints of the best vinegar, till a bright red is produced. Use warm.


1. In three pints of water boil 1Ib. of Brazil dust and 1oz. of powdered nutgalls; pass the whole through a fine cotton, and replace the liquid on the fire, adding 1oz. of powdered alum and 1oz. of sal ammoniac; give another boil, and then add a portion of hydrochloric acid, according to the shade desired, and use warm.

2. A quicker and cheaper proceeding is by putting in a cup a portion of Brazil wood, and adding to it the hydrochloric acid, letting it stand for a quarter of an hour to extract the colour.


To 1oz. of white nutgalls and 1oz. of cochineal, both finely powdered, add two pints of boiling water. After boiling some time, add 1oz. of hydrochloric acid, and use warm.

Vitriol Water.

Vitriol, as sold in the pure state, should not be used in marbling or sprinkling, as it would corrode and destroy the leather. It must be weakened at least in a proportion of 1oz. of vitriol to 3oz. of water.

Marbling Water.

It is usual with many to use the water pure, but a few drops of potash liquid used with it renders the marble more distinct.


Put sprits of wine in the proportion of two drops to the whites of twelve eggs, and beat the whole well together until perfectly clear.


Before going into details of the different marbles, it may be well to give some general information. It must be borne in mind that success in many of the marbles depends largely upon prompt and quick execution, and therefore the operator should have his colours, brushes, and preparations so disposed that everthing is ready to his hand in the order required. In preparing the colours, only sufficient for the job should be made ready, because, as a rule, when mixed, they will not keep well. The covers of the books to be marbled should be washed over with paste water, to which has been added a small quantity of pearl-ash liquid; this should be done with a sponge, and the books allowed to dry afterwards.

Next, the books should be glaired carefully and equally over, and again allowed to dry. The books are then placed upon the marbling-rods. These rods are in pairs, and slope towards the operator. The books are placed in them so that the boards rest extended on the rods, and the leaves hang between them; the tail of the book is thus lower than the head. In some cases the back is required to be left plain, and not marbled. When this is the case, a piece of wood grooved to the shape of the back, or even a piece of thin millboard or pasteboard, curved by the fingers, is placed over it. To avoid the scum arising from the beating of the brushes over the colours, it is better to rub the ends of the bristles upon the palms of the hands, on which a little oil has been spread. All these details being settled, let us begin with the simplest marble.

Common Marbles.

The book being placed on the rods, throw on the water prepared for marbling in large drops, with a coarse brush, or a bunch of quills, till the drops unite; then, with a brush charged with the black liquid, and beaten on the press-pin as directed for sprinkling the edges, a number of fine streaks are produced by throwing the colour equally over the cover. Afterwards, the brown liquid must be similarly thrown over. When the veins are well struck into the leather, the water must be sponged off, and the book placed to dry.

Another plan is to throw on the vinegar-black, then the brown, and lastly a fine sprinkle of vitriol water. If the volume has been previously coloured with any of the preparations before described, and it is wished to produce a marble thereon, the brown must be thrown on first, and then the black, as, without this precaution the marble would not strike, because of the acid which forms part of the colours. This observation is also applicable to all the other designs.

Purple Marble.

Colour the cover two or three times with hot purple liquid, and, when dry, glaire. Then throw on water, and sprinkle with sti'ong vitriol water, which will form red veins.

Stone Marble,

After throwing on the water, sprinkle boldly with the black liquid, then, with a sponge charged with strong brown, drop the colour on the back in three or four places, so that it may run down each side in a broad stream, and afterwards operate with vitriol water on the parts the brown has not touched.

Green Agate.

Sprinkle black, in nine times its quantity of water, in large drops over the whole surface .of the cover, and, when the drops unite, apply on the back, at regular distances, the green liquid, so that it may flow on the boards and unite with the black.

Blue Agate.

Proceed as above, only substituting blue in place of the green, weakened with water according to the shade required.

Porphyry Vein.

Throw on large drops of black diluted in double the quantity of water. When the colour has struck well into the leather, sprinkle in the same manner brown mixed equally with water; then apply a sprinkle of scarlet, and afterwards large spots of yellow, the liquid nearly boiling. Whilst these colours are uniting, throw on weak blue, and then nitro-muriatic acid, which, flowing together down the sides, will form the vein distinctly.

Tree Marbles.

These had their origin in Germany, whence they passed into this country; they are great favourites, and, when well executed, are very elegant. They are formed by bending each board down the middle, so that the water and colours flow from the back and fore edge to the centre of the board in the form of branches of trees. The name is also given to such as are made to imitate the grain of wood, but those are rare.


Formed by sprinkling black and brown only, as for the common marble.


After sprinkling as for walnut, and before perfectly dry, apply lightly a sponge presenting large holes, dipped in orange, upon various places on the cover, so as to form a description of clouds; afterwards apply the fine red, with a similar sponge, evenly upon the same places, and, when dry, give the whole two or three coats of yellow, taking care that each penetrates evenly into the leather.


The proceedings are nearly the same as for the walnut, the difference being merely in sprinkling the black more boldly, and, when perfectly dry, giving two or three uniform coats of red.


In order to imitate the veins contained in box, the boards must be bent in five or six different places, and in diverse ways. After placing the books between the rods, throw on the water in small drops, and proceed as for the walnut; when perfectly dry, throw water again in large drops, and sprinkle on small spots of blue, equally diluted with water; and when again dry, and rubbed well, apply the scarlet with a sponge, as directed for the cedar. Finally, when dry, give two or three coats of orange.


Colour with strong brown glaire, and place between the rods, with the boards flat; throw on weak black in large spots, then brown in like manner; and, lastly, sprinkle boldly with vitriol water.


These are produced by paste-washing the book (not glairing), then putting on the rods, and sprinkling it over in fine spots with any of the colours given, precisely as the edge is sprinkled. Plain cheap school books are often thus sprinkled for common work.

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