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Decorated Paper

Book arts and material culture

The decoration of paper with colour and pattern, using a wide variety of techniques, has a history almost as long as that of the manufacture of paper itself, and across every culture in which paper was used.

In the long eighteenth century, in Europe, decorated paper was very common, with uses ranging from adding pattern and richness to furniture or household objects, to giving a touch of glamour to book wrappers and endpapers.  Today it is the book papers, which were often protected from light and handling, which have the best rate of survival, and enable these papers to be studied. 

In 2022 the University acquired a collection of about 180 decorated papers, the majority European, ranging in date from the later seventeenth to the mid-nineteenth century.  All the major forms of decoration are included, except for marbling, which is a subject in itself and currently excluded.  The collection includes examples of bronze varnish and brocade papers, paste papers, block printed papers, and many using mixtures of these techniques.  About a quarter of the collection are single, whole sheets of paper; the remainder are still attached to the books to which they belong, allowing study of the wider context in which the paper was used, and traded internationally.  The collection is enriched by a small number of examples of supplementary materials, such as contemporary wallpaper and eighteenth-century Indian chintz, to given wider context and comparative design references.

Digitisation and online cataloguing of both the papers and the books and bindings to which they are attached is in planning, as is documenting examples of decorated papers which are widely scattered in the existing collections, and expanding the collection to include other types of decorated paper.  In the short term documentation about the collection is available on request, and it is available for study and teaching.