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The Lada-Mocarski Decorated Paper Collection

Gold brocade papers from the Lada-Mocarski Decorated Paper Collection.

The Lada-Mocarski collection of early decorated papers was built over a period of almost five decades, beginning with a chance purchase shortly after the end of World War II. Over the years, during which Mrs. Lada-Mocarski pursued her interest in bookbinding and conservation, she and her husband added judiciously to the collection, and it now has few rivals. Consisting of some 650 sheets, a few of which are unique, the Lada-Mocarski collection provides historical documentation of the beauty and variety of the decorated papers used in books over several centuries. The collection was a gift to the Folger Shakespeare Library from Champion International, who with Sotheby's Inc., New York, supported the Papers and Porcelains exhibition.


"Decorative papers" comprise those embellished in some way with decorative patterns. From the beginning of the 1600s to the early decades of the 1800s, the coloring and decorating of paper was carried out solely by hand. Techniques ranged from printing colored paper with simple wood and metal blocks to stenciling, marbling, sprinkling, and applying colored paste in combination with other decoration. Marbled, block-printed, paste, and embossed or brocade papers were among the most common decorative papers.


The first brocade papers appeared around the year 1700 in Augsburg, Germany, where decorative papers were already known and produced. Nuremberg, Frankfurt, Leipzig, and Fürth, established publishing centers, also attracted artisans who created decorative papers. In addition, embossed brocade papers were manufactured in Italy. Used to cover the small pamphlet editions appearing in growing numbers during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, brocade papers were sought after by publishers because they were soft, pliable, inexpensive, and highly decorative. The methods used to create them were adopted from centuries-old techniques employed to decorate leather bindings with panel stamps made from engraved and cast designs. An engraver's press that exerts enormous pressure was used to emboss designs with metal leaf, usually an alloy of gold with tin and copper, or gold with brass, or occasionally pure gold or silver leaf. A particular type of brocade paper that is commonly referred to as Dutch gilt (because of the great numbers of papers imported by Dutch merchants) was stenciled with four or five different colors in splotches as a background prior to embossing.


Paste papers were first made at the end of the sixteenth century primarily in Germany. Some of the earliest were used in the manufacture of playing cards. These papers became very popular in the eighteenth century and continued to be manufactured commercially in Germany throughout the century. From about 1765, papers of a very high quality were made in the German village of Herrnhut, a Moravian refuge, by women of the community. These papers were distributed throughout Germany. Papers to which a colored paste (such as rice-flour paste) had been applied were decorated with designs while the paper was still wet. A finger or some other object was used to draw on the surface, two pasted papers could be pressed together and then separated to create a stippled surface (called pulled-paste), or part of the paste might be removed with a sponge gently dabbed over its surface. One other technique was to press a small block, object, or roller with a carved design onto the pasted surface, leaving the imprint of the object.


Block-printed papers were most popular during the eighteenth century and were manufactured throughout Europe, particularly in The Netherlands. The earliest block-printed papers using small repeated patterns and one color were produced about 1550. Since the process of printing these papers was similar to that used to print fabrics, it has been asserted that blocks once used for fabrics were later used to print papers and that textile factories printed papers as a sideline. Woodcut blocks and metal designs mounted in wooden blocks were used in this process. Seventeenth-century papers were generally printed with only one color. Adding other colors was often done by hand with the aid of stencils. Multi-color block printing did not occur until the eighteenth century when it became customary to produce designs in a variety of colors. Italian papers in particular were printed, and frequently pre-brushed, with a colored paste rather than printer's ink.



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A selection of block-printed papers from the Lada-Mocarski Decorated Paper Collection.

Italian, Varese floral design printed in stages with different wood blocks, eighteenth century.

Block-printed and paste-paper leaves from the Lada-Mocarski Decorated Paper Collection.

Dutch paper from the Lada-Mocarski Decorated Paper Collection. c. 1780

Additional Information

To produce marbled paper, prepared colors are manipulated while floating on the surface of water and a single print is made of that design.


Marbling was first perfected in the Near East. Techniques similar to those used today were practiced in thirteenth-century Turkey and, by the early fourteenth century, in Persia.


European travelers of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries brought back accounts of "Turkish marbled paper." Soon marbled papers were being produced in Europe, and there is evidence that decorated papers were being traded among European countries by the seventeenth century.


A large number of marbling patterns evolved, many created with similar materials in several countries simultaneously so that patterns acquired a number of different names. The two basic categories, however, are combed and uncombed.

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