A Brief History...
Marbling is the ancient art of floating colors on liquid, arranging them to form a design, and capturing the image by making a contact print. Although marbling has been around for centuries, very few people know about it. The art of marbling has been found in many different countries; Japan, Turkey, India, Persia (present-day Iran), Italy, France, Holland, and Germany just to name a few.
The origins and development of marbling are obscure, but it's known to have been practiced in Japan in the twelfth century. This early marbling was called suminagashi, or ink floating, and involved floating colors on water to produce the patterns. The ebru, or cloud art, type of marbling was evident in Turkey and Persia in the 13th century. With this method, various materials were added to the water to thicken the "size" which gives the artist more control in manipulating the colors. During the 16th century, the French developed a marbling industry that created quite a demand for marbled products, especially books that were bound with marbled paper.
The British learned to appreciate marbling from the Dutch, who were active marblers. Toys imported from Holland were wrapped in marbled paper in an attempt to avoid the high taxes levied on marbled goods. These 'wrappers' where pressed and used in book binding. The history of marbling runs parallel with that of books. Books become more available to a larger reading pubic in the 15th century after the invention of the printing press. With this higher demand, a quicker and cheaper binding process was needed. Enter the marbled paper with its brilliant colors, interesting patterns, and affordable costs.
Marbled paper was used by the Ottoman Empire for official documents until early in the 20th century. This tamper proof quality is one reason why the art of marbling was kept secret. If the paper couldn't be marbled, documents couldn't be forged. The marbled background of documents also made it virtually impossible to alter them since any erasure would be apparent. Benjamin Franklin even convinced Congress to marble the edges of paper money in an effort to prevent forgery. Marbling was also used in bookkeeping until the computer replaced the ledger. It was customary for ledgers to have marbled edges. The fact that a missing page would be revealed by the marbled pattern helped to keep the accountants honest.