A Soft Footprint

Paste Paper

Quite simple and for many not that attractive at first sight, paste paper technique distinguishes itself by relatively modest patterns. However, at the same time, it reveals the imagination of artisans of the past, their specific taste and their playful solutions while employing the simplest materials at hand for the decoration.

Paste paper book cover (2nd half of 18th c.)Vilnius University Library

The earliest known examples of the paste paper so far came from the middle of the 17th century.

Paste paper endpapers (18th c.)Vilnius University Library

Preparation of the coloured paste for paint is quite simple: after heating up thickened mass of water and flour (or starch) to a certain temperature, it is combined with pigments or dye. Thus, a thick and slow-drying paint is made.

It is thought that this relatively easy-to-make decorative paper that can often be found on the book covers or endpapers was often made by bookbinders themselves.

Paste recipe (1847)Vilnius University Library

Flour or starch paste is a material for pasting used in various crafts since old times. A recipe of glue can be found in Laurynas Ivinskis Calendar (published in 1847 in Vilnius). It gives instructions how to make a glue out of “purple rutabaga species” (potato) starch.

It is written in the Calendar's advice section that such “clæg” is suitable for pasting and can be used for the design of books or even walls as well as in the work of tailors and other craftsmen.

Paste paper book cover (18th c.)Vilnius University Library

One of the simplest patterns of paste paper is a sheet covered with paint and folded in half, which, when opened, has a symmetrical ornament of veins.

Paste paper book covers (18th c.)Vilnius University Library

Another minimalist solution is a pattern created by strokes of a wider brush.

Paste paper back cover (19th c.)Vilnius University Library

More elaborate patterns were created by wiping through wet and coloured paste with various, often homemade, tools such as combs, sticks, crumpled paper or fabric, a sponge, etc.

The map of the southern part of Upper Saxony district (ca. 1793) by Johann Georg Schreiber, August Friedrich Wilhelm SadebeckVilnius University Library

Very characteristic and recognisable patterns were created following in the tradition of paste paper by the religious community which was established in the 18th century in Herrnhut (Germany); later the same patterns appeared in other countries as well.

Herrnhut paste paper patternVilnius University Library

Multicoloured paste paper book covers (18th c.)Vilnius University Library

Often recurring colour combination that is characteristic to many historical examples of paste paper is rhythmically arranged red, purple, green and yellow.  

In some cases, decorators would combine several decoration techniques. Woodcuts were printed on a sheet covered with paste.


Paste paper cover (18th c.)Vilnius University Library

For decorating the cover of this book, the artist employed expressive strokes of a brush and... their own finger prints, thus creating a unique pattern.

Bookbinder's handbook (1741-1753) by Christoph Ernst PredigerVilnius University Library

Bookbinders applied the same technique for the decoration of book edges. Before putting on the cover, edges of the text-block would firstly be trimmed and polished.

Decorated book edge (18th c.)Vilnius University Library

Then the block would be firmly compressed in a press, covered with paint and decorated in a desired pattern.

Books decorated with paste paper should be properly preserved and looked after as flour paste is a nutritious substance that will attract some species of insects.

Blue paste paper cover of death register bookVilnius University Library

Tales of Decorated Paper is a five-part story.

<< The third part A Ripple, Captured.Marbled Paper
The fifth part A Golden Garden. Brocade Paper >>

Credits: Story

Original idea and research by Ieva Rusteikaitė. Creators and contributors: Gediminas Auškalnis, Gediminas Bernotas, Kristina Gudavičienė, Nijolė Klingaitė-Dasevičienė, Raimondas Malaiška, Vida Steponavičienė, Marija Šaboršinaitė, Jonė Šulcaitė-Brollo.

For professional consultations and the attention given during the creation of this story we are grateful to our colleagues from the Manuscripts, Graphic Arts, Rare Books and Documental Heritage Preservation divisions of Vilnius University Library – Paulius Bagočiūnas, Monika Baublytė, Virgilija Guogienė, Linas Jablonskis, Valentina Karpova-Čelkienė, Sondra Rankelienė, Aušra Rinkūnaitė, Sigitas Tamulis, and Brigita Zorkienė.

We would like to express our special gratitude to the head of the VU Museum of Zoology, Dr Grita Skujienė, for her inspirational cooperation. The exhibits from the collection of zoologist, ornithologist Count Konstanty Tyzenhauz (1786–1853), kept in Vilnius University Museum of Zoology, conclude the second part of Tales of Decorated Paper

Tales of Decorated Paper were enriched by three objects from earlier research in VU Library’s collections. The mottled gilt material cover of Filozof indyjski... (Warsaw, 1769) by Robert Dodsley and Mikołaj Rej was presented before in Bibliotheca Curiosa (Vilnius: Vilnius University Press, 2016) compiled by Sondra Rankelienė and Indrė Saudargienė. In addition, the publications from the collection Knygos menas (The Art of Book) compiled by Sondra Rankelienė, Aušra Rinkūnaitė, Guoda Gediminskaitė, Brigita Zorkienė, and Irena Katilienė published in the spring of 2020 – that is, Jacobus Wallius’ Poematum libri novem... (Nuremberg, 1737) and Joseph Penso de la Vega’s Rumbos peligrosos... (Antwerp, 1683) – have also joined the Tales where they – hopefully – revealed their significance. We are also grateful to Sondra Rankelienė for her suggestion of using [Onufry Kopczyński’s] GRAMATYKA DLA SZKOŁ NARODOWYCH NA KLASSĘ I (1780), whose jacket featuring the inventive use of coloured wallpaper we included in the first part of the Tales.

Tales of Decorated Paper were created in Vilnius University library – the oldest and largest academic library in Lithuania. The present-day library preserves over 5 million documents, with the oldest being over 8 centuries old. VU Library aims to spread the wealth of knowledge stored in its troves with the community and society.


Doizy, Marie-Ange. De la dominoterie à la marbrure: histoire des techniques traditionnelles de la décoration du papier. Paris: Art & Métiers du Livre, 1996.

Krause, Susanne; Rinck Julia. Buntpapier - ein Bestimmungsbuch / Decorated Paper - A Guide Book / Sierpapier - Een gids. Stuttgart: Dr. Ernst Hauswedell & Co. KG, Verlag, 2016.

“Paste” in Roberts, Matt T., Etherington, Don. Bookbinding and the Conservation of Books  A Dictionary of Descriptive Terminology. Washington: Library of Congress, 1982. https://cool.culturalheritage.org/don/dt/dt2499.html

Marks, Philippa J. M. An Anthology of Decorated Papers. A Sourcebook for Designers. London: Thames & Hudson, 2016.

Veléz Celemín, Antonio. El Marmoleado. De papel de guardas a la obra de arte. Madrid: Ollero y Ramos, 2012.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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