More than twenty years ago, when I was well into collecting decorated papers, I bought a small collection of them from a bookseller in San Francisco. Among them were some colorful snippets that looked sort of marbled, but were sort of splotchy and patternless, as if they had been done from pigments dropped onto the sheet and then dispersed in some magical way with chemicals. I was intrigued, because I found these sheets quite attractive, and I wondered how they were made and who made them. But in the frenetic pace of my life I had no time to pursue these issues.
Thereafter, my wife and I, in our incessant search for more papers, found additional pieces, and for a moment or two, my interest was piqued again and again. But as before, other demands made me put my curiosity aside.
However, now cognizant of these eye-catching papers, I started seeing them here and there in places that I would formerly have not paid much attention: on bookbindings and in sample books. They were used to cover boards and for endsheets. I now began in earnest to look for them, and to my surprise I encountered them fairly often.
Years later (in 1988) volume 8 of Matrix was issued, and I discovered, to my delight, an entry, composed of three short pieces, about these very papers, which were produced by Edward Seymour at his Fancy Paper Company. I now had the name of the person who made the papers, the name of his company, and
four small tipped-in samples of the papers. Three of the papers were of the kind I had bought, the fourth was labeled "trough-marbled" (see Matrix 8, p. 177).
I read these three essays carefully and discovered a world of paper decoration I had been unaware of until then. In fact, the article mentions three different methods of paper decoration: trough marbling, bench marbling, and machine marbling. The first was, of course, familiar. As collectors of these papers, my wife and I knew a good deal about marbling, having done it on several occasions and having dozens of books on the subject and hundreds of such sheets. Yet again, I wanted to know more, and the three pieces in Matrix went a long way to satisfying my curiosity.
The brief essay by Tanya Schmoller (pp. 173-75) succinctly explains her interest in the company and its papers, and details how she tracked down two of the principals who were involved in the company. As with other of Tanya's writings, this is a model of bibliographical sleuthing, and she is to be credited with getting the ball rolling for the Matrix piece.
The third piece, "Edward Seymour, Marbler Extraordinary," by William Bull (the head of conservation at the India Office Library, one of Seymour's constant customers), is one page of information about his relationship with Seymour, about Seymour's method of working, and about the marbler's supplies and equipment. It is slightly informative, but adds little to what we learn from the other two pieces.
The real treasure here, in terms of a first-hand knowledge of Seymour and his business, is the excellent essay by W. F. (William) Seymour, "Marbling with my Uncle" (pp. 175-80). William had worked for his uncle, so his understanding of the operations of the company were from practical experience. He even calligraphed the text of his thesis for a Teaching Certificate about decorated papers, focusing on his uncle's methods. Here was a true font of information. Though my curiosity was partly satisfied, it was now enflamed. I wanted to know more.
Then the Dutch bookseller/publisher Frits Knuf, spurred on by the extraordinary marbler/author Karli Frigge, published a text by Lietje van Hövell tot Westerflier under the title Sample Book of Seymour ("Realized by Karli Frigge and published by Frits Knuf," n.d. ; the date derived from the advertising brochure). The text of this little book was taken completely from the three Matrix pieces, so it adds nothing to our knowledge of the man or his papers. But the book contains no fewer than 36 small samples (one tipped onto the cover), showing decorated papers from Seymour. Remarkably, these tip-ins come from the magnificent Schmoller collection, Tanya having made them available for this publication.
As I have noted, I didn't learn anything new from the text, but I did learn that the range of Seymour's papers was much wider than I had imagined from whatever else I had seen. I wondered what more there was to know.
In 1998, I was visiting the bookbindery of my friend Ronnie Gousman in Los Angeles. While waiting for him to emerge from the back of his shop, I sat down and grabbed a few little clutches of sample books from a basket on a bottom shelf of his waiting room. These samples he showed to his customers for their selection on the books he was rebinding for them. My eyes lit up when I saw one little cluster of samples from the Fancy Paper Company. When Ronnie came out, I said to him, "You've got papers from the Fancy Paper Company?" He replied, "How did you know?" I was apparently the first person in his shop ever to have identified these sheets. I told him of my interest, and he told me a fascinating story, the gist of which is:
When the Fancy Paper Company went out of business, the booksellers Henry Sotheran Ltd. (founded in 1761) in London acquired the remaining stock for use in their bindery. A letter to me from them dated October 13, 1999, says that they are not sure where they got the papers, but that Robert Kirchman, managing director of the company in 1981, "seems to think that the papers from The Fancy Paper Company came through us via the Morrell bindery which was a subsidiary company of Sotheran's. Beyond this we do not have any records of the material."
Recognizing the usefulness of these papers, as an active bookbinder, Ronnie negotiated with Sotheran to purchase the entire stock of the papers, and in 1981 bought a huge batch of Fancy Paper Company marbles.
I asked Ronnie what he knew about the company, but all he could tell me was that he had their papers and that they came in quite a large number of variations-for he had dozens of them. I told him that someone should write a book on the company and he said I should do it. I was already hooked, so I decided to see what else I could find out beyond what was already in print.
Seymour's company produced hundreds of thousands of sheets in the half century of the company's existence. They were used for bookbindings, on boxes, in matting and framing, packaging, and for an untold number of other applications. (I even read that they were used to line caskets.) And Bill Seymour informs me that "One American lady bought a considerable number of matching trough-marbled sheets to use as wallpaper, mimicking marble facings used in buildings" (e-mail, 23 December 2004). They are familiar to most people in the book world, who will say, "Sure I recognize them," but will then add, "I know nothing about them." Like the Sydney and Douglas Cockerell papers, and the Aschaffenburg papers before them, most of the Fancy Paper Company products are immediately recognizable. The company had an immeasurable impact on the book world in the twentieth century, and deserves a more extensive treatment than it got in Matrix or the Frits Knuf book.