Floating Colors


“Most people don’t realize that each and every piece of marbled paper—vintage or modern—happens to be a unique individual print. When you look back at the work of marbling craftsmen from centuries past, it’s incredible to see how much control they had over the medium. A long set of books such as an encyclopedia would contain dozens of pieces of carefully marbled paper at the fronts and the backs of each volume—all of them amazingly similar despite the fact that each was completely unique.”—Dick Sheaff

Retired designer Dick Sheaff has been collecting marbled papers since he wrote a Master’s thesis on them a half-century ago. Here, we reproduce 17 stunning examples from the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries (including one created by Sheaff himself).

Dick Sheaff is a retired graphic and publication designer. His clients over the years included the Bank of Boston, Dartmouth College, Harvard Business School, the Ephemera Society of America, Houghton Mifflin, and the White House. Sheaff, who worked as a design consultant to the Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee from 1983 to 2008, designed more than 500 U.S. postage stamps throughout his career. He currently curates a personal archive containing thousands of examples of vintage printed ephemera. While many items were acquired by Sheaff because of their historical significance, the majority were selected for their design or typographical elements. Based in Vermont, Sheaff is a longtime member of several philatelic organizations and is active in the Ephemera Society of America.