I've made more items out of paper mache over the years that I've lost count. However, these receipts and history of is a bit different than what we employ today. Perhaps your historical characters might have a reason to use paper mache or perhaps a mishap with it. Hmmm, the possibilities are endless. Enjoy! Oh warning the second part is quite long.
To make papier mache.
This is a substance made of cuttings of white or brown paper, boiled in water, and beaten in a mortar till they are reduced into a kind of paste, and then boiled with a solution of gum arable, or of size, to give tenacity to the paste, which is afterwards formed into different toys, &c. by pressing it into oiled moulds. When dry, it is done over with a mixture of size and lamp-black, and afterwards varnished. The black varnish for these toys, according to Or Lewis, is prepared as follows: Some colophony, er turpentine, boiled down till it becomes black and friable, is melted in a glazed earthen vessel, and thrice as much amber in fine powder sprinkled in by degrees, with the addition of a little spirit or oil of turpentine now and then: when the amber is melted, sprinkle in the same quantity of sarcocolla, continuing to stir them, and to add more spirit of turpentine, till the whole becomes duid; then strain out the clear through « coarse hair bag, pr:.*ssin£ it gently between hot boards. This varnish, mixed with ivory-black ia fine powder, is applied, in a hot room, on the dried paper paste; which is then set in a gently heated oven, next day in a hotter oven, and the third day in a very hot one, and let stand each time till the oven grows cold. The paste thus varnished is hard, durable, glossy, and bears liquors hot or cold.
Source: Mackenzie 5000 Receipts ©1846
Papier Mache And Carton Pieere.
The very pretty and useful material which bears the name of Papier Mache does not always deserve that name. The brilliant display which Messrs. Jennens and Bettridge, and other manufacturers, made at the Great Exhibition ought to have been designated by some more significant and correct name; it is pasted paper and moulded paper, but not mashed or pulp paper, as the French name mache indicates. There are two distinct branches of industry here involved, which we must separate in order to speak of the notabilities of each.
And first for the real, the true papier mache, that which was introduced about twenty-five years ago, and from which Mr. Bielefeld produces such a wondrous variety of decorative ornaments. This is almost entirely paper; there may be a small percentage of other material to impart certain minor qualities, but it is essentially paper. And if we enquire what kind of paper is thus used, we find that it is any and every kind. All is "fish that comes to this net." Nothing is refused, nothing laid aside, whether linen or cotton or hemp be the fibre from which the paper was originally made: all is available, whether it be black or white, bleached or unbleached, plain or figured; whether it be fine as ' extra satin wove,' or coarse as tough wrapping paper; whether in large sheets or small fragments; whether new and unused, or old and worn;— all will be welcome to the mache vat. Of course, in a practical point of view, where all kinds are useful, the manufacturers look about them for cheap miscellaneous lots, instead of appealing to the bran new stock of a wholesale stationer. Bankers have sometimes tons' weight of old account books by them, which have ceased to be of use, but which they are unwilling to place in the hands of the trunk-maker or the butterman, on account of the private transactions to which the writing on the pages of such books relate; and as it is a task of no little difficulty and danger to burn these books, the bankers are glad to find a receptacle for them in the vat of the papier-mache manufacturer, under a pledge that they shall really and promptly be so used, without exposure to public gaze. Thus the banker may perchance see the relievo decorations of his own drawing-room made from his own old account books; a ledger may find a new home as part of a cornice, or a cash-book as a frame for a looking-glass, or a day-book as a ceiling ornament. Nay, these transformations may extend wider; for in years gone by, the banker's old shirt may have been transferred to the rag-bag, and thence to the paper-mill, and thence to the account-book maker, and thence to the bank, and thence to the papier-mache factory, and thence to the drawing-room of the banker's residence—where his admiring gaze may rest upon a graceful ornament, some fibres of which once clothed his own back.
The cuttings of paper, produced by the principal applications of that material, form a very large portion of the supply whence papier mache is made. Bookbinders, pasteboard-makers, envelope-makers, accountbook and pocketbook-makers, printsellers, paper-hangers, all accumulate heaps of shreds and cuttings; and the papier-mache vat may receive them all, unless better prices can be obtained elsewhere. Whatever may be the source whence the supply is obtained, it is certain that paper has now reached that commercial point which gold and silver reached long ago—that is, none need be wasted, for a market can be found for all the odds and ends.
The kind of papier mache which is now under notice is a paste-like mass formed of paper-pulp, and pressed in moulds to any desired form. Mr. Bielefeld, the leading manufacturer in this branch, has an establishment in the country where water power can be commanded, and where machines, moved by this power, bring the paper to the required state. The paper, be it of what kind it may, or of as many different kinds as it may, is moistened, and chopped, and minced, and routed about until it becomes a perfectly homogeneous pasty mass, or rather a mass having a consistency like that of dough or of putty. A trifling portion of other substances is, as we have said, introduced, but not sufficient to change the general character of the mass as a paper substance. Then comes the moulding or pressing. The material is too thick to be poured into a mould like plaster of Paris, or like molten metal; it is pressed into flattish nioulds, like clay, or composition, or gutta percha. A piece is cut off, about enough for the article to be made, it is pressed well into the mould, a counter-mould is placed upon it, and the force of a powerful press is brought to bear upon it, so as to drive the material into every minute crevice of the mould.
And here we come to the artistic department of such a manufacture as this. To command anything like a leading position in decorative art, there must be an untiring attention to new designs, new artistic ideas, new combinations of form, and colour, and material. Hence, in such an establishment as the ope now under notice, the moulds (made in metal from plaster models) are constantly increasing hi number and value; they accumulate not merely by hundredweights, but by tons; the designer, the carver of wood moulds, the engraver or sinker of metal moulds, are all adding to the store. It may be that a new design does not ' take ' sufficiently to pay the expense even of making the mould, but this may be counterbalanced by another which has a long run, and by degrees an extensive manufacturer becomes able to strike a balance, to establish an average which shall determine the probable returns to be expected from each new mould. Among our large establishments, where mechanical skill and fine art meet hand in hand, those which produce the most continuous run of new designs are those which generally rise to the uppermost pl&ce; and it is here that the artistic education of the artizan becomes a matter not merely of individual but of national importance.
The articles made of this material are chiefly architectural ornaments for interior use, such as ceiling ornaments, cornices, and so forth; but they are becoming every year more and more widely spread in their application. The theatres afford ample scope for the display of papier-mache ornaments; because the material is so tough that it will scarcely break, and so light that it requires much less fastening than the whiting and glue composition ornaments of former times. The counter-mould imparts to the ornament a hollowness at the back which economizes material and lessens the weight. The surface which the paper or papier presents is of a nondescript colour, arising from the mixture of various colours in the pulp, but it is fitted to receive any decorations in gold, oil-paint, size-colours, or varnish. Thus, an ornate frame for a looking-glass, made of papier mache, may be gilt with a degree of perfection nearly equal to that of a carved frame. But it is also capable of assuming a sculpturesque form. There were in the Great Exhibition, as many of our readers may remember, two statuettes after Michael Angelo, a copy of the noble horse's head from the Elgin marbles, and a bust of some celebrated man, all formed of papier mache, and deriving therefrom a toughness -which defies althost any power of breakage. The Corinthian capital in this material, set up on a pillar in the western nave, was an example of the more ordinary application for ornamental purposes.
There is another modern decorative material, still more recent than papier mache, but like it honoured with a French name: we mean carton pierre, which may be interpreted stone cardboard or pasteboard. This more nearly resembles plaster than papier mache ; it has a little paper in it, a great deal more plaster, and one or two other substances; the mixture thus produced is fashioned in moulds, and is applied to various ornamental purposes, but it is much heavier than papier mache. The beautiful internal decorations at the Lyceum Theatre are, we believe, made of carton pierre. Carton pierre is manufactured in England chiefly by Messrs. Jackson, but it appears to have been a French invention, and to be made in France and Germany more largely than in England. The carton pierre of the one country, and the stein pappe of the other, seem to be pretty nearly the same material: viz., a kind of liquid plaster combined with other materials, poured instead of pressed into moulds, and backed with a stratum of paper to give strength. Some of our French neighbours displayed beautiful specimens of friezes, vases, pilasters, and bas-relievos, in carton pierre, at the Great Exhibition; while the Prussian exhibitor, Gropius, displayed some dozens of neat little statuettes in the same material. The noble chandelier for sixty lights, exhibited by Messrs. Jackson, was perhaps the best specimen 6f carton-pierre work.
But to return to papier mache. That the pulpy or mache paper is susceptible of being made into beautifully even flat surfaces, is exemplified in the thick millboard used by bookbinders. Time was when all such millboard was essentially pasteboard, produced by pasting together a large number of sheets of paper to the required thickness; but now the pulp is used. In the first place there is a flat table or slab, with a raised edge all round to form a sort of shallow mould. Into this mould the pulp is laded, to a depth depending on the thickness of the millboard to be made, and this pulp, by drying between felted cloths, by drying in the open air, by gentle pressure in a press, and then by powerful pressure between rollers, assumes at length that hard, tough, strong, smooth, uniform consistency which distinguishes millboard, and which makes that material so invaluable to the bookbinder. Mr. Bielefeld is about to introduce an important modification of this process in the production of panels for artists. He has produced panels eight feet by six, made entirely of papier mache half an inch thick, mounted on a skeleton wood support or frame; and the surface of these panels appears as if it would be admirably fitted for paintings, more durable than canvas, and less likely to split than wood panel; indeed, splitting is out of the question in respect to such a material. The bulkheads and the cabin partitions of some of the fine steamers of Our day have been made of this material; it is tough and strong, and admits of any degree of ornamentation. The material is said to be a bad conductor both of sound and of heat, and has thus a twofold recommendation for room partitions. It seems to have been some such material as this which Mr. Haddan contributed to the Great Exhibition, in the form of panels for railway carriages, or rather for the whole broadside. It is alleged that such panels do not shrink, and do not require grooves for fixing: whether they will bear being 'run into' better than other railway panels, has probably not yet been tested.
Now we may turn our glance to that which, though not really papier
mache, is much more extensively known by that name than the material just described. The gorgeous contributions to the Hyde Park collection must be in the recollection of most persons. That paper, even with the adventitious aid of painting, and varnishing, and polishing, and gilding, and inlaying, should be wrought into such beautiful forms, might well excite the wonder of those to whom the manufacture was new. It was no small triumph of skill to produce, out of such a substance, the pearl inlaid pianoforte and music stool; the Victoria Eegia cot, designed by Bell, the sculptor, and decked with emblematic devices in gold and colours; the pearl-and-gold inlaid loo-table; the Lotus work-table, designed by Bell; the pearl-inlaid and gilded work-table, in a form suggested by Benvenuto Cellini's vase; and Bell's chess-board for his "Parian" chess-men—to say nothing of the chairs, tables, sofas, cabinets, secretaries, screens, vases, writing-desks, blotting-folios, workboxes, papetieres, inkstands, envelope-cases, card-boxes, flower-stands, teatrays, coffee-trays, wine-trays, standishes, crochet and netting-cases, and the numberless things which modern refinement has rendered familiar to us. The Furniture Courts in the Exhibition certainly glittered with these productions.
It would give a better idea of the manufacture (although somewhat lowering to its dignity) if these productions were called pasteboard, for pasteboard they certainly are, as the reader will presently see. It was towards the close of the last century that iron tea-trays began to be imitated or superseded by papier mache, and from these trays has gradually sprung up an important department of Birmingham industry, a department in which it is pretty generally admitted, we believe, that Birmingham excels all other places.
Although the real papier mache snaps up all kinds of paper indiscriminately, with most impartial fairness, the tea-tray paper (if we may so term it) is not so easily satisfied; it requires whole sound sheets to work upon, and these sheets must have a certain definite quality to fit them for their destined purpose.
Let us watch, in thought, the making of a papier-mache tea-tray. In the first place we see that the paper employed has a grayish colour, and looks like thick blotting-paper; and in the next we see that a mould or form is employed to give shape to the tray. Artists or designers are constantly at work producing new patterns; but we are here supposing that a tolerably simple tray is to be manufactured. A model of the tray is prepared, giving the exact form and shape; and from this model a mould is cast in iron, brass, or copper, the surface of the mould corresponding, of course, with the interior of the tray to be made. Women and girls, seated at tables, cut up the rough gray paper into pieces of the requisite size, and these pieces are handed to the pasters, who are also women—for it is worthy of remark that this veiy pretty art is one which is capable of being conducted in many of its branches by females. These pasters have beside them a plentiful supply of paste, made of flour and glue dissolved and boiled in water. The mould is greased to prevent the paper from adhering. The first sheet is pasted on both sides, and handed to another woman, who lays it on the mould, pressing and rubbing and adjusting it until it conforms to the shape. Another and another are similarly applied, and the mould, with its threefold garment, is put into a drying room, heated to a high temperature, where it is brought to a dried state. It is removed from the stove-room, filed to give it a tolerable smoothness of surface, and then clothed with three more layers of paper, in the same mode as before. Again is the stove-room employed, again the pasters ply their labour; a third time the stove-room, again the pasters; and so on, until thirty or forty thicknesses of paper have been applied, more or less, of course, ae cording to the substance intended to be produced. For some purposes as many as a hundred and twenty thicknesses are pasted together, involving forty stove dryings, and of course carrying the operations over a considerable number of days. A mass of pasteboard, six inches in thickness, which is occasionally produced for certain purposes, is perhaps one of the toughest and strongest materials we can imagine. If a cannon-ball, made of such pasteboard, were fired against a ship, would not the ball itself escape fracture?
The mould being covered with a sufficient layer, a knife is employed to dexterously loosen the paper at the edges; the greased state of the mould allows the paper to be removed from it. Then are all imperfections removed; the plane, the file, and the knife are applied to bring all 'ship-shape' and proper.
Next come the adornments. The pasteboard itself is not beautiful, so beauty is sought in other ways. Shell-lac varnish of very fine quality, coloured according to circumstances, is applied coat after coat, until a thickness is obtained sufficient for the purpose. The black polished surface of ordinary papier-mache trays is produced by black japan varnish, applied by women with a brush. But whether the varnish be black or coloured, it usually undergoes a rubbing and polishing to such a degree as to equal in brilliancy anything produced in the arts. It is said that the finest polishing instrument used to give the last finishing touch after all the ' rotten-stones' and ' emeries ' have done their best, is the soft palm of a woman's hand; and that those females employed in this art, who are gifted by nature with the much-coveted charm of a soft and delicate hand, find it commercially advantageous to preserve this softness and delicacy by a degree of gloved carefulness not usual in their rank in life. What will the poets say, when woman's hand is thus spoken of?
Then ensue the painting and the gilding, the bedizenment with gaudy show, or the adornment with graceful device, according as the goods are low or high priced, or the manufacturer a man of taste or no taste. A kind of stencilling is employed in cheap work, but in better specimens the real artist's pencil is brought into requisition'
The inlaid-work exhibited in the higher class of papier-mache goods is very curious. A sort of imitative tortoiseshell is thus produced. A thin transparent varnish is laid on the prepared tray, leaf silver is laid on the varnish, the two are dried, and varnish is laid thickly over the silver, and pumice-stone is skilfully applied to grind away so much of the varnish at particular spots as will give to the whole the mottled appearance of tortoiseshell. Every day's experience tells us that imitations themselves are imitated. Not only is varnished silver made to imitate tortoiseshell, but varnished vermilion is made to imitate varnished -silver. A method of decorating papier maehe with imitative gems has been recently introduced, in which some kind of foil or varnish is applied to the back of glass, and the glass employed as an inlaying. But perhaps the most striking ornamentation of this kind is pearl-inlaying, of which Messrs. Jennens and Bettridge's pianoforte was such a brilliant specimen. Here real mother-of-pearl is employed. A design is painted on the thin pieces of pearl with shellac varnish, a strong acid is applied, all the shell is eaten away except those parts protected by the varnish, and thus the pearl is brought into an ornamental form. The pearl is placed upon the wet japan of the papier mache, to which it adheres; and it is then coated with such a thick layer of varnish as to equal the thickness of the film 6f mother-of pearl. It is varnished, dried, and rubbed with, pumice over and over again, until a level surface is produced. It may be easily conceived how excellent the varnish and the mode of application must be to render such a thickness of applied varnish durable. The firm lately mentioned have made a complete suite of papier-mache drawing-room furniture for the Queen of Spain, decorated in this remarkable way.
But it is doubtful whether this excessive glitter of polish and pearl will have a permanent reputation. Something more sober will probably live longer. At any fate, when we find Mr. Owen Jones supplying Alhaiiibraie designs, and other artists pictorial designs, for tea-trays, we find a nearer approach to fine art. The papier-mache contributions to the Great Exhibition from the Messrs. Spiers of Oxford were remarkable, inasmuch as the two oithree hundred specimens contained views of about a hundred and fifty public buildings and interesting places in and near that city. There is in many of these specimens a mediaeval taste in ornament fitted to the mediaeval state of feeling in Oxford.
Source: Paper: Its Applications and Its Novelties ©1853