How did the standard composition book come about?
December 9, 2011 4:01 PM   Subscribe

How did the standard black/white marbled composition notebook come about? (please read on - bonus nazis!)

Sorry to link to the Daily Mail (truly, sorry), but this article got me thinking. One of the last images is of a journal owned by one Joseph Goebbels, and I hadn't realized that the standard composition books I once scribbled in reached that far back into history (it really doesn't look like they've changed at all since then). Why or how did that particular marble pattern become the norm?

All my own searching has just led to countless forums discussing the quality of contemporary composition books. Apparently those made in Vietnam just can't be beat.
posted by domakesaypat to Society & Culture (2 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Well, paper marbling (which I assume you discovered) goes back to early Asian techniques, which arrived in Europe in the late Renaissance. By the 18th or 19th century marbling was fairly advanced, with different styles in different countries. I found an 1843 memoir of British school days remarking on finding one's own

...fair copied book of our own school-essays. It is a modest-looking tome, considering the metaphysical, historical, and here and there sublime character of its contents; being simply a ciphering book fancifully bound in marble paper and red leather.

A "ciphering book" or "copybook" seems to be the term for what we now call a composition book (no origins there, alas). So these have a pretty long history.

There is an entire book on the history of marbled paper on GBooks (notably, you can actually browse the plates of lovely marbling patterns). I couldn't find any commonality between German and English papermaking and bookbinding other than general suppositions due to the Hanoverian influence.
posted by dhartung at 5:07 PM on December 9, 2011 [3 favorites]

Well, as a counterpoint – they're definitely not the norm in France, where I honestly don't recall ever seeing them in my 12 years living here (of which I spent 2 as a student who needed to buy composition books, and my French ex-grandfather-not-quite-in-law owned a print shop in Lyon).

I think you'll have better results concerning their origins by focusing on the marbled paper aspect, and figuring out which specific countries tend to carry them the most.
posted by fraula at 2:53 AM on December 10, 2011

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