From earlier research, I’d found out that the printmaking paper I’d been using to make 17th century playing cards is wrong, historically speaking. So now I’m working on playing cards mark 3 – and I’d like them to be as correct as I can possibly get them.
The material used was pasteboard – several layers pasted together. It was flexible and flippy, just like modern cards. How was this achieved?
A cheap brown paper (sometimes called “pot” paper) was in the middle, and the fronts and backs were of better quality white paper. Up to six layers could be used. Which glue was used is not quite clear to me. Glues that were around then are flour or wheat paste, and rabbit glue. So my experiment this week was to try gluing with both, to see which worked best.
The paper I used for this experiment was from Griffen Mill – Old Cleeve for the white, Akbar for the brown. Both are hand made. The rabbit glue was Roberson’s obtained from Cornelissen’s. Wheat paste can be bought, but I found a recipe on the bookbinding blog “My Handbound Books” and since I always have flour in, and it’s cheap, I decided to make my own.
I cut equal strips of the paper, 2 parts white to 1 part brown.
First I tried the rabbit glue, a runny liquid. The first layer went on well, but when I added the second layer I realised I’d made a mistake – I’d added the glue to the middle layer that was already wet on the other side. It immediately started wrinkling. I smoothed it down and waited to see how it would dry.
Next I brought out the flour paste. It was a lot more solid and for that reason the gluing seemed more satisfactory, though it took longer to dry.
When both were dry, the flour was the clear winner. The bubbles didn’t go from the rabbit glued cards when the paper had dried. However I could see that 3 layers was not enough to make a card thickness. So I added another layer of brown to the flour paste strip. This time, the thickness was better.
Second stage: I tried again with rabbit glue, this time taking 4 layers and sticking 1 layer of white to one layer of brown, and waiting for them to dry before putting the two together. This time the buckling was avoided and the finish was much better, but the four-layer card glued with flour paste was noticeably less bendy.
I also tried out the rabbit glue as size. This was a use it was often put to in painting at the time, and still is sometimes. I think that’s why it is still commercially available. Anyway I put a layer on my pasted cards and also on a spare unsized “Mark II” card to see what happened. The result was a very, very slight sheen and I would think that it protects against dirt and marking. This then would seem to be the main purpose of rabbit glue, although I may consider carrying on using dry soap as before, since it is quicker and cheaper.