Calling all Dutch gilt enthusiasts!

Posted on 9th August 2019 by simonbeattie

With apologies for cross-posting.

It has long been recognised that the term ‘Dutch gilt paper’ (for brocade paper/Brokatpapier/papier doré/carta dorata) is a misnomer: such papers were almost exclusively made in southern Germany and northern Italy.  In the past, it has been suggested that the name comes from the fact that they were either imported from the Netherlands, or that ‘Dutch’ is a corruption of Deutsch.  These decorated papers were particularly popular in the 18th century as a covering for English children’s books.  In his bibliography, John Newbery and his Successors 1740–1814 (1973), Roscoe devotes a section of Appendix 2, on Newbery’s bindings, to ‘Binding in Dutch floral boards’, and reproduces a sample of the paper as a frontispiece to his book.  However, as far as I am aware, the term ‘Dutch gilt paper’ was never used at the time.  ‘Gilt paper’ seems to have been the preferred term in contemporary advertisements; I have also encountered ‘embossed paper’, ‘fine gold emboss’d paper’, ‘gilt and flowered paper’, and ‘painted paper with golden flowers’. 

An example of ‘Dutch gilt’ paper from our collection here in Chesham

The earliest reference I have found to ‘Dutch gilt paper’ is an article in The Times from 22 January 1851, which quotes Samuel Phil[l]ips’ ‘Essay on Robert Southey’ and talks of the books Southey received as a child: ‘The son of Francis Newbery, of St. Paul’s-churchyard, and the well known publisher of Goody Two Shoes, Giles Gingerbread, “and other such delectable histories in sixpenny books for children, splendidly bound in the flowered and gilt Dutch paper of former days,” sent the child 20 such volumes […]’.  Later in the nineteenth century, The Times ran an advert for a Sotheby, Wilkinson & Hodge sale featuring ‘cabinet specimens of old Dutch gilt embossed paper’ (31 October 1896).  Interestingly, the OED does have an entry for ‘Dutch gilt’, which redirects to ‘Dutch foil’: ‘a very malleable alloy of 11 parts of copper and 2 of zinc, beaten into thin leaves, and used as a cheap imitation of gold-leaf.’  The earliest citation is from 1815.

A question, and a plea.  Does anyone happen to know when Phil[l]ips’ Essay was first published?  And could I please ask the collective rare book world to remember me if they come across the term ‘Dutch gilt paper’ being used before 1851?  Thank you very much!

Best wishes,


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One response to “Calling all Dutch gilt enthusiasts!”

  1. Mark Westcott says:

    Hi there Simon,

    I came across a collection of about 20 dutch gilt papers in the attic yesterday while looking through an old box of family papers for something else (as you do).

    In your excellent blog above, you mention an 1896 Sotheby item of ‘cabinet specimens of old Dutch gilt papers’.

    Do you know if the relevant entry mentioned how many sheets there were?

    My great aunt (Joan Howson) and her partner Caroline Townshend were fairly well known Arts and Crafts Stained Glass workers and built up quite a good art collection, including works by Ruskin and Burne-Jones.

    The box of family papers came from Joan in 1964.

    It’d be quite an interesting coincidence if the sheets I found yesterday turned out to be the same ones from the 1896 sale.

    Any suggestions?

    Thank you, Mark

    (I live in Farnham)

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