The Olga Hirsch collection is one of the largest of its kind in the world, containing over 3,500 decorated papers and 130 books with decorated wrappers and end papers. It was donated to the British Library in 1968, along with Hirsch’s reference library on paper making and decorating.
Olga Hirsch was married to Paul Hirsch, who owned one of the world’s largest collections of music manuscripts and early works by composers including Mozart. After marrying Hirsch in 1911, Olga learned bookbinding to help repair works in his music library, but became fascinated with the decorated papers covering his manuscripts and spent the next 50 years researching and collecting papers.
An Anthology of Decorated Papers contains 256 papers from Hirsch’s collection, compiled by Philippa Marks, curator of book bindings at the British Library. Papers are grouped into key decorating techniques, from hand-marbled to brocade, paste, block-printed and mass produced, and hail from Europe, Asia and the Middle East.
The book also provides a brief history of decorated papers and the paper-making trade, and where possible, lists each paper’s intended use. As well as traditional book papers, there are paper backings for playing cards, wrappers for sweet foodstuffs and others made as souvenirs.
It’s a fascinating collection and the range of colours, patterns and printing techniques make for a useful and inspiring visual reference book. It’s also a loving homage to hand-crafted design, showcasing the beautiful patterns that can be made using just paper, ink and a few analogue tools.