Before even studying the background of paper tole, you must start at the beginning – with paper.
The first kind of paper was developed about 3000 BC by the ancient Egyptians. They softened stems from a grass called papyrus, then layered them at right angles to form a sheet. This was then hammered till it was thin, and left to dry. The name paper, is actually derived from the word ‘papyrus’.
Then in AD 105, the Chinese made great advancess in producing paper. Plant fibres were steeped in water until the strands separated, then they were mixed with water in a vat and a screen was submerged in it. When the screen was removed, it caught a layer of the plant fibres and once dry, this formed a sheet of paper. This ancient technique is still used today in handmade papermaking.
Very slowly, the art of papermaking spread throughout Asia and by the 12th century, to Europe. Yet it wasn’t until the 15th century that using paper in daily life became common practice and then the demand for mass-produced paper soared and the printing technology it gave rise to really took off. Research was conducted to find materials for papermaking and findings suggested that wood best suited this purpose. By the 17th century in Europe and America, paper had become a massive part of everyday life – from books, to newspapers, money and even toilet paper! And, of course, art and craft.
As early as the 12th century, the Chinese were using their invention of paper to create decorative lanterns and gift boxes out of the brightly coloured pieces of paper.
Once paper arrived in Europe, German and Polish artisans were known for cutting out paper to adorn things or folding it to make birds, animals and flowers.
In Asia and Europe in the late 17th century, it became popular to decorate furniture with paper. This craft became known as découpage, whereby several paper prints were cut out, placed on furnishings, then lacquered to give the illusion of one picture. Before coloured printing presses were developed in 1719, young apprentices were employed to re-create picture after picture for découpage. It is believed that this is how paper tole – also known as three-dimensional découpage – emerged.