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Soap and stone polishing finish?

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Soap and stone polishing finish?


Does anyone know the details of this technique? Or used/adapted it?

I am not too sure about the exact procedure for the soap finish, but from what I can make out from an 18th century french description of playing card making, the uncut sheet is heated up on a flat plate over a stove, first one side then the other (the bottom should be hotter than the top?), then a thickish felt rubber. the width of the sheet, is passed over a slab of dry soap then over the sheet, first the top side and then the bottom. Then, while it is still hot, it is polished with a smooth concave stone, somewhat more vigorously on the back side than the front. The sheets are then pressed to straighten them before cutting.

Not sure about how essential the heating is to the process, one can burnish paper cold (the soap provides 'slippage' for the burnishing stone). Sounds a bit risky to me, but perhaps one could soap a couple of cloths, place the sheet between them and iron them on each side to heat up the cards and permeate the soap (similar to how one would waterproof cardboard with paraffin wax)? Or alternatively, heat up the sheet with an iron (with a cloth to protect it), then apply the soap with felt cloth?

Not too sure of the process or how pleasing (or not) the results, or if different soaps make a difference (I know magicians use soap on cards to make them fan and spread easier, but it doesn't work with all types of soap. French card burnishing was done with Marseille soap I think, an (olive) oil based soap).

(I believe Bertrand Saint-Guillain used a soap and stone polishing process to finish his cards?)
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The soap, always dry, and the stone were used before the existence of the rollers (calandre in french) to smooth out the paper.

I think the process is well explained in Lebrun's Manuel du cartonnier (1845) pp. 223-224. Unfortunately the plates are absent from the digital edition, for drawings see Georges Petit (1903) pp. 450 ss. You can also find it discussed in Camoin's book (chapter written by JP Seguin p. 46).
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Thanks for the links and references Philippe

I am interested in the soap and stone polishing/burnishing as a finish.

How does it feel, shuffle, fan, and hold up over time and use?

It's quite laborious of course, and probably of no interest to modern DIY cardmakers, except perhaps any interested in reproducing an historical deck.

I have never handled a genuinely old TdM to get a feel for it, only more modern reproductions.

Burnished paper and cardstock of course has been made since at least the middle ages, it is sort of essential for calligraphic work.

No doubt modern card-makers use burnished/calendared paper/cardstock to print on (or linen stock), but I don't think they re-burnish/calendar the sheets after printing, do they? But rather use some 'secret' cardmakers varnish to finish.

The only modern artisan I think has used it is Bertrand Saint-Guillain on his lino Vieville inspired blockprint. Does anyone have a set of his cards? How do you rate the finish, how well has it coped with handling over time? (The last may be hard to answer, as I suspect many if not most may have stored it as a collectors item than one for regular use.)*

Kwaw

*Edited to add: Especially, as I just found from a search on this site, the handmade was a very limited edition of only 33 copies!
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You're asking for something that has not often been described.

According to Lebrun the heating was essential for the varnished aspect of the cards and to prevent the colours from going over the edges. The soap was mainly used to facilitate the sliding of the stone.

I don't think these two operations alone were determinant for the finished aspect of the cards. Overriding is the way the paper was made (with the 3 sheets).

The main feeling characteristics of the ancient tarot cards (imo & according to my experience)

-a greater suppleness
-cards easily break away from each other
-When you scratch the cards with a finger a distinct and not muted noise
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Philippe View Post
You're asking for something that has not often been described.

According to Lebrun the heating was essential for the varnished aspect of the cards and to prevent the colours from going over the edges. The soap was mainly used to facilitate the sliding of the stone.

I don't think these two operations alone were determinant for the finished aspect of the cards. Overriding is the way the paper was made (with the 3 sheets).

The main feeling characteristics of the ancient tarot cards (imo & according to my experience)

-a greater suppleness
-cards easily break away from each other
-When you scratch the cards with a finger a distinct and not muted noise
Thanks Philippe. I have already prepared the three sheet cardstock using an old glue recipe, and have finished the artwork for a 36 card 'Etteilla' deck.
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Hello Kwaw,

descriptions do exists although there's only one I know of which is really accurate and with plenty of details, the polishing involved - in the 18th century - a workman called the lisseur who used the lissoir, a rather large machine with, among other things, a marble plate and a rounded silex stone (actually it was rounded on the bottom quarter only, the other sides had angles to fit ini the lissoir).
Not much soap was used.
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kwaw View Post
Thanks Philippe. I have already prepared the three sheet cardstock using an old glue recipe, and have finished the artwork for a 36 card 'Etteilla' deck.
note that tarot cards usually used more than three sheets.
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kwaw View Post
The only modern artisan I think has used it is Bertrand Saint-Guillain on his lino Vieville inspired blockprint.
I did indeed, and I'll do it again for my "in progress" deck (les triomphes), at least for the first 20 copies.
Quote:
Does anyone have a set of his cards? How do you rate the finish, how well has it coped with handling over time? (The last may be hard to answer, as I suspect many if not most may have stored it as a collectors item than one for regular use.)
I have a couple cards left that didn't make it to the decks, they don't like excessive moisture.
Quote:
*Edited to add: Especially, as I just found from a search on this site, the handmade was a very limited edition of only 33 copies!
working the soap finish may in part explain why the edition was so limited !
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kwaw View Post
Not sure about how essential the heating is
IMO it is essential, to fix things and to remove all the moisture, but not necessarily to the "lissage"
Quote:
Sounds a bit risky to me
it is, some sheets are lost when attention is lacking, it involves watching, smelling and feeling with the hand.
Another detail I forgot to mention, there was a workman to put the soap, the "savonneur", before the sheet was passed to the lisseur. Each time there's a name for a task implies that a certain care should be taken.

Quote:
Originally Posted by kwaw View Post
I have never handled a genuinely old TdM to get a feel for it, only more modern reproductions.
they are usually quite thicker but don't necessarily weight heavier. Regarding how they shuffle it's difficult to imagine, because the problems are :
-you don't try to shuffle them like a modern deck because they are rare and you don't want to destroy them,
-they have been used and it definitely has an impact on how they shuffle

Also note that a good shuffle not only depends on the surface but also on how stiff and elastic the cards are.

My "triomphes de Paris" handmade was thicker than old cards because I used rather heavy art quality print papers, so I had to make only two sheets cards, and it makes a nice heavy deck.
Quote:
The only modern artisan I think has used it is Bertrand Saint-Guillain on his lino Vieville inspired blockprint. Does anyone have a set of his cards? How do you rate the finish, how well has it coped with handling over time?
here is what Bluefeet said about it :
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Thanks Bertrand
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