At first glance, all Papier Mache` objects look roughly the same, and the price differential seems almost unreasonable. However, besides at least three different grades of Papier` Mache`, some is actually cardboard or wood! The idea, however, is not to hood-wink the unwary, but to provide a cheaper product for someone who wants the look of Papier Mache`.
To make Papier Mache`, first paper is soaked in water till it disintegrates. It is then pounded, mixed with an adhesive solution, shaped over moulds, and allowed to dry and set before being painted and varnished.
Paper that has been pounded to pulp has the smoothest finish in the final product. When the pounding has not been thorough, the finish is less smooth.
The designs painted on objects of Papier Mache` are brightly colored. They vary in artistry and the choices of colors, and it is not difficult to tell a mediocre piece from an excellent one. Gold is used on most objects, either as the only color, or as the highlight for certain motifs, and besides the finish of the product, it is the quality of the gold used which determines the price. Pure Gold leaf which has the unmistakable luster, is far more expensive than bronze dust or gold poster paint. It also has much longer life and will never fade or tarnish.
Varnish which is applied to the finished product, imparts a high gloss and smoothness which increases with every coat.
Cardboard, usually indistinguishable from Papier Mache`, gives slightly when pressed firmly. Otherwise the only difference is in the price, cardboard being cheaper than Papier Mache`.