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1840-1870: Changing Technology and Increasing Production

Gothic Revival

Dramatic changes in the way wallpaper was produced and marketed made it increasingly available to a wider base of consumers. The mid-nineteenth century witnessed the establishment of wallpaper warehouses and the beginnings of machine printing on continuous rolls of paper rather than on rolls made from individual sheets of paper glued together. Machine production was uneven at first and block printing continued to be preferred for better quality designs.

Invented in England, the first cylinder printing machine was imported to America in 1844 by John Howell of Philadelphia. By the mid-1850s, American wallpaper manufacturers were producing hundreds of thousands of rolls of wallpaper and quickly introducing new designs in response to a variety of decorating styles.

Machine printing changed the appearance of wallpaper in subtle ways. The pattern repeat was restricted by the circumference of the roller. In contrast to the opaque pigments used in block printing, the inks used in machine printing were thinner and often ran together as they were transferred quickly from the cylinders to the paper.

Nineteenth-century designers and architects revived many earlier styles such as the Gothic, Rococo, and those from the Renaissance and Elizabethan periods.

In the mid-nineteenth century, the Gothic Revival style in architecture offered an acceptable alternative to neoclassicism. English critics, most notably John Ruskin (1819-1900) and A. Welby Pugin (1812-1852), praised Gothic design for its ordered spaciousness and "honest" ornamentation. Pugin and Sir Charles Barry (1795-1860) championed the Gothic Revival style for religious and public buildings, and in 1836 began work on The Houses of Parliament, London, a vast complex of government offices and a symbol of national pride.

Like A.W. Pugin in England, A. J. Downing in America favored the Gothic Revival style for architecture but he deplored the use of artificial, uniform shading to indicate three-dimensional modeling of niches, pointed arches, quatrefoils, and tracery in wallpaper designs. Although it was much criticized by tastemakers, Gothic Revival wallpapers that incorporated all these elements proved to be quite popular with consumers who wanted to update their interiors with stylish designs. Gothic Revival

 Rococo Revival wallpapers feature naturalistic flowers, C-scrolls, fanciful bouquets, and delicate garlands. American wallpaper manufacturers often copied imported French designs but also created many of their own. It is sometimes difficult to distinguish a high-quality American wallpaper printed on a satin (highly polished) ground from its French counterpart. 

Interlacing strap work was derived from ornamental designs of the European Renaissance. It was sometimes combined with the ubiquitous floral motifs of the period but often formed a dense pattern that would be repeated across the walls of a room. 

Floral motifs were also combined with vines and stripes to create more open patterns. They could be printed on the more expensive satin grounds or inexpensively on paper that had no ground color at all. Greens, reds, and browns were popular colors of the period. 

Mid-century diaper patterns varied in scale from small restrained patterns suitable for parlors to more boldly printed larger sizes for hallways. They could be either block printed or machine printed in both subtle and more jarring color schemes.

Among the most elegant mid-century patterns were those that were embossed and gilded. Printed on heavy paper that could withstand the embossing process, the motifs were sparsely spaced and sometimes included stripes. This type of wallpaper was most often used in parlors.

Borders were still in vogue but were usually found only at the ceiling level. They were printed in fright jewel-like colors and many were flocked.

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1840-1870: Changing Technology and Increasing Production