Dorothy Waterhouse's Extraordinary Collection
Historic New England’s wallpaper collection grew significantly in 2000 thanks to the addition of the Waterhouse Archive of Historic Wallpapers. This collection includes approximately 1,400 wallpaper samples collected by Dorothy S. Waterhouse, founder of Waterhouse Wallhangings, a company that specialized in reproducing historic wallpaper designs. Her business partner Bernard Scott donated her archive to Historic New England.
Dorothy Waterhouse credited her fascination with old wallpapers to the restoration of a 1799 house she and her husband purchased on Cape Cod in the mid-1930s. “It was a tremendous job getting those ugly 1890 papers and ornate Victorians scraped off . . . Suddenly I spotted beneath the drab looking top layers some beautiful colors . . . all in fascinating block-print designs,” she related in a newspaper article describing how her hobby was born and how it turned into a business. Through newspaper and magazine articles and her numerous lectures throughout New England beginning in the late 1940s, word spread of Mrs. Waterhouse’s interest in the subject.
Dorothy Waterhouse was most interested in early wallpapers, and her collection includes many eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century examples. It is equally rich, however, in samples of popular patterns from the mid-nineteenth century. The Waterhouse collection also contains fragments and unused rolls of wallpaper, wallpaper-covered boxes, trunks lined with wallpaper, and several sample books, some from the early 1950s, that relate to Mrs. Waterhouse’s first venture in reproducing samples from her collection for commercial use.