Skip to content

Papers From China

China Trade Room
China Trade Room at Beauport, the Sleeper-McCann House, in Gloucester, Massachusetts.


Chinoiserie panel

Wallpapers from China were by far the most exotic but they were much harder to find than their English, French, and American counterparts. Chinese papers from the eighteenth century were hand-painted in gouache or tempera on mulberry-fiber paper which was then reinforced with bamboo paper. In 1784, the ship Empress of China sailed from New York Harbor bound for Canton, China. It returned laden with precious commodities including a set of wallpaper ordered by Robert Morris (1734-1806), a Philadelphia banker who held half interest in the vessel. An account of the receipts from the voyage records Morris’ payment of "one hundred dollars for paper hangings," an extraordinary sum at this time.

For unknown reasons, Morris never installed the set of Chinese papers he purchased. The rolls, stored in their original crate, were discovered in the attic of a Marblehead, Massachusetts, house in the early twentieth century and purchased by Henry Davis Sleeper (1878-1934) for the decoration of his summer residence, Beauport, the Sleeper-McCann House, in Gloucester, Massachusetts. The paper depicts rice cultivation and porcelain manufacture.

Other Chinese papers are painted with rare birds and flowers with a high degree of accuracy. Many of the species of flowers depicted are now easily identifiable, but they were unfamiliar to Westerners at the time.

Continue exploring Historic New England's wallpaper collection

Papers From China