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1870-1890 Profusion of Patterns

The industrialization of the wallpaper trade fueled its massive expansion during the last quarter of the nineteenth century. Wallpaper could be produced quickly and inexpensively to meet the ever-changing tastes of the growing middle class. In addition to papering the main living rooms of their houses, consumers wallpapered their kitchens, closets, attics, stairwells and even privies - no room was left unadorned. The profusion of patterns appearing in American households was promoted by books on decorating and household management such as The American Woman's Home by Catherine E. Beecher and her sister Harriet Beecher Stowe, published in 1869, and by Andrew Jackson Downing's 1850 publication, The Architecture of Country Houses. Both books were intended to educate newly established middle-class homeowners who were unfamiliar with managing large staffed households.

In the last quarter of the nineteenth century Americans began to select from styles advocated by the English design reformers. In reaction to the poor quality designs produced by English wallpaper manufacturers for the mass market and the overly realistic appearance of French papers, Owen Jones ( 1809-1874), a leader in the design reform movement, argued in his 1856 book The Grammar of Ornament for designs based on forms found in nature or derived from universal principals of design he had observed in the natural world. Because Jones's geometrically-organized motifs reinforced the flatness of two-dimensional wallpaper, he believed the designs to be "true" and ethically superior to the illusional and therefore "false" designs produced in France.

In the decade that followed the publication of Jones's book, English theories of design would slowly become familiar to most Americans and provide an alternative to French realism. This unused sample of Reform Style paper is interesting for its combination of style and method of production. Its geometric motif is clearly influenced by the design reform movement; however, it is also printed in flock which was beginning to fall out of favor because it was difficult to clean, collected dust and was therefore thought to be unsanitary. The paper illustrates the fact that manufacturers and consumers did not always agree with current design philosophies and decorating trends.

William Morris (1834-1896), a leading figure of the Arts and Crafts Movement opposed the common and spiritless designs developed for mass production. Like Jones, Morris sought to reform English design of the decorative arts. But rather than devising design formulas, Morris looked to medieval craftsmanship and nature for inspiration. In 1861, he launched his first business, Morris, Marshall, Faulkner and Co., (which later became Morris & Co.) and began designing and producing textiles, furniture, tiles, and wallpaper.

Designed in 1862, "Trellis" is the first of Morris's many wallpaper patterns, although it was not printed until 1864. Trellis illustrates the flatness of ornament and shallow space that the reformers sought, but the mathematical precision of Jones's geometric motifs is replaced by a stylized interpretation of natural forms which became more pronounced in Morris's later floral patterns.

Charles Locke Eastlake's book, Hints on Household Taste, published in England in 1868 and 1872 in America, popularized the principals of the English design reformers and provided Americans with a practical guide for furnishing their homes. Americans seemed particularly receptive to Eastlake's decorating ideas and his book helped form the preference for English abstract or stylized designs.

One of the many wallpaper styles that took hold in America in the 1880s was based on English interpretations of Japanese motifs and design principals. Anglo-Japanese wallpapers are characterized by flattened shapes, defined outlines, a reliance on natural forms and asymmetrically composed circles, rectangles and squares filled with Japanese or exotic motifs. Printed in the colors favored by the Aesthetic Movement, this paper is accented with metallic gold, which was used frequently during this period.

Use of wallpaper in the 1880s spread from the walls to the ceilings and led to the creation of elaborate decorating schemes where the wall would be divided into panels - dado, fill, and frieze - to be papered with different patterns. Wallpaper firms and decorating books recommended that consumers cover their ceilings with either plain colored papers or small repeating patterns. Many of the ceiling papers in Historic New England's collection feature celestial motifs and the use of metallic gold or silver liquid mica which would have produced a glimmering effect upon the ceiling.

The interest in surface embellishments grew during this period and included different methods for producing imitations of embossed and gilded leather wall coverings that had been popular in Europe during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. One of the earliest embossed wall coverings made to imitate antique embossed leather is Tynecastle, or Modeled Canvas. Developed and patented in 1874 by designer W. Scott Morton (1840-1903), it was produced by hand pressing sized canvas into carved wooden molds and allowing it to dry. Tynecastle, like many embossed wall coverings of the period, was designed to be colored after it was adhered to the wall.

Another relief wall covering, Japanese Leather Paper, is perhaps one of the most successful and extravagant imitations of embossed leather. Produced in Japan by skilled craftsmen, Japanese Leather Paper is composed of fine individual sheets of handmade paper pressed together and then embossed. The entire roll was gilded, and the field color was stenciled over it. A layer of lacquer was then applied as a final coat which provided protection as well as a luxurious sheen to the finished design. Though its lacquered finish makes it quite sturdy, Japanese Leather Paper is still susceptible to moisture and can be damaged if not handled with care.

For a truly durable embossed wall covering, consumers could purchase Lincrusta Walton. Created in 1877 by Frederick Walton, the inventor of linoleum, Lincrusta Walton is a composite of oxidized linseed oil, wood pulp and other natural ingredients bonded together under tremendous pressure and embossed by engraved cylinder rollers. Like linoleum, Lincrusta Walton is virtually indestructible. It holds its colors well and can be cleaned easily. One can still view this wall covering in situ at Historic New England's Roseland Cottage. For the late 1880's redecoration of his summer home, Roseland Cottage (Bowen House), in Woodstock, Connecticut, Henry C. Bowen (1813-1896) selected ten different patterns of Lincrusta Walton which had been manufactured in Stamford, Connecticut, by the Fredrick Beck & Co. Bowen chose a variety of aesthetic and traditional damaskdamask patterns for the dado, fill and frieze of the front hall and dining room. Like other embossed wall coverings, Lincrusta Walton was colored after it was applied to the walls. An unpainted remnant was found in the window seat in the attic of the Symphony House (originally the Isaac Farrar House), Bangor, Maine. It was left over from the late nineteenth century redecoration of the circular room where it was painted tan and glazed in a reddish brown to imitate Cordova leather.

1870-1890 Profusion of Patterns