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1890-1915 Preserving the Past and Appealing to the Future


The last decades of the nineteenth century saw major changes in the use and manufacture of wallpaper. Among some decorators, wallpaper began to fall out of fashion because of the difficulty in washing it and because of the fussiness of the tripartite design popular during the Victorian period. In their 1897 interior decorating book, The Decoration of Houses, Edith Wharton and Ogden Codman, Jr. expressed disdain for wallpaper and found little reason to recommend it to their readers.

The elaborate tripartite designs of the previous decades gave way to simple frieze and sidewall schemes and manufacturers began to develop waterproof wallpaper in response to the claim that wallpaper was unsanitary because it was difficult to clean. Sanitary papers were printed with engraved rollers in oil-based pigments that resisted water and could be washed lightly. Manufacturers recommended these papers for the kitchen, dining room and bathroom. An all-over thistle patterned wallpaper marked "SANITARY" on the selvage was used in the Dearborn-Woodbury House, Wakefield, Massachusetts.

Other manufacturers experimented with varnishing the paper after it was printed so that it would repel water and keep the distemper pigments from smearing. Varnished papers, often designed in tile patterns, eventually developed a yellow appearance from the discoloration of the varnish over time.

During this period, many wallpapers were designed for specific rooms of the house. Historic New England's collection contains several charming nursery papers that borrow from nursery rhymes and literature and which were intended to entertain and instruct children.

Wallpapers imitating traditional moire, damask and tapestry patterns were very popular, and therefore an abundance of variations were available. Manufacturers imitated tapestry patterns by overprinting the design with thin black pin-stripes, dashes or fine grids, that when viewed at a distance approximated the woven texture of fabric. Image Above Left. Those who preferred a subdued look for their walls could choose from ingrain or oatmeal papers. Invented in 1877 by James S. Monroe of Lexington, Massachusetts, ingrain paper was made from the fibers of cotton and woolen rags that were dyed before being milled into paper. Ingrain papers have a soft color that runs through the paper. - They could be used plain or as the base for a printed design such as this acanthus design which combines the stylized scrolling foliage of the Arts and Crafts Movement with the sophisticated rhythmic lines of Art Nouveau. Image Above Right.

The interest in preserving America's past initiated by the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia in 1876 continued to grow as the twentieth century approached. Concerned Americans became interested in preserving the architectural heritage of their communities. They organized to preserve historically important buildings, and architects became increasingly sensitive to traditional eighteenth-century details. Some homeowners and historical associations found wallpaper samples in the course of their restoration work and had the patterns reproduced. An early twentieth-century reproduction paper was produced by Thomas Strahan & Company, Chelsea, Massachusetts, for the Paul Revere Memorial Association. It was reproduced from fragments of the original 1770s English pillar and arch wallpaper used in a first floor chamber of the Paul Revere House, Boston. The following decades would see even greater interest in reproduction wallpaper as Americans looked to their colonial past as a model of domestic tranquillity.


1890-1915 Preserving the Past and Appealing to the Future