THE BACKSTORY OF WALLPAPER by Robert M. Kelly

wallpaperI admit it.  I am not ashamed.  I LOVE wallpaper.  As a matter of fact, I am a pretty good wallpaper hanger myself.  And when I walk into a room that has been papered, I can see instantly if the motifs match at the seams, how the corners are treated, and in fact, whether it is the teeniest bit off plumb.  I rock.  I am a wallpaper rock star.

So imagine my delight when I stumbled across this charming history of wallpaper and wall coverings covering the period 1650-1750, a serious history written in such a lovely manner that draws you into the history of how covering our walls with paper actually came to be.

Actually, papering the walls got its start in the Orient.  Westerners of the seventeenth century were amazed at the vast amount of paper used in Chinese interiors, and soon a brisk import business of ‘India pictures’ made especially for the West was established.

As our author tells us

there are four design-free traits of paper-hangings:  their uselessness, their portability, their cheapness, and the versatility.   Paper hangings are supremely useless.

Makes you think, though, doesn’t it.  Wallpaper is ‘useless’ when examined from a utilitarian point of view.   But we have been putting decorative images on our walls since the days of the cave people, so adapting paper for this decorative purpose shouldn’t surprise us in the least. Asa matter of fact, in the new world, with their walls made of wood boards instead of the more insulating wattle and daub houses of Europe, paper on the walls helped with the insulating factor.

And the British government soon found paper hangings useful:  as a nice source of income,  and began to tax them in 1712.  Figures, doesn’t it?

Papering the walls actually started with pasting up pictures above the fireplace mantle, , and with lining boxes, wardrobes, trunks and closets.  As paper manufacturing became more prevalent, larger pieces began to be made, and the upholders (or upholsterers   or what we call today the paperhangers) would join a number of individual sheets together to make up a piece large enough for a wall.  These were often sewn together.  Sewn?  Who knew!   It was a while before printed papers came in long rolls.

I think we might consider the early designs less than gorgeous because they tended to be large and flamboyant, often with black design borders.    Like this one:  miter closeAnd an example of those big prints:

set border

They were often put up with nails, using a frame with canvas underneath.

One last fun fact:  One guy in in the Netherlands in 1568 was beheaded for printing heretical ballads.  But what had happened was that his worker had printed them in his absence, and when he saw them, he refused to deliver them, and tossed them in a corner.  He subsequently used them to overprint them with ‘roses and stripes for the papering of attics’ (a common practice so as not to waste paper.)  All to no avail.   He lost his head anyway.  And so, wallpapering would seem to have a rather bloody beginning.

Every page of this book has interesting facts and anecdotes, and for those of you who love wallpaper, and for those of you who are history buffs, this is a wonderful book to read and keep on your shelf as a valuable reference.

adena.drawing.room

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s