Books Magazine

Wallpaper - All Wrapped Up.

By Ashleylister @ashleylister
The earliest know fragment of European wallpaper that still exists today was found on the beams of the Lodge of Christ's College, Cambridge and dates from 1509.  It is an Italian inspired woodcut pomegranate design printed on the back of a proclamation issued by Henry VIII and attributed to Hugo Goes, of York.
The earliest surviving printed wallpapers used in households in England are block printed designs in black, sometimes with some additional stencilled patches of colour, representing heraldic designs, or sometimes with damask or brocade type designs, dating from the 16th Century. Other wallpapers carried designs taken from tapestries or woodcuts. In the 18th Century designs with acanthus, pineapples or other motifs taken from classical architecture were used to complement Palladian interiors and also the rich were able to buy hand painted scenic wallpapers imported from China. Designs popular during the Regency period featured fantasy architecture, Gothic ruins and Chinoiserie.
The main method used to produce wallpapers until well into the nineteenth century was Block printing which gave a very high quality product. The size of pattern repeat was limited to the width of the paper and the weight of wood block that the printer could work with. The wallpaper was made up of 12 sheets of hand made paper pasted together to make strips long enough to go from the top to the bottom of the wall. Usually a blank margin was left along both edges of the paper to protect the paper from damage during transportation, which was trimmed off before the paper was hung.
In the Victorian era, wallpapers and wallcoverings became possibly the most important element to interior decoration as they became accessible for the majority of comfortably off householders due to their wide range of designs and varying methods of production so that both the higher and cheaper end of the market could be satisfied at a more reasonable cost. This was due to the introduction of mass production techniques and the repeal in 1836 of the wallpaper tax that had existed for the previous 124 years. The wallpaper tax was introduced during the reign of Queen Anne and although this could be bypassed by purchasing untaxed plain paper and having it hand stenciled, it was still a major obstacle to the widespread usage of wallpaper by everyone but the wealthy.
In the 19th century paper began to be made in continuous rolls first by Louis Robert in France in 1798 and then in England by Fourdrinier who patented a machine that could make paper to any length in 1807. It was not until the Excise Office lifted its ban on the use of continuous paper for printing wallpaper in 1830 that this invention could start to be properly exploited.
In 1839 Harold Potter, the owner of a wallpaper mill in Lancashire patented a 4 color roller printing machine for wallpaper that could print 400 rolls per day. This machine was inspired by copper rollers used in the textile industry for printing chintz but for wallpaper printing it used a raised rather than an engraved pattern. Oil based inks were invented to work with this that would flow smoothly onto the rollers and coat the paper evenly. These early copper rollers were relatively small and so could not print large patterns so these new processes heavily influenced pattern design with most papers having small scale designs. On more expensive papers a larger hand block design was sometimes overprinted onto the small pattern.
Wallpaper - all wrapped up.
As a child, I loved to cover my school text books with the wallpaper from sample books left by the decorators. Discovering a wallpaper covered book when clearing my elderly aunt's home inspired today's poem.
It’s a ramshackle house: A curiosity-brimmed casket,
over-flowing with the remnants
of a solitary life.
A doll in crochet dress adorns the toilet roll.
In a cabinet, the Old Roses tea-set
and a clutch of silver spoons
The bedroom drawers bulge with stiff boned corsets of your trade.
Bags of wool and knitting needles
speak of quiet days.
Here is nothing of real value: Nothing worthy of note. 
A pantry laden with out of date tins:
cling peaches and evaporated milk.
Shrouded by the dust of lonely years in a corner of a shelf,
a book lies, under cover of
faded floral wallpaper.
A hand-written inscription screams loudly, “This is it!”
so I expose the yellowed pages
to the flush of oxidising air.
Thumbed at the corners,
with pages often read
and disguised beneath the cover
‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’.
Thank you for reading. Adele Email ThisBlogThis!Share to TwitterShare to Facebook


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