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( Originally Published 1940 )
The history of wallpaper manufacture in America is a relatively unexplored subject. "Painted paper" is mentioned in a Boston inventory of 1700, but this was probably imported from France or England. Apparently the first manufacturer in this country was Plunket Fleeson, of Philadelphia, who announced in an advertisement in 1769, that he manufactured a product "not inferior to imported papers." The "paper makers and stainers division" of a parade in honor of Washington in 1789 carried a banner inscribed, "May the fair daughters of Columbia deck themselves and their walls with the products of our own manufactories." It seems probable, from this, that the marchers were giving a boost to the American textile craft in addition to their own.
By 1790 there were numerous manufacturers of wallpaper in New York, Boston, and Philadelphia. These included Ebenezer Clough, owner of the Boston Paper-Staining Manufactory, who issued the well-known Washington Memorial paper in 1800.
It is easier to find advertisements of paper manufacturers than to find examples of their work. Wallpaper is an essentially transitory and perishable medium of design. We can only con jecture, from the descriptions of their wares found in advertisements and from a few preserved fragments, what their product actually was like. All the early designs were hand-blocked in the technique of block-printing cotton fabrics, and many of the finest papers today are still made in this manner. In 1845 John Howell, of Philadelphia, imported the first color-printing machine. The process was essentially the same as that used in machine printing at the present time.
Early wallpaper was often used only as a border because of the impractically small size of the printed sheets. These were sold by the ream and were approximately sixteen by twelve inches. In about 1760, sheets were pasted together before printing and wallpaper was then sold in rolls of 24 sheets each. By 1799 a machine was invented for producing "endless" paper and wallpaper could then be sold in rolls of any desired length.
American designs began with simple geometric patterns in black and white. The ogee curve and strips were in popular use until about 1840. To these were added simple floral patterns in tones of gray or of one color.
Then came the more elaborate floral patterns, printed in many colors, which gradually became more realistic and brilliant of hue. As the 19th century advanced, floral paper came more and more to the fore, the wallpapers being a counterpart of the prevailing modes in chintz, with strong blossoms; peonies; large, full bright-colored roses; abundantly fruitful grapevines, often with brilliantly plumed birds perched on them. Largescale textile patterns came back into their own, with a preference for heavy damasks and velvets. Small landscape medallions were current and from them evolved the popular 19th century landscape paper which often extended completely around a room without repeating a scene.