JAIC 2004, Volume 43, Number 1, Article 7 (pp. 91 to 110)
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Journal of the American Institute for Conservation
JAIC 2004, Volume 43, Number 1, Article 7 (pp. 91 to 110)

INVESTIGATION, ANALYSIS, AND AUTHENTICATION OF HISTORIC WALLPAPER FRAGMENTS

FRANK S. WELSH


DETERMINING TYPES OF WALL COVERINGS AND METHODS OF MANUFACTURE

If the investigation is successful, yielding large pieces with complete patterns or even tiny fragments with only the suggestion of a pattern, then the fourth aspect of the analysis begins. This is the determination of the types of wall covering and methods of manufacture and pertains not only to the way the paper or covering is made but also to the manner in which the coatings for the patterns are applied. Wall-papers in the 18th century and the early part of the 19th century were printed on handmade paper. The individual sheets of paper varied in size from 56 cm to 81 cm (22–32 in.) square and were usually pasted together to make larger pieces or, in current terminology, rolls. Some papers were made with water-marks, which help with identification, and some of those coming from England between 1714 and 1830 were imprinted with a tax stamp on the reverse side. By 1820, machines were manufacturing “endless” rolls of wallpapers in France. These machines were in use by 1830 in England and by 1835 in America (Frangiamore 1977).

In addition, some types of wall coverings are made from distinctive materials. Such papers include ingrains, integrally colored papers, and Lincrusta Walton, a figured, textured, linseed oil–based covering, both popular in the last quarter of the 19th century. Grass cloth, a woven, natural-fiber wallpaper available by the very late 1800s, was used through the early to mid-20th century (Winkler and Moss 1986). A fragment of grass cloth paper was found after a careful search between two abutting doorway architraves of a second-floor bedroom at Cairnwood (fig. 12), the Bryn Athyn, Pennsylvania, mansion designed by Carrere and Hastings for John Pitcairn in 1895. The obscure location between the door moldings offered protection from painters' scraping, a find that reinforces the importance of a careful search for evidence.

Fabric wall coverings made of canvas were very popular from the late 1890s through the late 1930s (fig. 13) and were typically primed and finished with two coats of oil paint (Vanderwalker 1941). These painted canvas wall and ceiling coverings appeared in

Fig. 11. The walls in the Parlor at Piedmont (early 1800s) in Charles Town, West Virginia, retain their original French scenic paper,“Les Voyages D'Anthenor” (1820–25) by Joseph Dufour.
finely built private homes like Oldfields, the home of J. K. Lilly in Indianapolis, Indiana, built in 1908 to the designs of Lewis Ketcham Davis and modified in 1933 by the architect Frederick Wallick, and in large public buildings such as the Essex County Court-house in Newark, New Jersey, designed by Cass Gilbert in 1907 and altered in 1929 by the firm of Guilbert & Betelle. Additional modern examples include Sanitas, a washable wall covering prevalent in the early 20th century (fig. 14), and vinyl wallpapers, which were introduced in 1947 and peaked in popularity in the 1960s (Hoskins 1994).

The processes used to apply patterns to the papers have an interesting technological history and are helpful in dating wallpapers. Some 18th-and early-19th-century European and American papers were hand-painted or stenciled, but the majority were block-printed. Block-printing and stenciling might even be combined on one paper, and high-quality papers continued to be block-printed

Fig. 12. This fragment of grass cloth wallpaper was removed from a second-floor bedroom at Cairnwood (1895) in Bryn Athyn, Pennsylvania. All walls had been stripped of early wallpaper by the mid-20th century.
Fig. 13. Canvas was a very popular wall covering from the late 1890s up to the late 1930s. After hanging, it was typically primed and finished with two coats of oil paint (Vanderwalker 1941).
Fig. 14. This small section of original 1939 Sanitas wallpaper was preserved in a bathroom behind a wall-mounted light fixture. The surface is very discolored and browned by accumulation of nicotine from the heavy smoking of previous homeowners. The upper right hand corner was cleaned to reveal its original colors.
throughout the 19th century. Machines were used to roller-print designs onto paper by mid-century, and silk-screening was introduced in the early 20th century. By consulting any of the following publications on wallpapers, timelines may be developed as an aid to identifying and dating manufacturing processes. Recommended references include Lynn (1980), Nylander et al. (1986), and Hoskins (1994). Each includes a significant bibliography.


Copyright 2004 American Institution for Conservation of Historic & Artistic Works