Historic Paperhanging Techniques: A Bibliographic Essay

International Preservation Trades Workshop, Lancaster, PA, August 2-6, 2011

15 Pages Posted: 8 Feb 2020

Date Written: January 16, 2012


Wallpaper gained a foothold in the United States around 1750, yet the methods used to install it have seldom been recorded. Most technique was handed down or learned on the job, while some of it was regarded as a trade secret. Most of the physical record of paperhanging has vanished because most wallpaper was not made to last. Caretakers of historic homes occasionally seek to replicate historic installations by installing documented reproduction wallpaper. And yet, because of the limitations cited above, an accurate replication is a challenging task.

Although the written record is incomplete, there are early English and French sources which describe paperhanging techniques. Through the emigration of craftsmen, these techniques were transplanted to other countries. There are also mid-19th century patent records showing the development of trimming tools and machines. Trade manuals and magazines began around 1875. These help us understand the workaday world of the paperhanger, and the serial literature led directly to large compilations about technique in the early 20th century. Books about wallpaper, though largely situated in an art history context, also contain helpful information.

The essay examines the secondary sources, research in archives, and surviving installations to arrive at a timeline for historic technique. Four chronological divisions are made which are characterized by typical tools and techniques:

Early (1750-1860) - scissor trimming; overlapping; tacks, battens & canvas. Middle (1860-1900) - trimming machines; straightedges; track trimmers; muslin on boards.

Late (1900-1940) - perforated selvedges; trimming knives; paneling; miter boxes. Modern (1940-1975) - butt seams; factory trimming; inlaid and overlaid borders; handscreens.

Throughout the chronological section, trimming and borderwork are discussed, and techniques for hanging wallpaper are described. The second half of the essay explicates literature about wallpaper and paperhanging, and guides the reader to a bibliography of over 55 books, articles and archival sources about wallpaper and paperhanging.

Keywords: paperhanging, wallpaper, history, decorative arts, popular culture

Suggested Citation

Kelly, Robert M., Historic Paperhanging Techniques: A Bibliographic Essay (January 16, 2012). International Preservation Trades Workshop, Lancaster, PA, August 2-6, 2011, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1986522 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1986522

Robert M. Kelly (Contact Author)

Independent ( email )

No Address Available
United States

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