Style On The Mississippi: Villa Louis


A four-page bill from the John J. McGrath Company dated October 7, 1885 shows how big city decorating was carried far into the countryside. It records charges for paperhanging and other services at the Villa Louis, a grand mansion near Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin.

The house sits on an island in the Mississippi River, over 250 miles from McGrath's Chicago-based supply house. All was done at the behest of H. Louis and Nina Dousman, the second generation of the Dousman family, who were preeminent during the early settlement of Wisconsin. The house now belongs to the state of Wisconsin. The surviving wallpaper, billing records, and family photographs played important roles in bringing the Villa back to its rich late-19th century appearance.

During its restoration in the late 90’s I made many trips to the Villa to hang reproduction wallpaper. While driving the river road up to La Crosse on weekends it was impossible not to imagine 18th century fur traders paddling down from Canada. The towering bluffs along this stretch have witnessed many things. Among them: the Battle of Bad Axe, the last campaign of the ill-fated Blackhawk War, which took place under a melancholy sky on the first of August, 1832. Before and after the war, treaty negotiations took place up and down the river. Some were between the United States government and native Americans and others were between the tribes themselves.

One of those gatherings is memorialized in the “Dance of the American Warriors," part of the scenic wallpaper Views of North America” designed by Jean-Julien Deltil and produced by Zuber & Cie. The treatment is fanciful (the natives are clothed wrongly and dance in front of the Natural Bridge of Virginia). However, the ceremony is real.

Peter Rindisbacher, a young Swiss artist, captured a dance of the Sauk and Meskwaki tribes in 1829 during a treaty gathering near Prairie Du Chien. The warrior scene in the wallpaper is based on it, just as the scenes of Niagara Falls and West Point are based on the sketches of Milbert. It was Jean Zuber himself who ordered picturesque "cameos" of the warriors to be placed into the foreground of the topographic views. His decision was based on an earlier suggestion by Deltil, who wrote: "NB: If there is room we will put in a dance of American warriors or a frontier settlement."(1)

It was in 1826 that Hercules Dousman, having worked for John Jacob Astor in Canada, came to Prairie du Chien. Dousman stayed with Astor until 1834 and became a partner when the American Fur Company reorganized under Ramsey Crooks. Dousman invested in lumber, land and transportation, becoming one of Wisconsin’s wealthiest men.

His son H. Louis Dousman was born in 1848; Louis married Nina Sturgis in 1872. By then the family home had been recast as an Italianate villa by Milwaukee architect E. Townsend Mix. The newly-marrieds left the area and settled downriver in St. Louis, where they started a family.

In 1884 Louis and Nina Dousman returned to Wisconsin and outfitted the mansion in an artistic manner. Renovations were completed just before Louis’ death at age 37 in 1886. After his passing the family home was christened the Villa Louis. The Villa stands today as a testament to the Dousmans’ vision. They created a busy homestead that was also a showplace for the nascent British Arts and Crafts aesthetic. Many of the fine furnishings were supplied by the McGrath company.

McGrath's bill reveals much about working methods and costs. Twelve rooms are named. The Halls, Dining Room, and South East Room are easily identified. Some rooms can be linked to the personalities of the genteel household. Thus, we know that “Louis’ Room” (that of the butler, Louis LeBrun) took 5 pieces of ceiling paper, 2 ½ pieces of frieze, and 14 pieces of sidewall. More important, we know from the remaining scraps that he had a taste for pretty gilt flower patterns. On the other hand, the upstairs bedroom of the formidable Mrs. McLeod, longtime housekeeper, was not feminine in tone, judging from the surviving wallpaper. 

McGrath was no ordinary dealer. He styled himself “interior decorator” in his advertising and staged an exhibition of 300 fine wallpaper samples in 1879. These were the proud work of over 35 designers and manufacturers, and many were household names (if you happened to belong to an artistic upper class household).

The exhibition was recorded in the March 8, 1879, issue of American Architect and Building News 5: “Mr. McGrath exhibited a number of his own private patterns . . . he is one of the few dealers who have employed American artists to make special designs for wall-papers.” The article states that the samples were collected by Joseph Twyman on a recent trip to France and England. This is apparently the same Mr. Twyman listed as "salesman" on the Dousman bill.

Twyman seems to have been an important part of McGrath's success. A native of Kent, England, he visited Morris at Merton Abbey and came away with a deep admiration for his work, and, it is said, a few unauthorized wallpaper design samples. He continued to champion British Arts and Crafts in Chicago and was probably the point man for McGrath on a number of “away” decorating projects like the one at Villa Louis.

McGrath offered more than wallpaper: he provided tapestry, fabric, and stained glass, as well as interior design services which included frescoing and decorative painting. He offered to send artists to “all parts of the United States to arrange and give estimates for every class of decorative work.”(2)

That's exactly what happened in Prairie du Chien on the evidence of the bill. It records not only minutiae like “ ½ gross 2 ½” picture hooks” but also administration: “10 hours labor taking measurements for carpets curtains grates and etc.” The most expensive entries were for “2 grates and fittings,” and “8 wood sashes with beveled glass” at over 300 dollars each. These beveled glass panels — for each end of the main hall — still throw prismatic jewel tones onto the floors and walls on sunny days.

The total for time and materials was $3,582.60, of which $1,363.66 was spent on twelve rooms. The remaining $1,468.04 went toward other painting and decorating. No doubt there were many more bills; no fabric, carpets, drapes, or decorative accessories are included in these costs.

The panel, angle, and picture moldings are still in the house and constitute thousands of linear feet. 2” and 3” widths of molding form an unusual “grid” system overhead. The grid sizes are most often 18” by 18” or 24” by 24”. Some ceilings are arranged with differently-sized rectangles, or with diamond patterns.

Almost always, soft felt ingrain papers were used within the grids. Wide wall friezes, too, were bounded on their lower edges by rails and inset with ingrains. A few of the frieze areas received patterned paper. Picture rails of walnut and pine were either 1 ½” or 2 ½” in width. They cost about six or seven cents per running foot.

According to his obituary J. J. McGrath was born in Ireland in 1833 and died in 1895. It seems he came over when he was around 22 years old. A listing for “J. J. McGrath, paperhanger,” appears in Hall’s Directory (Chicago) in 1855. The obituary records that he stayed in close touch with his countrymen.(3) By 1862 the firm had assumed its mature form: “J. J. McGrath, importer and dealer in paper hangings, decorations, and window shades, 78 Randolph Street…..n.b., competent workmen sent to all parts of the city and country to do decorating and Paper Hanging in all its branches.”(4)

McGrath was not the only wallpaper seller setting up out west. George B. Michael served exactly the same function as McGrath in St. Louis; his shop was a fixture from the 1850’s, selling high style decorations to the likes of Henry Shaw at Tower Grove. Michael is known to have traveled east to replenish stock and renew his contacts. He may even have started back East—there is a possible connection to the Golders: dealer Robert Golder of Philadelphia and paperstainer Abraham Golder of Baltimore. But, while McGrath specialized in artistic English paper at Villa Louis, Michael rode an earlier wave: his ads carry vivid descriptions of French decors and scenics. 

Manufacturing wallpaper was quite a bit more difficult than distributing it. There's a solitary reference to a John Hoban setting up a mill in St. Louis in 1868 after working as a foreman back east, but it's not known if the “St. Louis Wall Paper Manufactory” prospered.(5) M. A. Howell, who moved his factory to the Chicago area from New Brunswick, New Jersey, is better known. He came from an illustrious wallpaper family and bought a Waldron 8-color printing machine early in his career, in 1854. After his arrival in 1869, Howell aspired to manufacture “only for the Chicago market and the west.”(6) And yet, offerings like Howells’ seem to have been passed over by the Dousmans. Most wallpapers seem to have come directly from England.

The highest priced paper at Villa Louis was the Lincrusta. It was used not only in the dining room, where it received a gorgeous grained mahogany finish, but also in an upper-floor bathroom. This can probably be read as an endorsement of its "hygienic" appeal, often touted in contemporary advertising. The dados of the dining room and bathroom cost $6.00 per piece.

The prices of the sidewall papers ranged from .75 to 1.50 per piece. The ingrains always cost .50 a piece. The softness and neutrality of the ingrains made them a perfect foil for the Arts and Crafts papers. Some of the colors of the sidewall papers are carefully modulated, but many are not, and all of the historic patterns look bold (if not strident) to our eyes. It seems that clashing patterns were not just tolerated by the Dousmans, but positively enjoyed.

Ingrains were patented in 1878 by James Monroe of Lexington, Massachusetts. The name is explained by a trade magazine: “it may be washed without injury to the colors, which are ingrain, instead of simply upon the prepared face of the paper, as are the colors of ordinary wallpaper.” Monroe’s patent asserted that “this paper presents to the eye a soft appearance, and many prefer it to the elaborate or showy figures commonly found on wall-paper.”(7) In fact, ingrains are true non-wovens. Dyed rag and cotton fibers are pressed together to create felt substrates. Whatever the claims, its clear that ingrains were popular in upper-class decorating. Even Edith Wharton, no fan of wallpaper, used them in her homes in Europe and the U. S.(8)

The bill shows great regularity in labor prices and it would be no surprise if they were the union rates. Regular sidewall hanging (one-edge work) at Villa Louis was done at either .18 or .25 per piece. In one-edge work, one side of the selvedge was trimmed to pattern and hung, overlapping the untrimmed edge already on the wall. Paperhangers usually worked away from the light. This avoided any shadows that would otherwise be cast by the overlapped seam.

Hanging charges escalated for work on ceilings (.36), and were higher yet when ingrains were hung on ceilings (.46). The higher rates are no doubt due to the greater care required for overhead work. Ingrains were also known to stain if not handled carefully. McGrath’s men earned a premium for hanging closets with ingrains. This work was invariably charged out at .60 per piece. The men were likely challenged by trimming and hanging the extra-wide papers to a butt seam in tight quarters. The thick ingrains, unlike regular sidewall paper, were ordinarily trimmed on both sides.

Another material worthy of an up-charge was the Lincrusta, which was hung at 1.25 per piece. There are references in the bill to extra cost for wallpaper that was “cut close.” This almost certainly refers to sidewall paper that was trimmed on both sides and butt-seamed on the wall. The extra charge was .05 per piece.

The Paper-Hanger’s Union of New York maintained these prices. In 1889, their price for hanging machine prints, one-edge work, was .20 per piece, while “plain or printed cartridge paper [ingrains]” cost from .35 to .40 per piece, depending on where it was hung.(9)

Paste was not charged out by McGrath, but time spent on glue sizing was. The cost was .05 per piece. Lining paper appears only in the more important bedrooms, where it cost about .10 per piece. The charge for pearlashing in the butler’s room is interesting because it documents the treatment of painted walls with a caustic solution before papering. According to a trade manual: “…there’s only one correct way to prepare a painted wall for papering, and that is to give it a good coat of potash, or a strong washing powder solution, and then wash it off with clear water…”(10)

If this were not done, the wallpaper might not adhere to the slick surface of the paint. Other labor charges are equally consistent. Taking down old moldings, scraping off wallpaper, replastering, sandpapering, and preparing walls were done at the rate of .40 an hour. A rate of .50 per hour was charged for “repairing & hanging brass work, pictures, shades & etc.” These last two categories totaled close to 200 hours, so the charges were not trivial. Estimates for carpets, shades, curtains and grates took 50 more hours, and these, too, were charged out at .50 per hour. 

The bill is irrefutable proof that McGrath followed through on his offer to “arrange and give estimates for every class of decorative work.” No doubt he and his crew carried style to many more outposts in the countryside around Chicago in the late 19th century.

(1) Emlen, Robert. "Imagining America in 1834." Winterthur Museum 32, no. 2/3 (1997): 189-210.
(2) The ad, from the New York-based Decorator and Furnisher of May, 1883 is illustrated in Catherine Lynn's Wallpaper in America, 403.
(3) A copy of the obituary recorded by the Chicago Historical Society is in the files of the Cooper-Hewitt Museum.
(4) Halpin and Bailey city directory of 1862-3, p. 170.
(5) Letter of John Hoban to Westover, Foster & Co., February 15, 1868 (private collection).
(6) Howell’s purchase of a Waldron is documented in Wall Paper News and Interior Decorator magazine (August, 1911); his ad mentioning the Chicago market appears in Edwards' Chicago Directory, 1869, pg. 1119.
(7) Monroe’s patent is No. 204,446, dated June 4, 1878.
(8) Old House Journal, Jan-Feb, 2006.
(9) House Painting and Decorating, Vol. 5, p. 89.
(10) One Thousand More Paint Questions Answered, The Painter’s Magazine, New York (1908), p. 343.

Acknowledgements, Sources and Recommended Reading:

Teams of paperhangers worked under Michael Douglass, site administrator, and design consultant Gail Caskey Winkler at Villa Louis in the period 1996-2005.  I am indebted to Mr. Douglass for information about the Dousman family and Joseph Twyman.

Villa Louis is a property of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin. Two strokes of fortune attended the Villa Louis restoration: many public and private donors (above all the Jeffris Foundation) underwrote the costs of it; and, a huge percentage of the original furnishings were acquired through estate sales and liaisons with Dousman descendents.

The rag-based “ingrain” papers were created by master papermaker David Carruthers at the St-Armand mill in Montreal. Many original wallpapers were identified from historic photos and some were reordered from traditional houses such as Cole & Son and Sanderson when they had retained the original blocks. When this was not the case, reproductions were created, several by Laura McCoy.

The Lincrusta was provided by Crown Decorative Products of Lancaster, England, holder of the Lincrusta-Walton patents; a new cylinder was created for the dining room pattern; the pattern was put into their line as RD1903, "Villa Louis", and remains available. The decorative painting of the Lincrusta in dining room was done by Ron Post of Galena, Illinois.

Photo Credits: The lead photo is copyright Jeff Dean:
The closing photo is from Jonathunder:
All other photos: Wisconsin Historical Society.

The output of the short-lived Swiss painter Peter Rindisbacher was little more than a hundred paintings, but collections of his work are in several museums. He was an important artist of the native people of the Great Plains, preceding George Catlin by about ten years. For more:

Embossed Wallpaper at Lockwood-Mathews


1. Introduction

2. LeGrand Lockwood and Elm Park Estate

3. Production and Installation

4. Paul Balin and "Leather Papers"

5. Acknowledgements, Sources and Recommended Reading 

1. Introduction

If you're thinking that the photo above looks like something out of a horror film, you're dead right. The 62-room mansion in question appeared in three feature films. “The Stepford Wives” was made in 1975 and remade in 2004. “House of Dark Shadows” (based on the television series “Dark Shadows”) was made in 1970. The subject of the Stepford movies is wife-cloning. The plots are based on a novel by Ira Levin, and the films use the Lockwood-Mathews Mansion in Norwalk, Connecticut as the fictional Stepford Men's Association clubhouse. However, the novelist's inspiration for the breeding grounds for the “perfect” mate—blank-eyed but stunningly attractive—was not Norwalk. It was Wilton.

The mansion was built by Norwalk native LeGrand B. Lockwood, a New York investment banker and bonds broker. It was completed in 1869. In 1876 ownership passed to Charles D. Mathews, a New York importer. His son, Charles T. Mathews, is the architect responsible for the Lady Chapel which was added to St. Patrick's Cathedral (New York City) in 1908. 

The mansion was known in the 19th century as Elm Park Estate. After the death of Mathew's daughter Florence in 1938 it was sold to the city of Norwalk. City officials used the house for storage and offices for many years. Norwalk officials announced in 1959 that they planned to cease using it. Space requirements for Interstate 95 and various agencies had been chipping away at the estate acreage for years, but now the granite mansion itself was to be demolished. 

This, despite protests from knowledgeable professionals at city hearings that “...the lavishness of the marble and wood inlay wood almost defies description in the museum quality of its workmanship.” The story has a happy ending but not before several chapters of court filings and appeals. The resolution of Baker v. City of Norwalk upheld the rights of a unique public/private partnership known as the Common Interest Group. In 1964, the Junior League of Stamford/Norwalk was instrumental in winning a 75-year lease for the Mansion Corporation.

Those who fought from the beginning now warm to the recitation of a hard-won victory. Demolition contractors prepared a trench encircling the building; fortunately, the building did not come to an explosive end. Remarkably, the positive reaction of outraged citizenry, prolific court action and successful preservation all happened before the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, signed into law by Lyndon Johnson on October 15. The act was far-reaching: it created the National Register of Historic Places, the list of National Historic Landmarks, and the State Historic Preservation Offices.

In retrospect the successful legal action of 1964 was, literally, a landmark case. The Lockwood-Mathews Mansion went on to become a National Historic Landmark in 1971. Ever since, the Mansion Corporation has been building archives, finding dispersed furnishings and replicating historic fabric where necessary.

Wallpaper apparently entered the picture during Lockwood's 1867 trip to France, when he was collaborating 
with Marcotte, Herter Brothers and others to furnish his new home. Researchers at the LMMM believe that Mrs. Lockwood accompanied Leon Marcotte to the Second Paris Exhibition to select sculpture. If so, it seems quite possible that Mrs. Lockwood may have visited the Balin stand as well, where his innovative embossed and gilded paper-hangings were on display. Balin is little known in the U. S. but is considered one of the premier wallpaper makers by European scholars. A study of Balin's embossed and gilded wallpapers appeared recently in the Wallpaper History Society Review: Special Issue. It was written by Wivine Wailliez, Florie Toussaint, Marina Van Bos and Ina Vanden Berghe. These Belgian conservators and technicians compared six Balin patents with extant samples in museum collections in order to analyze his embossing and coloring methods.

The study by the Belgians found little evidence of metal leaf. Bronze powders and embossing were his two main tools. He printed and embossed separately, and the main motifs and backgrounds often had different embossing patterns. It was his masterful use of dies and counter-dies, along with different-colored mordants, that made his work sing. The golden tints resolved into five shades: yellow gold, dark gold, copper red gold, greenish gold and old gold. The researchers found that he used silver sparingly. 

2. LeGrand Lockwood and Elm Park Estate

One mark of Lockwood's success is that he was elected treasurer of the New York Stock Exchange in 1863. In that year he bought 30 acres of land in Norwalk and hired architect Detlef Lienau. Construction of Elm Park Estate began in 1864. Lienau is sometimes credited, or blamed, for the introduction of the mansard roof, a feature that was perhaps overused in late-19th century America. However, Lienau worked in a variety of styles to acclaim. Of particular interest is that he and Leon Marcotte were business partners. Commissions were carried out on both sides of the Atlantic.

It's unclear which partner made the contact with Balin, but by 1867 he was well-established as an innovative wallpaper-maker completely at home in the world of de luxe interiors. Marcotte's specifications for the library included an embossed wallpaper. The production number of the pattern is 4850 with the legend "Exécuté d'après un cuir flamand de l'époque Louis XIV" on some samples, housed at the Royal Museums of Art and History of Belgium in Brussels. 
The silver effect in the original “Louis XIV” paper may be similar to those finishes that are “grey - almost not metalised - plain finish” and “rather a silver paint than a flake silvering process,” observed in the Belgian scholarly study. 

Lockwood was an art lover as well. He commissioned Albert Bierstadt to paint “The Domes of the Yosemite” for $25,000. This work was hung in the rotunda of the mansion. He also patronized Frederic Church, William Bradford, and Asher B. Durand.  Lockwood's ownership of the house was brief. Catastrophic business reversals caused the property to be mortgaged in 1869. By 1872 Lockwood was dead and the following year Elm Court was put up for sale. A few years later the Mathews family moved in. It's believed that around this time (1876) some of the library wallpaper was renewed or replaced. Some of the paper had never been hung at all, and a fragment of this stock was preserved in a glass frame (shown above).

Remarkably, most of the original wallpaper hung on the walls until the 1990's. At that time it was stripped, interleaved and archived by the paper conservator T. K. McClintock, and stored in the attic.

3. Site Conditions, Production and Installation

It's fortunate that the embossed paper hung in its original position on plaster for so long; this avoided multiple paint layers so often encountered in historic homes. The sample of the paper preserved under glass showed that the vertical repeat is about 11 and 1/4 inches, the horizontal width of the strip is about 18 and 3/4 inches, and the pattern is a drop match. The colors of the wallpaper preserved under glass differed a little from the archived wallpaper, which caused some head-scratching: was deterioration at work? Or was it a sample from the later 1876 hanging?

However, the colors of the paper-under-glass turned out to be a bit of a red herring. During renovation of the stenciled and gilded ceiling, decorative painter John Canning found some better preserved samples of the original wallpaper. McClintock had created rough elevations prior to stripping the paper and recorded the dimensions of each strip (75 in all). These proved invaluable during the engineering of the re-hanging. The archived paper also showed how the wallpaper was trimmed, pasted and hung. The wallpaper retained pieces of an underlayment (a rag lining paper) with noticeably long fibers. This, at a time when cheaper mechanical pulp was beginning to flood the wallpaper industry.

The wall space was about 1,000 sq. ft above a high dado. The paint surface was tested for adhesion and suitability for carrying a lining paper. The reproduction wallpaper was made by the Atelier d'Offard workshops in Tours, France (principal François-Xavier Richard). During meetings with Mimi Findlay and other volunteers several high-quality historic photos were provided. These showed that the original installation had been well-planned. The paper's hour-glass motif was centered on a long doorway adjacent to the glass-domed conservatory not only side-to-side, as one might expect, but also vertically, so that it fit neatly into the space above the doorway.

Strike-offs (samples) were sent to the house committee for color and design checks, and then sent on to the installers to determine trimming methods, paste composition and hanging techniques. From these parameters specifications were drawn up for the work. Although there were few coats of paint, the top one was not bonded very well. For this reason a thorough sanding (feathering) of all loose edges of the paint was done, followed by dusting and priming. This was done with a Festool Rotex vacuum machine sander for central wall areas with hand-sanding for edges.

After the walls were washed, cleaned and dried, oil base primer was applied. After dry time the primer was topcoated with a translucent acrylic wallpaper primer. After dry time an acid free liner was applied with methyl cellulose paste and after further dry time the liner was sized with a paste size to promote adhesion and reduce porosity of the liner.

The reproduction was produced as a laminate. The first layer is a stiff white paper which takes the embossing. The second layer is a much thinner, cotton-like paper which stabilizes the paper. The amount of expansion during testing revealed that the product remains porous and soaks up water. Metallic silver and gold inks were used, but the primary medium was distemper.

Testing of the strike-offs indicated that seam rolling should be light to avoid crushing the material and thereby losing embossing. It also indicated that coloring the edges of the seams prior to installation was advisable. A significant change was that in the present-day production the hourglass motifs are centered on a seam. In the original, the seams were positioned slightly to the side of the hourglass figures. The new location of the seam was fortuitous, since during installation it was necessary to foreshorten the design or expand it, as the layout demanded. These slight trim changes are less noticeable in the centered type of production than in an offset layout.

In examining the historic photos and McClintock's plan, a question arose: why was the wall adjacent to the conservatory apparently the main centering point as well as the starting point of the historic installation? Some theories are: 1. since other historic photos show that this doorway received the most elaborate drapery treatments, it was probably always considered the focus wall. 2. visitors passing from the central area of the house (the music room) would see the conservatory wall first as they approached the library.

Another historic photo showed that the outside corner high above fireplace, right side, also has a centered figure. Armed with this information about the original installation, a plan was worked out to replicate the original look of the room. Two widths of the wallpaper were produced during trimming, depending on the type needed for each section of wall: a "narrow" width of 18 and 7/16, and a "wide" width of 18 9/16. With expansion these grew to approximately 18 and 10/16 and 18 and 12/16, respectively. 

The finish size was controlled during installation by erring on the "wide" side during dry-trimming, and then retrimming where necessary in order to hit the predetermined layout marks. Sometimes the sections were hung from the center of large wall spaces outward; but, more often, hanging in sequence was observed. A felt-tipped pen was used to add color to the seams prior to installation, and touch-ups were done after installation. Soft sweeps were used to adhere the wallpaper to the wall, taking care to retain embossing. 

4. Paul Balin and "Leather Papers"

Balin was born in 1832. He apprenticed in the Defosse workshop around 1861 before taking ownership of the Genoux & Cie factory in 1863. Genoux had been a prominent firm since at least 1850.

His first patent appeared in 1866, around the time that Lockwood's mansion was being built. However, embossed wallpaper had been made since the late 1840's and 50's, according to wallpaper historian Bernard Jacque, who credits Bauenkeller (Germany), Seegers & Josse (France) and Hendrickx & Jamar (Brussels) with advances in the field. Embossing was also carried out in England earlier than we have suspected, according to Andrew Bush's article in the Wallpaper History Society Review: Special Edition mentioned earlier. Bush places the start of English embossing in the mid-1830's, although this was usually done prior to printing, as opposed to the methods of Balin, who embossed his paper afterwards.

Embossing (raising the surface from the back) and impressing paper (from the front) are improvements on perspective, which is done by applying shaded colors on the surface of the paper. Even the application of flake powders or gilding is a form of shading, because the paper remains flat. Though simple in form, shaded effects can be impressive indeed. Scenics, draperies and decors are probably the best known of these trompe l'oeil marvels.

Embossed paper was more impressive because in addition to coloring it had deep relief—an enhanced physicality. Jacque attributes this interest in embossing to the increasing demand for paper-hangings. By 1860-70 wallpaper was approaching full industrialization. Most manufacturers broadened appeal by lowering prices, but it seems that high-end makers were going in the opposite direction: they developed fewer designs, with more innovative methods, at a higher cost. Balin straddled these developments and produced designs in many editions. Each step in pricing from 16 to 49 francs was accompanied by techniques ranging from the simple application of printed colors through flat gilding, silvering, flakes, leaf and so on.

His reconstructions of gilded leathers achieved their results in a completely new way. Gilded leather relied on a base coat of metal and yellow-colored medium prior to embossing; the embossing was then glazed and hand-colored. In Balin's methods, the bronze and gilt powders were the last step before embossing (the penultimate step was applying a mordant of differing shades). Remarkably, he did not topcoat his papers with varnishes or shellacs.

Balin's approach relied on three things: 1.) an unparalleled collection of antique textiles for models; 2.) original patents; and 3.) innovative machinery. Jacque says that the differences among companies who embossed can be traced to their presses, and Balin's were exceptional. Paper could be embossed with hot-pressing (very common for gilding) and cold-pressing. Balin's factory used cold-pressing, but at enormous levels of pressure and with precise registration, on stronger paper. His “balancier,” a machine of his own invention, was said to deliver ten times the standard pressure, in a temperature-regulated chamber.

It's interesting to read the comments about Balin from a trade magazine of 1878 (The Painter's Magazine, New York). An anonymous distributor or retailer summarizes comments about “artistic” wallpaper in Europe. He asserts that “art features” should be of great interest to American manufacturers, dealers and painters: “. . . they are the views of a foreigner, but we know that this branch of art has been much more cultivated in Europe, than in this country. . . Balin . . . undertook the task of copying the richest brocades with all the improvements of the most finished technic. This he so successfully accomplished . . . that his copy was almost more beautiful than the original. Not content with this he stretched atlas silk on paper and linen till it was without folds and treated it in the same manner as paper. If we add to this, the relief pressing from the wrong side, in order to show the most delicate lacework in all its threads, we can easily understand the astonishment which Balin's exhibition in 1873 excited . . . the numerous demands from Museums and different collections, are not to be wondered at. . .”

However: “. . . their expensiveness precluded the use of these papers, and it very seldom happened that they were ordered for anything but a very small room or for a firescreen . . .” In short, Balin was something of a hero to this wallpaper retailer. In his view, Balin's innovations were a spur to his competitors (even Americans), and even if few could afford the most elaborate specimens.

Late 19th-century leather papers (and, repurposed and imported genuine gilt leather hangings) became closely identified with the dark dens and libraries of the robber-baron type of home that are themselves so clearly modeled after the mansion at Elm Court Estate. It's true that Balin's papers sometimes resemble late-19th century leather papers, but there are important distinctions.

Japanese papers were designed by Westerners and produced by Japanese craftsmen using traditional techniques for a Western market. They were composed of 4 to 6 layers of pulp stuffed into a mold. The decorative top layer was colored, gilded and varnished, i.e., these were solid fabrications. The Balin paper and the d'Offard reproduction are embossed (hollow). In this they resemble Anagylpta, also hollow, whereas the Japanese papers resemble Lincrusta, which is solid. The true onslaught of Japanese papers began much later, with Rottman, Strome, & Co. in the mid-1880s and the 1890s. On a practical note, the width of Balin's papers is always 18", or thereabouts, whereas the Japanese leather papers are about a yard (or meter) wide.

In a chapter of Buying For The Home, Yasuko Suga credits Balin with innovation: "At the Second Paris Exhibition of 1867, Paul Balin, a French wallpaper manufacturer, produced a papier cuir repousse that was widely acclaimed, whereas comparable Japanese and Chinese papers were generally criticized as 'imperfect', expensive and unprofitable." She footnotes the contemporary remarks to a report on the Paris exhibition by an Austrian critic. So, it seems that Lockwood was far from the only one to champion Balin's papers. Suga traces the development of leather papers, which achieved world-wide success in the last quarter of the 19th century. She documents the staggering quantities that were produced. An important note is that they were perceived as “Japanese, but not too Japanese". Suga understands well the tics of Western consumers, many of whom demanded Orientalia that was stylish—and also highly washable.

Balin's leather papers came out of a European tradition, following after Spanish and Dutch gilt leather. The Japanese leather papers, in contrast, were a story of Western design and oriental craft. Both types were innovative in their methods, but Balin was scrupulous about the provenance of his designs, whereas the most traditional thing about Japanese leather papers was the crafting, which was carried out by native workers. Japanese leather papers were similar in some ways to Balin's, and they did win awards in the Paris exhibition of 1878. Yet, we need to remember that this accomplishment came 10 years after the paper that Paul Balin made for Mr. Lockwood.

5. Acknowledgements, Sources and Recommended Reading

I am grateful to all at the Lockwood-Matthews Mansion Museum for their stewardship, and especially Mimi Findlay and Brian Fischer II for their help, and their permission to use photos shown here. More about the LMMM can be learned here: 

The installation was carried out by myself and Barry Blanchard of Eliot, Maine.

The panoramic photo is by WestportWiki and is published here under the following CC license:

The quotes from the trade magazine (in the Winterthur archives) are from an anonymous article written in 1878 for The Painter's Magazine (NY) which was based on an article by Frederick Fischbach for the Workshop, a German periodical.

My summary of Bernard Jacque's comments are from his chapter on Balin in Technique et Papier Peint (Bulletin No. 823 / 4-1991), a publication of the Musee du Papier Peint in Rixheim, France.

The quotes from Dr. Suga are from her chapter in Buying For The Home, edited by David Hussey and Margaret Ponsonby and published by Ashgate in 2008.

Leather papers (the late-19th century, meter-wide type) continue to fascinate; an outstanding text is LEUNG, Felicity. Japanese Wallpaper in Canada, 1880s-1930s. Material Culture Review / Revue de la culture matérielle, North America, 28, jun. 1988. Available at: 

It is almost a companion piece to Richard Nylander's "Elegant Late Nineteenth Century Wallpapers," in The Magazine Antiques, August 1982, pp. 284-87, which illustrates many leather papers.

A general account of embossed wall materials appears in Cheap Quick & Easy: Imitative Architectural Materials by Pamela Simpson.

Exhaustive detail of the Marcotte/Lienau partnership is online at:

The web site of Atelier d'Offard is at:

More information about the Wallpaper History Society Review: Special Issue can be found at:

Copyright: © 2013 Robert M. Kelly.

Wallpaper Choices At Adena (Chillicothe, Ohio)


Hair or cotton?

Which is better for cushioning fine table china in a packing crate? How about if the crate needs to travel from Baltimore to Ohio, by way of Pittsburgh? How about if this is happening in 1808?

Letters sold at auction in 1999 answer these questions and more. They passed between Thomas Worthington, former Senator and future Governor of Ohio, and his nephew, James Swearingen, back East. Their object was furnishing “Adena” a Labrobe-designed sandstone pile in present-day Chillicothe, Ohio. Although the house was built by 1807, outfitting it took several more years. By good fortune the letters ended up at the Ohio Historical Society (Thomas Worthington Papers, MSS 1145). They were helpful during the restoration of Adena in time for the state’s bicentennial celebration in 2002.

Swearingen had been entrusted by his uncle with the purchase of wallpaper as well as china. The story of the reproduction of the wallpaper purchases at Adena has been told by Neal Hitch and Cheryl Lugg in a bulletin of the APT (Association for Preservation Technology; see end notes). The authors included interesting snippets from the correspondence of state officials with Nancy McClelland, who supplied a drapery paper for the previous restoration (1947-53). Our subject today is the context of the original wallpaper purchase in 1808. We focus on six letters concerning buying and selling. The details are not many, and some remain confusing. Yet, they throw light on the material culture of the time, and on the conventions of the paper-hangings trade.

On May 10th, 1808, Worthington wrote to the Baltimore firm of Thomas & Cladcleugh asking about paper-hangings. The letter contained a sample of wallpaper. In August, having received no reply, Worthington wrote a follow-up letter to his nephew. This time, there was a prompt reply: James Swearingen apologized and explained that the first letter and sample had been left in a public house by a Mr. Renick. This third letter of Aug. 27th goes on:
. . . I examined some paper patterns which Mr. Thomas had as samples, one of which he recommended highly as a late and fashionable piece, it is plain & neat & have no doubt will please you. it is cheap. The pannel I did not see. He says he will get a man who is well acquainted with papering to fit or match it to the piece we have chosen. You directed 6 pieces of paper of the pattern you enclosed with one piece of panel or cornice without describing what kind was wanted.
The China shall be purchased & well packed which will be forwarded with the other articles it can be had equally cheap and handsome in this place; & as I do not calculate going either to Phila or York for some time have thott advisable to have it put up here & all forwarded together. Should I meet with no person from the west they shall be forwarded to Pittsburgh with directions to forward them from thence to you.

About a month later, on Sept. 12, a fourth letter is sent. Swearingen reassures Worthington about the wallpaper and china:

I was with Mr. Thomas a few days since and consulted him about the paper you wish for your house. We have agreed on it & I think it handsome. No doubt will please you when put up. Mr. Thomas has one room of the same kind and looks very neat. We have some of the same kind you sent as a pattern which will be forwarded by first conveyance. I have also examined some china pieces but can not be purchased for the sum you have mentioned by 5 dollars say $80. Mr. Thomas however will look further no doubt we will find some cheaper. This shall be forwarded with the paper & I have been informed by those who are in the habit of packing such wares that hair is better than cotton... The greatest care shall be observed & the best means for preserving it when forwarded.

After another month, the fifth letter is sent on Oct. 23. Swearingen announces the conclusion of the transaction:

A few days since I was in town called on Mr. Thomas who went with us for the purpose of procuring the table china you wished. The purchase was made & the articles packed up & forwarded A. McLaughlin Pittsburgh with the paper you required. The bills I have not yet received. A paper hanger has forwarded a sample how it is to be put up, you will find the bordering on the cornice paper and as pannel is entirely done away we have concluded to send none but have made up enough of the wall in its stead. I hope you will be pleased with the paper when you see it up. I have seen a large room of the same & is very handsome, none could be found to please better . . .

The bill that Thomas refers to is dated Oct. 20. A copy of it is in the collections of the Ohio Historical Society:

Baltimore, Oct. 20th, 1808
Mssrs. P. E. Thomas & George, bought of Thomas & Cladcleugh, Stationers and Paper Hanging Manufacturers, 141 Baltimore St.

18 ps New Drapery Paper No. 154 1.00         18.00
3-1/2 ps Border do 3.00                                10.50
7-1/2 ps Do Narrow .75                                  5.62-1/2
6 ps common paper .75                                   4.50
Box & porterage                                               .62-1/2

The copy of this bill was attached to the sixth and last letter, which was sent nearly 6 months after the first, neatly wrapping up the series of misadventures:

November 12: P. E. Thomas to Thomas Worthington

Esteemed Friend
Thy favor of the 10th of May last did not reach me until some time in September which was the cause of thy requests not being more early complied with. Thy nephew & myself availed ourselves of the earliest opportunity of complying with thy orders after they reached us. I hope thy china & Paper Hangings will be approved. We both exerted our taste in the choice of them, and thought those the best we could procure. With great respect and a promise to tender any future services I can render thee here.
I am very sincerely, thy friend,
P. E. Thomas

Swearingen writes that “A paper hanger has forwarded a sample how it is to be put up, you will find the bordering on the cornice paper.” By including a smaller border at the bottom of the block, the paperstainer could make use of empty space as he printed the cornice design, while using the same color palette. These smaller borders were trimmed out with shears.

The letters prove that wallpaper samples, about which we know so little, were important. The letters show that it took time to fill an order. Not only was it difficult to match someone else’s taste to available patterns, there was always the potential for miscommunication (amply realized in this case). And, even if these were already stock patterns, blockprinting takes time. A theme of the correspondence is the importance of the pannel paper in relation to the sidewall. One of the very few discussions about “pannel papers” in the literature is on pp. 120-1 of Wallpaper in America by Catherine Lynn. Everyone understands a paper balustrade, but what did contemporary shoppers think of pannel papers, what types were available, and how were they used? Since dadoes and chair rails continued to recede during the early Republic, these concerns melted away over time, but they must have been a factor at this time.

The letters also show persistence. True to the nephew’s prediction in the Sept. 12th letter, P. E. Thomas (probably connected in some way to the firm Thomas & Cladcleugh) was able to find some respectable china for less than $80. Attached to the correspondence of Nov. 12 is a document showing that P. E. Thomas & George bought “1 dining sett Indian china” from Stewart & King for $70.00 on behalf of Worthington. After paying for a box (.50) and cooperage (.25), the transaction came up to $70.75.

The letters also raise questions: how many interactions between buyer and seller were this personal? Is the polite language a sign of the deference that a former U. S. Senator commanded, or was it due to a pre-existing relationship between the Worthington and Thomas families? Does the language of “thee” and “thy” indicate that Thomas and Worthington were Quakers? This snippet about his father and grandfather is suggestive:

“Thomas Worthington, sixth governor of Ohio, was born at his father's estate near present Charles Town, West Virginia, in 1773. His Quaker grandfather, Robert Worthington, came to America in 1714, and after residing near Philadelphia until about 1730, settled in the northern Shenandoah Valley, then in Virginia.”

The nomenclature and numbers quoted in the bills help present-day detectives figure out what consumer wares cost, and how the papers were used. The letter of Aug. 27th shows that Worthington had settled on only one paper — the one he sent a sample of. Apparently he wanted a border with it, but he didn’t say what kind. He asked for 6 pieces of it, and sure enough, 6 pieces of “common paper” were sent back. It is not possible that the 6 pieces went into the Drawing Room, for that room was much too large (each piece at this time consisted of a bolt about 22” wide by up to 12 yards long).

It is possible that the six pieces went into his Office, which is a small room. A “pinwheel” paper was found in the Office, and it is fairly ordinary (only 2 or 3 colors on a weak ground). It could be the common paper in the bill. We do have documentary references for “common papers”, even though the interpretation is a little risky, since it occurs 35 years later. But, the Bumstead Journals of 1840-1860 consistently use the term “common paper” to denote paper which is not satin, yet not ungrounded, either. The ungrounded types are called “blanks” by Bumstead. The distinguishing feature of the satins is that the extra labor resulted in a noticeably higher cost. Thus—at least in 1840, if not before—“common papers” covered everything between a blank and a satin: regular distemper grounds.

Pannel” was another word for dado or wainscot paper, but Swearingen in his letter of Aug. 27th asks about “panel or cornice” as if the two are similar. Since there is usually a clear difference in the size of the two, if not the design, it could be that Swearingen was simply not familiar with the terms, and searching for words to describe an accompanying decoration— a border or framework of some type. In fact, a 2 ¾ " border was found in the Office outlining the pinwheel pattern at the lower edge of the chair rail. And yet, this border is not easily found on the bill. The border was not reproduced, because there was too little of it. It certainly looks like a high-style imported border or copy thereof.

In the Aug. 27th letter Swearingen refers to the “late and fashionable” paper which seems to be his main objective (probably the drapery sidewall paper) but says that “the pannel I did not see”. It seems that this drapery paper had a companion dado paper. We don't know what happened next. Was the panel paper unavailable, or too pricey? Or did the rush of everday life force a conclusion this to this transaction? At any rate, in his last letter, Swearingen mentions that “. . . as pannel is entirely done away we have concluded to send none but have made up enough of the wall in its stead…” This seems to explain why we see sidewall paper above and below the chairrail in the c. 1900 photo of the Drawing Room.  

Another example of the pinwheel pattern has been found in the collections of the Winterthur Museum, adorning the cover of Abraham Rex’s Daybook. The date of the inscription: “Day Book Commencing 14th November 1806” matches up well with the Worthington/Swearingen correspondence.

The drapery cornice border at $3.00 per piece is far and away the most expensive paper on the bill, strongly suggesting a French origin. It's a pity that no trace of this paper remains in the house. Nor does it show up in the c. 1900 black and white photo of the Drawing Room, due to the angle of the camera.

Lacking much else for the documentation of wallpaper finishes at Adena, head consultant Bill Seale opted for handjoined plain papers in the hallways, supplemented by simple architectural borders. Their simple designs may relate well to the 7 1/2 pieces of narrow borders on the Thomas & Cladcleugh bill. These would have generated an enormous amount of linear footage and were probably used to outline many areas, as seen in the photo of the recent restoration of the Drawing Room.


Sources of Supply

The paper-hangings trade in turn-of-the-century Baltimore was small. There seem to have been only a half-dozen or so players, all of whom undoubtedly knew each other, and some of whom were probably related. As early as 1803, Abraham R. Williams’ ads raise doubts about Thomas & Cladcleugh’s claim that they were paperstainers.

While promoting his “Baltimore Paper Hanging Manufactory, No. 33 South Charles Street”, Williams asserted that those who patronized him “. . . will experience a self gratification in encouraging the only manufactory of PAPER HANGINGS in this state [Maryland] – being provided with proper persons (together with himself) for hanging his paper, [he] is enabled to execute orders with dispatch either in this city or country, on pleasing terms, as he is acquainted with the English method of putting up paper, will insure never to come loose from the walls.”

Williams stressed the advantages of the small shop as well as advanced trade knowledge. Apparently he knew about canvas underlayments. It’s interesting that the rival ads of Thomas & Cladcleugh took a different tack, preferring to dwell on the depth and variety of their offerings. An ad from the paperhanger Robert Elliot in 1806 contains this information:

“New Paper-Hanging Store, Robert Elliot . . . INFORMS his friends and the public in general, that he has just received, and has now ready for sale, a large and general assortment of PAPER-HANGINGS & BORDERS, from Hurley’s manufactory, Philadelphia, who supplied Thomas & Cladcleugh for several years, with American paper that afforded general satisfaction to their customers. His papers are of the newest fashions, most elegant designs, first colors, and best of workmanship, well adapted for halls, ceilings, staircases, rooms, &c.
The subscriber, having for above 8 years past in this city, used his utmost endeavors to oblige the customers of his late employers (Messrs Thomas & Cladcleugh) will assuredly not relax in his exertions to please those who may honor him with their commands.
He will always have on hand, a constant supply, and regular succession of new patterns, from the above manufactory; will superintend the hanging of his own papers; employ the best workmen; & execute all orders in town or country, with neatness, punctuality and dispatch.
N.B. Any person having a pattern of foreign manufactured paper, may be gratified by having it cut and printed to match the original. Country merchants supplied on the lowest terms.”

It seems from this that the source of Thomas & Cladcleugh’s papers was Hurley’s factory, at least up to around 1806. That tells us nothing about who was supplying Thomas & Cladcleugh in 1808, but it does suggest that they were not as self-sustaining as they pretended.

We can’t talk long about Hurley without mentioning his associate William Poyntell, one of the main characters in the Philadelphia wallpaper story. Lest we seem to be drifting away, there is a connection back to Thomas & Cladcleugh, for Poyntell’s son-in-law and business partner was Robert Cladcleugh. Although it may be a different family, it would be no surprise if the two Cladcleughs were related by blood as well as by trade. They were both stationers, as were so many of the early sellers of wallpaper. Poyntell, too, started dealing in stationery in Philadelphia in around 1781 after coming to America from Oxfordshire. He seems to have been more of an entrepreneur than anything else. It seems unlikely that he had much to do with the day-to-day work of paperstaining, and even less with paperhanging, for which he relied on Hurley, among others.

A diary account of 1788 from Ann Warder, a Quaker lady shopping for wallpaper, sheds some light on his business: “Janny myself and the children [went] to W. Poyntells . . . to choose a paper and see his wife and family -- they [were] busyly engaged in the shop . . . we walked into the parlor where William soon joined us . . . We soon went to his warehouse there fixing on what we wanted.” Poyntell died a gentleman and patron of the arts, but not before selling his factory to Thomas Hurly.

Hurly is more obscure. He was mainly a paperhanger, yet, there seems no doubt that he was also a paperstainer. He’s listed in business directories as a paperhangings manufacturer at 68 Chestnut St. in 1803, succeeding Poyntell, who had been listed as paper-hangings manufacturer at No. 70 Chestnut in 1795. Poyntell expanded to No. 68, in 1798. Hurley then took over for Poyntell at No. 68 in 1803. Beginning in 1805, Hurley moved his operations to No. 78 Chestnut St., setting the scene for Elliot’s announcement in 1806 that he now carried Hurley’s papers.

We still don’t know how these shops looked. In the early days, a small shopfront was the rule. The paperstaining took place in an alley or toward the rear of the building. Joining paper, mixing colors (and, in particular, festooning the printed goods) could take a considerable amount of space. So did storage.

Later, the storefronts (and this seems especially true of those on Chestnut St.) might coalesce into a specialty district, with their respective factories located on the outskirts of town. The Chestnut St. shops evolved into the “paperhanging warehouses”, or what we would call showrooms: genteel, comfortable places where decorative choices were made. In the Romantic Age of Lithography (Wainwright) several prominent paper-hangings warehouses are shown.

We close by noting the possibility that the “18 pcs New Drapery Paper No. 154” came from an entirely different source. The numbering system is strikingly similar to that of Anthony Chardon, another long-time Philadelphia paperstainer. In a bill of April 17, 1795, for example, Chardon charged Frederick Shingles for “5 pieces Paper no. 186, 4 pc. Ditto no. 145” and “1 pc. Narrow Borders no. 182”. Was the new supplier for “Thomas & Cladcleugh, Stationers and Paper Hanging Manufacturers” Anthony Chardon?

Acknowledgements, Sources and Recommended Reading:

The Ohio Historical Society has been generous with copies of original correspondence and transcriptions of the letters, which are part of the Thomas Worthington Papers, MS 1145. The quotes from advertisements are from the collections of MESDA (Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts). The border around the mantle was installed by Barry Blanchard.

The story of the research and installation has been told by Neal Hitch and Cheryl Lugg (APT bulletin, Vol. XXXIII, No. 2-3 (2002): "Wallpaper Documentation and Reproduction at Adena: The Worthington Estate":

The Chardon/Shingles bill is in the Downs Collection, Winterthur Library. I am indebted to the information about Hurley’s factory to Richard Raley, who wrote an article about wallpaper in the Winterthur Newsletter, Vol. VIII, No. 8.

Abraham Rex’s Daybook is call number 2109, 65x526.8 in the Downs Collection, Winterthur Library. The photo of the daybook appears here courtesy Winterthur Library.

I am indebted to Robert Giannini III, museum curator at Independence Park National Historic Site, for the reference to Ann Warder’s visit to William Poyntell’s shop.

The snippet about Worthington's Quaker heritage is from this website:

The “Adena Pin Ring” pattern is readily available at Adelphi Paper Hangings:

Copyright: © 2013 Robert M. Kelly.

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