Decorating “The Pastures” of Philip Schuyler: High-style Wallpaper Choices c. 1760

1. Philip Schuyler

by Robert M. Kelly

In 1761 Philip Schuyler was in London choosing wallpaper for his mansion then under construction in Albany, New York. His choices flowed naturally from the culture of polite society in the Anglosphere of the mid-eighteenth century. This article looks at the context of this wallpaper installation at "The Pastures."
The landscape paper-hangings that Philip chose were not only a cultural expression of the early modern era—they contributed to the advancement of that culture. His choices were soon emulated by his kinsman Stephen Van Rensselaer II and Boston-area merchant Jeremiah Lee. 

As the sun rose on a chilly late-February morning in 1761 twenty-eight year old Philip Schuyler looked uphill toward the site of his proposed mansion house. He glanced downhill where filigrees of ice decorated the banks of the broad Hudson River flowing south toward New York City. The cleared mansion site was surrounded by frosted grasslands. Nevertheless, it was a mere quarter-mile from the center of Albany, a fast-growing settlement of 4,000 souls. 

2. Schuyler Mansion, styled “The Pastures.”

From the mid-1750s to the mid-1760s Philip parlayed his successful military commands during the French and Indian War into a new and portentous occupation—that of a provincial politician. The stout brick walls of “The Pastures" would anchor his inheritance of twenty-eight acres from his forebears 24,000-acre share in the Saratoga patent. His estate would easily accommodate the gardens, Dutch barn, yellow coach house, and other outbuildings he deemed suitable to his stature. 

3. The immediate grounds of The Pastures in 1794.

But, on that chilly February morning in 1761, he did not yet know how he would decorate his entry hall. In a few more days Philip traveled down the Hudson River to the port of New York City (claimed as New Amsterdam by his Dutch forebears until 1664). He sailed for England on March 3, 1761 and returned on November 20, 1762. During those twenty-odd months he investigated his decorative options. 

It's possible that his excursions among the paper-hangings warehouses of Aldermanbury included visits to the shops of Edwards & Darby, Richard Masefield, and Thomas Bromwich. It is certain that he visited the shop of William Squire at the sign of the Three Tents and Lamb in the Poultry, for an invoice records that he purchased over £40 of Squire's high-style paper-hangings.[1]

4. Invoice Of Sundries Sent To America.

Nor was Philip the only man shopping for wallpaper in 1761. Thomas Gray, a friend of Horace Walpole, was haunting the same shops on behalf of his school chum Thomas Wharton. It's not impossible—strange thought— that Philip Schuyler and Thomas Gray may have bumped into each other as they gazed at the fluttering “Gothick” and “landskip” samples in the Aldermanbury shops. The character of these samples must have been influenced by the checkered career of a wallpaper impressario who made his mark in London over the previous ten years or so, a man by the name of John Battista Jackson. 

It seems that the main purpose of Philip's trip was to settle the financial affairs of his mentor, Colonel John Bradstreet. The ever-exasperating requirements of red tape caused long stretches of down time. Philip made a side trip to Ireland to observe the construction of canals. This interest would blossom during his subsequent work on a precursor to the Erie Canal.[2]

The invoice's title page listing Philip's wallpaper choices is the first page of many. Over £685 of fine British goods are accounted for. Philip took the opportunity to buy a crane-neck chariot which, with shipping, cost £95. This type of transport was for town and social use. The crane-neck consisted of two parallel iron rods bent to allow the front wheels to pass under them and thereby turn in tight quarters. He also picked up a backgammon table, a “spying glass,” and a case of drawing instruments.[3] 

The invoice was probably written by one not familiar with wallpaper. If so, this would explain such anomalies as writing “Tripoly's" for Trophies, “Caffy" for Caffoy, and “Nickolls” for nichework. Eighteenth-century wallpaper bills are rare but not unknown. What makes this one special is the division into known types: flocks, stucco papers, and papier-mâché, and that the centerpieces are the “10 paintings of ruins of Rome.” These were modeled after paintings by Pannini and others, and embellished with rococo festoons, trophies, and borders.

5. Detail, “ruins of Rome” wallpaper at
the Jeremiah Lee House in Marblehead.
Since none of Philip's wallpaper survives, we know it only through his meticulous record-keeping—an appropriate trait for the right-hand man of a quartermaster (Colonel Bradstreet). Yet Philip’s choices were not made in a vacuum. In 1761, wallpaper was not yet being printed on the North American continent and there was little competition from nations other than England. Although France had a substantial industry, their paperstainers had only recently converted from single-sheet production to joined rolls. [4] As a result, the known wallpaper choices of colonial Americans are almost exclusively a continuation of British culture.

The story of grisaille landscape papers in the period 1750-1770 cannot be told without mentioning the influence of J. B. Jackson, the celebrated wood engraver who turned to paper-hangings production during the last phase of his career. [5]

Philip Schuyler's choice of such dramatic subjects to decorate his colonial mansion in 1761 was the first of three significant American installations of this type, the other two following around 1768. There can be no doubt that Philip's elaborate paper-hangings from the shop of William Squire must have resembled in some ways two surviving ensembles: the wallpapers in the entry halls and two upstairs rooms at the Jeremiah Lee Mansion in Marblehead, Massachusetts; and those which were installed in the Van Rensselaer Manor House on the north side of Albany (The Pastures was on the south side). The Van Rensselaer Manor House wallpapers are now preserved in a period room at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. 

6. Van Rensselaer Manor House wallpaper
 at the Metropolitan Museum.

7. Jeremiah Lee Mansion wallpaper.

As reported by David Skinner, the connection from Pannini’s paintings to the versions found in wallpaper shops was by no means straightforward. The celebrity of the oil paintings of Pannini and others was exploited by printmakers, who produced engravings based on them. These prints in turn were the models for the handpainted versions in distemper which began appearing in retail outlets around 1755. Ultimately, some of the landscapes were put into repeat as explained by David Skinner: “The colonnades, tempietti and obelisks which provided the essential elements of Pannini’s paintings were, meanwhile, adapted as repeat patterns which would be printed on rolls and sold as wallpaper in the usual way.”[6]

As noted by Catherine Lynn in Wallpaper in America, though Squire seems a probable source for all three papers, he is not the only possible maker. She cites Richard Masefield, who provided “…Paintings of Landscapes, Festoons and Trophies, India Paper, Papier Machée, Ornaments, &c, and a Mock India Paper...” from his showroom shown below.

8. Trade Card of Richard Masefield, c. 1758.

The paper-hangings warehouse climate of 1752-62 can best be described as tumultuous. We know of the successful firms like Bromwich and Squire, but many others failed, sold out, or were taken over. For example, James Wheeley advertised in 1754 that he, like Squire, had recently acquired the prints from a rival's shop. [7]  

What about the proposed setting for these elaborate decorations, The Pastures of Philip Schuyler? Philip’s wife, Catherine Van Rensselaer, was described as a “lady of great beauty, shape and gentility.” She bore Philip fifteen children, one of which (Elizabeth) married Alexander Hamilton, who was fatally shot by Aaron Burr in 1804, the year of Philip’s death.[8] 

We don't know much about the Schuyler household, but we do know that Philip oversaw a busy clan and that he presented himself as a proper eighteenth-century gentleman. He read widely. He wore a powdered wig. He rose early each morning and led the family, including servants, in prayers. He habitually met his peers in an Albany tavern at noon but unlike many of his peers left soon after the meal and returned to The Pastures to receive guests. The yellow coach house with pleasure vehicles (phaeton and crane-neck chariot) was quite some distance from the house, which was the epicenter of the estate and often referred to as “the farm house.” 

His house not only anchored his estate, it was a popular stop for visitors to Albany of a certain class. The mansion “became a handsome home, a rather brilliant social center and visiting place for many distinguished guests, including Benjamin Franklin and Charles Carroll…Washington, Lafayette, Kosciusko, [and] Steuben…”[9] Oddly, it was also a "visiting place" of sorts for British General John Burgoyne, who was incarcerated there for some time after the fall of Saratoga. In later years Burgoyne had fond memories of his stay.[10]

Like many of the long-settled Dutch families in the Hudson Valley, the Schuylers were land-rich. Philip seems to have had good business instincts. He ran another family estate upriver in Saratoga. There are indications that he was a man of style. Philip commissioned a portrait of his daughter Catherine playing a pianoforte, an instrument found in less than 1% of colonial homes in the late-eighteenth century. Of the thirty-two chairs he purchased between 1765 and 1793, half were mahogany.[11] Tench Tilghman, aide to Washington, observed that Schuyler “has a palace of a house and lives like a prince.”[12] Count Francesco dal Valme, a visitor to The Pastures in 1781, described it as “magnificent, as it is well-situated on a hill a quarter mile from the city…”[13] 

Over time (and possibly relating to Philip’s military and political prominence) the cultural affinity of the household switched from England to France. According to researchers, the Schuyler's had many aristocratic friends who fled the French Revolution, and made their home even more stylish on their friends' behalf. The Schuyler's also took steps to secure their farmland and make it attractive. The grounds of The Pastures around 1790 have been described as "laid out in all the elaborate art of French landscape gardening with here and there parterres, some of which are nicely lawned.”[14]

Philip employed a full-time gardener in 1790 and likely in many other years. According to the United States Census of 1790, there were five white males, three white females, and thirteen slaves living at The Pastures.[15] It's likely that when receiving company the Schuyler household consisted of twenty-five or more. This number is only a fraction of the 100 to 200 people who belonged to the household of a peer or great prelate in the late middle-ages, but the idea of a great household was nevertheless being carried forward on American shores, an idea that was no less important in the homes of Stephen Van Renssaelaer II and Jeremiah Lee. Oddly, one of the permanent residents of The Pastures was Colonel Bradstreet, Philip's former boss. Bradstreet was in residence at The Pastures for many years after his financial affairs had been settled by Philip.

It seems that inherited wealth drove manor-building in the Albany area. Stephen Van Rensselaer II was only twenty-three when he began planning the reconstruction of the Van Rensselaer Manor House.  As previously mentioned Philip was twenty-eight when he began building. In contrast the self-made merchant Jeremiah Lee was forty-five years old before construction began in Marblehead. Nor did Philip scrimp when it came to constructing his house. Master carpenter John Gaborial was paid £453 12s. 6d. by Bradstreet on behalf of Schuyler.[16] By his own reckoning Schuyler spent £1,425 16s. on furnishings. Mayhew and Myers describe this as 'showering expense’ on the house.[17]

Philip’s choice of workmen influenced his close relative Van Rensselaer. Both William Waldron and Lucas Hooghkerk, Albany-area masons, were employed by Philip and then rehired by Van Rensselaer some years later. But not all labor was local. His master carpenter Gaborial was from the Boston area. Perhaps Gaborial's hand, or his training, is responsible for the many rococo flourishes of  the interior of The Pastures. As for the exterior, the Georgian style was not new to the colonies, but it was new to the Albany area.

A visiting British peer, Lord Gordon, found Albany to be "dull and ill-built" but had praise for The Pastures, noting that “…one Mr. P. Schuyler has a good house near [the Hudson River], lately built in a better Stile, than I have seen in America."[18] Nevertheless, the fronts of Georgian buildings in the colonies can look numbingly similar.
9. Present-day view of Schuyler Mansion.

10. Stenton near Philadelphia, c. 1730.

11. Fort Johnson, c. 1750.

12. Johnson Hall, c. 1763.
13. Van Rensselaer Manor, built in 1765,
 as it appeared c. 1790.

14. Jeremiah Lee Mansion, c. 1768.

A British scholar has claimed that two broad developments were responsible for a flowering of interior decoration in the mid-eighteenth century: 1. the invention of "design" in the period 1740-1760, and 2. a stagnation of exterior architectural forms.[19] 

Whatever the causes, one of the most visible mediums of this flowering in an almost literal sense was wallpaper, just then hitting its stride in England. Wallpaper exploded onto early modern walls, resulting in a profusion of vines, flowers, buds, and branches. It is hardly surprising, then, that c. 1760 paper-hangings were also patronized by the gentry in the North American colonies. 


[1] The 4,000 souls of Albany are documented on p. 92, fn 29 of Judy Anderson's well-researched Glorious Splendor (Donning, 2011), a study of the wallpaper at the Lee Mansion. William Squire was a long-lived manufacturer and retailer. One William Haywood had the audacity to steal 38 rolls of freshly-printed paper-hangings from Squire’s shop in 1770. Worse (as Squire testified at in court) the rolls were worth 18s. each and Haywood was selling them for 7s. 6d. each. Haywood paid dearly. He was found guilty and transported. See for 17th January 1770.

[2] "Schuyler's leadership in the Western and Northern Inland Lock and Navigation Companies formed the basis of New York canal legislation and of the construction of an inland lock system that was the forerunner of the great Erie Canal." cited in HSR, p. 2 as from the introduction to "Philip Schuyler and the American Revolution in New York, 1733-1777” (1964, Don Gerlach, University of Nebraska Press).

[3] HSR, pp. 14, 37.

[4] Robert Kelly, The Backstory of Wallpaper: Paper-Hangings 1650-1750 (WallpaperScholar.Com, 2013), pp. 23, 25, Appendix A, Table 2, “Ten Transactions from Daniel Henchman’s Shop”. Single-sheet production vs. joined rolls matters because single-sheet installations have not been recorded in either New England or New France, though they must have occurred. It’s possible that joined paper was preferred by colonists as soon as it became available.

[5] In 1754 Jackson authored An Essay on the Invention of Engraving and Printing in Chiaro Oscuro, as practised by Albert Durer, Hugo di Carpi, &c. and The Application of it to the Making Paper Hangings of Taste, Duration, and Elegance
Jackson’s Essay was forcefully written in a vacuum of better information. This helps to explain why the Essay cemented Jackson’s reputation as an important wallpaper manufacturer for the next 150 years. Edna Donnell’s article changed all that in 1932: 
"The Van Rensselaer Wall Paper and J. B. Jackson: A Study in Disassociation," by Edna Donnell, Metropolitan Museum Studies, Vol. 4, No. 1 (Feb., 1932), pp. 76-108.

[6] David Skinner, Wallpaper In Ireland 1700-1900 (Churchill House Press, 2014), p. 55.

[7] Smith, p. 129. A helpful resource for delving into the mid-eighteenth century wallpaper trade is a recent book: The Design, Production and Reception of Eighteenth-Century Wallpaper in Britain by Clare Taylor.

[8] Anderson, p. 92, fn 39.

[9] Gerlach, pp. 39 - 42.

[10] He reported to the House of Commons in 1778 that " that [very elegant] house I remained during my whole stay in Albany, with a table with more than twenty covers for me and my friends, and every other possible demonstration of hospitality...". HSR, p. 29.

[11] As cited in “Historic Furnishings Report, Schuyler Mansion State Historic Site” (hereafter HFR) p. 22.

[12] Samuel Harrison, Memoir of Lieut. Col. Trench Tilghman, Secretary and aid to Washington together with an appendix, containing revolutionary journals and letters, hither to unpublished (Albany: M. Munsel, 1876), pp. 80-1, 92; as cited in HFR p. 11.

[13] As above.

[14] L. B. Proctor, "Historic Memories of the Old Schuyler Mansion"  p. 4, said to be (but not confirmed to be) a quotation from the Gentleman's Magazine (London, 1790), cited in HSR, p. 34.

[15] HFR, p. 18.

[16] HSR, p. 19.

[17] Edgar Mayhew and Minor Myers Jr., A Documentary History of American Interiors (New York: Scribner's, 1980), p. 54.

[18] Newton D. Mereness, ed., "Journal of Lord Adam Gordon, an Officer who travelled in America and the West Indies in 1764 and 1765,” in Travels in the American Colonies (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1916), p. 417; cited on p. 14, HSR.

[19] Charles S. Smith, Eighteenth-Century Decoration (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1993), pp. 138, 143.

caption credits:

1. From Benson J. Lossing, The Pictorial Field-Book of the Revolution (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1852) 1:38; retrieved February 24, 2016, from

2. Appletons’ Cyclopedia of American Biography, 1900, 5:433.

3. Historic Structure Report for Schuyler Mansion, New York State Parks And Recreation, 1977 (hereafter HSR), p. 34, from “Plan of the City of Albany” by Simeon DeWitt. The original is in the Library of Congress.

4. Courtesy of the New York State Parks Department. Attributed to the Manuscripts and Archives Division, The New York Public Library. The invoice for wallpaper must have been created prior to May, 1762 because another document from that month refers to it.

5. Anderson, p. 22; Marblehead Museum & Historical Society.

6. The current tone of the background is misleading. When paper conservator Marjorie Shelley examined the paper during the Met’s restoration efforts she found that a thick yellow calcimine wash had been applied, poorly, in the 1870s. The original background color had been a “thin but semi-opaque raw sienna/yellow ochre”. Shelley, “The Conservation of the Van Rensselaer Wallpaper,” JAIC 20(1981), p. 129.

7. Anderson, p. 22.

8. Text on trade card: "The Nobility &c, may be supplied on the best Terms, with all sorts of Paper Hangings, Paintings of Landscapes, Festoons and Trophies, India Paper, Papier Machée, Ornaments, &c, and a Mock India Paper, made after a method peculiar to himself, which surpasses every thing of the kind yet attempted and for Variety Beauty and Duration, equal to the Real India Paper. - / NB. Merchants & Dealers may be Supplied on the least notice & Lowest Prices.”, Museum Number D, 2.3231. Richard Masefield's successor at 427 The Strand was Joseph Knight; see Knight's trade card dated 1788 in the British Museum online catalog (Heal, 91.38). Another candidate for providing painted and printed paper-hangings is James Wheeley, active from at least 1754, when he took over the shop of Wagg & Garnett. Charles S. Smith dates the often-depicted James Wheeley Paper Hanging Warehouse trade card to c. 1760. 

9. New York State Parks.

11. Public domain.

12. Johnson Hall State Historic Site.

13. American Architect and Building News, Dec. 3, 1892. Measured and drawn by Gilbert F. Crump, Architect(s) showing the house as it existed c. 1790. Public domain.

IX: Conclusion: Wallpaper In The Gilded Age

1. Architect's rendering, 1894.

The very mention of 1893 and the Gilded Age conjures a quaint picture which is not contradicted by the wallpapers found at Ventfort Hall. The overdone designs and age-worn colors of the leather paper, the 3-D strength of the Lincrusta pattern, and the grandness of the “stenciled look” reinforce the stereotypical view of the milieu: the starchy manners; the ceaseless dressing-up; the fussy prose.

2. Collage.

All fit easily into a narrative about a privileged upper class. The late nineteenth century was the age of industrial revolution, of nationalism (even triumphalism), and, most of all, of monopoly, with all of the baggage—unbridled power and social ills—which that term carries. But the wallpaper is also a bridge to the human story, for each wallpaper was a choice among many.

3. The Decorator and Furnisher, 1893. 

I maintained earlier in this series that 1893 was a hinge year. It witnessed the grudging retreat of the picturesque and the beginnings of a classic revival with somewhat uneven results. Ultimately, a new era unfolded (one not beloved by wallpaper scholars): the era of modernism, in which ornament was barely tolerated.

But de-cluttering (for this is what the classic revival and modernism had in common) on the day that Ventfort Hall was finished was practically unknown. The seeds of change were there, but they would need many years of incubation to sprout forth with Wharton’s manifesto in 1897. 

I offer a word-collage of the six wallpapers of Ventfort Hall: 

a preference for reform florals (English influence) as opposed to unreformed florals (French influence); heraldic; strap-worked; glimmering; spaced-out conventional motifs; wallpaper that knew its place; not way-out aesthetic designs; not experimental; not freakish; robust; a color palette which was blended, old, safe, and sad. In a few words, masculine and well-ordered. 

Like most who were furnishing large homes in 1893, the Morgans were liberal in their use of wallpaper pattern. Both pattern and the medium of wallpaper itself were still respectable. The wallpapers seem to have hit just the right note. They were not the highest examples of wall fashion as found in New York City and Newport, but neither were they inappropriate for their architectural surroundings, which were grand indeed. It almost goes without saying that the level of finish was far above the mainstream wallpaper market of 1893. The cheap gilts offered by John Day of Albany would not have been welcome. 

4. George Morgan, grandchild Sarah, and family dog.

The wallpaper choices at Ventfort Hall make further sense when we consider that George Hale Morgan and Sarah Spencer Morgan were solid citizens. They were in their early 50s and had three children. They, and their family name, were firmly established in society; they had no need or inclination for experiments.

5. Period colorized postcard.

From our 122-year distance a first glance at Ventfort Hall suggests a celebration of European culture. Its elegant Jacobean revival silhouette encloses intricate ceiling coffers, stained-glass windows, marble floors, and elaborate plasterwork as well as “gilded leather” walls. Yet much of this Renaissance-inspired decoration was almost certainly American-made. By 1893 our nation had asserted an indigenous decorative culture. The industrial revolution grounded this accomplishment, but what concerns us here is the successful transfer of decorative craftsmanship, both hand- and machine-made, from Old World to New.

This was done by appropriating the forms and styles of Europe, and by fabricating and installing them through the agency of trained architects like Richardson, Hunt, White, Rotch, and Tilden, and skilled American artisans. These accomplishments were encouraged and celebrated in the pages of "Indoors," the promotional booklet from Warren, Fuller & Co., one of the leading wallpaper firms of the day. 

6. Frontispiece of “Indoors,” 1894.

In the Berkshires much of this activity was fueled by the economic resources of a prosperous business class. They in turn relied on men like L. C. Peters, the transplanted Englishman, who kept the grounds and buildings in good order, and on women like the unnamed dozens of women domestics who ran the households, and on the curation of village elders, who saw to it that towns such as Lenox and Stockbridge remained attractive and accessible while yet retaining a rural reputation.

The relationship of the wallpapers at Ventfort Hall to the ideals of the White City is conflicted. Design and social reformers were looking forward in 1893, yet many in the upper reaches of the wallpaper industry were looking in the opposite direction—back to a shared sensibility with Europe. 

The leaders of the American Renaissance accomplished many of their goals. They used old forms as a creative template for new effects in a new culture. Yet some of the popular forms that these ideals took—parading, pageantry, overt patriotism, and patrimony—are open to criticism. Were they not excessive, if not indulgent? Were they not opposed to American values such as pragmatism and egalitarianism? 

“Indoors,” contains a fantastic example of such pageantry. Sedate young ladies are safeguarded by a quintet of cherubs as the girls entertain an older married (?) couple in the background. The couple may be foreshadowing the girls' expected destiny. This highly theatrical scene would not have been out of place on the main stage of the Berkshire Playhouse in Stockbridge. More to the point, a peek into the parlors of the newly-constructed Ventfort Hall of 1893 might have revealed just such a scene (minus the angels).

7. As above, detail.

All the world's a stage. Perhaps the patrons of the Gilded Age, including the George Morgans of Ventfort Hall, were guilty of over-dramatizing the importance of their roles. In the end, the creation, choice, and installation of wallpaper was an integral part of the furnishing of the “great estates.” Well-ordered wallpaper was part of a beautiful fantasy that the George Morgans and many of their peers believed in, bankrolled, and achieved, if only for a few more years.

-- the end --

caption credits:

1. Architects rendering from February 17, 1894, published in American Architect and Building News. Courtesy of Providence Library.

2. © 2016 WallpaperScholar.Com.

3. Courtesy Bolling & Company Archive.

4. Photo dates between 1893 and 1900. Posted on Daily Gazette (Northampton, MA) web site on July 29, 2012.

5. © 2016 Ventfort Hall Association, Inc.

6. Frontispiece for “Indoors” published by Warren, Fuller and Company, courtesy Bolling & Company Archive. Courtesy Bolling & Company Archive.

7. As above.


Acknowledgements: I would like to thank the following for their help in writing this series of blog posts: Bo Sullivan, manager of the Bolling & Company Archives; Steve Sullivan; Wayne Mason; the late Jo Ann Fitzpatrick Brown (Blantyre); Cornelia Gilder; Stephen Peters; Margaret Layton; Mark Wilson of The Trustees of Reservations (Naumkeag);;; and the staff and volunteers of Ventfort Hall, especially Tjasa Sprague.

VIII: Revisiting Six Wallpaper Types

It's time we returned to the six types of paper found at Ventfort Hall:

1. “leather” paper
2. block printed floral
3. “stenciled look”
4. Lincrusta
5. Anaglypta-type
6. varnished tile

1. "Leather" paper.
We have no way of knowing what this leather paper cost, but it was probably a pretty penny. As we’ve seen, these were advertised in The Decorator and Furnisher, and seem to have been popular among the elite as a wallpaper version of the real thing—antique gilded leather. Leather papers were not a new idea in 1893. They had been produced in the 1870s by Paul Balin, a high-end Parisian manufacturer.[1] With so much discussion about “gilts” and leather papers, let's look at some real gilt leather.

2. Gilt leather, 1700-1750.
The example above is from the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. Note that panels are sewn together, not tacked or pasted. Ordinarily the sewn-together assemblage would have been tacked to the perimeter of a wooden frame. Borders would have been applied over the tacks with decorative tacks or nails. These self-contained patterns were modular; an average size for the individual patterns and skins was 20” x 27”; the panels could be placed straight up, or in opposition (mirror-image). The panels above are placed straight up. In the image below by de Hooch, the panels are placed in opposition. 

3. Dutch interior by Pieter de Hooch.

Until fairly recently these were stereotyped in the popular mind as "Spanish leather" and it's true that a great tradition had developed in Spain. But the trade spread by the late middle ages to many countries, among them England, Italy, and the Netherlands. An important innovation by the Dutch came in 1630: plate embossing. Some years later came another innovation: design samples printed on paper. At least two Dutch producers used this distinctively early modern marketing method to send samples far and wide during the 1670s.[2]

In America during the first quarter of the 18th century "Russhia" leather was a fashionable import. But by 1760 imports had slowed. "New England" leather became a common choice for seating, perhaps the most common choice before the Revolution. Walls were a different story. In colonial times embossed leather panels were rarely used. They would sometimes show up on a dado, or a screen, or over a chimney.

Antique sets of leather became popular in the Gilded Age among homeowners like Henry Marquand, J. P. Morgan, and assorted Vanderbilts. But antique leather presented practical problems for the nouveau riche. Homeowners rarely had exactly the right size room for their sets of antique leather. And while the provenance of antique leather was a positive, the deterioration that came with it (red rot) was not. Third, the sheer volume of leather needed for homes built on a palatial scale guaranteed that supply would fall short of demand.[3]

These facts explain two developments: the revival of stamped leather production in the New York City area by Charles Yandell and other artisans after 1880 or so; and the zeal with which the high-end paper-hangings firms embraced the leather model. Leather papers were made  by the boutique branches of the National Wallpaper Company such as Warren, Fuller & Company, Nevius and Haviland, and Robert Graves. Birge and the English companies Woollams & Co. and Jeffrey & Co. also made leather papers. One of these types is extant at Blantyre, and one of them, as previously noted, has been found in some quantity beneath the moldings of the main hallway at Ventfort Hall.

4. Blantyre leather paper, still hanging in the front hall of what is now an upscale resort.

5. Blantyre and Ventfort Hall leather papers.

Yet another part of the story are the Japanese leather papers which were popular in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. Unlike the wallpapers shown in this series of articles, Japanese leather papers were often about a yard wide. The most prominent company associated with this type was Rottman, Strome & Co. of England. These patterns were invested with a vaguely Oriental style by Western designers and hand-crafted in factories in Yokohama and other Japanese cities. Some of them came eastward across Canada via the trans-continental railroad, while others moved west from China to Europe and sometimes continued on to the North American continent.[4]

6. Reform floral.

Here's the block printed floral, which could be described as a post-reform floral. Sarah Spencer Morgan’s bathroom wallpaper follows some of the cues of the reform movement, but the attention to detail and vivid coloring lift it far from the stoicism of the reformers.

7. Reproduction of floral.

A reproduction of the pattern by the silkscreen method was recently done by J. R. Burrows & Company

The designer and printer of the document wallpaper are not known, but the prolific English writer on design, Lewis F. Day, drew wallpaper designs in a similar vein.[5]

8. Design by Lewis Day.

9. Design by Lewis Day.

10. “Stenciled Look” wallpaper.

The stenciled look has only two colors. The close-up of the block printing shows how plain it is. Yet the complexity of this curvy design creates a strong impression. Very long repeats (55”) give the pattern distinction and variety. 

11. As above.

Below, the fragments of the Lincrusta peeling away from the wall reveal that lining paper was used beneath it. Since few local paperhangers would have been familiar with either Lincrusta or lining paper, the presence of liner suggests that the installation was done by paperhangers from the city.

12. Lincrusta

The middling cost of the Lincrusta 22 A (about 3 dollars a roll) is documented (see Part I, fn 3). But, this cost was discovered in a sample book published in the early 1930s. It’s possible, but not documented, that the cost of the Lincrusta used in the hall at Ventfort Hall was also middle-of-the-road. 

It's possible that the Lincrusta at Ventfort Hall was installed well after the initial decoration of the house. However, there are two reasons why the Lincrusta now in place may have always been there. First, Lincrusta had a reputation for being “the indestructible wallcovering” and this seems to be based on more than just advertising. After the bombing of central London during the Second World War, many of the battered shells retained their Lincrusta. The second reason is that there appear to be only bare plaster walls under the liner and Lincrusta.

13. Advertisement for

Another popular wall treatment for Gilded Age hallways was based on burlap and patented under the trade name of Fab-Ri-Ko-Na. Several hundred yards of it were installed in the hallways and panel inserts at High Lawn in 1902.[6] These patent products were easily decorated on-site in plain colors. They fit nicely into the turn-of-the-century trend toward the simplification of wall decoration.

Below are first generation photos of wallpaper in the Naumkeag library and dining room, proving that pattern was still important when this building was constructed in 1885. 

14. Naumkeag library.

15. Naumkeag dining room.

Below are views of the hollow Anaglypta-type paper still hanging in the study at Naumkeag in Stockbridge. The close-up shows the fine detail of the decorative painting. While some of these embossed papers were colored in the factory, a better match to their surroundings was achieved by hand-painting them in place.[7]

16. Naumkeag study.

17. Ventfort Hall Anaglypta-type.


The design at Ventfort Hall shown above is clogged with paint but a strapwork pattern which includes weird subject matter (snails and snakes) along with more familiar Tudor roses is discernible. It would be interesting to see what colors lie beneath the paint layers. 

18. Ventfort Hall varnished tile.

19. Ventfort Hall varnished tile, detail.

The Ventfort Hall varnished tile is not naturalistic, but the colors are carefully thought out. This puts the paper on a higher footing than the simpler blue/white, green/white, and red/white color schemes advocated by The Decorator and Furnisher.[8] The varnished tile paper was probably intended to have an uplifting effect in its serviceable surroundings. In later years, miles of varnished tile covered the walls of kitchens and baths in lower-class dwellings. These later tile forms were often smaller, brick-like, and put up in running bond patterns, unlike the square varnished tiles of c. 1890. The Ventfort Hall varnished tile may have cost around forty-five cents a roll, but below is an example of a better quality varnished tile which probably cost more: perhaps as much as two or three dollars per roll. 

20. Edith Wharton varnished tile.

And, it should have been more expensive, for this paper adorned the bathroom of the supposed wallpaper-hater Edith Wharton! These images shows extant wallpaper on the walls of a guest bathroom suite used by Henry James. However, the same pattern was found in Wharton's own bathroom, according to restorers of the property.[9]

21. Edith Wharton varnished tile close-up. 

How can her use of varnished tile and other wallpapers be justified, given her harsh words on the subject? Awkwardly, at best! However, it can be noted that one of her many strong opinions was that public was public and private was private and never the twain should meet. She advised the upper classes to banish wallpaper from rooms meant to receive polite society. On the other hand, upstairs bedrooms and bathrooms were obviously private spaces with different rules. Then too, as bills for decoration added to a growing pile (as always in the last phase of house-building) there may have come a time to cut costs at the Mount. 

Finally, the types of wallpaper that she chose had specific qualities. The varnished tiles were considered the epitome for hygienic decoration. The glossy surface of the wallpaper shown here, though pretty, was practical—unlike the majority of wallpaper, it could stand a scrubbing. Thus, her chief criticisms of wallpaper—that it was “…readily damaged, soon fades, and cannot be cleaned…”— did not apply. 

Edith also had a fondness for ingrains, as did Candace Wheeler. Edith installed ingrains in her French home, and also in the guest suite adjacent to her quarters at the Mount. Ingrains had special qualities. They were patented by James Munroe of Lexington, Massachusetts in 1877. 

22. Patent for ingrains.

Ingrains were a sort of early non-woven—composed of pressed fibers, like felt. They were renowned for their soft nondescript blanketing of the wall and succeeded in part because these 30-inch wide products did not resemble conventional floral-based wallpaper at all. During the 1890s ingrains with strong patterns had come into use, but both Wharton and Wheeler seem to have preferred the earlier, classic ingrain, in which the many-hued fibers resolved into a rich warm field that was blessedly plain—the perfect complement for pictures and other artwork. The ingrain wallpapers found in Wharton’s guest suite were a medium-toned blue-green.[10] 


[1] A study of Balin's embossed and gilded wallpapers appeared in the Wallpaper History Society Review, and was later published on academia.eduIt 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 and analyzed his embossing and coloring methods. The forthcoming exhibition in Germany (scheduled for April, 2016) led by Astrid Wegener about Paul Balin’s legacy promises to be an important event. 

[2] Robert Kelly, The Backstory of Wallpaper, (2013) p. 76.

[3] For a present-day replication of a c. 1894 pattern of embossed leather (not leather paper) see: Merging the 21st-Century Into A Gilded Age Fortune 500 Boardroom.”

[4] Felicity Leung, “Japanese Wallpaper in Canada, 1880s-1930s,” Material Culture Review / Revue de la culture matérielle, North America, 28, June, 1988 See also Richard C. Nylander, “Elegant Late Nineteenth Century Wallpapers,”  The Magazine Antiques, August 1982, pp. 284-87.

[5] I am indebted to Wayne Mason, proprietor at Mason & Wolf Wallpaper, for this information.

[6] The mansion at High Lawn Farm underwent an extensive restoration about ten years ago during which original Fab-Ri-Ko-No distributed by the Wiggins company of New Jersey was found (the Wiggins logo was stamped on the back of the material). These and other textiles at High Lawn were removed and replaced with burlap and fabric underlayments, then painted.

[7] Note for investigators of Lincrusta-types and Anaglypta-types: If the color on the seams is undisturbed, the chances increase that it was painted in place. If the seam areas are a bit worn, this may be because the wallpaper was colored in the factory, then trimmed and installed on the job with a heavy hand.

[8] V. 22, N. 6. (September, 1893), p. 223.

[9] During restoration at the Mount eleven different wallpaper fragments were found, according to Boyd’s article “'The Decoration of Houses': The American Homes of Edith Wharton”. They were evenly divided between the servant's wing and the main block. See article in Old House Journal:

[10] Wheeler wrote about ingrains in an article for The Outlook magazine which was quoted on p. 116, V. 11, No. 3 (December 1895) of Painting and Decorating, the Philadelphia trade journal: “It is only by the education of unrest that we learn to shun the strongly colored, strongly printed, ignorantly designed wall paper. A comparatively recent manufacture called “ingrain paper” has done much to mitigate and improve modern wall papers. It is without design, which is often a relief, and appears in soft and pleasant tints, produced upon the principle that gives value to “impressionist" methods of painting—the mixing of two differently colored pulps closely together, so that, although they apparently form one tint, it is the result of juxtaposition of particles rather than union of them; the eye performing the process of blending, and in this way giving a curious variety of effect in one color, something corresponding to the vibration of one tone in sound.
A paper which has this quality is not only agreeable to the eye, but, being to all intents and purposes a plane [sic] surface, makes a good background for pictures as well. Upon the walls of bedrooms, where pictures are not so much a matter of course, design in wall paper may be of great value in giving variety instead of monotony of effect, provided always that there is in it a general diffusion of color instead of a violent separation of it. If the tints are soft enough to melt into each other naturally, or if the design is printed in two tones of the same color, making simply an access or diminution of the same tint—and these accesses appear in graceful and pleasing form—the walls become a pleasant barrier to the eye, and although bounding and limiting the view, offer an agreeable substitute for distance.”

caption credits:

1. © 2015 Ventfort Hall Association, Inc.
3. “Interior With Figures” c. 1664.
4. © WallpaperScholar.Com.
5. Top, © WallpaperScholar.Com, bottom,  © 2015 Ventfort Hall Association, Inc. 
6. © 2015 Ventfort Hall Association, Inc.
7. © 2015 Ventfort Hall Association, Inc.
8. Lewis F. Day, Pattern Design, B. T. Batsford, 1903, # 125, p. 100.
9. Lewis F. Day, Pattern Design, B. T. Batsford, 1903, # 203, p. 187.
10. © WallpaperScholar.Com.
11. As above.
12. © 2015 Ventfort Hall Association, Inc.
13. Private collection.
14. The Trustees of Reservations.
15. The Trustees of Reservations.
16. Left, The Trustees of Reservations, right, © WallpaperScholar.Com.
17-9. © 2015 Ventfort Hall Association, Inc.
20-1. © WallpaperScholar.Com.
22. U. S. Patent Office.

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