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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