A WALLPAPER CASE STUDY BY ROBERT M. KELLY
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
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,
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.
Copyright: © 2013 Robert M. Kelly.