Vol. 1, No. 6: The Zuber Patriarchy; Spring, Part I


Spring: Jean Zuber, fl.1790-1835 

Summer: Jean Zuber-Karth, fl. 1836-1853 

Autumn: Ivan (Jean) Zuber, fl. 1854-1907


1. The Factory
2. Personnel
3. Design
4. Materials and Methods 
5. Sampling and Sales
6. Consumption 


This multi-part series is a re-telling of how the Zuber factory made wallpaper over a 117-year period (1790-1907). It is closely based on the thesis “From the Workshop to the Wall,” see link at the end of this newsletter. Two disclaimers: the thesis is written in the French language. The possibility of errors in sense and transcription should be kept in mind; should these exist, they belong to me. Secondly, these technical and biographical sketches are a radical concision of the thesis, which takes a bird’s-eye view of the history of wallpaper.

The fame of Zuber, grounded in their scenics, is widespread. To this day the phrase Rixheimer Tapete in the Germanic world refers to any top quality wallpaper - just as in the United States any scenic wallpaper is likely to be labeled “a Zuber,” whether it was created in Rixheim or not. Quite aside from production, the Zuber company is famous for the depth of its archives. Few present-day companies trace their origins to 1790.

But why was there a wallpaper factory in Mulhouse in the first place? After all, this town is far from Paris and has never had a large local market. Part of the answer must relate to character. The Republic of Mulhouse allied itself to the Swiss Cantons in 1515 but remained proudly independent. The tiny village of Rixheim is just outside of Mulhouse, which formed an enclave within Alsace. We’re used to thinking of Rixheim, Mulhouse, and Alsace as nominally within French borders. But the concept of nationality during the period under discussion was both fluid and contested.

Before March 1798, Mulhouse was not French, nor was it German. The inhabitants of the Republic of Mulhouse owed their identity to Calvinism. This meant that outsiders, especially Catholics, could not live there. Over many years the leading citizens of Mulhouse accumulated capital and this allowed an upsurge in textile production beginning around 1746. By the 1780s this activity had grown. The printed cottons of the Mulhousians - “indiennes” - were now competing with French production.

In 1786 Jean-Jacques Dollfus establishes a large indiennes factory in Mulhouse. One of his more important business contacts is Joseph-Laurent Malaine, a gifted designer of textiles (at Gobelins) and wallpaper (at Arthur & Robert, after 1789). Arthur & Robert is the successor company to Arthur & Grenard, a firm started by Jean Arthur, an English watchmaker, and René Grenard. Arthur & Grenard become a royal manufacturer in 1788. They seem to have been every bit as quality-minded and prolific as the better-known Réveillon factory. In 1789 the business is sold to François Robert, a stationer. Jean Arthur’s son, Jean-Jacques, becomes Robert’s partner. We are fortunate indeed that this changeover was preceded by the compilation of an extensive inventory over the winter of 1788-89.

After February 1789, then, Malaine is designing wallpaper for Arthur & Robert. He tutors Nicolas, the son of Jean-Jacques Dollfus, and becomes a confidant of the older man. Jean Zuber (1773-1852) writes in his memoirs that the senior Dollfus greatly admires Malaine's work. Dollfus and Malaine hatch a plan: why not start a second factory to fulfill the potential of up-and-coming Nicolas? This new factory will be devoted to a newish product: wallpaper.

Vol. 1, No. 6 can be accessed here: