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It surfaces throughout literature, too — in books like Now all of us who share Waterhouse’s fascination with wallpaper can explore her 1,400-item-strong collection online.
After her death, the archive was donated to Historic New England, which recently finished digitizing it along with 4,800 other wallpaper samples.
Prior to 1760, only the wealthiest colonists in urban centers in New England could afford to decorate their homes with wallpaper but it became increasingly available as the century progressed.
Much of the expense of these early wallpapers was due to the fact that the rolls they were printed on had to be made up of individual sheets of paper glued together and that they were hand-printed with wood blocks, one block for each color of the design.
Only one wallpaper in Historic New England’s collection with a history in New England dates to this early period; it was later used to cover a copy book of poetry in 1783.
At first, paper hangings, as wallpaper was called in the eighteenth century, were available from stationers and book sellers or as a custom order from merchants who specialized in imported luxury goods; later, it also could be purchased from upholsterers.
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Sure, modern iterations of the form have attempted to bring wallpaper back into fashion.
But for the most part, we paint and we stencil, so the practice of pasting paper onto our kitchen and dining room walls has appropriately faded into design history.
Papers were not always stripped prior to re decoration, particularly where they still provided a firm support.
Sandwiches of 20-30 layers are not unusual and can provide a valuable record of the decoration and use of building.
They give an indication of the hierarchical function of rooms within the house and often record special events.