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History of Wallpaper

Paper coverings for walls have been around a long time, almost as long as mankind has had access to paper. The first use of wallpaper was probably in early China (about 2000 B.C.). But its method of attachment was temporary and crude. About 105 A.D. rag paper was invented and a product was churned out that was similar to the paper we use today1.

Paper making spread from Asia, through the Middle East to reach Europe in about the 1100s. In 1481 Louis XI, King of France, had portable wallpaper made, so that he could take the decorations with him as he travelled from castle to castle. Most wallpaper was probably pasted on walls at those times, as both decoration and an easy way to chink up cracks that let in cold air in winter. Yet, wallpaper as we know it (with repetitive patterns) had to wait for the printing press.

The Lodge of Christ's College in Cambridge, England boasts the oldest extant piece of wallpaper. A fragment dating from 1509 was found on the beams. It was a pomegranate design printed with a woodcut on the back of an old proclamation by Henry VIII.

Wallpaper as a decorative covering for interior walls, began to rise in popularity. By 1599 a paperhanger's guild was founded in Paris. In 1675 the engraver, Jean-Michel Papillon, invented a wallpaper design with a continuous pattern. Thus, it not only repeated, but it was continuous from one sheet to the next.

In 1739 Plunket Fleeson was the first American to print wallpaper. Through the 17 and 1800s advances in printing insured constant new developments in wallpaper production, including the ability to mass produce rolls, use multiple colors, and the application of silk screening.

The Victorian era saw the price of wallpaper reduced to a level where it was affordable for the average homeowner. The cache' of wallpaper and its associations with wealth made sure that it would remain popular. It was especially popular in the 1920s when self-expression and materialism were all the rage.

In spite of its popularity, wallpaper had always been a rather delicate covering. It could easily be damaged by water, bumps or scrapes. After World War II wallpapers benefited from the "plastic" revolution which increased washability, durability and strength of wall coverings. New pastes, and pre-pasted wallpaper would make wallpaper even more accessible. Hanging wallpaper, which is sometimes considered a difficult task, became no more taxing than painting or installing ceramic tile.

Today, wallpaper is not as ubiquitous as it was in the 1920s. Nevertheless, it is still a popular way of improving the appearance and value of residences around the world.

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