Unused fragment of sanitary wallpaper depicting nursery rhymes including "The Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe." Engraved roller-print with oil colors on light tan ground.

This English wallpaper dates between 1890 and 1930. It features scenes from nursery rhymes including “The Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe.” It was made using an engraved roller-print with oil colors on light tan ground. (All images courtesy of Historic New England)

In the mid-1930s, a woman named Dorothy Waterhouse was scraping wallpaper from the interior of an old Cape Cod house when she developed an unusual obsession. “Suddenly I spotted beneath the drab looking top layers some beautiful colors,” she later told a newspaper. She soon opened her own wallpaper business, and throughout the rest of her life, she would take many trips into the countryside to expose and preserve the wonders hidden in other people’s walls.

Waterhouse isn’t alone in her fixation. Wallpaper has been the subject of exhibitions at institutions like New York’s International Print Center and Manchester’s Whitworth Gallery, and artists like Andy Warhol and Damien Hirst have even created their own designs. It surfaces throughout literature, too — in books like Crime and Punishment and short stories like The Yellow Wallpaper. 

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. “The collection is searchable by date, location, and manufacturer, and by keywords like color and type of pattern,” cataloguer Peggy Wishart said in a press release. “You can zoom in to see every detail.”

The archive tells the regional history of wallpaper from the early 18th century, when it was still a luxury import, through after the American Revolution, when manufacturers like Ebenezer Clough, Moses Grant, and Zechariah Mills began woodblock printing their own. By the late 19th century, one advertisement claimed that the “decorative possibilities of the new WALL PAPERs are almost boundless.”

This Art Nouveau wallpaper features tulips and foliate scrolls. It was machine printed by Imperial Wallcoverings between 1900 and 1910.

This French wallpaper was block printed by Paul Balin between 1880 and 1898. It features imitation needlework, foliage and Tudor rose motifs.

This French wallpaper was manufactured by Zuber et Cie between 1830 and 1831. It was printed in gray, green, and white on a polished green background and features leaves framing floral medallions.

Lilies and roses adorn this wallpaper, designed in 1894 by Walter Crane and machine printed by Jeffrey & Co.

This green, black, and white wallpaper contains repeating vignettes of a stag and boar hunt in a forest, an ornate cabin nestled among pine trees. It was made by Gregory & Brown Co. between 1900 and 1915.

This block-printed landscape scene features a wagon pulled by horses. It was produced between 1825 and 1840 by an unknown maker.

This Palladio screen printed wallpaper features stylized pinwheels in green, blue, and purple on a dark green ground. It was made between 1966 and 1968.

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Laura C. Mallonee

Laura C. Mallonee is a Brooklyn-based writer. She holds an M.A. in Cultural Reporting and Criticism from NYU and a B.F.A. in painting from Missouri State University. She enjoys exploring new cities and...

5 replies on “More Than 6,000 Wallpaper Designs Digitized”

  1. I’m really falling in love with interesting and artistic wallpaper so this article was so awesome to find on Hyperallergic. I’m going to have to learn all about Dorothy Waterhouse now. And I was unaware of Hirst and Warhol’s designs. Great stuff!

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