Wallpaper was a fashionable commodity in late 18th and early 19th century America. Until the middle of the 19th century, all wallpaper was block-printed by hand. In this method, wooden blocks were carved with a design which was saturated with color and then transferred to the paper. A different block was used for each color. Prior to the Revolution, Americans who could afford wallpaper usually imported it from England. After Independence, American manufacturers sprang up but faced increased competition from French wallpaper firms.
During the first quarter of the nineteenth century, American wallpaper manufacturers developed new products, including paper designed specifically for use on bandboxes and fireboards.
By 1850, the new technology of roller printing had been introduced to America. A steam-driven machine was used to feed a continuous roll of paper between a large central drum and a number of metal cylinders or rollers each of which carried part of the pattern and one color. Roller-printing allowed mass production which lowered the price of wallpaper and made it accessible to more American consumers.
The Farmers' Museum wallpaper collections include both early block-printed papers and later roller-printed designs, as well as examples of blocks used for printing wallpapers. During the 1840s, many homes had wallpaper. Buildings in the historic village are papered with a variety of patterns reproduced from samples in our collection.