Before the formation of Adelphi Paper Hangings in 1999 we were the American Paperstaining Manufactory, a wallpaper printing demonstration program at the Farmers’ Museum in Cooperstown, New York. This project started in 1996 when Chris Ohrstrom, co-owner of Adelphi, offered to set up the program and enlisted one the museum’s interpreters, Wendy Weeks, to head the project. I joined the following year.
Among the first patterns which we printed were five relatively simple early American patterns from the earliest surviving sample book known to exist from an American manufacturer. This artifact, from the Janes and Bolles Company of Hartford, Connecticut (1822-1828), is in the collection of the Old Sturbridge Village in Sturbridge, Massachusetts.
The company of Janes and Bolles, while not an outstanding innovator, did produce a product squarely in tune with their time and market place: unpretentious and, judging by the less than obsessive print quality, probably fairly moderately priced. One would be just as likely to find these in the parlors of a well-to-do farmer as an urban middle class merchant.
“Relatively simple” refers to the design of the patterns; it certainly doesn’t reflect the ease of printing for those of us who were very new to the very old technique of producing block printed wallpaper. It was a good place to start. Three of the patterns consist of one printed color, the others have two colors; none of the patterns have large expanses of color, which can be tricky to print, nor are there any tiny, fragile details which have their own eccentricities.
(Reproductions of the Janes & Bolles patterns are licensed to Adelphi by Old Sturbridge Village.)
Each of the patterns presented opportunities for learning and posed a few questions.
The size of the blocks for all five patterns lent themselves to easy handling by a novice: these are “half-blocks.” What we refer to as “full blocks” are those which print the entire width of the pattern with an 18” – 22” repeat.
The advantage of small blocks for the manufacturer was, of course, that the expense of having the blocks carved was more affordable than for larger ones. However, when the printer approached the bench this cost savings vanishes: there’s the additional time needed to actually print a roll – maybe not quite twice as long, but definitely longer – and there is the increased possibility for misalignment and, therefore, heightened frustration level.
And why, for example, did the person who designed Flowerbaskets choose to divide the narrow stripe in half at each edge rather than keep it whole on one side or another?
A complete stripe (as seen in the center of the pattern) would have made installation much easier. As it is, if they had been printed slightly out of square, matching the half lozenge shapes would be difficult. Of course, this concern is the result of being accustomed to perfectly matched machine printed wallpaper. Early 19th century wallpapers, especially American ones were, at times, somewhat approximate in design or print quality.
And as was often the case (and still is) inspiration for pattern design was derived from other fashionable wallpapers and textiles of the time. When comparing Pawprint and Stripe to Franklin Stripe it’s easy to connect the American pattern to the earlier French one. And Circle Ornament could certainly be mistaken for a coverlet design of the period.
Since developing the Janes & Bolles patterns for reproduction, Adelphi has gone on to do many more complex patterns. But our experience sorting out some of the design and production issues with these five “relatively simple” patterns certainly provided a good starting place.