In the current issue of World of Interiors (July 2011), Maud Hewlings’ article, Stars in Stripes, cleverly features a staple in the wallpaper industry: stripes. You might think that such a simple design – and how much more simple can a design be than straight, unadorned, unbroken stripes – must be well represented in the archives of 18th and 19th century block printed wallpapers.

Well….no. There are a only a few illustrations in the standard wallpaper reference books and still fewer examples in collections.  One example can be found in the online wallpaper catalog at Historic New England, a small fragment of Otis Federal Stripe.   Arthur & Robert document

The document on the left  is from our archive, which we have reproduced as the Arthur and Robert Stripe.

But it’s clear that straight stripes were not a frequently used style with block printed wallpaper. Were stripes perhaps too simple for interior fashions of the time? Or was it, as we at Adelphi have suspected, that the printers tended to agitate when someone in the design studio proposed something as innocuous as a delicate cluster of 1/8th inch wide straight stripes?

The reason for this imagined foment is that the accurate printing of stripes is very difficult until one learns the eccentricities of the specific block used; after that it’s only maddening. Even with the registration pins the task is akin closing one’s eyes, extending one’s arms and trying to make one’s index fingers meet.  As a result, pattern accuracy on block printed wallpaper frequently deviates several degrees from perfection.

When printing stripes the slightest misalignment from one print to the next results in a stripe alignmentnoticeable jag.  This close up of the Arthur and Robert document shows an area where the block printing the lightest color at the left didn’t quite match up.

The two photos below show the printing of the stripes on the Otis Federal Stripe pattern.  Initially we printed all four sets of stripes with a full block; later we realized that we could print more accurately by printing them in pairs, so the block was cut in half.

In the 19th century two technological advancements eased the printer’s task and increased production speed. The first was a simple inverted triangular shaped paint trough; it was equipped with narrow, adjustable openings in the bottom under which the paper stock was gradually pulled, allowing the paint to be deposited.

The second development, more elaborate and ultimately more important, was roller printing.  As opposed to block printing, in which the block is charged with paint each time it is applied, the raised printing surface of the roller is continuously and automatically recharged.  This was the perfect Industrial Age solution for producing straight stripes.

The 19th century roller was made of wood and brass; this mid-20th century version was fabricated from aluminum and plastic, but they worked the same way.

Roller printing certainly made the production of all wallpaper faster . . . but here at Adelphi, being devoted to block printing as we are, we‘ll continue playing with our blocks.

That doesn’t mean we will neglect stripes. There are already Arthur & Robert and Otis Federal Stripe, mentioned above, but there’s more to come, including this one, a new original Adelphi pattern in development that includes stripes on an irisé ground.

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