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The Fascinating History of Wallpapers

Every product that we have grown accustomed to today often has a vibrant history in terms of its origins and wallpapers are no different. As people look for a wide range of alternatives to decorate their walls, wallpapers have always been a popular choice for centuries. Wallpapers are said to have originated from China in 200 B.C. and consisted of landscapes, birds and flowers painted on paper made with rice. It is believed that Chinese prisoners arrested by the Arabs passed on this knowledge to their captors, which led to wallpapers spreading throughout the Middle East. The Arabs used linen instead of bamboo and wood for paper which led to wallpapers being printed on finer quality of paper.

The wallpaper reached Europe only in the 16th century through imports from China. The earliest piece of wallpaper from Europe exists till date and is found in the Lodge of Christ’s College; Cambridge in England is from 1509. This wallpaper was commissioned by Henry VIII and was attributed to Hugo Goes from York. But it was the French who changed the way wallpapers are processed which is followed even today. Jean-Michel Papillon, a Frenchman who is considered to be the inventor of wallpaper, introduced repeating patterns (1675) which did not break when the paper ended and this was the birth of the modern wallpaper that we see today.

Wallpaper reached America around two centuries later in 1739 when Plunket Fleeson had painted the first one in Philadelphia. Early American wallpaper designs were mostly copied from the European fashion and it was only later when they set up their workshops to create patters that were free of the colonial influence. By the 1800’s the French began painting scenic pictures with hand carved blocks some of these wallpapers required at least five thousand such hand blocks. A few decades later, in 1874, the colour printing machine was invented and creating wallpapers became a lot easier because it required lesser manual labour.

However, the wallpaper industry was not always flourishing and it had its low moments as well. Due to the widespread technology, the market was filled with wallpapers made with cheap paper and unskilled workmanship which led to its slow decline. The painting industry gained more prominence during this period but things began looking up for the wallpaper industry when one manufacturer realised that he could make use of this situation during this period and this led to the invention of wallpaper paste (glue used to stick wallpapers) by Ferdinand Sichel in 1888. This revolutionised the wallpaper industry and they began selling like hot cakes once again.

From being painted on paper made with rice in an Asian nation to patterns being digitally designed, wallpapers have travelled across centuries and continents and have changed significantly over time. But what has not changed is people’s love for art and the need to embellish their homes and as long as that remains the same, the wallpaper industry will continue to thrive.

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