Vintage Wallpaper Roller History – Paul Michael Company

Vintage Wallpaper Roller History

In the mid 1800’s, technological breakthroughs in mechanized printing allowed wallpaper to be made more widely available to the general public. These methods of printing wallpaper continued to be used for decades while also being honed and perfected to provide beautiful wallpaper to a larger group of people. 

antique wallpaper
This vintage wallpaper in an early 1900's design.

The life of a roll of wallpaper began in the design room. A team of designers would sketch out ideas for a wallpaper pattern before tightening up the details and drawing the pattern onto a wooden roller. Once the design had been transferred to a test roller, flexible brass tape was bent and tapped into the lines of the design, tracing the entire wallpaper pattern. The designers then pressed pieces of felt into the interior space of the brass outline to replicate a finished carved roller. The felt was then painted by hand, and the temporary replica was rolled out onto sheets of paper to test the design.

Designing Wallpaper
These photos were published in a 1904 issue of Scientific American.

Once the pattern was finalized, pattern makers carved the design on the actual wooden rollers that would be used for printing. Both the designers and pattern makers engaged high levels of skill in mathematics and geometry in order to create a design that would not only fit around the circumference of the roller but also repeat seamlessly and maintain visual balance when applied to the paper.

vintage wallpaper rollers

Next, paint was mixed. It had to be attentively cared for in order to ensure uniform pigment and a pleasing color palette.

Mixing Paint

A large roll of paper was positioned near a wheel-like printing machine. This large roll of unfinished paper would produce between 200 and 300 full double rolls of wallpaper. The paper fed into the printing wheel where up to 12 colors were applied via the carved wooden rollers. A separate roller for each color of paint was required. The paper traveled through the wheel only once, but received all of the separate colors in one pass. Once the paint was applied, the paper moved over steam pipes where it dried. Finally the paper was cut and rolled into regular double rolls.

Printing Vintage Wallpaper

Source: Hannah's Treasures
Mary Michael

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