wallpaper choice

Wallpaper ~ From Rags and Poison to Today

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1860s French Neoclassical Wallpaper

Today we are going to talk about wallpaper. In the early 1800s wallpaper was only for the rich as it was heavily taxed and was labor-intensive to produce. I did not realize this, but in the 1800s, wallpaper was made from old rags. Rag sorters often were exposed to all types of infectious diseases.

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After 1830, when the tax was lifted, wallpaper became very popular. At the same time, many people started becoming sick. Apparently, wallpaper was dyed with pigments that used large amounts of lead and arsenic. Emerald green wallpaper, which was a favorite bedroom color back then, contained even more dangerous elements. Unaware they were slowly being poisoned, people began noticing a garlic smell emanating from green bedrooms when the weather was damp. They also noticed that green bedrooms did not have bedbugs.

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Poisonous pigments.

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Finally, in 1893, when wallpaper enthusiasts were beginning to figure out what made them sick, Frederick Law Olmsted, the father of American landscape architecture, came down ill. Two and two was put together, and it was determined that his illness was caused by arsenic poisoning from his bedroom wallpaper. Olmsted’s convalescence took all of that summer.

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Despite the bad press, with safer manufacturing processes, wallpaper continued to be popular throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. Granted, its popularity ebbs and flows.

Back in the 1980s, Pergaments and many other hardware stores had large wallpaper departments. Giant books were laid out on tables and cubbies with ready-to-buy rolls lined the aisles. You rarely see that today.

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So if you had to choose one of these four wallpapers below for your home, which do you prefer?

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2 Comments

  • Ruth Enero

    HOW interesting!! Thank you for posting this! I actually hate wallpaper, because even though it can be lovely it may eventually need to be removed. Stripping wallpaper & cleaning the exposed wall under it is no fun. Besides, sometime wallpaper can be used by house-flippers to hide money-grabbing structural problems from future home buyers

    I live near Yosemite National Park, where the view from [Frederick Law] Olmsted Point is sensational. I had no idea that GREEN was not just about forests, but about the wallpaper that poisoned Mr Olmsted. Wallpaper seems to be the architectural equivalent of Radium Girls.

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