Out of the Closet: finding the historic wallpapers of Salem.

It’s a story common to many historic houses: someone in the modern day will open a cupboard or tear off a piece of moulding and find a fragment of wallpaper dating perhaps from hundreds of years in the past. Streets of Salem, a wonderful blog focusing on the history of Salem, Massachusetts, has a terrific roundup of stories on this theme, and some great visual examples of works of art that have been lost for a very long time. Wallpaper was often hand-painted in the 18th and early 19th century and it’s usually considered expendable when a place is remodeled, so it’s rare to find these treasures intact. Read the full article, it’s great!

This is actually a post on Salem wallpaper, but there are so many anecdotes about long-forgotten patches of paper found in closets and cupboards by vintage wallpaper hunters/reproducers like Dorothy Waterhouse and Nancy McClelland that I thought I could get away with a more provocative title. A great example is “The Creamer” pattern manufactured by Thomas Strahan & Company in the 1930s after its discovery in the upstairs closet of a house (still very much standing) on Essex Street which belonged to the Salem stationer Benjamin Creamer. Before his untimely death in the early 1850s, Benjamin and his brother George were major stationers in Salem, supplying both writing papers and “room-papers” to their customers; George carried on alone from that date.

Salem Wallpaper Creamer

“The Creamer”, manufactured by Thomas Strahan & Co., after a fragment found in the Nicholas Crosby House on Essex Street, home of the Benjamin Creamer family in the mid-nineteenth century; a trade card for Creamer Stationers.

I’ve checked in all (12) of my closets and found no remnants of rare French wallpaper, sadly: just dull old paint befitting a house that was once home to boarders and one very large family. But there are lots of other places to look for Salem wallpapers: Historic New England has digitized its extensive collection, the Cooper-Hewitt Design Museum of the Smithsonian maintains a treasure trove of wallpaper images online, and both the Metropolitan Museum of Art and The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, also have wallpaper samples among their digitized collections. And if you can’t find the original paper, images and descriptions of colonial reproductions in trade catalogs can also offer impressions of what once was, as well as verification of the importance of Salem as source. I love to look for and at old wallpaper for both aesthetic and historical reasons: it gives you the ability to imagine existing houses in earlier incarnations, and verifies the existence of houses that no longer exist. First the former…

Full Article: Out of the Closet

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1 Comment on Out of the Closet: finding the historic wallpapers of Salem.

  1. Fascinating, I will sometimes find remnants in some of wallpaper and other architectural artifacts in some of the old homes I sell in my neighborhood. So beautiful!

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