Saturday, November 19, 2011

The History of Wallpaper

The History of Wallpaper

Part 1: The Art of the Dark Ages
To find the earliest known use of wallpaper, we need to take a step back in time to the dark ages of man. In the 13th century, wallpaper was invented as a way to print religious icons for personal use. Usually the sign of the cross was hand-painted onto a piece of treated paper or fabric, and sold to the devout. At first, it was a way for the rich to add a bit of art to their home; back in that time, to put a painting on the wall literally meant commissioning a painter to come to your house. However, as the little icons become more powerful, it met one of the only major advances in the dark ages; hand-block printing.

Hand-block printing is a simple process; a wooden block is carved on one side into the mirror image of the stamp that you want to create. Coincidentally, the cross looks the same as a mirror image, and combined with the religious fervor of the time, pushed them into popularity. Another major advantage of wood-block printing is that it can be done by anyone with access to a piece of wood, a knife, and some paint; all of which was easily available back then.

Wood-block printing made it popular, but it lowered the quality. All of a sudden, the nobility no longer wanted these icons, as they were too cheap and easy to produce. So the vendors lowered their prices, and sold them to the poor as a way to spruce up their homes.

Them, more expensive wall coverings, depicting murals of battle, hung in homes of nobility. Small sheets of fabric either carried a repeating image, or several blocks produced a pattern spread across many sheets. However, two problems still remained for wallpaper makers. One was the fact that it was nearly impossible with the technology available to create long sheets of fabric of uniform length and quality. Second, even if such a method was available, there was no inexpensive way to create wall fabric. Either it had to be created from scratch, which was the most expensive method, but the cheapest they could do it was to take a bunch of cloth rags, clean them, and weave them together. Afterward, they would print on top of it.

It took the realization that wood pulp could be used to make wallpaper for it to become cost effective. Instead of sourcing or making the fabric, any printer could walk outside, cut down a tree, mulch and press the wood chips, and voila; cheap wallpaper, with a seemingly endless supply of raw material.

Part 2: The Spread of Mercantilism & the Effect on Wallpaper
By the end of the 18th century, wallpaper had seen advances in wood pulp to make the costs of production go down significantly. However, aside from the cheaply produced wood-block prints, the time and cost saved in production never made it to the consumer, it just padded the artists bottom line. Although the raw material was cheaper, the process of creating a wall covering or wallpaper was still extremely labor intensive, and because of the economic disparity of the time, could only be afforded by the elite.

It would take an innovation in the manufacturing process, and a new group of consumers to really make wallpaper burst into mainstream. It all starts in the beginning of the 19th century. At this time, the Dark Ages are effectively over, and Feudalism is on the way out. Mercantilism is the new status quo, and while there is still the rich and poor, there is a new class becoming more and more prominent; the Middle Class.

These were people that had embraced the mercantile movement with open arms. They were not the ultra-wealthy decision makers; they had chosen a nomad lifestyle, trading with far away lands. They were out on business most of the time, since in this era, making a trip between countries was a trip that could take weeks or even months. However, when they did make it home, they had the money to decorate their house to be extremely comfortable. So a new market had been created seemingly out of thin air.

The unintended side effect of this explosion of mercantilism was the spread of technologies. Medical breakthroughs that had been forgotten by Europe in the Dark Ages were rediscovered when merchants made contact with the Arabs in Turkey and the Orient. Spices, cuisines, and knowledge were freely shared. One of these technologies that made its way to Europe would change the face of wallpaper printing forever.

Cylinder Printing would revolutionize the world in a way that is still extremely hard to quantify. All of a sudden, books could be printed with great ease, and in large quantities. Literacy skyrocketed, and the overall quality of life in Europe was on the rise. Remember, the Dark Ages had just ended, and things that seem obvious to us, like modern cleanliness as a prevention method for disease were a moot point. Back then, if you were sick, you were lucky if your doctor didn't drill a hole in your head, give you a dose of poison, and then bleed you out with cuts and leeches.

For wallpaper, cylindrical printing was the manufacturing process needed to be able to make wallpaper cheaply. All of a sudden, wood pulp could be pressed into huge rolls, and then that paper belt could be fed between a series of rollers, each printing a different color, and by the end of it, you had a finished product. Labor costs were drastically reduced, and for small printers, completely removed.

That’s how wallpaper went from the halls of Kings, to the homes of everyone.

Pete Wise is a White-Hat SEO Jedi and a Supercharged Content Creation Machine. "The History of Wallpaper" was researched and written for Discount Decorating Online, who have the lowest priced wallpaper on the web. Also check their extensive inventory of wallpaper borders. Follow Pete on Twitter: @MySEOHeadache