Can you identify or date this wallpaper?
January 5, 2018 6:53 AM   Subscribe

I uncovered this wallpaper while working on my kitchen. The house was built in 1920. The wallpaper is on a plaster wall and was painted over at some point. While the scenes in the illustration could date to the period when the house was built, I think it's more likely that this is kitschy wallpaper from a later date, but who knows? Any wallpaper experts out there? Or are there resources for identifying old wallpaper?
posted by bassomatic to Home & Garden (15 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I'd guess 1950s-early 1960s but I'm having a hard time backing it up. It reminds me of this Quality Street vintage tin, if someone can date it.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 7:21 AM on January 5, 2018 [1 favorite]

Red hots (for sale on the cart in the wallpaper) were apparently invented in the 30s, so it's definitely after that. My guess would be 30s or 40s.
posted by crazy with stars at 7:42 AM on January 5, 2018

Best answer: Thinking some more, the color palette seems more 1940s-mid 50s.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 7:53 AM on January 5, 2018 [3 favorites]

The color palette looks like it could be 40s to me. You might contact the good folks at Hannah's Treasures Vintage Wallpaper - I bet they could pin it down.
posted by jocelmeow at 8:32 AM on January 5, 2018 [1 favorite]

I'd agree with later 1930s-early 1940s, which would be late enough that the 1920s-ish cars depicted would seem old-fashioned and homey. Additionally there's the Red Hots reference as noted above, and a Civil War statue with a fresh wreath by it, which seems consistent with a Gone With The Wind / Lost Cause-era late 1930s timeframe.

And I'd guess that this stuff is for sure pre-WWII. Decor was overhauled pretty thoroughly after the war.
posted by killdevil at 8:33 AM on January 5, 2018 [1 favorite]

No. But it actually looks vaguely familiar.

I can all but guarantee that vanishingly close to nobody made cartoony wallpaper in the era depicted by the cartoons (say, 1900 - 1940). Non-representational or floral patterns were more the mark. Maybe maps or 'patriotic' themes. Never cartoons.

After that, people were looking forward, not backward. In the era of rocketship fins and aluminum Christmas trees, you're not going to see many horse-drawn wagons and Model Ts in people's decor.

After the mid 1970s and ever since, of course, very little that is illustrated and representational could possibly escape the gravity well of branding. This is generic, not Disney, Marvel, Star Wars, Lego, Smurfs, Sesame Street, Holly Hobby, Fritz the Cat, or whatever have you.

So I'm going with mid-1960s and mid-1970s.

Examining the materials used might be more helpful than the pattern.

It's interesting though how much of the 'action' appears to be moving from right-to-left. That argues against modernity.

a Civil War statue

How do you figure? I see "MDCCCX . . ." which can only be 1810 through 1849.

It might be "MDCCLX . . ." which would make it 1760 through 1799 (more likely 1789).

"MDCCLXXVI" might be a good guess.

posted by Herodios at 9:23 AM on January 5, 2018 [2 favorites]

I'm seeing 40's colors.
I collect old quilts and fabric and this style is in keeping with pre 1950 patterns. Also earliest memories in the sixties I'd occasionally see this kind of wallpaper in relatives poor bedraggled rentals.
posted by readery at 10:27 AM on January 5, 2018 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'm very much inclined to say between 1947-1957.

Red hots (for sale on the cart in the wallpaper) were apparently invented in the 30s

hmm, but wait, Red Hots the candy may have been invented in the '30s, but Red Hots, the frankfurters, go back to the 1890s.

For search help, it's "scenic," and "figural," not "floral" or "abstract." Abstract patterns started getting bigger in the late 50s-late 60s, and figural didn't come back in in a big way until the 70s. This style is super influenced by modern artists - Picasso, Matisse.

Check out this example - very very similar in style and content, maybe even by the same manufacturer? Here are some other scenic papers from the era:
Loads of examples

Compare with 1950s picture book illustrations. I was reminded of the Madeleine books, which came out between 1950 and 1961. The palette of this "Jumping Gnome" book resonates.

This design very much partakes of midcentury Colonial Revival/Americana, a popular design choice postwar as people attempted to recover from war, begin families, resettle and establish homes. It was nostalgic and comforting and a little whimsical. Another two cultural drivers that help pin down this window: The plays Our Town, debuting in 1938, and The Music Man, from 1957. There's even a bandstand and band uniforms in your paper.

The reason I don't think it's pre-1950 is the whit and whimsy - the nostalgia is tongue-in-cheek, not as serious and comforting as the 1940s scenic wallpapers. It's got a humor and a conscious, old-timey feel rather than a backward-looking, tradition-revering feel.
posted by Miko at 10:40 AM on January 5, 2018 [6 favorites]

Best answer: Just turned up this great link about wallpaper history that seems to support the post-WWII-decade theory :
Advancements in technology continued to affect kitchen design. In wallpaper, the development of colours that were resistant to fading by sunlight (“sunworthy”) and new screenprinting and photogravure processes meant that a greater variety of patterns could be produced in smaller quantities. [14] This touched off another explosion in the number of wallpaper designs that were available. For kitchens, which in the new suburban house were places where the whole family might gather, there were now narrative scenes as well as decorative designs. Unlike the grand vistas of earlier scenic wallpapers for salons and drawings rooms, these narrative scenes “like good stories, are intended to hold attention, to intrigue and to delight. By their very nature they are not unobtrusive background patterns intended as a foil for paintings and pictures—they are by themselves the entire wall decoration.” [15] The elephant knickknacks in the 1940s Eaton’s catalogue were perhaps a precursor to narrative patterns, such as the wallpaper with barns and cheery-looking animals that I remember from my grandparents’ Ontario farmhouse, which had been redecorated in the 1950s. The narrative themes seem to have been particularly popular in larger kitchens, where people other than the person making the meal could gather: the type of kitchen promoted by Lillian D. Millar.
posted by Miko at 10:46 AM on January 5, 2018 [2 favorites]

Oh also, see if you can find an edge as you continue stripping. Sometimes the manufacturer, pattern name and other info is printed in small type along an edge.
posted by Miko at 10:48 AM on January 5, 2018 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I'm liking the mid 40s-mid 50s guesses more and more. Here's another comparandum with a similar color palette, theme, and attitude (here a playful circus), printed 1948-1958.

There are pre-war cartoons (example 1, example 2), but the feel is quite different.
posted by crazy with stars at 10:58 AM on January 5, 2018 [1 favorite]

I was hoping the term "red hots" on the food cart might be a clue, but apparently the term dates back to 1890... sorry to derail, but I thought it was pretty fascinating...
posted by Mchelly at 11:04 AM on January 5, 2018

We have verified 20s wallpaper in my mother's house that is made of cloth! Don't worry, you're not missing much.
posted by 8603 at 4:53 PM on January 5, 2018

Best answer: It looks like early 1950s to me as well, based on style and coloring. Also, families often added wallpaper (and carpet) during that decade to houses that would have been plainer originally.
posted by Violet Hour at 2:18 AM on January 7, 2018

Response by poster: Thanks everyone! I'm going with early to mid 50s, based on your answers above and subsequent conversations with neighbors.

Old houses are fascinating time capsules. In digging further I discovered that a kid who grew up in this house in the 1940s went on to design The Monsanto House of the Future, which was a part of Tomorrowland at Disneyland in the 50s and 60s. Maybe his parents hung the wallpaper after he'd gone off to college because ironically they looked backward when their son looked forward? Or maybe it was simply the next family to live here....
posted by bassomatic at 5:04 PM on January 14, 2018 [1 favorite]

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