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Paper for covering the walls of rooms; paper-hangings. Paper ornamented with colored figures, prepared to be pasted against the walls of apartments, &c. — Webster, 1882

Tinkham has 6,000 rolls of wall paper to sell at 20 per cent below cost. — Kingsbury County News, April 1888

Ornamented paper for decorating the walls of rooms was introduced as a replacement for ancient and costly wall tapestries. In the 19th century, wall-paper was made in two ways: either hand-printed or printed by machine, with a hand-printed paper costing from two to twenty times as much as those printed by machine.

The number of colors and intricacy of pattern was also a factor in cost. For machine-made paper, the pattern was cut onto cylinders, each color requiring a separate cylinder, and long lengths of paper were run through the press.

The wall-paper shown at right was found beneath layers of paint and wall-paper during renovation of Almanzo Wilder’s childhood home in Burke, New York. In Farmer Boy (see Chapter 18, “Keeping House”), Laura Ingalls Wilder writes that Almanzo becomes angry and throws a blacking brush at his sister Eliza Jane — it was Alice in the FB manuscript! — resulting in a black splotch on the parlor wall-paper! Later, Eliza Jane patches the paper before it is noticed by their parents, realizing she had aggravated Almanzo in the first place. It is highly likely that the wall-paper shown, a geometric pattern in white and gold and blue, is the paper from the story.

As the use of wall-paper was a sign of affluence in Laura’s time, it is interesting that she doesn’t note any paper on the walls in any of the homes she visits in De Smet, especially during the dime social (see Little Town on the Prairie, Chapter 17, “The Sociable”) held upstairs over the furniture store at Mr. and Mrs. Tinkham’s. Charles Tinkham’s speciality was in selling wall-paper, even, it was said, to people who didn’t think they needed any. The advertisement below appeared in a Kingsbury County newspaper.


wall-paper (FB 2, 18; SSL 4), see also parlor
     blacking brush ruins parlor wall-paper (FB 18)