Every aspect of Adelphi's product - from paper types and paint composition
to printing methods - has been thoroughly researched in institutions and
archives in the US, England and France. We believe that to accurately
reproduce traditional, wood block printed wallpaper it is essential to
maintain fidelity to the methods and materials originally employed. By
using the tools, materials, and procedures of our historic counterparts,
Adelphi is able to produce wall coverings with the same distinctive
character and spirit as those of the past.
The materials and procedures described below illustrate how this
attention to detail allows us to remain faithful to the spirit of the
historical document while producing wallpaper that meets contemporary
demands for accuracy, stability and authenticity.
All of our patterns are drafted directly from wallpapers in the archives
of institutions such as The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, Historic New England or
the Smithsonian Institution, from those in our own collection, or from
samples which private clients have asked us to replicate.
While we do, very occasionally, find pristine wallpaper samples that
have never been installed, in most cases the documents we have worked
with are fragmented, faded, and damaged. In these cases, the initial
stages of the reproduction process involve piecing together the
fragments in order to reveal the complete pattern, determine its
original width and repeat length, accurately identify the original
colorway and other period characteristics.
Unless we determine that the original wallpaper document was
inaccurately printed we do not make "corrections" or reinterpret the
patterns, either in terms of scale or design.
Adelphi patterns are printed with custom made cross-banded, pear
wood-faced printing blocks. After patterns have been drawn, a separate
block is engraved for each color of the pattern. In some more complex
patterns, more than one block is needed for a single color. For example,
Adelphi's Butterfly Chintz pattern uses a total of 27 blocks of various
sizes for a 10-color print.
Blocks are stored in our stone cellar when not in use in order to
provide a stable environment and prevent shrinkage or distortion.
Our paper stock is a high-quality, "acid free," 75% cotton fiber product
that closely matches the appearance, texture and weight of the
traditional 18th and early 19th century papers that were used for block
printed wallpapers. The high cotton content of Adelphi's paper makes it
much more durable compared to standard wood pulp paper; acid neutrality
insures minimal degradation over time.
Historically there were no standard weights for papers used by American
paperstainers - the locally available paper determined selection and
resulted in considerable variation from place to place. We have chosen
what we consider to be a fairly typical weight of paper used in the late
18th and early 19th century. Experienced paperhangers have found it to
be strong yet flexible and forgiving, which are particularly important
characteristics in historic settings.
Adelphi offers both seamed rolls and continuous roll paper for its
patterns. In most instances, especially for homes which date after 1840,
the patterns are printed on standard continuous paper stock. However,
for earlier historic homes and museum installations, where period
authenticity is important, we recommend seamed rolls.
Seamed rolls are formed by gluing individual sheets together, which was
the only method to produce rolls before the development and widespread
use of continuous paper in the 1840s. When installed, the subtle yet
distinctive horizontal seams are visible; this is one of the most
telling characteristics of pre-1850s wallpaper and absolutely
fundamental to an authentic reproduction.
When seamed rolls are required, Adelphi once again employs traditional
techniques. First, individual sheets are trimmed to size. Then, using
rabbit skin glue, we join them and hand roll the seams to
insure complete adhesion. No other commercial wallpaper manufacturer
offers a line of document patterns on hand-joined raboute rolls of
Distemper paint is the material historically used for block printed
wallpapers; this traditional mixture is a combination of calcium
carbonate (chalk), pigment, sometimes china clay, water and a binder.
The name "distemper" is an English corruption of the French word
detrempre, which means to soak and refers to the process of soaking
chalk overnight in water before adding pigment. We based our initial
formulas on those found in the 1765 work of Robert Dossie, A Handmaiden
to the Arts, a compilation of formulae and techniques used in art
In a traditional distemper the binder, the component which adheres the
chalk, clay and pigments to the paper, is animal hide glue. While this
type of binder does result in a moderately stable paint surface it is
water reversible: that is, when wet it can either smudge or run.
Needless to say, hanging wallpaper printed with distemper bound with
animal hide glue requires experience, skill and precision.
Because of the many difficulties associated with hanging and maintaining
true distemper wallpapers, Adelphi has developed its own "ersatz"
distemper formula. It contains the same basic ingredients but rather
than animal hide glue a specially formulated modern binder has been
substituted. This binder makes the wallpaper much less sensitive to
moisture and therefore easier to hang and maintain.
To prepare paper for printing it is rolled out on an 11 yard long
grounding table and a coat of the background paint is brushed on by
hand; it is then festooned onto a drying rack.
Once dried, the paper is placed on a 19th-century style printing bench.
After tamping the carved wood block in a paint saturated felt it is
placed on the newly grounded roll and pressure is applied. Due to the size
of most blocks, a substantial amount of pressure is required to produce a
consistent print. This is accomplished by means of a foot-operated
After each impression, the roll is advanced the length of the pattern
repeat; registration pins at the forward corners assure an accurate
alignment. Once complete, the roll is again hoisted to the drying rack.
The following day, the paper is re-rolled and passed again over the
press, to be printed with a separate color with the next block of the
sequence. This procedure is repeated for each color used in the pattern.
As mentioned earlier, some more complex patterns used more than one
block per color. This careful, laborious process is exactly how it was
done in the 18th and 19th centuries.
This striving for authenticity in tools, techniques and materials allows
Adelphi Paper Hangings to accurately reproduce the style, character and
look of original period documents.
There is no other way to replicate the rich textures and subtle
intensity of traditional wood block printing. Modern cost cutting
processes such as silkscreen "hand printing" cannot successfully mimic
these qualities; they yield lifeless imitations lacking the liveliness
and dynamism of authentic block printing. It is only by employing
traditional methods and materials that one can achieve a finished
product which speaks so eloquently of the hand and spirit of the
artisans who make it.