The Production Process
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 wallcoverings 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procedures described below illustrate how this attention to detail allows us to remain faithful to the spirit of the historical document while producing wallpaper that meets contemporary demands for accuracy, stability and authenticity.
The paper stock is first pulled out onto a 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 lever mechanism.
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.
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 paper.
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 processes.
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.