Leather papers copy exactly the grain, the patterns, and the coloring of antique leathers. This sample was produced in 1905, but leather papers were a high-end wallpaper popular from the late 19th century, with a renewed interest during the Colonial Revival Movement in the early 20th century.

The central motif is the Renaissance castle set high upon a hilltop, with a wide road drawn in a strong perspective, leading the viewer up into the castle. A horse-drawn wagon and guard appear on the road. The tops of the castle towers are cut off, making the castle feel more imposing. The surrounding country side is dotted with hills, trees and little cottages. Block-printed on paper embossed to resemble leather.

Founded in 1834, the Birge Company was the oldest existing wallpaper company in America when the company was sold to a Canadian concern in 1959. Receiving much accolade for their imitation leather papers, Birge produced these papers in both historic and contemporary styling. They also worked in actual leather if requested by a client. Leather papers were expensive because they were essentially a handmade product. The paper support was necessarily a very substantial weight to withstand the embossing. The papers are block-printed, then embossed, then antiqued or glazed by hand with an oil color.

Along with imitation leathers a wide variety of relief papers were developed or came into vogue in the late 19th century, including Lincrusta-Walton, Anaglypta, Tynecastle Canvas, and grasscloth. It was very fashionable at this time for walls to have a sense of depth, whether by using a relief wallcovering or an ingrain paper, rather than having flat painted walls. Leather papers were produced in Japan, across Europe and the United States. Birge was the major manufacturer of these papers in the United States, at least in the early 20th century.

Leave a Reply