This parquet border design came into the collection with a group of wallpapers all produced during the late 19th century. And if memory serves me correctly, this group of papers was found in San Francisco which means they survived the great earthquake and fire of 1906 which devastated the city. This was a diverse group of papers ranging from high-end block printed designs to more inexpensive mass-produced machine-printed designs. This roll of paper belonged to the latter group. It was printed in very few colors on very thin paper with a wood pulp composition. Having the identical design printed two across the width of the paper identifies this as a border meant to be cut apart. This paper’s design was always perplexing to me as the thought of using this on the wall as a border seemed awkward and I couldn’t imagine what fill pattern you would coordinate this with on the wall.
Then one day I was in the Design Library doing some research on an unrelated topic and came across an article in the October 1883 issue of Decorator & Furnisher that talked of papering your floor. I had never heard of this decorating concept but I immediately thought of this parquet wallpaper. The article gives full instructions for preparing the existing floor and adhering the wallpaper, followed by coatings of size and varnish, which makes the surface washable. The design of this wallpaper then made perfect sense. It was a border design but was intended for use on the floor and not the wall. Ornamental parquet borders were fashionable at this time but were expensive and probably not affordable to a lot of people. The center area of the floor was usually covered with a large rug, which left the border running around the perimeter of the room as the only exposed area of flooring. As this is also the area least traveled, paper borders become a viable option. This less expensive alternative to wood borders made this home fashion accessible to the middle and lower-middle consumer. While this might seem like an odd use of “wallpaper,” designers continued receiving patents for floor paper designs until at least 1903.