To continue the festivities of the New Year’s celebration, or possibly a little hair of the dog, I thought it appropriate to show a cocktail paper. Prohibition was enacted in 1920 with the ratification of the 18th Amendment and was officially repealed on December 5, 1933 by Franklin D. Roosevelt. So we have President Roosevelt to thank for the appearance of cocktail papers shortly after this date. Cocktail papers usually contain very stylized renderings of liquor bottles or barware, or whimsical personifications of cocktails. On this design an alcoholic beverage is shown next to a cartoonish animal consuming said beverage. The giraffe is shown with a Tom Collins, the pink elephant a pilsner, the rooster a martini, and since this is the age of increased overseas travel, a French poodle with a glass of champagne. Ooh la la! Ribbons of confetti and musical notes wind throughout the design adding a nice secondary pattern, and also make one hum a little tune at the thought of imbibing. Cocktail motifs were frequently mixed with elements of gaming, such as cards or dice. Interior decorators began recommending game rooms for adult use in the mid-1930s. These rooms served multiple purposes and frequently included a home bar, which made it the perfect room for these papers.

When researching cocktail papers, I found there is almost no information on the subject. This may be due to the conservative nature of the wallpaper market. Immediately following the end of Prohibition, the promotion of alcohol was likely still a delicate topic and wallpaper manufacturers might not have wanted to make any waves by advertising cocktail-themed papers. The whimsical nature of the designs probably made the papers feel less threatening. The Cooper Hewitt collection contains about a dozen different cocktail and gaming papers. Some are more whimsical, while others take drinking more seriously and employ a more sophisticated tone.

One thought on “Party Animals

Hello Cooper Hewitt, I just had to write to tell you I uncovered this same pattern when I was scraping off some old wallpaper in my 1915 house in Seattle. This was under a layer of black floral pattern wallpaper. But when I got down to the second layer I thought I had stumbled upon a child’s circus motif. However, as I scraped some more, I noticed all the animals were drinking cocktails. Mine has a bright red background which really shows off the tipsy pink elephants wearing neckties and pork pie hats. Yes, in the 1950’s it was in perfectly good taste to decorate your bathroom in a visual ode to the DT’s. Unfortunately, it was too far gone to preserve any of it. But I did take a few photos.

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