Jungle-green, blooming roses are outlined against a jet-black background in this mid twentieth century machine printed wallpaper. The sharp, sure linear style of the images is reminiscent of old wood-cut prints, while the colorway brings to mind the kitschy black velvet paintings that frequently turn up in junk shops and dive bars. Thoughts of amateur portraits of Elvis and dogs playing poker quickly fade, as the overall effect of this paper’s design is quite sultry and sophisticated; a great backdrop for a formal dining room where no kids are allowed. If it was decided to let the children sit at the grown up table
on occasion, no worries, because information printed in the paper’s selvedge informs us that it’s washable.

Additional information printed in the selvedge informs us that it was union made in the USA by M.H. Birge & Sons, Co. of Buffalo, New York. At the time this interesting rose paper was printed, Birge was the longest continuously operating (the first iteration began in 1834), and quite possibly the largest wallpaper manufacturer in the United States. The company’s founder, Martin H. Birge, had initially come to Buffalo to open up a dry goods store, but after some apparent success selling wallpaper out of his shop he decided to make the switch to manufacturing. Later, his sons, George and Henry, became partners with their father, and by the twentieth century Birge & Sons, Co. had become an international success. As an interesting aside, George Kingsley Birge (Martin’s son), made some savvy investments separate of the family business, and found himself president of the famous Pierce-Arrow Motor Car Company from 1908 – 1916. Upon his retirement he withdrew half of his shares from Pierce-Arrow, estimated to be worth a whopping $7,000,000 at the time. In conclusion, you never know where wallpaper will take you…

Anna Rasche is a student in the History of Decorative Arts & Design graduate Program at the Cooper Hewitt, and is a Master’s Fellow in the Wallcoverings Department.

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