Vintage wallpaper books from 1928 — filled with stunning samples

vintage wallpaper sample booklets decorate 1928Do you love interior design from the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s? Our friend Sarah — owner of the Gilbert Spindel ’round house’ — recently scored two amazing Alfred Peats Co. wallpaper books from 1928. The books  are chock full of gorgeous floral, metallic, geometric and lineoleum-like wallpaper designs and interior design ideas, too — giving us the perfect opportunity to take a look back at prewar design and how it was done. 

vintage wallpaper sample bookSarah generously volunteered to photograph some of the pages for us to examine for design ideas. She writes:

I found 2 wallpaper books from 1928 at a garage sale recently. Beautiful papers, a lot look hand painted, some have metallic accents and there is a small section of glossy extra slick papers for the kitchen.

I did a little digging online and found that Alfred Peats Co. seems to have been a large distributor of high-quality wallpaper and wallpaper murals. I found a catalog full of sketches of rooms decorated with the company’s wallpaper from 1917 on archive.org:

The Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum also offers this information about the company alongside the 1915 Alfred Peats Co. wallpaper sample book that is part of their collection:

This 1915 sample book by the Alfred Peats Company is from the Decorators Wall Paper Co., the Vermont distributing agent for Peats. Peats was not the manufacturer of these wallpapers, but acted as the jobber or distributor. Many different manufacturers’ names can be found on the selvedges, including Imperial of Glens Falls, New York; Gledhill of New York City; and Becker, Smith & Page of Philadelphia. Sample books are important part of the museum’s wallpaper collection because they contain the entire range of designs produced in a given year, including papers made to be hung together. Details such as prices and decorating advice are often offered. Wallpaper designs were usually available for one year, unless a pattern proved to be an excellent seller. This book is one of four sample books from Peats from 1915 under consideration. It is unusual to find four sample books from the same company within the same year. Together, these books provide an effective illustration of how the industry worked at the time.

And — they provide an effective illustration of how industry encouraged people to decorate at the time!

vintage wallpaper sample bookThe book also has a few ideas on how to hang wallpaper in interesting ways, such as this illustration featuring “paneled walls.” That is: Apply the wallpaper inside the raised moldings. What a great idea!

vintage wallpaper sample book vintage wallpaper sample bookAbove: A glossy, easy-clean wallpapers for the kitchen — hey, it looks like tile!

vintage wallpaper sample bookAbove: Here’s a great geometric pattern that reminds us of vintage linoleum. Many of the wallpaper patterns in the books also features a coordinating border.

Why was wallpaper so popular in the prewar era — and for decade before that, too? Pam weighs in:

I believe that wallpaper was ubiquitous in the early 20th century because painting walls was a horrific job: The oil wall paints available then were smelly and slow-drying, definitely a chore that had to be hired out. On the other hand, wallpapering was much easier — DIY was an option — and affordable. Putting paper on the wall also was desirable to counter the grime that was so much more of an issue then: Stoves burned coal or wood, and keeping the kitchen clean was a never-ending chore. It was only the advent and spread (pun recognized) of latex paints after World War II when painting your walls began to trend to the norm. In addition, midcentury modern purists eschewed unnecessary decoration so they were ixnay to the allpaperway and more likely to go for pared down wall treatments. Of course, well into the 1970s, Mrs. America liked her wall paper. I’d was the 1980s when widespready wallpaper-hating really began in earnest — as part of the pendulum swing of marketeers pushing this look then the other. I think I have read that today, wallpaper is, if not hot, then warm again.

vintage wallpaper sample bookAbove: This floral pattern seems to mimic a textile.

vintage wallpaper sample bookAbove: Here’s a great floral and linen texture mix.

vintage wallpaper sample bookAbove: Some Art Deco designed wallpaper.

vintage wallpaper sample bookAbove: I love the combination of the all over pattern on this wallpaper with the larger scale border paper.

vintage wallpaper sample bookAbove: The colors are so vivid on some of the papers — just lovely!

Sarah writes: I found 2 wallpaper books from 1928 at a garage sale recently. Beautiful papers, a lot look hand painted, some have metallic accents and there is a small section of glossy extra slick papers for the kitchen.Above: Here’s a design with a nursery rhyme theme — perfect for a child’s room.

Mega thanks to Sarah for taking the time to photograph so many of the pages in these wonderful vintage wallpaper sample books — what a find.

Tips to view slide show: Click on first image… it will enlarge and you can also read my captions… click anywhere to move forward and look for previous and next buttons within photo to move back or forth… you can start or stop at any image:

  1. Rick G says:

    Wallpaper rules !!! – I could never understand the reasoning behind those opposed to it; used properly – it looks fantastic !!!

  2. LuRu says:

    I redid my dining room with wallpaper two years ago and I LOVE IT! It took my mom and I two days and I was glad to learn the skill from her. The wall paper is aqua and silver and is a retro inspired art nouveau/psychedelic pattern. I saw the wallpaper in a shop in Atlanta a few years earlier and when we redid the dining room, my husband tracked it down for me from a company in England. He was a bit skeptical because it is a very busy pattern, but in the end he came around.

    I highly recommend wallpaper and there is a lot of cool retro type stuff out there in addition to the actual vintage stuff that is still around.

  3. Nina462 says:

    What a find! Thanks for sharing….it reminds me of my 1927 Home Builders Catalog book…..I’ve sent pics to Pam before. My book is thick (1256 pages) with pictures of houses, blueprints, and everything you’d need for the house (brick? wall paper, furniture, chimneys, insulations, wash basins etc.).

    And speaking of old homes….I mentioned in a previous blog about the Kalamazoo house that won a prize for best design. The Everyman’s House. SAD to say this, but it is now a HUD home.

  4. Holland VanDieren says:

    Hi RR readers, sorry to stray off topic, but want to get something timely *out there.* Below is my message just sent to Pam and Kate, who’re probably buried in days’ of emails:

    Hello Lovely Pam and Kate,

    I’m so bummed I can’t bid a measly $7.95 for this enormous MCM architectural rendering, ’cause I’d have to drive to Colorado Springs to pick it up:
    http://www.shopgoodwill.com/viewItem.asp?ItemID=21303085 … and it has a cousin:

    Recently I discovered http://www.shopgoodwill.com and want to pass onto you and the RR family how marvelous it is. Less competitive than eBay, a goodly supply of the goodies we love, and supports a good cause.

    Mayhaps, you’ll pass this along? But we all must pinky swear NOT to tell anybody else!

    Holland in Pasadena

  5. tammyCA says:

    Cool history find! I just saw in a current “midwest magazine” feature oversized pretty florals with a vintage-y look in wallpaper. They also say to frame them with molding to create a “work of art”. They make me think of the very visual movie with lots of wallpaper, “umbrellas of Cherbourg”.

  6. ineffablespace says:

    Also, the paint roller was not available before the war.

    I think this sort of actual material is important for understanding what period decor was–because most people’s reference would be either movies of the period or movies about the period and I think they present more of an Art Deco fantasy than how people really lived. Current TV shows perpetuate the same myth for the future where characters of supposed middle class means live in large expensively decorated houses or apartments

  7. Eliza Graf says:

    They also liked wallpaper because back in the day plaster/lath walls cracked easily. Wallpaper was good for covering those up.

  8. Robin, NV says:

    What amazes me about these is how rich the designs are. I see design elements that are holdovers from Victorian and Art Nouveau. Lovely stuff.

  9. Patty says:

    Wow! Now I think of wallpaper as more work, especially when you get tired of it. What a gem. Thanks for sharing.

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