What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Coarse & fine Broad Cloths, Bearskins, … German Serges, … Shalloons, … Checks, … Paper for Rooms.”
Elias Dupee planned to sell a variety of goods to the highest bidders at the “New Auction Room in Royal Exchange Lane” in Boston. A dozen or so different kinds of textiles accounted for half of the items he listed in his advertisement, but he also had everything from footwear to furniture on offer for curious consumers, including “Paper for Rooms.” What did Dupee mean by this strange entry? He promoted an item that we now know as wallpaper.
Imported “Paper for Rooms” (or paper hangings, as they were also known in the colonial and Revolutionary eras) entered the American marketplace in the seventeenth century, but wallpaper became increasingly popular during the consumer revolution of the eighteenth century. In many ways it was quite appropriate for Dupee to sell “Paper for Rooms” alongside an assortment of textiles, especially given that the production of textiles and wallpaper were closely linked. In Wallpaper in America, Catherine Lynn states, “By the early eighteenth century, specialists in block-printing, many of whom had learned their craft decorating textiles, took over wallpaper production from book printers, and textile patterning came to dominate wallpaper design.” An emerging wallpaper trade drew on the expertise of textile designers who had mastered techniques for repeating elements in their patterns. Further facilitating this development, “the same blocks could be used to print on papers as well as on woven fabrics.”
Like the textiles in Dupee’s advertisements, the “Papers for Rooms” would have been imported. Lynn notes that “English styles … dominated the pre-revolutionary wallpaper market in America.” Although the Acts of Trade and Navigation played a role, they probably were not the final or most important factor. English paper hangings were better quality than those produced elsewhere in Europe. Not until the late eighteenth century did French wallpaper equal those produced in England. In the 1780s and 1790s, American advertisers disputed the relative merits of English and French paper hangings compared to those produced in the fledgling United States. For Dupee’s customers in 1767, however, fashion and quality dictated purchasing “Papers for Rooms” produced in England.
 Catherine Lynn, Wallpaper in America: From the Seventeenth Century to World War I (New York: W.W. Norton, 1980), 30.
 Lynn, Wallpaper in America, 30.
 Lynn, Wallpaper in America, 25