As those who have visited New York's Morris-Jumel Mansion are aware, a wallpaper decorated with morning glory vines hung in the house during Eliza and Stephen Jumel's tenure, and an exact copy adorns the front parlor today. The reproduction was printed from wooden blocks carved specially for the mansion by H. Birge & Sons of Buffalo, New York, in 1916. But here's the kicker: I just discovered that Birge must have printed additional sheets. The same paper can be seen hanging in the William L. Brown House in Providence, Rhode Island—the city where Eliza was born—in a photograph from 1958. Perhaps the choice of paper made by the then-owner of the house stemmed from one of Jumel's early fictions. As a young woman with the maiden name of Bowen, she gave her surname as Brown instead, possibly to suggest an association with a family of wealthy Providence merchants named Brown.
Whether the Madame Jumel paper is still in the Brown House, I do not know. But it may hang on other walls yet to be discovered. Birge printed a fresh edition of the wallpaper for the mansion just in time for the bicentennial in 1976. At the same time, the pattern was made available for sale to the general public as well by Reed Ltd, which had just acquired Birge. Anyone have the wallpaper hanging in their home, perchance?
The visible seam in the paper makes clear that this wallpaper in the Brown House is the twentieth-century reproduction by H. Birge & Sons, rather than an early nineteenth-century original. It was clearly made in long strips rather than smaller rectangles that were pieced together (the latter being a distinguishing characteristic of wallpaper printed and hung in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries).
Many relics of Eliza and Stephen Jumel survive, from personal letters to the wallpaper that decorated their home. The fact that the letters and wall hangings were made from rag paper—used in Europe and and the United States until the mid-nineteenth century—was a big key to their longevity. Richard Campbell, writing in 1747, provides a very clear description of how paper was made during the centuries when it was manufactured from cotton or linen rags rather than wood pulp:
"The Rags are picked, separated into Parcels, according to their Fineness, washed and whited; then they are carried to the Paper-Mill, where they are pounded amongst Water till they are reduced to a Pulp. When they are beat to a due Consistence, they are poured into a Working-Tub, where there is a Frame of Wire, commonly called the Paper-Mould, which is composed of so many Wires laid close to one another, equal to the Dimensions of the Sheet of Paper designed to be made; and some of them disposed in the Shape of the Figure which is discovered in the Paper, when you hold it up betwixt you and the Light. [Campbell's "Figure . . . discovered in the Paper" is what we call a watermark today.]
I have been immersed lately in all things wallpaper—specifically, in researching the wallpapers that once hung in the Morris-Jumel Mansion. Those who read my online article about the wallpaper that hung in the octagon room of the mansion in Eliza Jumel's day may be interested in this two-and-a-half-minute video from the Victoria & Albert Museum. It shows how wallpaper was hand-printed in the nineteenth century using carved wooden blocks. Inspiration for a craft project, anyone?