of 1870s Wallpaper
Early this year, Wheathills was invited to a large
house in Darley Dale to advise on the restoration and
conservation of a section of original wallpaper that
had been discovered behind a number of original mirrors.
The owner was keen to conserve and display the old wallpaper
and so we proposed creating a specially produced frame
to protect the paper once it had been removed and carefully
conserved by Sarah Bull – a specialist in conserving
works of art on paper.
The wallpaper panels had been
hidden since the room was originally furnished behind
two pier glass mirrors and two wall mirrors. This had
protected the pigments and paper from the degradative
effects of sunlight. The lime plaster walls, which the
paper has been pasted onto, had provided an alkaline
environment, which acted as a buffer against acid degradation
of the wood pulp paper.
Following detailed investigation by Sarah, the wallpaper
was found to be by Paul Balin - a French designer who
perfected an embossing technique using a special type
of press - resulting in the creation of beautiful designs
in relief based on historic textiles.
This wallpaper is a luxurious example of this technique
and was described by the manufacturer as an 'Imitation
of an Italian Renaissance velvet with silver and gold
lame´ - and is believe to date from c.1870-1880. The
paper was machine made with a chemical wood pulp paper
and the surface printed with flock was added to the
design with adhesive.
Following more detailed inspection
Sarah was pleased with the papers condition; “The
colours were fresh, although the surface was dirty.
Sunlight can fade some pigments irreversibly and paper
is a vulnerable medium - absorbing acidity and atmospheric
pollution from open fires and cigarette/cigar smoke.
The glass mirrors have provided a practical barrier
against some of these effects.”
The paper surface was dirty with debris bound with
cobwebs that had accumulated over the years, with some
areas of damage, “These areas of insect damage,
which was probably silver fish have continued undetected
behind the mirrors. There was evidence of mould attack
where condensed moisture may have become trapped. This
weakens the paper considerably to the extent that it
becomes a little bit like blotting paper.”
The wallpaper would have been reasonably heavy to hang
due to the added flock and metal pigment used. It was
lined onto the walls with a thick, coarse starch paste.
The wallpaper was surface cleaned in situ with soft
hair brushes, smoke sponges and vacuum suction before
being removed, as Sarah explains:
"The original starch
adhesive had degraded and embrittled enabling dry removal
with the use of long palette knives sliced between the
wall and the back of the wallpaper. We had to remove
the paper in its original vertical strips otherwise
it would have been too large to handle in one piece.
We worked with steam to release areas where the adhesive
was still adhering the paper to the wall."
was taken back to Sarah's studio in Gloucestershire
in a rolled format to complete the conservation process.
Initially all debris including old lime plaster was
removed from the verso with local moisture. The wallpaper
was then lined onto Japanese tissue with proprietary
conservation grade wallpaper adhesive. This thin but
strong lining supported the weak areas where there was
evidence of mould damage and provided overall dimensional
The wallpaper fragments were then
mounted onto museum quality board and behind UV filter
glass in a large gilt frame created by Wheathills. The
frame will help preserve the wallpaper for future generations
to come and appreciate its luxurious quality and design
whilst removing the environmental risks of having it
hung open to the elements.