The oldest known patterns were the forms of “X” or “V” made of dashes, triangles, polygons, curves and circles. By multiplying and sequencing these simple designs, the first ornaments were born. It was a simple decorative geometry. By the way, the word “ornament” originates from the Latin “omare”, which means “decorating”. Isolated ornament doesn't work, it only acquires meaning when used on some object or material.
The invention of paper
The invention of paper was vital for the wallpaper production. We jumped in time directly to the year 105 AD in China. Although the Chinese kept well their paper-making secret, it eventually got to the Middle East and from there it spread in 12th century throughout Europe.
In the Middle Ages people would hang gilded leather on the wall. This was called Cuir de Cordoue (meaning “from Córdoba”). It's purpose wasn't just to decorate the room but also to provide insulation from the cold stone medieval walls. Another wallpaper predecessor were the tapestries. Paper wall covering was actually a cheaper substitute for fancy tapestries and Cuir de Cordoue reserved for the wealthy upper class.
Wallpapers were not printed in the beginning, they were rather painted by hand. Here the history can give us already names – it was Jean Bourdichon, French painter and illuminator, who painted 50 rolls of paper with angels on a blue background for Louis XI of France in 1481. The end of the 15th century saw the upsurge of using paper-made wallpapers for decoration. They were used not only for walls, but also as liners for wardrobes and bookcases.
The era of printing
One of the most involved behind the wallpaper boom was the Papillon family from France. Jean Papillon, who is considered the inventor of patterned wallpaper, founded the first factory and in 1688 produced the first paper tapestry. His son Jean-Michel Papillon, famous engraver, started to use hand-carved block designs in matching, continuous patterns, which was strenuous and expensive, but this technique was still widely used all through the 18th century.
French and English domination
The key prerequisite for the production of the wallpaper with pattern repetition was a developed printing industry that could be found mainly in England and France. Jean-Baptiste Réveillon, haberdashery and paper merchant, started in 1753 to import the wallpaper from England in high volumes. It was a huge success and he didn't even hesitate to invest his wife's dowry into his own production. And a good decision that was, his Papier bleu d'Angleterre brand was so popular that even the Marie Antoinette residence's walls were decorated with his wallpaper and he became an exclusive royal supplier. His wallpapers were craved by the elite and were the sign of prestige. After the French Revolution he had to flee to England, where he opened a new factory. And thus England again became the world's wallpaper industry leader.
Finally a printed wallpaper roll!
In the 17th century printing was a common thing here, separately block-printed sheets being abandoned as obsolete. Thanks to the English the world saw the birth of the first, manufacture made, roll of wallpaper in 1830. The production costs were considerably reduced and wallpapers spread everywhere – even in the child's rooms. But the first wallpaper-making machine was in France. French king Louis XVI issued a decree in 1778 that required the length of a wallpaper roll to be about 34 feet. Perhaps they were not rolled yet, though.
In the 19th century wallpaper is mass-produced and technology ceases to be a topic of interest. The number of materials used is steadily growing with the advance of technology. Wallpaper becomes widely accessible for everyone. In the Czech Republic the wallpaper boom started in the 70's and 80's. Wallpaper was made from a thin paper and pasted directly onto the concrete walls. Whoever tried to remove them won't ever forget the endless and hopeless scratching.
Today you can choose among the vinyl-, fabric- or the good old paper- based wallpaper. They differ in properties and way of pasting. The main choosing criteria is their design and thanks to the digital print the possibilities are limitless.