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Sanitary wallpaper

Sanitary wallpaper gallery

Sanitary wallpaper was the first mass-produced wallpaper with a surface robust enough to withstand cleaning with a damp cloth. It emerged in the late 1870s following advances in wallpaper manufacturing. 


Designs were etched or engraved on rollers and printed in thin oil colours onto lightweight smooth paper. The wallpaper was usually varnished in the factory or on the wall. As well as many floral designs, other common patterns included those imitating ‘sanitary surfaces’ such as tiles. The fine design detail, made possible by the printing process, typically resulted in subtle shading and tonal variations that were not possible by other means.


Sanitary paper remained available into the 1920s and was hung in many Victorian and Edwardian terraced houses, especially in heavily trafficked areas such as halls and stairways. 


Any papers discovered nowadays are usually very brittle and difficult to remove from the wall. Ageing of the varnish contributes to the often very dark appearance of those that survive in situ.

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