Historically, leather was little used in the US on walls, but since embossed and gilded leather panels are currently available, and since they may be occasionally specified for walls, there is a growing interest in them. The most common chair covering before the revolution was leather, and in the first quarter of the 18th century, "Russhia" leather was a fashionable import. But by 1760 or so, leather was rarely imported. Instead, "New England" leather became a common seating choice. Walls, however, were a different story.
In colonial times embossed leather panels were very infrequently used as an accent. They would sometimes show up as a dado, or on a screen, or over a chimney. But the period of most frequent use was quite a bit later.
In the last quarter of the nineteeth century, real leather panels enjoyed a revival, and several of the "robber-baron" type mansions had a leather-clad room, usually a library. Meanwhile, high-end wallpaper manufacturers such as Paul Balin in Paris, Birge in Buffalo and Jeffrey & Co. and Woollams & Co. in England had been working on the leather idea, and had built up an impressive catalog of "leather papers" which used embossing, gilding and painted finishing to create leather-like effects. Most of these papers were rather narrow in width, either 18", or 21". Earlier in time, in the 1860's, when imitation leather panels first appeared in the US, they were sometimes referred to as "oil leather papers" and were used to line cabinets or furniture. Leather papers became a mainstay of opulent late 19th and early 20th century decorating, and are often confused with Lincrusta and Anaglypta. One defining feature is that leather papers were purposely made to imitate embossed and gilded leather as much as possible, whereas the other types displayed a variety of finishes. Leather papers were often made up of a series of paper laminates which were forced into shape with a mold, while Lincrusta is a patented composite material, and Anaglypta is a simpler paper product. Lincrusta is solid, and composed of gelled linseed oil, paraffin wax, wood flour, titanium dioxide and rosin; this putty-like substance is formed into patterns with metal rollers under intense heat, while Anaglypta is a hollow paper, prized for its lightness and therefore often used overhead.
By far the most famous company associated with leather papers was Rottman, Strome & Co.'s of England, who, beginning in 1883, arranged for 36" wide leather paper to be produced in Japanese factories for Western taste, and who shipped all over the world. The paper destined for Canada came in on the Canadian Pacific Railway.
If you are looking for more information on gilded and embossed leather panels, go to www.classicrevivals.com for the Lutson Goudleder company of southern France. Classic Revivals is also the distributor for leather papers made in Poland.
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