The binding of this Hugo’s illustrated work is ornated with thick embossed papers with oriental motifs, originally produced as wallpapers.
Japanese Leather Wallpapers
Leather embossed wallpapers with gilt details have a long tradition in Europe as well as in the Middle and Far East, but it was Japan, that in the second half of the 19th century introduced and popularized paper-made “leather” wallpapers to Europe and the United States.
In the 1860s Japan, after hundreds of years of isolation, started opening towards the west, with its new government encouraging the trade with Europe and the United States, which embraced the novelty of Japanese products.
In 1862, at the London International Exhibition, Japan represented an unusual new invention on the field of home decoration – Kinkarankaragami, which translates into “golden foreign-origin leather paper” – wallpapers made of embossed thick paper with ornaments, coloured in gold. The profile was produced by striking moist paper sheets against wooden molds with brushes.
The “Japanese leather wallpaper”, as named in the West, became an instant hit and was highly popular in the late 19th century, mostly in London, Paris and in big cities of the East Coast of the United States, where home wallpaper designers soon adopted the technique and started producing their own versions, often decorated with motifs, considered Oriental at the time. Possible most known Paris wallpaper designer, who was producing such papers, was Paul Balin. Japanese leather wallpapers were also produced in Japan by the order of Western importers and based on European designs.
By circa 1900 the Japanese leather wallpapers went out of fashion and were replaced by lighter interiors. Today these papers are very rare and usually preserved only in fragments.
We could not trace wallpapers, identical to the ones on our book, but we can put in the circle of other similar papers, produced in the late 19th century in Paris or London, or in the circle of papers, made in Japan for the European market.
References: Katie Schinabeck, The Japanese Leather Wallpaper, 2015 (The Gibson Study: The Japanese Leather Wallpaper (thegibsonhousemuseum.blogspot.com)).