wood printing rollers for wall coverings
Photo: Lucas Allen
To you, a wall covering is an accent that you either peel away or paste up during a remodel. But to the Smithsonian, wallpaper and its cousins provide such a critical record of our social history that its Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum has a special department in New York City with more than 10,000 examples of the material.

Though the archive was founded 107 years ago, it continues to grow, since people still install wallcovering (albeit less often nowadays). In fact, homeowners play a part in keeping the collection alive. The museum has carried on a neighborly dialogue with renovators about authentic patterns, style eras, and places to shop for originals and repros for more than 30 years.

Of course, the most valuable acquisitions—among them a 1750s embossed leather and a print celebrating George Washington, from around 1800—are kept in secure, temperature-controlled rooms.

But people do drop by, and they certainly write. "I have three drawers full of queries," says assistant curator Gregory Herringshaw, who answers letters and e-mails when he's not growing the collection through acquisitions and donations.

Some come from manufacturers, others from wealthy philanthropists who donate private commissions. Some even arrive from folks like you, when the occasional scrap unearthed during a kitchen redo turns out to be a gem.
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