A Modern but Useful Art: William Morris, Jeffrey and Co. and the Morris & Co. Wallpapers 1864-c.1928

Hardy, Emma (2024). A Modern but Useful Art: William Morris, Jeffrey and Co. and the Morris & Co. Wallpapers 1864-c.1928. PhD thesis The Open University.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.21954/ou.ro.00095915


This thesis is a study of the wallpapers produced by Jeffrey & Co. for Morris & Co. between 1864 and c.1928. Taking the Morris & Co. wallpaper printing logbooks in the Sanderson Design Group Archive as its starting point it considers the origins, aims and operation of the business, and the production, marketing and consumption of the wallpapers.

Today the Morris & Co. wallpapers are viewed as icons of the Arts and Crafts Movement and most often discussed in relation to the life, ideas and art of William Morris. This study draws upon scholarship on Morris as a businessman and the idea of object biography, to trace these products through their life stages and place them within a wider business and social context. It foregrounds the contributions of others involved in this process, including artists and designers who worked for Morris & Co., Metford Warner, the owner-manager of Jeffrey & Co., the workers who cut the printing blocks and printed the wallpapers, design writers and taste advisors, and the customers who chose the wallpapers for their homes.

Wallpaper was a key product for the Morris firm as they transitioned from a small-scale concern into a decorating and retail company with a much wider impact. When they moved into this new area they benefitted from the expertise of the skilled workforce at Jeffrey & Co. and the specialist block-cutters they worked with. Analysis of the wallpaper range and their marketing shows how the firm negotiated tensions between their reforming mission and commercial priorities, and how their seemingly contradictory stance contributed to their appeal for a culturally influential segment of the market. Case studies explore the variety of settings and ways in which the wallpapers were used, highlighting the agency of householders who chose to incorporate them into their homes.

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