Curbed I Spy: I Spy: Awkward Historic Nursery-Rhyme Wallpaper Edition


Thursday, January 22, 2015, by Spencer Peterson
Images via Historic New England

Historic New England’;s online collection of vintage wallpaper is amazing, in part because of the craftsmanship that went into the over 6,000 designs they’;ve digitized, but mostly because nineteenth-century Americans saw fit to display folktales about talking wolves and blackbirds baked in pies on the walls of their kids’; rooms. What follows is a non-exhaustive account of just that kind of madness, made into a fun game of “I Spy” you can play right at your computer.

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Unused fragment of nursery wallpaper from Middleton, Massachusetts,” maker unknown, 1880-1890. (Larger images in the linked text.)
      · A crying lady.
      · A baby under a stool.
      · 2 crybabies.
      · 2 elves watching intently while a baby tells them about this leaf he found.
      · A well-dressed man taking his oversized knife for a jog.
      · A baby removing a mans boots, putting them on, and doing a little jig while he presents his much taller friends with 2 straw-colored bags.
      · 32 hats.

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maker unknown, 1890-1910.
      · The origin story of the popular Brooklyn bakery 4 & Twenty Blackbirds.

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      · “Ye queen.”
      · “Ye pie.”
      · Branches of mountain holly.
      · A red-faced man taking sheers to a giant snail shell.
      · A red-nosed man on a strawberry (?) dusting cobwebs from the moon.
      · A horned devil figure vaulting a Humpty Dumpty.
      · A well-dressed woman taking her oversized knife for a walk.
      · 2 frogs using a mushroom as an umbrella.
      · Dancing cats with long eyelashes.
      · A lion-unicorn staring contest.
      · A pig getting a shave.
      · A king discovering his bags of money are actually bags of eggs.
      · 21 hats.

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      · Courtship that just, like, happens in a field.

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      · The sheepfigurinemonger making his morning rounds.
      · 7 pairs of fashion-forward children’;s highwaters.

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      · Cartoon animals in various stages of anthropomorphization.

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      · Other depictions of famous proverbs, including “You can’;t teach a dog about houses,”
      · “You can only chase a rat from your malt stores so many times,”
      · and “Doff your cap to kiss, doff your cap to wed, your marriage will be fine, don’;t even worry about it.”
      · 4 hats.

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      · Foliate scrolls with morning glories and daisies.
      · The origin story of the popular Brooklyn bakery 4 & Twenty Blackbirds.
      · A man with a full-body beard holding an umbrella.


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