American Victorian, Claret and Sage

American Victorian, Claret and Sage

June 01, 2021

When one thinks of the Victorian Era (1837-1901), often those thoughts are of England, or maybe more broadly, Europe. However, the influence of the reign of Queen Victoria reached many English-speaking countries, even across the ocean, all the way to the Americas. Our latest design, American Victorian, is from the latter part of this era. Versions of this pattern were found in multiple places in the 1880’s. 

Floral Endpaper Related Victorian Papillon PressFloral Endpaper found in poetry book 1887

Victorian style in the U.S, similarly to England, was characterized by bold floral patterns, a revival of gothic architecture, and deep, rich colors. William Morris was an English textile and pattern designer who rose to great prominence, and whose design house (Morris & Co.) still exists to this day. Though he is known as part of the Arts and Crafts Movement, instead of Victorianism, he lived and operated in the Victorian Era and used many of the popular color schemes of the time.

William Morris Papillon PressWilliam Morris Pattern

Poetry gained legitimacy during the Victorian Era, and though Victorians weren’t really supporters of “art for art’s sake”, poetry proved itself to be useful as a tool for elevating and instructing its audience. Our pattern was found as endpapers in a book of poetry, and so have a few other versions. 

Papillon Press American VictorianOriginal American Victorian Endpaper, late 1880s.

We have had this pattern in our collection for a while, but now finally felt like the right time to produce it. Our American Victorian pattern, which features the subtlest of background lines, lotus-like flowers, and sweet curling fronds, is letterpress printed in our studio on pale grey cotton paper from Neenah.

Papillon Press American VIctorian LetterpressOur version of American Victorian

Some of our designs are hand-carved, but as this one would have been lithographed (a planographic printmaking process in which a design is drawn onto a flat stone or prepared metal plate and affixed by means of a chemical reaction) originally, we decided to use a magnesium plate. So, we digitized the design, and mixed our inks to perfection.

Papillon Press American VIctorian LetterpressMix of Hanco vegetable-based etching inks.

Once it’s printing time, it’s time for “makeready”. Makeready is a painstaking and meticulous process in which the printmaker has to literally make the block, or plate, ready for printing. It involves adding layers of thin material under the plate, so that the pressure of the press will be applied evenly across the plate. 

Papillon Press makeready letterpressThe Makeready process with American Victorian

After makeready, printing goes fairly quickly, and Vernon is now able to print up to 400 prints in just an hour! 

Vernon Letterpress Papillon PressVernon printing Sunflower greeting cards

The final result is a delicate and sophisticated pattern, printed in two colors, and made into notebooks with blank, lined, or grid interiors. 

Papillon Press American Victorian Letterpress Notebook

Howe, Daniel Walker. “American Victorianism as a Culture.” American Quarterly, vol. 27, no. 5, 1975, pp. 507–532. JSTOR, Accessed 23 May 2021.


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