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I Spy: Awkward Historic Nursery-Rhyme Wallpaper Edition

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 angry giants on the walls of their kids' rooms. What follows is a non-exhaustive account of just that kind of madness, made into a game of "I Spy" you can play right at your computer.


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.
· Two crybabies.
· Two 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 two straw-colored bags.
· 32 hats.


"Nursery paper depicting nursery rhyme (4 and 20 black birds baked in a pie)," maker unknown, 1890-1910.
· The origin story of the popular Brooklyn bakery Four & Twenty Blackbirds.


"Unused fragment of nursery wallpaper from Middleton, Massachusetts," maker unknown, 1880-1890.
· "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.
· Two 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.


"Rolled fragment of Nursery wallpaper frieze," maker unknown, 1890-1900.
· Courtship that just, like, happens in a field.


"Partial roll of sanitary wallpaper depicting nursery rhymes including 'The Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe,'" maker unknown, 1890-1830.
· The sheepfigurinemonger making his morning rounds.
· 7 pairs of fashion-forward children's highwaters.


"Fragment of Walt Disney cartoon character paper," by Sunworthy, 1945-1950.
· Cartoon animals in various stages of anthropomorphization.


"Unused nursery wallpaper from Grafton, Massachusetts," with "scenes depicting proverbs, such as 'don't cry over spilled milk,'" maker unknown, 1880-1900.
· 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."
· Four hats.


"Copper engraved nursery paper depicting eight scenes," maker unknown, 1895-1900.
· Foliate scrolls with morning glories and daisies.
· The origin story of the popular Brooklyn bakery Four & Twenty Blackbirds.
· A man with a full-body beard holding an umbrella.