Pigments, Patterns and Paint

Researching the Morris & Co. wallpaper logbooks and the making of Morris & Co. paint

Keren Protheroe, Morris & Co. Archivist, shares the latest research into the world of Morris & Co., and how these findings helped inform the creation of an authentic Morris & Co. palette.

As with all new Morris & Co. collections, the design team’s first port of call is the Morris & Co. design archive and its collection of early wallpaper samples, printing blocks, textiles, written accounts and ledgers that help us understand the stories behind the making of Morris’s original wallpapers.  The first Morris & Co. Paint range was launched in 2001 and since then Morris & Co. has pushed the boundaries of the original firm’s traditional palette. In some cases, this has involved honouring the late 19th century wallpaper colours. Elsewhere, this has meant taking inspiration from William Morris’s broader world of Arts and Crafts production, for example, the lustreware ceramics of William de Morgan, jewel-coloured stained glass from the time of Morris, Marshall and Faulkner and Co., and the Persian-style carpets woven by Morris’s workshops at Merton Abbey. All of these have shaped colour stories seen in recent Morris & Co. collections.

For the brand-new paint collection, Morris & Co. Paint, we’ve returned to a unique Morris & Co. archive source. In particular, our wallpaper logbooks, which reveal the stories behind the pigments used to print William Morris’s wallpapers in the early days of the firm. The Morris & Co. logbooks once lived in the wallpaper workshop of the commission printer, Jeffrey & Co., where they were used to record the first and subsequent printings of each new design. Five hundred pattern swatches contained in the books record the evolution of Morris & Co.’s work in wallpaper, from the earliest designs drawn by William Morris in 1862 to the last designs by his favourite apprentice, John Henry Dearle, printed in 1928.  Other designers, including May Morris, Kate Faulkner and Kathleen Kersey are also represented in their pages. In total, more than 100 different designs in varying colours launched over a 60 year period document this important area of the firm’s production.

Working with Allyson McDermott

Around 18 months ago the Morris & Co. design team began the process of research by working with heritage wallpaper conservator Allyson McDermott, taking a scientific approach to researching the Morris & Co. Paint range. Allyson took tiny colour samples from the surface of a selection of the logbook swatches. These were examined under a microscope to reveal the chemical signature of the 19th century pigments. This is the first time these historically important wallpapers have been examined in this way, bringing new evidence and information about Morris’s working process.

The Morris & Co. Paint Range in 2022

These findings helped our designers to develop the hues which would become the Morris & Co. Paint range. By creating a Morris & Co. palette taken directly from our design archive, our paint collection proudly takes its place in a stream of history first begun in 1861 with the founding of Morris & Co.



posted on 17 Feb 2022

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