Sci-fi wallpaper (and other designs for children)

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing on 20 July 1969, we dug deep into our collections and found this wonderfully whimsical wallpaper, designed for children’s bedroom walls.

The wallpaper was produced more than a decade before the moon landing and owes more to fantastical 1950s sci-fi animation than the reality of Apollo 11, but it shows how space travel captured the public’s imagination in the 1950s and 60s.


Wallpapers for children's rooms

This sci-fi wallpaper came from a particular genre of wallpaper designs especially created for children’s rooms or nurseries.

 

Dick Whittington and His Cat

'Dick Whittington and His Cat' wallpaper, c1888. Caroline Simpson Library & Research Collection, Sydney Living Museums. Gift of Clive Lucas, Stapleton & Partners Pty Ltd.

Prior to the 1840s, it was typical to find nurseries very plainly decorated with little ornament.  But from the mid-19th century, nurseries increasingly became a focus of decoration and it is during this period that wallpapers specially designed for the nursery begin to appear.

Many wallpapers designed for children in the second half of the 19th century were made to be educative and uphold moral standards of the day. The illustrations themselves were often taken directly from children's books. One such wallpaper depicts the tale, Dick Whittington & his cat, which is divided into individual panels like pages from a book. The well-worn story follows Dick’s rise from poverty partly through a kindly family but mostly because of his rodent loving cat.

A modern nursery

A modern nursery, from 'Beautiful rooms artistically papered', Wall Paper Manufacturers Ltd., Manchester, c1925. Caroline Simpson Library & Research Collection, Sydney Living Museums.

Nursery rhymes wallpaper

Nursery rhymes wallpaper, Wall Paper Manufacturers Ltd., England, c1950. Gift of Linda Rector. Caroline Simpson Library & Research Collection, Sydney Living Museums.

By the early 20th century, wallpaper design for children began to appear more fun with the use of nursery rhymes a key feature. Then in the 1950s and 60s, wallpapers for children often took on more popular themes associated with animation, television and sports.

Grand Prix

'Grand Prix' wallpaper, Sunworthy, Canadian Wallpaper Manufacturers Ltd., 1960s. Gift of Robert Griffin. Caroline Simpson Library & Research Collection, Sydney Living Museums.

Jungle animals wallpaper

Jungle animals wallpaper, Imperial Wallpaper Mill, Inc., USA, 1970s. Gift of Michel Bernard Reymond. Caroline Simpson Library & Research Collection, Sydney Living Museums.

About the author

Portrait of man in dark shirt against sandstone wall.

Michael Lech

Curator

Michael Lech is curator of the Caroline Simpson Library & Research Collection (CSL&RC) and online collections at Sydney Living Museums.