It’s a Wrap: Make Your Own 1920s Wrapping Paper

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Hoping to add some vintage flair to your holiday gifts this year? Then you’ve come to the right place! Read on and learn how to make your very own Roaring Twenties wrapping paper.

THE JOY OF “GIFT DRESSING”…WITHOUT TAPE! 😮

Wrapping paper was still a relatively new invention in the 1920s. As recently as 1917, Christmas gifts were wrapped in simple white, green, or red tissue paper and tied up with string—until Hallmark ran out of tissue paper one day. Forced to use “fancy decorated French envelope linings” as a substitute, the Hall brothers found that the sturdier, heavier, and fancier paper was a big seller—and modern “gift dressing,” as it was originally called, was born.

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Some vintage 1920s wrapping paper that’s actually for sale on eBay! You can buy it here.

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Another brightly colored example, might be 1930s however. Photo Source: Pintrest

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The dog on this vintage Christmas card makes me think this might be early 1930s, but you can see that her packages are wrapped very simply. Photo Source: Pintrest 

Yet while the new wrapping paper was very popular, it was also more expensive. As a result, it was mostly bought by richer people, and suited the tastes of the time—which meant they often featured bold geometric Art Deco designs. According to author Susan Waggoner, wrapping papers of the time “were foiled, or incorporated metallic elements into the design,” with “geometric patterns such as diamonds, squares and plaids” featured in “strong tones” of non-traditional colors like “deep crimson, lapis lazuli, bronze, and even black-and-white”—none of which exactly screams Christmas.1 Pastel colors, like lavender, robin’s egg blue, cream, and rose, were also very popular.2 Besides odd colors, shoppers could also buy wrapping paper in “coordinated sets with embossed seals, gift tags, and tasseled cord,” making one’s gift truly stand out.3 A good idea of the range of wrapping paper options can be seen in this 1929 Marshall Fields ad from the Chicago Tribune:

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This 1929 ad mentions hand-tied bows, pastel papers, “imported” paper, and odd colors. Photo Source: Tribune Archives

Actually wrapping the gift was a different matter, however. The 1920s lacked one wrapping item we take for granted these days: Scotch tape! Wrappers were forced to use these instead:

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Some vintage Christmas seals. Photo Source: worthpoint.com on Pintrest

These small, shiny 1-inch items are gummed package seals. Covered in holiday pictures with adhesive on one side, they were used to secure wrapping paper in lieu of Scotch tape. And according to Susan Waggoner, author of many vintage Christmas books, they were a nightmare to use: “To secure your package, you had to lick the seal’s gummed side, hold it in place until it stuck, and hope it didn’t fall off while you were tying the ribbon on. Seals leftover from last season had a tendency to dry out and curl up, making them especially difficult to use.”4 As you might imagine, this was a frustrating experience. Good thing many department stores were willing and ready to wrap it for free—as long as you were buying their products, anyway. These vintage ads are from Marshall Fields:

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Photo Source: Tribune Archives

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Photo Source: Tribune Archives

Most folks, however, opted for simple white or colored tissue paper, either decorated with extra colorful gummed seals or tied up with butcher’s paper and twine—and it’s easy to wrap your own presents just like they did.

MAKE YOUR OWN VINTAGE WRAPPING PAPER

It’s easy to make Roaring Twenties wrapping paper—and best of all, you get to use tape! 😀 The following instructions, which are for making paper similar to ones from the early 1920s, are paraphrased from Susan Waggoner’s excellent book, Have Yourself a Very Vintage Christmas: Crafts, Decorating Tips, and Recipes, 1920s-1960s:

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~* HOLY SPRIG WRAPPING PAPER *~

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This vintage holy sprig stamp is on sale here.

MATERIALS

White paper (either tissue, blank white wrapping paper, or even the other side of the wrapping paper is fine)

Red ink pad

Small holy sprig stamp 

Red satin ribbon

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Ink stamp and mark up white paper with holy sprigs as much as you like.
  2. Tie up with red satin ribbon and hand tie the bow.

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Easy, right? 🙂 If you want more inspiration, you can see more examples of 1920s gift wrapping here, or take a look at Buzzfeed’s 1920s Christmas wishlist.

Happy holidays, everyone! 😀

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A lovely 1920s holiday card. The colors really pop! Photo Source: The Vintage Traveler blog

~*~


Footnotes:
1.Waggoner, Susan. 2009. Christmas memories: gifts, activities, fads, and fancies, 1920s-1960s. 26.
2. Waggoner, Susan. 2011. Have yourself a very vintage Christmas. New York: Stewart, Tabori & Chang. 12.
3. Waggoner, Susan. 2009. Christmas memories: gifts, activities, fads, and fancies, 1920s-1960s. 26.
4. Ibid.
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About lupachi1927

My name's Megan. I'm a writer with an interest in history. While I might not be a real historian, I'm a very thorough researcher! :) This blog is my place to post about all the interesting historical tidbits I find that can't use in the novel I'm working on, which takes place in Chicago in 1927.
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