Archives For Preservation

Frederick Walton, Gilded Age Inventor

Standing on the shoulders of the Industrial Revolution, the Gilded Age spawned an astounding number of inventions that profoundly changed life inside the American household. Those last few decades of the 19th  century will always be known as a great era of invention. Thomas Edison invented the electric light bulb and built the first power station; he also gave us the phonograph for listening to music and the kinetoscope for watching motion pictures. Alexander Graham Bell created the telephone. Eastman Kodak produced the first camera for amateurs. Dr. John Pemberton sold the first bottles of Coca-Cola in Atlanta. John Kellogg accidentally discovered flaked cereal and changed American breakfast forever.

Frederick Walton isn’t as famous as Edison or Kellogg, but his defining invention is just as ubiquitous as Frosted Flakes. Walton, an inventor from England, gave the world linoleum.

Walton started his career working with his father and brother in a small family workshop where they manufactured India rubber (natural rubber made from the sap of the rubber tree, and a favored waterproof industrial material).

In 1855, Walton happened to notice the way a used can of oil-based paint would develop a thick, leathery ring around the lid. The flaxseed oil in the paint seemed to slowly oxidize and harden over time. “It occurred to me that…I could use it as a…waterproofing material, similar to [natural] india rubber,” Walton wrote. After figuring out how to fast-track the natural oxidization process by boiling the oil, he began to experiment with the material’s durability, attempting to dissolve the plastic-like oxidized oil in a solvent, or seeing how it took to water, oil, or heat. It was—as you know, if you’ve ever had a linoleum floor—impervious. It was also cheaper than India rubber.

In 1863, Walton took out a patent for the “Improvement of the Manufacture of a Wax Cloth for Floors”. He used straightforward Latin for the name of his new material—flax, also known as linseed (Latin: linum), and oil (Latin: oleum). The ingredients and process he outlined in this and subsequent patents—oxidized linseed oil mixed with coal dust, cork or sawdust and resin, and pressed into sheets with electric rollers—are almost identical to that of 21st-century linoleum. In 1864, Walton launched the Linoleum Manufacturing Company in Staines-Upon-Thames.


Statue of linoleum workers on the high street of Staines-Upon-Thames, England, commemorating the workers of Walton's factory.

Statue of linoleum workers on the high street of Staines-Upon-Thames, England, commemorating the workers of Walton’s factory.

Factory workers inlaying linoleum flooring.

Factory workers inlaying linoleum flooring.


Linoleum became increasingly recognized as an inexpensive and easy-to-clean decorative material for dining rooms, passages, and kitchens. This illustration from the 1920s advertises an attractively painted linoleum rug.

This illustration from the 1920s advertises an attractively painted linoleum rug.

Linoleum became increasingly recognized as an inexpensive and easy-to-clean decorative material for dining rooms, passages, and kitchens. So what was initially meant for commercial and industrial use—protecting factory floors, for example—migrated into European and American households. Subsequent linoleum companies hired artists to paint decorative designs on the flooring surface, eventually integrating pigments in the manufacturing process. Molds and stencils created texture and inlaid patterns for hallways or carpet surrounds, until the material hit the height of popularity as 20th-century kitchen flooring.


From Linoleum to Lincrusta

Linoleum may have been a practical material, but Lincrusta-Walton would be a beautiful one. Walton patented this material, thinner than linoleum and beautifully sculpted with artistic patterns, in 1877. Again, the term is Latin, lin for linseed oil and crusta for a hardened material like plaster or stucco.


Walton outlined a manufacturing process similar to that of linoleum—oxidized linseed oil  blended with wood fiber, gum, resin, and paraffin wax and spread onto a canvas or paper backing. But once embossed by rollers and skillfully painted after installation, this new material could pose as hand-tooled leather, repoussé metal, carved wood, or ornate plasterwork—all coveted top-end home finishes during the Gilded Age. (Business-minded Walton was well aware from the beginning of Lincrusta’s copy-cat abilities; the first patterns he designed were imitations of Cordovan leather, a Renaissance mark of prestige.) Lincrusta was far less expensive than what it imitated, and as a new middle class of Americans with disposable income began to design and build grand homes in New York, Boston, and Chicago, provided an expanded palette for interiors striving for extravagance. By 1885, Beck & Co.—a Connecticut firm licensed by Walton’s firm—offered 150 different patterns of Lincrusta inspired by Egyptian, Greek, Persian, Moorish, Japanese, Medieval, Renaissance, Louis XIV, and Eastlake motifs.

Lincrusta would be purchased unpainted in an embossed pattern.

Lincrusta would be (and is still today) purchased unpainted in an embossed pattern, such as this one featuring  acanthus leaves.


Lincrusta wainscoting painted to resemble wood in an 1890 Boston home.

Lincrusta wainscoting painted to resemble wood in an 1890 Boston home.

Lincrusta lost none of the practical applications it shared with linoleum, however, and advertisements called it the “indestructible wallcovering.” Indeed, it proved waterproof, easy to clean, insect-resistant, and less prone to warping or cracking over time. Decorators and tastemakers enthusiastically recommended Lincrusta be applied to walls as dados, fills, and friezes.


Lincrusta at the Driehaus Museum

The Dining Room of the Nickerson Mansion (Fisher Period, ca. 1900).

The Dining Room of the Nickerson Mansion (Fisher Period, ca. 1900).

Lincrusta took the American nouveaux riche by storm, appearing in six luxury cabins aboard the fated ship RMS Titanic, in the White House, and John D. Rockefeller’s New York home.

For their new mansion in 1883, the Nickersons blended the latest in building technologies, such as fireproofing and indoor plumbing, with the latest in fashionable interior design.  Lincrusta featured prominently in the Dining Room and Smoking Room of the residence. In the Dining Room, the wall fill above the elaborately carved oak wainscoting emulates Spanish leather. Its design—embossed and scrolling leaves, painted burgundy and highlighted with gold by master artisans on-site—is inspired by the Renaissance. In the Smoking Room, the Lincrusta frieze featured a Japanesque pattern of red, black, and gold chrysanthemums.

When restoration of the Nickerson Mansion commenced in 2004, the Lincrusta in the Dining Room showed damage from objects hung on the walls, including framed paintings and stuffed animal heads.

When restoration of the Nickerson Mansion commenced in 2004, the Lincrusta in the Dining Room showed damage from objects hung on the walls, including framed paintings and stuffed animal heads.


Detail of the Japanesque chrysanthemum pattern on the Lincrusta upper frieze in the Nickerson Mansion Smoking Room.

Detail of the Japanesque chrysanthemum pattern on the Lincrusta upper frieze in the Nickerson Mansion Smoking Room.

During the 2004-08 restoration of the Samuel M. Nickerson Mansion, conservators found the Lincrusta had survived. But a hundred years’ worth of grime, salt, and nicotine stained its surface, and decorations (the Nickersons hung paintings, and the mansion’s second owners, the Fishers, displayed stuffed animal heads on the walls) had damaged it further. Late 19th-century advertisers had perhaps exaggerated Lincrusta’s strength; the material is actually more brittle and delicate than the hard materials it emulated. Care needed to be taken with cleaning so as not to damage it further. Parma Conservation, a Chicago firm, designed a unique solution to meticulously lift the grime without damaging the painted surface. Fill for missing areas was cast from molds taken from the intact Lincrusta, then painted to match. Today, the Lincrusta is luminous, complementing the sheen of the beautifully restored wood paneling in both rooms, as it did in 1883.


The Dining Room of the Nickerson Mansion after restoration.

The Dining Room of the Nickerson Mansion after restoration.



“Take one step inside the Nickerson Mansion and its splendor is obvious. Yet behind every architectural detail there are hidden stories. They are the stories of the craftsmen and artisans who created the carved mantles, tiled mosaics, scrolled marble capitals, and elaborately painted decorative schemes on the walls and ceilings within the house. It would be almost impossible today to find artisans capable of producing such exquisite details—the necessary skills are all but extinct.”  (Peter Schoenmann, Head Conservator of Paintings and Murals, Parma Conservation)


“Lincrusta-Walton: Can the Democratic Wallcovering be Revived?” Bruce Bradbury. The Old-House Journal, Vol. X No. 10, October 1892.
“Linoleum,” Bonnie Wehle Parks Snyder. Twentieth-Century Building Materials: History and Conservation. Edited by Thomas C. Jester (Getty Publications, 2004).
“Linoleum: A Chiswick Invention,” Ralph Parsons. Brentford & Chiswick Local History Journal No. 5 (1996).
“Added Dimensions,” Lynn Elliott. Old House Interiors, Summer 2004.
“Conservation of Lincrusta-Walton Wall Coverings at the Nickerson House,” The Richard H. Driehaus Museum.

This post is part of a series exploring the stories behind the Driehaus Museum’s latest exhibition, With a Wink and a Nod: Cartoonists of the Gilded AgeFor information on visiting the exhibition, click here


The Puck of Puck magazine isn’t exactly Bacchus from ancient myth. Nor does he really resemble the “knurly limed, faun faced, and shock-pated” creature from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Rather, he looks like cherub dressed as up a Gilded Age dandy—complete with a top hat and frock coat. The coat is left wide open to expose his chubby nude figure, and in his hands he holds the keys to Puck’s reign of American humor: a fountain pen and a hand mirror.

This is how Puck appeared in Puck magazine. This is also how he appears on the Puck Building exterior in New York City. Two gilded statues of this mischievous character still stand sentry outside the historic building, where, from 1887 to 1916, Puck turned out page after satirical page.



Statue of Puck above the Puck Building entrance. Image via The Bowery Boys: New York City History (, 24 April 2009.

The Austrian-born publisher of Puck, Joseph Keppler, commissioned the building in 1885. He’d launched an English-language version of his small German satirical magazine seven years ago, and Puck had become a milestone in the history of American humor, with circulation hitting 80,000 in the early 1880s and climbing to 90,000 by the end of the decade. Riding the tide of success, Keppler, along with printer Adolph Schwartzmann and lithographer J. Ottman went in together on a property on the edge of the great publishing district of New York City. They hired German-born New York architect Albert Wagner to envision what would become one of the most iconic buildings in Lower Manhattan. The seven-story structure occupied an entire city block. King’s Handbook of New York City called it “the largest building in the world devoted to the business of lithographing and publishing, having a floor area of nearly eight acres.”

Albert Wagner worked out a design for Keppler that reflected a distinctly German style of Romanesque and Renaissance Revival architecture, called Rundbogenstil. The repeating arches—Rundbogenstil literally means “round-arch style”—and intricate brickwork are hallmarks of this short-lived but popular late nineteenth-century style. Romanesque Revival’s popularity is tied to Henry Hobson Richardson (a New York architect known in Chicago for the Glessner House), but Wagner’s Romanesque Revival is different from Richardson’s. Richardsonian Romanesque is a tad heavier, with rusticated stone and squat columns, while Rundbogendstil has smooth facades and an elegant lightness.

puck building 1888

Puck Building Exterior, 1895, from King’s Photographic View of New York, via Daytonian in Manhattan. (

Haas Puckbldg sketch

Puck Building, Richard Haas, 1971. Image via The Old Print Shop, New York,

puck building west

The massive brick building was constructed in three phases—the original structure was finished in 1885-86, expanded in 1892-93 to make more room for Puck printing, and altered in 1899 to make up for the intrusion of Lafayette Street into its footprint. Wagner closely supervised all three stages, giving cohesion to the building’s overall design. Seemingly endless arches of varying heights define three vertical sections of the façade, the richly colored brick contrasted by polished gray granite blocks, brownstone, and ornamental ironwork.

Little is known about Albert Wagner. He settled in New York in 1871 and worked for Leopold Eidlitz, a prominent Bohemian architect who may have passed his passion for Rundbogendstil on to his protégée. While Wagner never became as famous as Eidlitz, he kept up a busy stream of commissions for residential, commercial, and industrial buildings during his career. He died in 1898, leaving his firm and the final touches on the Puck Building’s last addition in the hands of his relative Herman Wagner.

The Puck team advertised their arrival in the neighborhood with typical tongue in cheek, topping off the building with statues of their mascot, larger than life and gleaming with gold leaf. Sculpted by Henry Baerer, the German-born artist known for his stern-faced bust of Beethoven in New York’s Central Park, the largest Puck statue stands above the building’s main entrance on Houston and Mulberry Street. (Another, smaller Puck is stationed above the Lafayette entrance.) The chubby sprite holds a hand mirror—the better to reflect society’s follies with—as well as a fountain pen. At his side hangs a book inscribed with his character’s jest in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, “What fools these Mortals be!”


Keppler, Udo J., , Artist. Puck: “Congratulations, Mr. President; they wanted you” / Keppler. N.Y.: J. Ottmann Lith. Co., Puck Bldg., November 9, 1904. Image. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, Illustration shows Puck reaching from the Puck Building to the White House to congratulation Theodore Roosevelt for winning the presidential election; they are shaking hands.

NYU_Puck_Building (1)

The building housed the Puck editorial team and the J. Ottmann Lithography Company, which produced the groundbreaking full-color images for Puck ‘s front cover, back cover, and centerfold. They were joined by a number of other businesses, including a bookbindery, hat frame manufacturer, electrotyping company, and hat shop on the ground floor.


Puck printed its last issue in 1918. So what is the Puck Building today? In 1980, Kushner Companies acquired the building for office and retail space. And in 2011, they got approval from the Landmarks Commission to transform the upper floors of the Puck Building into six penthouses—think Italian marble baths, mahogany-framed windows, William McIntosh floor patterns, televisions inside the mirrors. Luckily, the renovation preserved elements of the building’s original identity. The barrel-vaulted brick ceilings and architectural columns were left exposed, and Puck Penthouse’s brand style even borrows from the magazine’s masthead.

Screen Shot 2016-06-01 at 2.58.06 PM


Puck Penthouses (Image via Curbed New York)


Puck Penthouses (Image via Curbed New York)


Want to learn more about the magazine printed in the Puck building during its heyday? Puck‘s illustrations changed the shape of American humor. Join us for next week’s exhibition lecture with Janel Trull, curator of the exhibition With a Wink and a Nod: Cartoonists of the Gilded Age, on Thursday, September 8.




Finn, Robin. “Penthouses for the Puck Building.” The New York Times, Sept. 19, 2013.
Gaiter, Dorothy J. “Restored Puck Building Opens Today.” The New York Times, Apr. 20, 1983.
PUCK BUILDING, 295-309 Lafayette Street, Borough of Manhattan. Landmarks Preservation Commission, April 12, 1983, Designation List 164. LP-1226. Accessed via Neighborhood Preservation Center. (
Puck Penthouses,
“The Puck Building—Houston and Lafayette Streets”, Daytonian in Manhattan. 19 Jan 2011.

Part of the Museum’s mission is to champion the ideals of preservation. Here’s a look at one of the most impressive parts of our award-winning restoration of 2003–2008: cleaning a crust of pollutants from the sandstone exterior.

Continue Reading...

J & J. G. Low Art Tile Works was one of America’s great tile companies, and there are many instances of its decorative, low-relief tiles in the Driehaus Museum’s original interiors today.

Continue Reading...

The Driehaus Museum has three sister institutions in Europe, each simply resplendent and embodying the highest ideals of preservation and classical architecture, just as we strive to do here in Chicago. The Château de Chambord in France’s Loire Valley is known for its dazzling French Renaissance design, while the Domaine de Chantilly—about an hour’s drive from Paris—houses a strong collection of French paintings in its Musée Condé. Finally, Sir John Soane’s Museum in London provides a beautiful glimpse of classic Georgian architecture and honors the collecting legacy of one of England’s great architects.

This blog post is the conclusion of a short series talking about our sister institutions across the pond. Today we’re talking about the Château de Chambord.

For an incredible example of preserved Renaissance architecture in France, look no farther than the Château de Chambord. It’s by far the largest of all of the Loire Valley’s châteaux, and arguably the grandest. The stunning château was built as a hunting lodge in the countryside for King François I to visit on occasion to indulge in the sport. (His primary royal residences were two other châteaux in the nearby Loire Valley towns of Blois and Amboise.)

The construction of the building, begun in 1519, took more than 30 years; at one point there were nearly 2,000 workers toiling away on its 440 rooms, 365 fireplaces, and 84 staircases. The center of the keep connects to four entryways in a Greek cruciform shape—an unusual choice for a residence, but one that signifies the increasingly prominent medieval belief in the sacredness of a king.

Château Chambord spiral staircase, Val de Loire, France   | by Steve Walesch

It’s impossible to describe all of the extravagant delights to be found within—from sculpted vaulted ceilings to adorned royal apartments—but the double-helix staircase in the center of the keep is Château de Chambord’s most famous feature. These two interwoven stone staircases ascend three floors without touching, creating a unique experience for visitors who may climb up and down while catching glimpses of one another, but never meet. Because its design similar to sketches created by the ingenious inventor Leonardo da Vinci, the staircase has been attributed to him.

On the exterior, the roofline is the most memorable component of the architecture. Grand enough to evoke a city skyline, the château’s jumble of more than 800 sculpted columns, lanterns, cupolas, gables, and chimneys are designed to be asymmetrical.

The centuries-long story of the chateau is one mainly of neglect and abandonment. François I spent very little time there, only a month or two in total during his reign. It was drafty, and it was isolated from a village; therefore foodstuffs, furnishings, and other comforts had to be brought in with every massive hunting party and moved out again after the merriment was over. After the king’s death in 1547, the building was allowed to crumble for nearly a century. Then, for the next couple of hundred years, it passed from aristocratic hand to hand, with brief periods of occupation by such figures as Louis XIII’s brother Gaston d’Orléans, King Louis XIV, deposed King of Poland Stanislas I, and Napoleon Bonaparte’s chief of staff Louis-Alexandre Berthier. Those periods of use were often followed by even longer periods of emptied halls. Then, during the French Revolution, the chateau’s remaining wall panelings, floors, and furnishings—themselves the very picture of aristocratic decadence—were  stripped and sold off.

Image courtesy of Chateau de Chambord.

Image courtesy of Chateau de Chambord.

In the 1830s, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow took a look at the place and lamented its state: “all is mournful and deserted. The grass has overgrown the pavement of the courtyard, and the rude sculpture upon the walls is broken and defaced.”

But things started looking up after 1930, when the French state took ownership of Château de Chambord. During World War II it was used as a stronghold for the storage of the Louvre’s and Compiégne’s collections, including the Venus de Milo and Mona Lisa. In 1981 it was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Today the château offers tours, audio guides in 10 languages, daily equestrian shows, and many types of artistic or historical exhibits within its walls—including a Museum of Hunting. The grounds of the estate are also worth exploring, as the Château de Chambord still sits within the quiet wilderness that inspired François I to create this place of grandeur. For more information, visit



Introducing Château de Chambord,” The Lonely Planet.
“Château de Chambord,” Wikipedia.

The architect behind the Samuel M. Nickerson House played a major role in forming Chicago.

Continue Reading...

One of the Driehaus Museum’s sister institutions is a lavish medieval estate in Chantilly, France.

Continue Reading...

Here are the top 10 posts from the Driehaus Museum blog in 2012.

Continue Reading...

This week, we feature a post from WBEZ architecture critic Lee Bey’s blog, Beyond the Boat Tour. He interviews the authors of the forthcoming book, Lost Chicago.

Continue Reading...

Although little of the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition remains, a few lovingly reconstructed gems do still stand in Chicago’s Jackson Park.

Continue Reading...