Shelf paper, we know. What many of us don’t know is that early forms of this kitchen basic had decorative strips that folded over the visible edge of the shelf, introducing a pop of color and pattern. Shelf trim has been popular at least since the 1870s, when Caroline Ingalls taught her daughters how to craft star-patterned shelf edging for a party during which young Laura sought revenge on Nellie Oleson at Plum Creek.
Paper shelf edging caught on with the debut of commercially made papers in the first decades of the 20th century. Many patterns are still available from resellers on eBay and etsy as “new old stock.” Brands of the time include Royledge, Betty Brite, Royalcraft, and Roylies. In some cases, the paper is marked with a date; in others, it’s possible to estimate a probable date from the original retail price (25 cents: 1950s, or 39 cents: 1960s). Patterns followed trends in period fashion and wallpapers; the most luscious include fruits and vegetables in still-vibrant, deeply saturated colors. Many designs were scalloped. Some were coated (Royledge used something called “plasti-chrome”), while others were embossed, perforated, or ribbed. By the late 1960s, most had stick-on backs.
European counterparts go back much further than paper ephemera. In France, Scandinavia, and Eastern Europe, shelf edging was usually a textile, either embroidered, or crocheted or knitted. Some examples are clearly made for the kitchen, while others may have been intended for bookshelves or mantels; tooled leather edging is still made. Crocheted and lace shelf edging shows up in American kitchens as late as the 1950s.