Within the pages of women’s magazines and its own advice booklets, Dennison Manufacturing Company instructed women in the basic techniques of manipulating crepe paper and in the applications for its decorative use. The material was often a substitute for cheap fabrics like tarlatan and cheese cloth, and that tendency continued through the start of the twentieth century. In the first decade, tastemakers from popular periodicals suggested crepe paper was a suitable material to decorate homes. These projects were not different from earlier ones that involved other non-disposable materials. What was special about these new directions was that crepe was recommended only as a short-term decoration. In the context of the Progressive Era when contemporaries were concerned about the spread of illness and disease, some worried that, “crepe paper, too, affords nesting places for all sorts of creatures because it does not fit closely to the wall.” Likewise, women were instructed to throw away ephemeral party decorations made from crepe.
Expanding the repertoire of uses for crepe paper continued through this decade as the Dennison Manufacturing Company advertised the material. Starting in 1902, Dennison began placing large advertisements in periodicals like Ladies’ Home Journal. Early advertisements underscored the ways in which Dennison was a leader in the crepe paper movement. Each Dennison booklet contained lists of the colors and prints that were available. The company also urged consumers to “refuse imitations” of their product.
Conveniently, these advertisements were often located adjacent to picture-rich articles that described how to create luncheon tablescapes using crepe paper. The tables in these articles were designed for occasions ranging from children’s birthday parties and President’s Day to Valentine’s Day and wedding anniversaries. The decorations were formulaic since the visual cues for each holiday were long established. They included hearts, paper flowers, and paper chains of red, white, and blue.
Throughout 1906, Dennison purchased advertisement space in Good Housekeeping, taking full pages to illustrate the ways in which the product fit into pre-existing decorative practices. Whereas some crepe decorations were an extension of fabric, as in drapes and lampshades, these advertisements stressed a movement toward crepe paper as paper. Dennison stressed that these “eye-delights” were possible only with the purchase of their brand of crepe paper. Its variations– imperial crepe, fireproof crepe, printed crepe, crepe moss, and crepe festoons– meant that the product was scalable for different budgets and different projects, all the while easy to buy and easy to discard when the event was over.
Dennison stressed in its advertisements that any individual was capable of creating with crepe, regardless of their ability. Crepe paper was the bridge between clumsy crafts and so-called “high domestic art forms” like needle work. Advertisements contained suggested supply lists of glue and scissors and implied that crepe paper was a material accessible to women with different skill levels. This invited new consumers to take a chance on crepe. The projects that Dennison promoted were not only decorative, some were useful. Crafters made lampshades, screens, shades for candles, and outfits for dolls.  Dennison encouraged consumers to purchase the “most decorative material” to enhance household accessories as wastebaskets, whisk (broom) holders, and parasols.
The availability of a low-cost material for inexperienced crafters meant that there was little for women to lose when trying the product. If their project failed, it only cost them a few cents. Compared to the losses of a failed sewing project, the stakes were lower with crepe paper.
Taking Crepe to Market Dennison Instructional Books
Gordon, “Valuable Fabrics,” 134, “How to Make Costumes Easily,” Dennison Party Magazine1, no 1, 1927, 22.
Sarah Leavitt,From Catharine Beecher to Martha Stewart: A Cultural History of Domestic Advice(Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002).
Walter A. Dyer, “Sanitary and Unsanitary Decoration,”Good Housekeeping, April 1902, 325-326, L. Ray Balderston, “Cutting Wash Day in Two,” Ladies’ Home Journal, April 1916, 54, Gordon, “Valuable Fabrics,” 113, 117.
These advertisements also indicate that Dennison had not yet settled upon a name for its crepe, calling it Dennison’s Imported Crepe, Dennison’s Decorated Crepe, and Dennison’s Imperial Crepe from 1890-1906.
“Dennison’s DecoratedCrepe Papers,” advertisement, Ladies’ Home Journal, February 1902, 21.
Leigh Eric Schmidt, Consumer Rites: The Buying and Selling of American Holidays (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1995)34, 122.
Janet McKenzie, “Tables Decorated with Paper,” Ladies’ Home Journal19, February 1902, 21.
“Dennison’s Home Helps” advertisement, Good Housekeeping, July 1906, 130.Typically, the users of crepe in this period were women. The exception was for window displays in department stores; then the crafters and users of crepe were men. See Butler Way Window Trimmer, 1912 and Putting the ‘Win’ in Windows from Dennison, 1929 for examples of advice literature that targeted men.
“Dennison’s Home Helps,” advertisement, Good Housekeeping, 1906, 130, “Dennison’s Christmas Novelties,” advertisement, Good Housekeeping, November 1906, 602.
“For Use and Beauty Dennison’s Crepe Paper,” advertisement, Ladies’ Home Journal, October 1905, 51.
Product List, Art and Decoration in Dennison’s Crepe and Tissue Paper (Framingham, MA: Dennison), 1917, 92-93, Special Collections, University of Delaware, Newark, Delaware.