Dennison Manufacturing Company’s Introduction of Crepe

Dennison Manufacturing Company’s Introduction of Crepe

E.W. Dennison in Dennison Beginnings 1840-1878, a book the company produced in 1927.

The Dennison Manufacturing Company began in New Brunswick, Maine, in 1844. The founder of the company, Colonel Andrew Dennison, aspired to great wealth. His initial entrance into the paper product business came when he began manufacturing jewelry boxes. His son, Aaron continued the business, but it was his youngest son, Eliphalet Whorf Dennison, president of the company by the 1850s, who established the company with an exceptionally strong reputation in the paper product industry.[1] When E.W., as he was known in the family, bought out his father to gain control of the company, its profits increased tenfold.[2]

At the turn of the twentieth century, the Dennison Company had a long established name through its high-quality paper products. This included jewelry boxes as well as its shipping tags and direction labels. Its first store opened in Chicago in 1864, and in the 1870s, stores in Boston, New York, and Philadelphia followed. [3] The company’s association with decorative paper began 1871, when the company imported white tissue paper from England to line the jewelry boxes. The company selected this paper because it did not tarnish silver.[4] At about the same time, European manufacturers realized that tissue paper could be “crinkled…[with] artistic effect.”[5] Dennison imported this crepe paper from 1890 until it developed its own manufacturing capabilities in 1914.[6]

In 1890, the Heath sisters of Buffalo, New York, demonstrated crepe in Dennison’s Boston store. Exactly what they made is unknown, but it seems likely that the sisters created lamp shades and lambrequins, draperies that hung from the tops of windows or mantels. The company displayed these items, and others from public demonstrations, in its store windows. [7] Four years after the Boston demonstration, the Ladies’ Home Journal published a piece regarding the potential uses of crepe paper in the home. Suggestions for using the product included creative tablescapes for luncheons and lampshades for new electric lamps and candles, as well as instructions for creating window curtains. The illustrations that accompanied the article highlighted the lifestyles of upper-middle class white women at their dressing tables or in other scenes of the home.[8]

Black and white illustration of a woman at her dressing table with her maid.

An illustration from “The Possibilities of Crepe Paper” from the Ladies’ Home Journal, 1893.

Crepe did not invoke new concepts of decorating but, rather, promoted a new material to embellish older practices of home décor. The company soon released a how-to guide, Dennison’s Tissue Paper Entertainments, that served as an instructional manual and theatre book for children’s plays. These plays included a Christmas performance for a cast of young girls, as well as an adaptation of War and Peace for a cast of boys. This book instructed women how to use crepe in place of fabric when making children’s stage costumes.[9]Other instructions provided directions for the creation of elaborate paper flowers, soon one of the most common types of decorative items created with crepe paper.[10] As decorations for church gatherings, and other charitable fundraisers, crepe was easily disposable, and at a price of $.10 per roll, or $2.64 in today’s money, the material was accessible to women with modest budgets.[11] 

In an 1894 article in Ladies’ Home Journal, Josefa Keenan observed that the “possibilities of crepe” were “not fully realized.” Keenan was correct but could not have predicted the seemingly endless possibilities of crepe paper in decoration and in craft. Over the next three decades, crepe paper was the preferred domestic craft material for women’s decorations.[12]

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What is Crepe Paper?                        Taking Crepe to Market

[1]Charlotte Heath, Dennison Beginning 1840-1878(Framingham, Massachusetts: Dennison) 1927, chapter three.
[2]Ibid, 61.
[3]Dennison online timeline; Heath, Dennison Beginning, 25, 27, 43.
[4]“Dennison Manufacturing Company, 1844-1990,” Digital Timeline, Framingham History Center,, accessed May 2018, Heath, Dennison Beginning, 45.
[5]Seventy-Five Years: Dennison Manufacturing Company(Framingham, Massachusetts: Dennison), 1920, 45.
[7]Heath, Dennison Beginning, 45-47.
[8]“Possibilities of Crepe Paper,” Ladies’ Home Journal, October 1894, 5.
[9]Dennison’s Tissue Paper Entertainments, c 1890, Special Collections, University of Delaware, Newark, Delaware.
[10]In Dennison advertisements, paper flowers were simple, a cheaper alternative to silk flowers.
[11]$.10 in 1890 is equivalent to $2.64 in 2018, when adjusted for inflation.
[12]Josefa Keenan, “The Possibilities of Crepe Paper,” Ladies’ Home Journal 11, October 1894, 5.