Finding Aids at Your Fingertips

Birge Company Records

Buffalo History Museum. Research Library

Birge Company

5 boxes + 44 oversize v. (10 linear ft.)


Papers and records of the Birge Company, a Buffalo-based wallpaper company.

Expand All    Collapse All

Collection Details

Martin H. Birge was born on July 20, 1806 in Middlebury, Vermont. He came to Buffalo by way of the Erie Canal on September 24, 1834, and saw the growing city of Buffalo as an opportune place in which to establish a business. On October 15, 1834, he opened a dry goods store at 234 Main St., stocking general merchandise and wallpaper.

By 1866 Birge had devoted his entire business to retail and wholesale paper-hangings, believing himself to be the first such proprietor in the city. The store had made several moves: in 1844 to 144 Main St., and in later years to 160 Main and 174 Main.

The firm’s name was changed to M.H. Birge & Sons in 1875 when Martin’s sons George K. and Henry M. joined after graduating from Cornell University. In 1878 the family began to manufacture its own wallpapers in a five-story factory on Perry and Indiana Streets. On December 17, 1880 fire destroyed the building and much of the stock, and claimed the lives of twelve people. Operations resumed in the former Prince melodeon factory on Seventh and Maryland Streets. Birge & Sons began to sell sets (coverings for walls and ceilings), and business grew increasingly in the direction of wholesale distribution. The Main Street store was closed its retail business in 1891.

Martin H. Birge retired in 1892 and passed the business to his sons. George K. designed a machine to make flocked wallpaper, thus eliminating a great deal of manual labor while maintaining a high standard of craftsmanship.

On August 23, 1900, M. H. Birge & Sons was incorporated. In its first ten years the capital stock increased in value from $150,000 to $500,000. In 1906 George K. Birge’s son Humphrey opened a European office and in 1910 he became a vice-president of the firm.

M.H. Birge & Sons was known for the quality of its wallpaper and for the artistry that characterized it. Local landscape artists were hired to paint and develop the original prints. The best known of these, Charles E. Burchfield, designed landscapes in the mid-1920s that depicted the wildlife and scenic beauty of Western New York. Birge became the first manufacturer to introduce do-it-yourself, wet strength wallpaper. The wallpaper, called “Quick,” included a built-in adhesive and a plastic, washable surface coating. In 1958 Birge developed “Fabrique,” a durable non-warping vinyl that was pre-trimmed with permanent embossed designs.

Birge & Sons produced a high quality but expensive product which could not compete with cheaper imitations. The company was purchased by reed Forest Products Company in 1969. Gradually the Birge operations were shut down; the company was forced to close in 1982 when a buyer could not be found.

Leases, patents, copyrights and contracts, ca. 1904-1940; and financial records, including tax statements, (1921-1936), bank notes (1933- 1935), sales books (1913-1919), ledgers (1910-1933), journals (1912-1944), and cash books (1911-1933).

Collection Access & Use

Researchers wishing to access this collection must apply for a Scholar Pass and present valid photo ID upon arrival to the library.

Written permission required to reproduce and/or publish. Information on use and fees may be obtained from the Director of Library and Archives.

Collection Subjects & Formats

Download Container List:

Series I: Historical files

Inclusive Date: ca. 1910-1980

Birge wallpaper

Inclusive Date: ca. 1910-1976

Box-folder: 1.1

Press releases

Inclusive Date: ca. 1955-1960

Box-folder: 1.2

Charles Burchfield

Inclusive Date: 1922 - 1980

Box-folder: 1.3

Wallpaper history

Box-folder: 1.4

Decorated leather wallpaper

Box-folder: 1.5

Birge leathers

Inclusive Date: 1919

Box-folder: 1.6

Sales talk and promotional copy

Inclusive Date: 1951

Box-folder: 1.7


Inclusive Date: 1921 - 1980

Box-folder: 1.8

Series II: Leases

Inclusive Date: 1907 - 1939

London and Germany

Inclusive Date: 1907 - 1916

Box-folder: 1.9

Buffalo, Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York

Inclusive Date: 1935 - 1939

Box-folder: 1.10

Series III: Patents

Inclusive Date: 1904 - 1940

Wallpaper printing machinery

Inclusive Date: 1904 - 1940

Box-folder: 1.11

Includes Burchfield patents.

Wallpaper design

Inclusive Date: 1912 - 1928

Box-folder: 1.12

Series IV: Other legal records

Inclusive Date: 1904 - 1940

Subseries : Traveling salesman contracts

Inclusive Date: 1919 - 1924

Becker, Calely

Box-folder: 2.1


Box-folder: 2.2

Chase, Clancy, Coffey

Box-folder: 2.3

Dennett, Dirksen, Eckardt, Ervin

Box-folder: 2.4

Finnegan, Hartsock

Box-folder: 2.5


Box-folder: 2.6

Himmel, Homer, Johnson

Box-folder: 2.7

Knobeloch, Lawrence

Box-folder: 2.8


Box-folder: 2.9


Box-folder: 2.10

Lucker, McDougall

Box-folder: 2.11

Mahaffey, Mahler

Box-folder: 2.12


Box-folder: 2.13

Millikin, Montville, Morrison

Box-folder: 3.1

Power, Reed

Box-folder: 3.2

Stevens, Timmons, Walsh, Wehner, Wessling

Box-folder: 3.3

Series V: Tax records

Inclusive Date: 1921 - 1936


Box-folder: 3.6

Series VI: Payroll records

Inclusive Date: 1923 - 1944

Subseries : Payroll summaries

Jan. 1-June 28, 1938

Box-folder: 3.8

June 29, 1938-Jan. 3, 1939

Box-folder: 3.9

Jan. 4-June 27, 1939

Box-folder: 3.10

June 26-Dec. 31, 1940

Box-folder: 3.11

Jan. 1-June 24, 1941

Box-folder: 3.12

June 25-Dec. 31, 1941

Box-folder: 4.1

Jan. 7-June 30, 1942

: 4.2

July 1, 1942-Jan. 12, 1943

Box-folder: 4.3

Jan. 13-June 22, 1943

Box-folder: 4.4

June 30, 1943-Jan. 4, 1944

Box-folder: 4.5

Jan. 5-June 27, 1944

Box-folder: 4.6

Series VII: Miscellaneous financial records and correspondence

Inclusive Date: 1900 - 1944


Box-folder: 7.7


Box-folder: 7.8


Box-folder: 7.9


Box-folder: 7.10


Box-folder: 7.11

Insurance appraisal and engineering report

Inclusive Date: 1920/1935

Box-folder: 7.12

Birge Illinois annual reports

Inclusive Date: 1921 - 1933

Box-folder: 7.13

Series VIII: Oversize bound volumes

Inclusive Date: 1887 - 1944

Subseries A: London office cashbooks

Dec. 1915-Mar. 1921

Apr. 1921-July 1925

Aug. 1925-Sept. 1928

Sept. 1928-Oct. 1931

Subseries B: Trial balance books

July 1933-June 1936

July 1936-June 1939

Subseries C: Agents’ sales books







Subseries D: Ledgers

1910-1912 [3]

1914-1918 [4]


Subseries E: Journals

June 1912-May 1913 [4]

June 1915-June 1918 [5]

June 1921-Sept. 1924

Oct. 1924-May 1928 [8]

June 1928-July 1932 [9]

Aug. 1932-June 1939 [10]

July 1939-June 1944

Subseries F: Cash expenditure books

Oct. 1913-Jan. 1915 [10]

Feb. 1915-June 1916 [11]

July 1916-Feb. 1918 [12]

Mar. 1918-Aug. 1919 [13]

Sept. 1919-June 1922

July 1922-Nov. 1925

Dec. 1925-Apr. 1931

May 1931-May 1933

Subseries G: General cashbooks

June 1911-June 1914 [4]

July 1914-July 1917 [5]

July 1917-May 1920 [6]

June 1920-Aug. 1922 [7]

Sept. 1922-Aug. 1924 [8]

Sept. 1924-Aug. 1926 [9]

Sept. 1927-Aug. 1928 [10]

Sept. 1928-Sept. 1930 [11]

Oct. 1930-June 1933 [12]

Subseries H: Closed accounts payable


Subseries I: Salesmen’s accounts book

Subseries J: Inventory books

Aug. 1900-June 1908

July 1908-May 1920

Subseries K: Scrapbooks


Includes newspaper articles, advertisements, wallpaper history, and press releases.


Includes trade journal advertisements, newspaper articles, and advertisements, wallpaper samples, brochures, and photographs of showrooms, murals, stores selling Birge wallpaper (not local), and national home show.

Subseries L: Reproduction d’étoffes orientales tissées en imprimés

A. Calavas, editeur, 68, rue de Lafayette, Paris, undated.

Subseries M: Tag books

Sample/account book

Inclusive Date: 1887 - 1888

Includes hand-painted swatches on pages labeled “Block a/c”, “Hangings”, “Borders”, “Extension & corners”, and “Hand”.

Tag book #20

Inclusive Date: 1920

Lists companies next to swatches; includes swatch #5232-7270, and another set of swatch numbers, in no apparent order.

Birge colonial papers

Includes swatch #8312-8766.

Birge colonial papers

Includes swatch #8766-9106.

Authentic colonial wallpapers by Birge

Full-page samples with historic description, price, and pattern number.

Hand-made 22-inch hangings

The Birge book

Inclusive Date: ca. 1918-1919

Full-page reproduction leather samples.

Book of full-page reproduction leather hangings

Book of full-page reproduction leather hangings

Book of full-page reproduction leather hangings

Book of full-page reproduction leather hangings

Subseries N: Pattern illustration books

The book of illustrations of the new patterns of paper hangings for the season of 1905. Manufactured by M. H. Birge & Sons Co., Buffalo, N.Y., U.S.A., c. 1904. Photographs of rooms with Birge wallcoverings. Stamped on cover: “George K. Birge”.

Same as above, ca. 1906. Stamped on cover: “George K. Birge”.

Series IX: Photographs and poster

Inclusive Date: ca. 1900-1955

Subseries : Posters

Birge wall papers: the standard of quality, showing the process of machine printing. Works, Buffalo, N.Y., ca. 1930. Ca. 71 x 56 cm. : color.

Historical wallcoverings – established in 1834, undated. 51 x 38 cm.

Sample of Birge wallpaper, embossed Art Nouveau design in maroon. Exhibited in Esenwein & Johnson exhibit, 2006 (Oversize Drawer C77-2 manuscript room).