The wallpaper tax
It wasn't until the beginning of the 18th century that the use of wallpaper became widespread. This inspired a tax to be introduced under the reign of Queen Anne in 1712 to tax paper that was "painted, printed or patterned to serve as hangings". The paper was initially taxed at one penny per square yard but increased to one shilling by 1809 (about £3.25 in today's money).
Seems simple, and I suppose it was, but you could get around this tax by purchasing plain wallpaper and having it stenciled or painted over by hand.
Although I must say I haven't actually found anyone found guilty of the falsification of wallpaper stamps, which showed that the tax had been paid, in 1806 it was added to the list of offences punishable by death.
The price of wallpaper dropped dramatically in 1836 after the tax was abolished. As oil lamps were also replacing candles, which had needed the room to be a reflective pale colour, the darker patterns became the vogue with Scheele's Green and Schweinfurt Green the most popular. It was estimated that in 1858 there was 100 million squares miles of green wallpaper in Britain alone. One manufacturer boasted that demand for the 'bright cheerful colour' was so high that he was using up to two tons of Scheele's Green every week.
The boom in wallpaper sales was obviously good for the economy and this continued despite scare stories in the press (and The Lancet) making a connection between green wallpaper and arsenic poisoning. Similar to the tobacco manufacturers of the 1960's denying a link between smoking and cancer, the wallpaper manufacturers vehemently denied any possible connection of their product to arsenic poisoning. Successive governments chose the wealth of the industry over the health of the people and chose to ignore the warning signs.
Unfortunately, what people failed to realize was that their wallpaper was coloured with arsenic, and slowly poisoning them. It took until the 1890’s for science to show that arsenic vapour - caused by the arsenic in the wallpaper mixing with the intrinsic damp walls - was causing countless cases of blindness, acute diabetes, neurological disorders and deaths.
When exiled Napoleon Bonaparte died on the island of St Helena in 1821, he was said to have abnormally high levels of arsenic in his body. For many years it was believed that his captors had poisoned him but in 2008 it was proven that the poisoning had taken place over a long period of time. It now seems likely that his death was connected to the fact his room was decorated with green wallpaper !