The current interest in “historical paint” colours stems from a range that Papers and Paints produced over twenty years ago.
Our Historical Colours – the first range with this theme – was taken from colours used in the applied arts (for example porcelain and tapestry). When these first came out many people got in touch with us thinking that they were colours that had been used in buildings of the past. Fortunately, during my academic research I had come across a collection of hand-painted colour cards that had been prepared by a house painter for a client in 1807. Crudely put, it was like finding a Dulux paint chart in two hundred years time.
This unique set of colour cards (of which some can be seen above) was found in the archive of a Scottish house that had been destroyed by fire in the 1940s.
I was loaned the cards for a year, during which time I matched each of the seventy colours in conventional, modern, paints. From these we produced our Traditional Colours the first fully-researched collection of such colours to be put onto the market.
We had clearly started something, for before long a number of much larger companies had jumped onto the bandwagon and other ranges began to appear in the shops. It’s amazing what a lot of PR and a gullible public can do, for colours that had no connection with the past were being touted as “historic” and spurious stories woven about their origins. Pigments derived from vegetal sources were described as having been dug out of the ground and other fugitive ones that may have appeared on the watercolourist’s palette were transformed into house-painting colours.
English Heritage, concerned at the way things were going, employed me on two occasions during the last 15 years to produce ranges of paint colours that reflected those in general use between ca.1700-1950. These ranges were manufactured by big paint companies and put on to the general market. They can still be found, but sadly, both ranges have been diluted for commercial reasons and colours with no precedent have been inserted, so one has to pick with care to find the genuine ones. As a result our Traditional Colours is the only range of fully-researched “historical” colours that are readily available.
We have continued with our research and produced a set of 1950s paint colours about eight years ago following exciting analytical projects at the Royal Festival Hall and the Golden Lane Housing Estate. Subsequent work on the Barbican Housing Estate led to the release of a set of 1960s paint colours.
Many may know that we are frequently employed to design ranges of paint colours for other companies, especially in Europe. Ranges of 1950s colours and 1960s colours have been produced for an excellent French company – Ressource - and they recently took delivery of a new range, which is still ‘under wraps’.
Being small and sharply focussed has enabled Papers and Paints to innovate and to respond to clients’ requests, although we often appear to be leading trends in colour. This is evidenced by the massive interest in ‘heritage’ colours since our early work on them in the 1980s.
Our most recent ranges have focussed on the 1970s and 1980s, although such is the degree of piracy in this cut-throat world of colour that (for the moment, at least) they may only be seen on the shop premises.
Of course, you may be one of those who is not concerned with the claims made about the pedigree of a particular paint range, but If in doubt, when looking at a range of “historical” paint colours, do ask what they are based on.
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