Colour Ranges

Nov 3rd, 2011 | | Colour Ranges | Colour Services | 5 Comments

Dictionary of Colours for Interior Decoration

BCC Cover

The British Colour Council
When the British Colour Council came into being in 1930, the declared aims and objects included the placing of colour determination for the British Empire in British hands and the provision of standard names for colours for the sake of clarity. In 1934 the Council published a Dictionary of Colour Standards in two volumes, one showing 220 colours presented on pure silk ribbon, named, numbered, and coded, and the other giving the history of each colour, the various names by which each had previously been known and the authority for standardisation.

As the British Colour Council developed its services to industry it became apparent that the bias in the dictionary towards colours for textiles made it less relevant as a standard reference work for Interior Decoration. Some colours which were suitable for clothes were insufficiently permanent for application to carpets, curtains and upholstery fabric, while others were technically impracticable for use in the pottery and glass industries, in porcelain and vitreous enamel or in the making of paint or other materials used in decorating.

In 1949 the Council published the Dictionary of Colours for Interior Decoration, which is discussed in this post.

British Colour Council - Dictionary of Colours: title page

Dictionary of Colours for Interior Decoration
This work consisted of three volumes, two of colour samples and the other a slim list of names and a history of the colours. It is a large work and takes up 20 cm of bookshelf.

The 378 colours illustrated in this work were shown on three surfaces – matt, gloss and a pile fabric (like carpet). One reference name and number was given for the colour shown in three forms, and it was stressed that the surface required should be made clear when the Dictionary was used to specify a colour match.

In some instances only paint examples are shown as it was not considered advisable to dye that particular colour on pile fabric owing to the possibility of fading or discolouration.

Where colours were repeated from the earlier Dictionary of Colour Standards the same standard name was given (this applied to 131 of the 378 colours).


In this example Murrey an obscure colour occasionally used in heraldry is marked with a red ‘X’.

Colours were cross-referenced with many of the leading international standards, such as:
1) British Standards Institution. Colours for Ready Mixed Paints BS 381C 1948.
2) British Colour Council. Machinery Colours, Safety Colour Code, Pipe Identification Colours. 1949.
3) College of Arms. Heraldic Colours.
4) A. Maerz and M. Rea Paul. A Dictionary of Color. McGraw Hill Book Co. Inc. New York. 1930.
5) Réptertoire des couleurs, published by the Société française des chrysanthémistes, in 1905.
6) British Colour Council. Colours for Vitreous Enamels. 1945.
7) Robert F. Wilson for the Royal Horticultural Society. Wilson Colour Chart. 1938.

Although perhaps too small to read clearly, this page gives an idea of the descriptive text accompanying the colour samples.

Colour Names
The colour names given by the B.C.C. were particularly descriptive and often referred to flora or fauna, with titles such as Blue Anemone (CC 153), Flamingo (CC 26), Kermes, and Squirrel Brown.

The names and references became standards for identifying colours used in a wide range of applications, from the Royal Horticultural Society (Leek Green CC 335) and Phlox Mauve (CC 164); to the Armed Services [Battleship Grey CC 322, Rifle Green CC 264 and Scarlet Red CC 22) and the Royal Mail (Oriental Red – also known as Post Office Red CC 29 – see below).

South African National Defence Force Flag (1994 - 2003) - image by Martin Grieve
South African National Defence Force Flag (1994 – 2003). The green background was specified as Green Beetle (CC 100). Image by Martin Grieve courtesy Flags of the World (FOTW) website.

While a number of references were given for the colours used in flags, for example Scarlet Red also known as Union Jack Red (CC 22) others were also used as a reference for seasonal textile ranges – see Blue Conifer (CC 342) and Petrol Blue (CC 269).

Although by their nature not given to exact specification, most of the colours (or tinctures) used in heraldry were also illustrated. A more complete representation was given in the earlier Dictionary of Colour Standards and these are cross-referenced in volume 3 of the later work. For those of you who may be interested in heraldry I have written an introduction to Heraldic Colours (or Tinctures) and illustrate it with examples from the Dictionary.

Due to their subtlety of hue in comparison with previous standards the colours were useful for the fairly precise colour referencing in fields as diverse as tapestry (Mortlake Rose – CC 10) and the classification of Chinese porcelain (Ming Blue – CC 287).

The two editions of the Dictionary of Colour Standards have also been used by many universities to designate the shades prescribed for facings and linings of their academic robes and hoods.2

Victorian Post Box - Post Office Red
Oriental Red – also known as Post Office Red CC 29)

The British Colour Council was very active in the years immediately after the War and the Dictionary was employed by a number of interior decorators as it was designed to be used:

“So many shades are now available that you must be very exacting not to find what you want with one firm or another. Alternatively you can consult the British Colour Council Dictionary and specify the colour which you want to have matched…”3

Some Examples

Brunswick Green

On the page above one can see samples of the following colours:

  • Sky Green CC 85
    The Dictionary tells us that this name was standardised by the B.C.C. in 1934 and that the Réptertoire des couleurs gave this name as the anglicised version of Vert Lumière.

  • Veronese Green CC 86
    This was a colour (determined by Robert Wilson in the Wilson Colour Chart of 1938) after Paolo Veronese the Italian painter, in whose works the colour appears.

  • Grass Green CC 87
    The B.C.C. standardised this colour in 1934. It is one of the oldest colour names, with one work quoting 700AD as the earliest known record of it.1

  • Brunswick Green CC 88 (marked with a red ‘X’)
    This is a colour that has been referred to many times on this website and is one of the more significant ones of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The B.C.C. standardised it in 1934.

  • Cossack Green CC 89
    The name was in general use in the textile trades and was standardised in 1934.

  • Yew Green CC 90
    The descriptive colour name from the foliage of the Yew tree.


In the above example I have marked Delft Blue with a red ‘X’. We are told that there had been much controversy about this colour name. Some people had ascribed this name to the average colour found in Delft tiles, some to the colour predominating in Dutch paintings, including those of Johannes Vermeer of Delft. The colour represented here is the darkest blue tone found in Delft pottery, although lighter tones of a redder and lighter hue are also seen in the tiles (and the Dictionary cross refers to CC 289 and CC 292).

Lacquer Red

We learn from the above pages that Lacquer Red had been checked against specimens of Chinese Lacquer at the British Museum. The colour had been introduced into B.C.C. seasonal ranges in 1933.

Cambridge Blue

Cambridge Blue

In the above example I have marked Cambridge Blue. The following notes are given:

“This “Light Blue” of the English University has from time to time caused some controversy. Cambridge Blue is supposed to be the same as Eton Blue, the latter dating from the fifteenth century, and being adopted by Cambridge in 1836.

The story goes that an old Etonian of the Cambridge crew in the boat race of 1836 supplied the distinguishing colour which was carried by the cox, and the colour was adopted as a permanent colour for the University Boat Club.

Although primarily a dress name it has been retained here as being of particular interest to all colour users.

Colours of this type are found in Chinese pottery of very early date.”

Inevitably, Oxford Blue (CC 288) was another of the colours recorded in the Dictionary and the two colours – Oxford and Cambridge Blue – were specified for the blues used in the badge of the Special Air Service, two of whose founding members had been at those universities.

Special Air Service badge - Oxford and Cambridge Blue

Special Air Service badge – Oxford and Cambridge Blue

Current Availability of Colours
As with almost all the colours shown on this site they could be mixed into conventional modern paint by Papers and Paints Ltd.

1 A. Maerz and M. Rea Paul. A Dictionary of Color. McGraw Hill Book Co. Inc. New York. 1930.
2 Elizabeth Scott. ‘The BCC Numbering System: Back to the Future?’, Transactions of the Burgon Society, 5 (2005), pp. 90-122.
3 Noel Carrington. Colour and Pattern in the Home. Batsford. 1954.

Papers and Paints can be found here:

View Larger Map


Share and Enjoy:
  • Print
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • Facebook
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • Twitter
  • Google Bookmarks
  • LinkedIn

Leave a Reply

Comments (5)

Cecilie GearyNo Gravatar » 21. Dec, 2013

I am a fashion writer living in New Zealand and have just been given The British Colour Council Silk Card Spring and Summer 1937. The booklet contains 40 silk samples which I assume, at that time, would have been intended for use in the textile dye industry. Can you enlighten me? The gentleman who gave me the book worked in the fabric department of a large NZ department store in the 1940s just after the war. I was very excited to receive such an historical item as I imagine it is quite rare, particularly in this part of the world.

PatrickNo Gravatar » 21. Dec, 2013

Thanks Cecilie. What a wonderful thing to have. I don’t know it, but am aware of a number of booklets produced for the textile industry by the BCC. You might try contacting the Colour Reference Library at the Royal College of Art. I was there a couple of days ago looking at other BCC colour cards and they might know more.

Silas Clifford-SmithNo Gravatar » 23. May, 2015

Dear Patrick

Regarding the Dictionary of Colours for Interior Decoration could you tell me if it includes a foreword written by John Pomeroy Glass. I ask this because J P Glass is my grandfather and I am keen to read what he says in his Foreword.

Best wishes


David Seeley=JonesNo Gravatar » 03. Nov, 2015

I have just retired as a Teacher in Decorating and Interior Design. I am downsizing have quite a few vintage books on the subject including a full set of Dictionary of Colours for Interior Decoration in original box (ex Libris) These are for sale if anyone is interested? cover edges a bit tatty but the books are perfect inside. (UK)

PatrickNo Gravatar » 03. Nov, 2015

Wonderful. Perhaps someone reading this might be interested.