In 1938 the British Colour Council issued (in collaboration with the Royal Horticultural Society) the first volume of a Horticultural Colour Chart, also called The Wilson Colour Chart after Robert F. Wilson, the director of the Council at that time. It consists of 100 loose plates of printed colour samples punched and bound with removable clasps. Each page lists six foreign synonyms of the colour name and the equivalents in four other colour systems:
A special notation for the colour is provided which indicates the Full Hue, the Tint and the Shade. Admittedly this is a very complex system and appears to have been disregarded by many users of the chart who tended to follow the advice given:
“It is recommended that when quoting colours from the Horticultural Colour Chart for cataloguing, etc., the name and number of the colour and/or page number should be given.”
In the above example you will see that (where they existed) equivalents are given for Indian Yellow in the four other colour systems. For instance, in the Réptertoire des couleurs, it can be seen as Jaune indien.
A little history of the colour is also provided. Indian Yellow, we are told, had been used for many years in the paint trade and that the name had been introduced in 1735. (What it doesn’t tell us is that the pigment was obtained from the urine of cattle fed only on mango leaves and water).
The synonyms in six other languages are given – Dutch; French; German; Italian; Latin and Spanish.
Again, where they exist, horticultural examples are provided. Thus we learn that the top colour 6/3 can be seen on the Azalea “J.C. Van Tol”; that 6/1 is similar to Helianthus mollis and that 6 to Lycaste aromatica.
The Aim of the Chart
“The need for standardised colour terms for horticultural use requires no emphasis, without them accurate description is impossible. Several colour charts have been published abroad, most of which are now unobtainable,2 thus it is fortunate that the establishment of the British Colour Council has now made it possible to publish an English chart which will be accurate and authoritative; more accurate than its predecessors owing to recent advance in the art of colour printing, and authoritative because both the colours and their names are in accordance with the standards accepted by makers and users of colour in the British Empire and in many foreign countries.
There will thus be but one colour name recognised for each hue in the textile and all colour-using industries as well as by artists’ colourmen. While therefore, the colours chosen and names used have been selected primarily for the purposes of horticulture, the Royal Horticultural Society Colour Chart will also have a use and value far outside its horticultural scope.”
At the 1938 International Horticultural Conference in Berlin, the Wilson Colour Chart was “recommended as an international standard.”
How to Use the Chart
In order to ensure that such uniformity of result as is possible, the following suggestions are made for the method of using this chart:
1) Specimens should be examined and matched indoors in a good north light as soon after cutting as possible, or otherwise after being refreshed by water; never in a faded or limp condition.
2) Take two or three average blooms just fully out for a general description and if more detail is required, the following three stages of flowering can be selected:
a) the bud, just before breaking
b) the flower completely open as near perfection as possible
c) the flower fully out to fading, when it will be noticed that in most cases there is a very distinct change of colour.
3) Where a flower is made up of several hues but one predominating hue is apparent, a General Representation of the flower should be assessed. To obtain this, hold the specimen at arm’s distance beside the appropriate masked colour and slightly close eyes.
4) The matching colour plate should invariably be isolated by the Black Mask supplied with the chart, as when the eye is influenced by adjacent colours a true match is not obtained.
5) Care should be taken that the specimen to be matched is held in such a position that it is not affected by any surrounding colours, as for example the black mask, the white paper or coloured plate.
6) Never attempt to match colours if the eye has become fatigued.
Volume Two of the first edition was published some three years later, in 1941. The two combined showed 200 plates: the first volume of 100 plates consisting of 64 full hues, 26 lighter tints and 10 shades, the second volume 34 lighter tints, 28 darker shades and 38 greyed hues.
I also own a later edition of the work dated 1939-1942, which was published in two portfolios – the colour plates being loose leaf. This would seem a more practical presentation and enabled quicker comparison (and replacing) of the plates. By this stage the chart was known as the Horticultural Colour Chart and was issued by Wilson Colour Ltd in collaboration with The Royal Horticultural Society.
These works were the predecessor for the later boxed set of four ‘Fan decks’, which were produced by the Royal Horticultural Society in association with the Flower Council of Holland. These displayed the colours in an innovative fashion with a hole punched in the centre of each to allow for easy comparison with the target flower.
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 This refers to the 1934 edition of the Dictionary of Colours for Interior Decoration.
2 This refers principally to the Réptertoire des couleurs and to Color Standards and Color Nomenclature.
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