Industry News: A Colorful History of Paint

August 5, 2016


Archival materials illustrate how the ways in which paints and coatings were marketed to consumers and the building trade has changed from the late 19th century to the present.


Paint has two key functions in the built environment—protection and decoration. Documents contained in the BTHL explore how these different purposes were marketed during the late 19th and early 20th centuries; for example, exterior paints and coatings were generally marketed for their durability whereas interior products were more often promoted for their finishing qualities. The changing preference in colors for decor is another pattern revealed in the marketing materials archived in the BTHL.

In the period following the Civil War, the paint industry focused on producing ready-mixed paints, which we still use today. This era also marked the completion of a national rail network, which spurred the availability of branded products across the country. Some of the first paint marketing materials of the period were called “color chip cards,” which comprised a sheet of paper with attached color samples. The BTHL contains several color cards from the late 19th century, including a 1884 booklet (shown below) from the Harrison Bros. of Philadelphia that features images of exterior residential paint schemes and ample detail about this highly decorative period of domestic architecture.

Marketing paints to homeowners for their decorative potential has long been part of the equation, and catalogs of this type were particularly popular in the 20th century. Titles like Modern Color Styling and The Home Decorator speak to this approach. One of the most unusual catalogs of this variety in the BTHL is a marketing-brochure-turned-coloring-book from the Alabastine Co., in Grand Rapids, Mich.

The mid-20th century is known, as far as paint is concerned, for more than just the pink bathroom. Catalogs from Sherwin-Williams offer a particularly useful snapshot of the era by showing how paint schemes were applied in the residential sphere. The company's Home Decorator series was produced annually for more than 30 years, including a noteworthy 1939 edition with custom illustrations by artist Rockwell Kent.


For the full Architect Magazine article, click HERE

Date: Aug 5, 2016 Posted in: Tags: industry

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