15 August 2008


About Dyes and Beauty and Coal-Tar Mauve and Magenta How Made Extra- ordinary Specimen of Aniline Art and the New Colors

Although the ancient Britons dyed themselves with wood, and only a few years ago an Irish member of Parliament offered to die on the floor of the House, it is a remarkable fact that the pigments used in manufacture for the purpose of imparting brilliant effects to silks and linens, have until quite recently been imported from Holland.

The secret of color is, however, returning to the British Isles, and the mauves and magentas, so much in fashion just now, seem to promise for the islanders a monopoly of these peculiar dyes. Does it ever occur to Angelina, as she floats magnificently down Broadway, in all the luster of youth and fashion, that the exquisite dress she wears, and whose faultless sheen seems to be robbed from the dewy blushes of Spring, is in fact dipped and steeped in the essence of vile, smoky, stinky, crackly English coal; that she is — not to be too squeamish about terms — walking off with a ton, more or less of the best Walls-end attached to her skirts.

Yes, frightful as it may seem, our wives and sweethearts are gradually becoming carboniferous, and the day may not be far distant when we shall have to hand them to dinner with a pair of tongs. Coal, or rather coal tar, is the basis of all the new colors now in use, such as mauve and magenta, Both these well-known and highly esteemed colors were discovered by English chemists, who have already reaped handsome fortunes by their labor.

Perkin, the discoverer of mauve, was in search of artificial quinine, when he happened upon it, and almost at the same time a Mr. Simpson discovered magenta. Both these belong to the aniline, or coal-tar series of dyes, and as the way in which the color is produced has been very explicitly given, I have no hesitation in recapitulating it here.

When these new colors have been naturalized in the world of art, as well as in manufactures, what extraordinary results may be anticipated from the pencils of great colorists! At present, the manufacturers carry everything before them. They can make a silk dress of tough, durable, palpable material, a hundred times brighter and more beautiful than the best artist can paint it. "Dick Tinto" is no longer privileged to flatter a lady’s dress as well as her face.

July 28, 1862
The New York Times 1

In its early years, Ault & Wiborg capitalized on two innovations -- the use of coal-tar dyes to produce brightly colored inks and the development of lithography. Both developments helped to expand the ink business beyond the simple black product that had been produced for centuries. Toulouse-Lautrec was just one of the artists who used Ault & Wiborg inks for his prints; and the company commissioned him to create an advertising poster. 2

we tend to think of color as, well, having always existed. yes they have... but clearly the ability to reproduce them has not. we looked at the resurgence of blues here, science catching up with desire. and the rest of the colors came shortly thereafter. these wondrous inks dovetailed easily with the rest of the things we've been looking at here to create that golden poster moment.

it was 1859 when this color revolution came about in the west, one year after the entry into trade with japan. the japanese prints evidence the usage of a wide range of colors, though, for over a century. were secrets of the japanese inks part of the scientific discoveries that occurred just at the time that they would have if they had? i do not know.

i've written david lance goines to see if he knows; he's steeped in printing history knowledge.
if i hear anything i'll let you know.

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Blogger Margaret said...

Fascinating post! I learned a lot about printing and colours just by reading this. What a rich history!

19 August, 2008 14:24  
Blogger lotusgreen said...

thank you margaret! cool that the nyt keeps their archives online back to 1862, eh?

for me, it kind of boggles the mind--the idea of inventing mauve.

david goines, btw, reminded me that the japanese inks were water-based, and these coal-tar ones were not, so he's pretty sure we didn't learn that, anyway, from the japanese.

19 August, 2008 15:00  

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