In Glorious Color

Trade card from the 1880s
Trade card from the 1880s

From black and white to color:  the invention of printing by lithography brought beauty to people’s daily lives through mass production. If you are old enough to remember when color TV was new, you remember the first time you saw a show in color. I was amazed. It was so much more lifelike and vibrant than shades of gray.

In the late 1800s, lithography brought an explosion of items printed in color. People were handed trade cards like these, picked them up in the store, and pulled them from their mailboxes. Some women and children pasted them into albums.

An exotic Russian czar and brilliant color promote thread in this American trade card.
An exotic Russian czar and brilliant color promote thread in this American trade card.

Handbills distributed on the street for events, illustrations in books, free promotional posters you could tack on your wall–suddenly color was everywhere.

Recognize this painting from my last post? The Crimson Rambler, named after the wildly popular rose.

"The Crimson Rambler," ca. 1908, by Philip Leslie Hale
“The Crimson Rambler,” ca. 1908, by Philip Leslie Hale

Here’s one way that rose got so popular: trade cards.

Crimson Rambler trade card

Technology also brought colorful clothes. At this time, in the last half of the 1800s, synthetic dyes were introduced and suddenly people could wear rich colors.  Here are two silk dresses from the 1890s. These are from the Pasadena Museum of History.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Technology brought the excitement of color. “The Color Explosion” was an exhibit at the Huntington showcasing part of their Jay T. Last Collection of lithographed items. Click on that link to see some examples that really took advantage of color, and read how it changed the world.

Author: Pamela Tartaglio

For my vacation, I'd like to go to America a hundred years ago. Instead, I visit cool historic places, art museums and read. I share on my blog, Past and Present with Pamela. People who aren't history buffs tell me they enjoy these glimpses into the past. Please come and visit.

8 thoughts on “In Glorious Color”

  1. Your comment about seeing color TV for the first time brought back a memory of going to my neighbors house to watch the Monkees. I really had to see that one in color! I love that people back then collected these advertising cards. Back then it was real artwork!

  2. Fascinating information I can use when writing my current WIP. I especially like the “Harris Hair Enhancer” advertisement.

  3. I remember the excitement when my dad plugged in our first color TV, turned the dial, and my brothers and I chose a program: My Favorite Martian. “But it’s black and white!” Dad said. That shows the power of stories.

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