I am asked quite often if I use colors from the historic color collections of major paint manufacturers such as Sherwin Williams or Benjamin Moore during my paint consults. My answer is always the same: “It depends.” Unlike many colorists and consultants, I do not like relying on someone else to research historic paint colors and select which ones I might want to use. Instead, I prefer to do the research myself and use the same tools homeowners and painters did in the 19th and early 20th centuries. These tools include a collection of original brochures with sample paint chips, advertising and commercial literature. By doing so I am able to recommend a wide range of period-correct colors and not just those colors a contemporary paint manufacturer thinks might sell well today.
Below is a ca. 1900 paint brochure from the Masury Paint Company with some of its sample chips:
Here is another, somewhat older example from the Breinig’s Ready Made Paint Company:
When helping my clients select interior and exterior color schemes I start with the colors found in brochures like these and other period documents. I then match my selections to chips in the fan-book of a modern paint manufacturer or send custom-mixed sample chips that match the period originals. My clients or their painters can then go to their local paint supplier and have them mix as much paint as needed.
Why go to all of this effort to pick out a few paint colors? Our specialty is providing paint schemes for Victorian and Arts and Crafts era homes and businesses. The color palettes should be appropriate for the a building’s age and style while still reflecting your tastes. Although several modern paint manufacturers advertise “historic” color collections, they often narrow the selection to paint colors they consider most suitable to contemporary tastes. This means some historic shades and tones might be left out. Furthermore, these collections usually aren’t sorted by age and style, meaning a 18th century, Colonial era green might be found next to a Late Victorian yellow. However, by relying on period documents we can be sure that our historic color selections are faithful to 19th and 20th century color palettes and are appropriate for the style and age of your historic building.