The History of Crayons
Part 5 – Early Crayola
This is a multi-part series of articles written to tell the tale of the history of the wax crayon.
Much has been documented on selling the first Crayola boxes door to door for a nickel. But Binney & Smith had a full line of products from the very beginning. Crayola came into the marketplace in June of 1903 and by early 1904 they published a small mini-tutorial pamphlet instructing consumers on how to paint using their new product. The pamphlet was available for 10 cents and along with their instructions it featured a picture of thirteen of their original product line assortments.
Two common themes resided in nearly all of their packaging. The first was a little girl that was featured on the back of nearly every single crayon box on their standard Crayola line. The second was Peter Paul Rubens pictured on their higher end line they used to target artists. In terms of the Crayola name logo, the earliest of their product was inconstant; as if they were experimenting with various fonts and looks for the Crayola line. It wouldn’t be until they formulated the Gold Medal concept in 1905 that they would start to adapt to a standard look among all of their assortments.
The first advertisements for Crayola started in late 1904 and by 1905 they were really starting to get the word out. Their reputation was growing quickly too. In 1904, after they published the mini-pamphlet “The Art of Crayola Coloring” they held a coloring contest with prizes to promote their new product.
Shortly after their contest advertising campaign, in March 1905, they moved to a more generic ad to feature their new product. Their March 1905 ad in the New York Teacher’s Monographs revealed that they already carried a catalog of 18 different assortments containing 30 different crayon colors. What might these 18 different assortments be? Binney & Smith Co. used a numbering system for all of their crayon assortment containers. The following containers were available at the end of 1905: No 6, No 8, No 12, No 18, No 24, No 30, No 41, No 41B, No 45, No 47, No 49, No 51, No 51B, No 53, No 54, No 55, No 57, No 97, No 99, No 99A, No 100, No 101, No 105, No 105 Charlton, No 200 and No 500. Interestingly, they actually had 26 available containers by that time. Some of these might have been added in the interim between when the ad was created and the end of the year. Another answer is that they simply didn’t list all of the available assortments in their ads. This seemed to be a common trait among all the manufacturers to not be inclusive when printing catalogs, ads and jobber booklets. For whatever reason, they would focus only on a subset to feature. This practice makes it difficult to go back and properly document the timelines for some crayons.
But what of the colors they produced back during their formative years? According to their ad they had thirty different colors in their production. Again, the reality is that they had a few more. The difficulty with researching their original color palate is that none of their documentation (ad, pamphlets or catalogs) lists their colors. However, the flagship box on their Crayola line, the No 51 assortment, happens to list the 28 colors in that assortment (the number 100 has more colors with 30 but they are all unwrapped and checking their colors against some of the other crayons in their lineup, it still appears that not all the colors were represented there).
The Crayola No 51 contained:
Black, Burnt Sienna, Burnt Umber,
Celestial Blue, Charcoal Gray, Chrome Green Light,
Chrome Green Medium, Chrome Green Dark, Cobalt Blue,
English Vermillion, Flesh Tint, Golden Ochre, Indian
Red, Lemon Yellow, Madder Lake, Medium Yellow, Olive
Green, Orange, Prussian Blue, Purple, Raw Sienna, Raw
Umber, Rose Pink, Ultramarine Blue, Van Dyke Brown,
Venetian Red Light, Venetian Red Dark, White
that isn’t 30 that the ad mentions. Across the other
18 or so assortments from this era, what other colors
would we find? The next largest assortment is the
Rubens No 500 with 24 colors. It contained Black, Burnt Sienna, Burnt Umber, Green
Dark, Green Light, Green Medium, Cobalt Blue, English
Vermilion, Flesh Tint, Gold Ochre, Indian Red, Light
Yellow, Yellow Medium, Olive Green, Orange, Prussian
Blue, Purple, Permanent Magenta, Raw Umber, Rose Pink,
Ultramarine Blue, Venetian Red, White
Several colors seem to be the same and yet called different color names:
Green Dark is the same color as Chrome, Green Dark
Green Light is the same color as Chrome, Green Light
Green Medium is the same color as Chrome, Green Medium
Golden Ochre is the same as Gold Ochre
Lemon Yellow and Light Yellow seem to be the same color in appearance and when used
Yellow Medium is the same as Medium Yellow
Color #33, Red,
is unique and different from all the other reds
The Rubens-Crayola No 6 was a 6 color assortment that contained: Burnt Sienna, Ch. Green Dk., Chr Yellow Med., Madder Lake, PRUSSIAN BLUE, WHITE. No new colors are added to our list from this assortment.
Chrome Yellow, Medium is the same as Medium Yellow (or Yellow, Medium)
The Rubens-Crayola No 12 was a 12 color assortment that contained: BLACK, Burnt Sienna, Burnt Umber, Chr Green L, Eng. Vermilion, Madder Lake, Med. Green, ORANGE, Prussian Blue, Ult. Blue, VIOLET, Yellow Lt. No new colors are added to our list from this assortment although it did provide a few more new abbreviations of already listed colors.
The Rubens-Crayola No 18 was an 18 color assortment that contained: Burnt Umber, CHR. GREEN L, Chr. Yellow Med., Eng. Vermilion, Madder Lake, MED. GREEN, Prussian Blue, ULT. BLUE, Violet, White, YELLOW, BLACK, Burnt Sienna, Gold Ochre, Magenta, Olive Green, ORANGE, Rose Pink. No new colors are added to our list from this assortment
Magenta is the same as Permanent Magenta.
The Rubens-Crayola No 24 was a 24 color assortment that contained: Black, Burnt Sienna, Burnt Umber, CHR. GREEN L, Cobalt Blue, Dark Green, Eng. Vermilion, Flesh Tint, Gold Ochre, Ind. Red, Madder Lake, Magenta, Med. Green, Med. Yellow, Olive Green, Orange, Prus. Blue, Raw Umber, Rose Pink, Ult. Blue, Ven. Red, VIOLET, White, YELLOW. No new colors are added to our list from this assortment.
The Crayola No 105 Charlton was an 8 color assortment made specifically for the E.F. Charlton stores (one of the retail chains that helped to form Woolworth). It contained: Brown, Gold Ochre, Chr Green Lt., Light Blue, Dark Blue, Pink and two not labeled (black? and violet?)
Pink is the same as Rose Pink.
Light Blue is the same as Blue (amazing so…it’s a unique name used only in this box until much later)
Color #34, Dark Blue, is unique and different from all the other blues
Other assortments such as the No 30, 55, 99, 100 contained crayons without wrappers and therefore don’t have color names that can be documented easily.
The Crayola No 41 has only two know; one is sealed and one is an incomplete set. However, all of the colors are merely a subset of the colors numbered for the No 51 assortment. The holds true for the No 53 and No 49 assortments. They are smaller assortments of the larger ones.
One other color exists that was packed into a Rubens-Crayola assortment. The challenge with substantiating the Rubens line is that they weren’t packed with a specific assortment in the same way the Crayola line was. This means that it took many physical examples to determine what colors were being used at the time.
Color #35, Permanent Geranium Lake, is unique from any other colors.
The Crayola No 101 was a 12 color box that indicated right on the box that it contained a “decorative assortment” designed for Artist’ Sketching needs. The box lid also says “Including Gold, Silver and Copper.” The box actually contains Black, Blue, Brown, Green, Copper, Eng. Vermilion, Gold, Orange, Purple, Silver, White, Yellow.
Color #36, Gold, is unique from any other colors.
Color #37, Silver, is unique from any other colors.
Color #38, Copper, is unique from any other colors.
As this represents all of the containers known during the 1903-1905 era, the list of unique colors stands at 38:
Blue (also known as Celestial Blue, Chrome Blue, Light Blue)
Brown (also known as Van Dyke Brown)
English Vermillion (also known as Vermillion, English Vermilion)
Golden Ochre (also known as Gold Ochre)
Green (also known as Chrome Green)
Green, Dark (also known as Chrome Green, Dark)
Green, Light (also known as Chrome Green, Light)
Green, Medium (also known as Chrome Green, Medium)
Lemon Yellow (also known as Light Yellow, Chrome Yellow, Light)
Permanent Geranium Lake
Pink (also known as Rose Pink)
Purple (also known as Violet)
Yellow, Medium (also known as Chrome Yellow, Medium)
Venetian Red, Dark
Venetian Red, Light
From that point on, Crayola continue to add,
discontinue and redefine their color offerings up to the
current day. The entire story on their colors is a
long detailed story in and of itself; one full of
interesting twists and back stories. But these
represented the starting point for Binney & Smith.
Next: Part 6 – The Golden Era