Celebrating National Coloring Book Day

Introduction: Yesterday was National Coloring Book Day, inspiring Gena Philibert-Ortega to search old newspapers to learn more about painting and coloring books. Gena is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.”

Did you celebrate National Coloring Book Day yesterday? Coloring books are a way that children (and adults) have enjoyed creating art from the late 19th century to the present day. Coloring books have evolved from books that were painted to books that could be colored with crayons.

Painting Books and Coloring Books

Coloring books, books with outlined images that are meant to be colored in, actually predate the familiar crayon by several decades. Those early “coloring books” prior to crayons were actually “painting books” that were meant to be used with water color paints. One of these early books is The ‘Little Folks’ Painting Book by Kate Greenway, 1879. This book contains various illustrations for poems and stories, including one very Victorian tale complete with a young girl who is saved at the last minute by a doctor from dying.

Photo: the original cover of “The ‘Little Folks’ Painting Book,” often credited as the first coloring book, by Kate Greenway, 1879
Photo: the original cover of “The ‘Little Folks’ Painting Book,” often credited as the first coloring book, by Kate Greenway, 1879. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

The Preface states:

“The Little Folks Painting Book is essentially what its title implies – a book of pictures to be coloured by young people.”

Today there are all kinds of coloring books that include images that are educational in nature (such as animals or the alphabet), as well as stories involving popular cartoon characters. Coloring books even celebrate holidays and memorialize locations and history.

They can also be used as marketing tools. A 1920s example is the one below, offered by the Jelke Good Luck Margarine Company, that includes 10 pages to color along with seven crayons. This marketing tool reminds moms that this particular margarine has “wholesome fats [that] build firm flesh and revive flagging energy… its precious vitamins aid in promoting growth” while enforcing important health habits to children such as getting enough sleep.

An ad for a coloring book, Trenton Evening Times newspaper advertisement 26 September 1926
Trenton Evening Times (Trenton, New Jersey), 26 September 1926, page 10

Coloring Books and Crayons

Did your ancestor color? Judging from December newspaper advertisements and letters to Santa, they definitely colored – and asked for gifts of coloring books and crayons or paints to create their works of art.

An ad for art supplies, Grand Rapids Press newspaper advertisement 15 December 1927
Grand Rapids Press (Grand Rapids, Michigan), 15 December 1927, page 7

In 1915, seven-year-old Viola Denton was hoping Santa Claus would bring her a coloring book.

A letter to Santa Claus, Daily Illinois State Journal newspaper article 24 December 1915
Daily Illinois State Journal (Springfield, Illinois), 24 December 1915, page 13

When did children start using crayons with coloring books? The familiar Crayola crayons, although not the only brand of crayons, were introduced in 1903. Those first boxes included eight crayon colors: black, brown, blue, red, purple, orange, yellow, and green. Two years later, Crayola had 18 different box sizes and not all were meant for children; some were sold without the familiar wrapper and meant to be used by adult artists.*

An ad for crayons, New-York Daily Tribune newspaper article 24 September 1910
New-York Daily Tribune (New York, New York), 24 September 1910, page 37

Color Some History!

Want a way to pass along your love for all things historical with the younger generation? Maybe you want something to pass the time away? How about a coloring book or pages from an archive or museum? Search the Internet for the hashtag #colorourcollections to find numerous coloring books and pages created by museums and archives. This is a yearly offering and you can find a list of 2020 participants on the #colorourcollections web page available from the New York Academy of Medicine.

A few online coloring pages that might interest you include:

  • The National Archives: Color Our Collection includes lighthouses, patents, and of course my favorite, Rosie the Riveter.
  • Europeana: Colouring Book includes a number of coloring books covering topics like women’s history, art nouveau, and cultural heritage.
  • Frances William Memorial Library and Archives: Coloring Sheet; use to teach your descendants about your WCTU (Women’s Christian Temperance Union) ancestor through a coloring book!

Ready to Color?

Coloring for adults and children is a great way to engage in some creativity, use as a stress reliever, pass the time, and in some cases learn. Spend some time coloring to add your own touch to favorite pieces of art or history.

* “Crayola,” Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crayola: accessed 15 July 2020).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.