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Shades of the past: Victorian house paint color sample cards

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1890 Wadsworth Martinez Longman pure paints B

The harmony of color (1893)

From Sherwin-Williams Paint

We often hear the remark “There goes a well-dressed lady,” but we do not always think of the important fact that it is not necessarily expensive fabrics or even the best fit that makes the impression on the observer, but it is the taste and intelligence used in the harmony of color, or rather in the absence of inharmonious combinations of color.

As it is with personal adornment, so it is with the decoration of buildings, especially exterior house painting. We often see a building, which in design is a credit to the architect, utterly ruined by an unwise choice of the colors used in painting, whereby the effect which the designer intended to produce has been perhaps reversed by the improper use of colors.

Painted home from 1895

Fashionable taste is now leading to the use of soft tints, and fewer of them than formerly. That is to say, both public and private dwellings (where the best taste prevails) are not painted in a variety of colors, nor in very dark colors.

Neither are the contrasts as striking as formerly, the tendency being toward soft, delicate combinations of tints, producing harmony by analogy, rather than by contrast. This method of coloring gives dignity, as well as the most pleasing effect.

In the coloring of buildings, especially dwellings, it is very important that little details should be carefully looked after, and it is often found the most difficult part to decide satisfactorily.

As a rule, recesses and parts in the shadow should be darkest. The raised parts which catch the light should have a lighter shade. The columns of a porch give a better idea of darker, rather than lighter, rounding color.

MORE: Vintage home exteriors: 18 colorfully-painted Victorian houses (1886)

Outside blinds should not be painted a strong, positive color, as Green, Red, etc., unless the chosen color harmonizes with the body color. It is safest to give them the same color as used on the house. If two colors are used which are not in strong contrast, put the dark color on the slats and the light on the stiles. Green blinds are admissible and very pretty when used on a detached dwelling where the body is White or Colonial Yellow. Colonial Yellow is growing in favor, and may be used with the very best effect with white trimming on suburban or detached dwellings.

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Window sashes always look well if painted Black, and should almost always be of some dark color.

Outside doors should not be varnished, but with a good, dry surface, well filled with good priming coats, use one color, and let that be a rich, dark one. Steps to doors or porches, as well as porch floors, should be of some shade a little darker than the house color.

The risers of steps should be darker than the treads, to make them look strong. Treads and floors should be of such shades as will look clean, and yet not show ordinary footprints and soil.

Porch ceilings may be given any delicate, harmonious tint. Sky blue is most used, but it is a cold color, better suited to summer use than to where warmth is expected.


Paint color sample sheets from the Victorian era

Seeley Brothers: Averill paint colors (1886)

Paint samples 1886


Binghamton best ready mixed paint (1880)

Binghamton Paint and Color Company

1880 Binghamton best ready mixed paint


Victorian Alabastine paints in pastel tints (1886)

Alabastine victorian paint shades


Antique Picre mineral paint ready for use (1890)

by Picre Paint and Color Works

Paint colors include: Drab – Buff – Chocolate – Jap Green – D Brown – Gray – L Brown – Salmon – Sage – Stone – Slate – Straw

1890 Picre mineral paint ready for use


Vintage Wadsworth Martinez Longman pure paints (1890)

1890 Wadsworth Martinez Longman pure paints

1890 Wadsworth Martinez Longman pure paints B


Old H. W. Johns’ liquid asbestos paint (1900)

Paint colors include: Pure gray – Olive drab – Cream – Yellow stone – Brown stone – Yellow drab – Light drab – Light gray – French gray – Light slate – Stone – Dark slate – Med. drab – Buff – Dark drab – Ex. light drab

1900 H. W. Johns' liquid asbestos paint


Victorian Liquid cottage colors (1885)

by Kellogg Oil Paint and Varnish Co.

Paint colors include: Light drab – Olive drab – Olive tint – Ohio stone – Pure gray – Stone brown – Apple green – Olive green – French gray – Tinted white – Flaxen yellow – Light brown – Buff – Cherry red – Canary – Peach – Lilac brown – Light stone – Olive brown – Colonial yellow – Warm gray – Light blue – Dark drab – Pea green – Terra cotta – Salmon – Maroon – Straw – Seal brown – Fawn color – Pink tint – Black – Vermillion – W B Green

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Kellogg Oil Paint and Varnish Liquid cottage colors 1885


Antique household ready-mixed paints for the home (1885)

Kellogg Oil Paint and Varnish Liquid cottage colors 1885 B

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