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Red Read: Books About Color

Red Read: Books About Color
April 6 – August, 2012
Gould Library

The accurate representation and description of color is of great importance to a variety of people: artists, birders, designers, biologists, and art historians all need standardized methods of reproducing and describing color. This exhibit features color charts, illustrations, tables, and sample cards featured in books from Gould Library’s collections. 



Exhibition Highlights


Albert H. Munsell
A Color Notation: An Illustrated System Defining All Colors and Their Relations by Measured Scales of Hue, Value, and Chroma

Baltimore: Munsell Color Company, Inc., 1975
Gould Library
Albert Munsell (1858-1918) developed a system of color notation and organization has influenced the way we organize, notate, and talk about color for more than a century and is still in use today. Munsell’s system is based on three qualities or dimensions of a color: its hue (the name of the color, such as red, yellow, green, violet); its value (lightness or darkness); and its chroma (the strength or intensity of a color). This book came with a Hue, Value, Chroma chart (now missing), and a set of small color chips.   A. Maerz and M. Rea Paul
A Dictionary of Color

New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc, 1930
Gould Library
In this ambitious volume, Maerz and Paul set out to create an authoritative resource that would connect all the recorded color names in use with specific colors. The book includes 56 plates of gradated arrays of color, each accompanied by a corresponding grid of color names. The authors also trace the origin of each color name, the history of its use, and describe the color or colors associated with it. The authors frequently cite Robert Ridgway’s Color Standards and Color Nomenclature (1912), also in this exhibit, as an important source.   Robert Ridgway
Color Standards and Color Nomenclature

Washington, D.C.; R. Ridgway, 1912
Gould Library Special Collections
More than 1,000 named colors are reproduced in ornithologist Robert Ridgway’s ground-breaking Color Standards and Color Nomenclature.  Ridgway placed 21 samples on each page, with full black and full white at the top and bottom of each chart. Ridgway designed the book for ornithologists (and used the color names in his Birds of Middle and North America (1901-1950)), but the standards he set out in this volume have informed color systems in a variety of disciplines for decades.   Dr. Wilhelm Von Bezold
The Theory of Color in its Relation to Art and Art-Industry

Boston: L. Prang & Company, 1876
First published in German, Wilhelm Von Bezold’s The Theory of Color was written to provide artists, designers, and craftspeople with a basic background in the science of color and perception Bezold is perhaps best-known for discovering that how we perceive a color is affected by the colors around it.  A series of plates demonstrates how a solid color ground – here green – creates a slight cast of its complementary color (purple) to the black text.  (The effect may be difficult to see in the case.)   Dr. Shinobu Ishihara
Tests for Colour-Blindness
Tokyo: Kanehara & Company, [1925]
Carleton College Biology Department
Pseudo-Isochromatic Plates for Testing Color Perception (loose leaf edition)
New York: Armin Jacobs & Company, Inc., n.d.
Carleton College Biology Department
Dr. Shinobu Ishihara developed this set of color cards for the testing of color-blindness in 1918 and they are still in use today. The standardized colors and patterns allow the tester to accurately assess the type and degree of color-blindness. On view here are two versions of the cards: an early, accordion-fold set published by Dr. Ishihara, and a later edition published in a ring binder.  Faber Birren
New Horizons in Color

New York: Feinhold Publishing Corporation, 1955
Gould Library
Birren notes that color can be both decorative – setting a mood or enlivening a living space – and functional – identifying work areas, improving visibility – and wrote this book to help designers and architects make informed color choices, rather than simply relying on individual preference or taste.  The colors on these charts were developed by Birren to work harmoniously in either functional or decorative contexts. 

  Frederick Leroy Sargent
A Working System of Color for Students of Art and Nature

New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1927
Gould Library
To use the circular diagram at the top of this plate, the reader is to stare at one of the colored discs under strong light, then look at the center of the diagram: a disc of complementary color will appear. The four diagrams below demonstrate the results of gradually blending complementary colors : when viewed at an angle, the reader will see a neutral grey in the center of each pattern.   The Research Laboratories of the International Printing Ink Corporation and Subsidiary Companies
Color in Use
Number Three of Series of Monographs on Color

New York: The International Printing Ink Corporation, 1935
Gould Library
This book, the third in a series published by the International Printing Ink Corporation, is intended for artists and designers. The color chart shown here, based on the Munsell system, is designed to help the user recognize relationships between colors.   American Society of Photogrammetry
John T. Smith, editor
Manual of Color Aerial Photography

Falls Church: American Society of Photogrammetry, 1968
Gould Library
Until the 1960s, most aerial photography was black-and-white: the camera and film technology had not yet been developed that could produce a high-quality, accurate color aerial image. This manual was published in 1968 by the American Society of Photogrammetry to make the case for the utility and value of color aerial photography. It includes technical articles on all aspects of making color images, from camera optics and planning a mission flight, to processing film and color printing techniques. The manual includes a set of color charts, based on the ISCC-NBS (Inter-Society Color Council-National Bureau of Standards) color designations. The NBS adopted this color set in an effort to standardize colors used in industry and manufacturing formulations, and by government agencies. The ISCC-NBS colors are based on the Munsell system.   Frank B. Smithe
Naturalist’s Color Guide Supplement, Volumes I-III

New York: The American Museum of Natural History
Gould Library
This color guide was written and designed specifically for naturalists who needed to be able to accurately identify the color of a feather, a bit of fur, or a leaf. Part One is designed for use in the field: it catalogues just 86 swatches, and includes a framing mask that lets the user isolate individual swatches.  In Part Two, Smithe describes 86 common colors, identifying each by common name as well as its designation in other systems. Many of the colors in this guide derive from colors identified in Robert Ridgway’s Color Standards and Color Nomenclature (1912) and the text cites instances of each color term in Ridgway’s Birds of North and Middle America. Part Three is a slight expansion of Part Two. Ridgway’s original guide included over 1,000 colors and was impractical for field use; this edition, with 96 colors described, is a slight expansion of Part Two but still practical for active use.   Roger Pring
:  Effective Use of Color in Web Page Design
New York: Watson-Guptill Publications, 2000
Collection of Carleton Web Team
When this book was published in 2000, designers working on web- or screen-based projects used a pallet of 216 colors, each of which could be specified by a six-digit code. Black was represented by 000000; white by FFFFFF; and the other colors were designated by a combination of letters and numbers (the code 99FF00 makes a nice spring-like green.) This chart is a guide to all 216 colors and their codes.   Munsell
Soil-Color Charts with Genuine Munsell Color Chips

Grand Rapids, MI: Munsell Color, 2010
Carleton College Geology Department
Munsell Soil Color Charts

Baltimore: Munsell Color, 1975
Carleton College Geology Department
These two ring-bound books of charts come from the Carleton College Geology Department, where they are included in the toolboxes students use for field work in geology. Like many of the other color charts in this exhibition, they are based on the Munsell color charts, and include just the sub-set of colors most useful for soil identification. Notice the holes in the color samples: these allow the user to directly compare the soil color with the swatch color.   U. S. Geological Survey
Selection of Colors and Patterns for Geologic Maps of the U. S. Geological Survey

Reston, VA: U. S. Geological Survey, 2005
Gould Library Government Documents
The US Geological Survey, under the leadership of John Wesley Powell, first published a systemic guide to the selection of map colors and patterns in 1881. This color scheme became known as the “American color system” and is still in use today. This 2005 USGS publication recommends a range of colors and patterns for geologic maps, as well as advising when to break with the standard.   Josef Albers
Interaction of Color
Unabridged text and selected plates
New Haven: Yale University Press, 1979

Colors present themselves in continuous flux, constantly related to
changing neighbors and changing conditions.
As a consequence, this proves for the reading of color
what Kandinsky often demanded for the reading of art;
what counts is not the what but the how.

– Josef Albers, p. 5

Josef Albers first published Interaction of Color in 1963 as a limited-edition boxed set of 150 silkscreened plates. This 1979 paperback edition (rebound for the library) includes Alber’s full text on the perception and interaction of color and reproductions of ten of the original plates.  Albers approach to the study and teaching of color is predicated on the idea that our perception of color shifts constantly: a single shade of blue may look light or dark, bright or dull, depending on what surrounds it. The exercises in the book guide the student to a more nuanced understanding and appreciation of how colors work together.