Fox Collection: Color

The badly observed children and stock cuts which were afterthoughts to the heavy-handed texts at the beginning of the nineteenth century give way to a riot of pattern, color and whimsy at mid-century. Illustrators leave grim vignettes behind and let their pleasure in domestic detail or chaos and fun show. Color printing takes off and veers toward vulgarity. From the murk rise the star illustrators Crane, Caldecott and Greenaway.

We tend to think of hand-coloring as a nicety but in children's books of this period it was done sloppily with little care for consistency or show-through. In books such as Pictures and Stories for a Good Boy (1.5.11), printed on only one side of the paper, the blanks serve as catchment areas for excess color. Rosamond; A Sequel to Early Lessons (5.5.4), 1821, has some nice hand-colored engravings but some of them are spoiled by too much water. Sometimes the color may have been supplied by the purchaser. The ABC of Objects (12.1.6) has the centers of the 'o's filled in amateurishly. There are two hand-colored copies of Aladdin (12.1.6) in which the same colors are applied differently. In Little Red Riding Hood (7.2.6), little distinction is made between hand-coloring and printed color. Given the low standards of hand-coloring, the possibility to print in color was a great improvement.

When printers overprint colors they frequently get slightly out of register and create moiré effects. Combined with the home decor of the period, which put a premium on pattern, the effect can be hallucinogenic. Overprinted blue and pink swashes represent marble in Dog Trusty (11.1.5). The carpets in Miss Mouser's Tea Party (4.3.16) and The Home Alphabet (13.3.2), the wallpaper, bedspreads and costumes in At Home (12.1.3), A Frog He Would A-Wooing Go (11.3.3), and The Three Cats (7.2.6), also give evidence of this.

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