Colouring books are designed to engage
children - and adults
By Jim Trautman,
In the past several years, colouring book articles have been
featured in newspapers, major magazines and television. Not childrens
colouring books, but what has been referred to as Peter Pan books
The books have been recommended to reduce stress, allow one
to focus on a task and feel achievement when the picture is finished.
It is even mentioned that each is a work of art and can be framed
and put on the desk or wall for decoration. New books focus on
flowers, butterflies, Art Deco patterns, beautiful birds, the
list of topics is endless.
The adult market is vast due to the simple fact that probably
almost 100% of adults began colouring when they were children.
I know I did. It was not only enjoyable, but a painless educational
tool to teach us from the start how to stay within the lines
and be creative while we learned the names of the different colours.
Today, colouring books to collect have become a limitless
item to search for and are usually very affordable. Of course,
the key is to find books that are in mint unused condition with
no colouring on any of the pages.
The McLoughlin Brothers Company, famous for some of the earliest
board games, printed the first colouring book in the1800s - The
Little Folks Painting Book.
Early colouring books were paint books since the first wax
crayons didn't appear on the market until June 10, 1903. The
wax crayons were manufactured by the now-famous Smith and Binney
company and marketed as Crayola. That first box contained red,
orange, yellow, violet, brown, black, green, and blue crayons.
It sold in a box with a flip cover for five cents.
Over the years, different colours appeared or disappeared
and the boxes were sold in different sizes, including a giant
one of 64 coloured crayons which included a sharpener on the
side of the box. Smith and Binney, for many years, has been owned
by the Hallmark Card Company.
One of the three major companies that began printing colouring
books was Whitman of Racine, Wisconsin. Today, it is owned by
Western Publishing. If you collect books printed on pulp paper,
then you likely have many Big Little Books in your collection.
Whitman began printing these in the 1930s. Many of the Big Little
Book titles were reprinted into colouring books.
Saalfield, another major printer, quickly tapped into the
interest in any item connected to Walt Disney. In 1931, under
license to Walt Disney, the first Mickey Mouse Colouring Book
appeared in Five and Dime stores. The company followed the Mickey
Mouse big seller by obtaining the rights to produce Shirley Temple
books. In the depths of the Great Depression, the demand for
Shirley Temple items was immense. Saalfields first Shirley
Temple book hit the market in time for the Christmas season in
1936 with their timely product - Shirley Temple: A Great Big
Book To Colour. It was followed by Shirley Temple: My Book To
Colour and Shirley Temples Blue Bird Colouring Book.
The Merrill Company of Chicago began as a publishing company
producing paper doll books for little girls. It was a simple
step to begin the printing of colouring books. Many were first
printed as paper doll books or pulp books and then the next logical
step was to make them into colouring books. The pulp paper was
inexpensive and, except for the covers, the pages were usually
printed in black and white.
Parents discovered that colouring was an excellent way to
spend very little money and keep the children happy for hours
at a time. Almost every Christmas I found a new colouring book
under the Christmas tree or in one of those large net stockings
filled with cheap toys and candy found at the Five and Dime store.
There were always Christmas scenes to colour. My favourite was
The Night Before Christmas. Each page had part of the story set
out in the same format that the Golden Book did, just waiting
to be coloured.
Early in the 1930s,
publishers approached various radio programs producers, movie
companies and entertainers, requesting permission to print colouring
books of popular shows and movies. The Gone With the Wind book
was released shortly after the movie opened and can fetch $180
During the 1930s and '40s, you could find colouring books
featuring stars and celebrities like Rita Hayworth, Judy Garland,
the Dionne Quints, Betty Grable and The Shadow. Western movie
stars of the 1930s became popular; Roy Rogers, Dale Evans, Gene
Autry, Tom Mix, Buck Jones, Gabby Hayes. The Gabby Hayes colouring
book was unique. It had a disc-shaped screen that could be turned
to colour different pictures of Hayes, an actor whose career
moved from the movies into early television.
With the end of World War II and the famous Baby Boom underway,
the market became flooded with colouring books. Besides the Hollywood
movies being represented, comic strip characters also appeared.
With the introduction of television a new source of material
Searching and finding vintage colouring books can be a trip
into the cultural past of North American society. In the 1950s,
when space and western shows filled the television, so did books
issued to promote the shows. There were many, like Rocky Jones
Space Ranger, Flash Gordon, Tom Corbett Space Cadet, Captain
Video and His Video Rangers. The John Wayne colouring book produced
by Saalfield in 1951 is one of the most valuable. If found in
mint condition, it can sell for almost $200 U.S. Popular shows
of the '60s - the Time Tunnel, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Barbie,
Disneyland, Bewitched - created new material for the market.
Another of the largest collecting area involves characters
from the comic pages and comic books: Batman, Superman, Super
Boy, Spiderman, Little LuLu, Captain America, Wonder Woman, ISIS,
the Flintstones, Buck Rogers, Steve Canyon, Peanuts.
Large companies introduced colouring books as give-away items
related to their products. This was a way to reward valued customers
and was also a great advertising tool used by companies like
Buster Brown, Cracker Jacks, Campbell Soup with the Campbells
kids and Planters Peanuts.
In 1977, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Rice Krispies,
Kellogg's issued three plastic doll figures of Snap, Crackle
and Pop, and also a special colouring book featuring historical
events that spanned the 50 years.
The number of colouring books issued is endless. You can
finds books for any given year that reflect the popularity of
well-marketed toys from previous decades in the '80s you
could find Cabbage Patch Dolls, Baby Beans and Strawberry Shortcake.
Almost every Saturday morning show had a colouring book.
Over the years,
colouring books were issued that focused on teaching the little
ones their colours, numbers, alphabet and other educational topics.
In 2017, the Dover Publishing Company of Mineola, New York
( established in 1941), still publishes a wide range of books
for all age groups, including adults. For younger children, there
is an entire series on the History of the Civil War, Aircraft
of World War I and II, trains and automobiles. The company now
produces a new range of publications for adults to enjoy.
For more information, visit the Dover Publishing website
or Google "colouring books" to learn more about value
and specific books you might want to keep a lookout for when
adding to your collection.