You may not know that August 2nd is National Coloring Book Day. I didn’t until very recently. To celebrate, I’ve decided to briefly discuss the history of coloring books, who invented them, and how the concepts behind them have changed over time.
The idea of the coloring book has been around since the 1850s. This was decades before crayons were invented and the earliest coloring books were designed with the intention of being filled in with watercolors. The Little Folks Painting Book (published in the 1880s) is recognized to be the first popular, though not the first overall, coloring book. It featured illustrations of children in various settings meant to be painted in with watercolors. Around this time, coloring books were becoming a part of childhood, a generation after they were invented.
A big part of why coloring books became so popular at this time was because the process was much cheaper than it historically had been. Lithography, which is a printing method that is fast and doesn’t require blocks or copper plates, came onto the publishing scene at this time, as well as the price of paper decreasing. Also, there were no copyright laws at the time, so multiple publishers were printing each other’s work at the same time, which made purchasing a copy very affordable for most families. Even the Little Folk Painting Book contained stolen images.
Crayons were invented in the early 1900s, although it would take a little longer for them to catch on. Coloring books continued to be mostly painted. Coloring books developed into a way for studios to promote their animated shows and movies, or to sell to fans to their work. In the 1970s, and much more influentially in the past decade, adult coloring books have become popular as a way to relax and relieve stress. There is evidence that the idea of coloring for adults has been around a lot longer, though, as there is evidence from the 1600s of maps being colored in by the nobles they were sold to. Most likely, the aristocracy didn’t do this simply for leisure but as a form of artistic training. Illustrations of flowers with instructions on their colors were also distributed amongst those who could afford them (mostly the upper class and nobility) in the 1700s.
If perhaps today you’d like to color in your own coloring page, there are plenty of free for use pages out there such as here and here. There are also several coloring book apps that you can download for free to your phone or tablet. If you choose to color one in, send it to me on Twitter so that I can see!
This post contains affiliate links for which we earn a small referral. Thank you for your support.