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Types of Historic Paints




Historic paints were often made with what was available, rather than adhering to strict formulas. Recipes for successful formulas can be found in historic documents, such as newspapers, illustrating the combinations of ingredients that could be used to produce a paint.

Oil-based Paints

Linseed oil, a volatile thinner such as turpentine; a hiding pigment (usually white lead) and coloring pigments.


Natural resin varnish was added to oil-based paint to provide a hard, more glossy surface.


A translucent layer applied to protect the paint and to impart a more uniform gloss surface. Usually made from linseed oil with natural resin varnish added. Some glazes have small quantities of tinting pigments such as verdigris or Prussian blue; some had no pigments added.

Water-based Paints

Water, pigment, and a binder, such as hide glue, other natural glues, or gums. Usually used on interior plaster surfaces.


Often used on interior plaster surfaces in utilitarian spaces and, at times, used on interior beams; consisted of water, slaked lime, salt, and a variety of other materials. Occasionally a pigment (usually an ochre or other earth pigment) was added to provide tint or color.


Used for interior applications, were made from water, glues (one or more different natural glues, gelatine, and gums) with whiting as the basic white pigment to which other tinting pigments were added.

Calcimine, or kalsomine

Often used on interior surfaces and is another common name for distemper.


Paint prepared with pigment, egg yolk or white and water; used almost exclusively for decorative treatments.


A waterbased paint made of whiting, pigment, water, and gum arabic as the binder; used almost exclusively for decorative treatments.

Milk-based Paint


Casein also called milk paint, was made with hydrated (slaked) lime, pigment, and milk. Most often oil was added, making a strong emulsion paint. Various recipes call for a large variety of additives to increase durability. Casein paints were also used for exterior surfaces.

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