Techniques > Systems > Finishes > NPS Preservation Brief 28 Painting Historic Interiors > Pre-1875 Paints >

Production and Appearance




How were paints made prior to the widespread use of factory-made paint after 1875 [or earlier]? How did they look? The answers to these questions are provided more to underscore the differences between early paints and today's paints than for practical purposes.

Duplicating the composition and appearance of historic paints, including the unevenness of color, the irregularity of surface texture, the depth provided by a glaze top coat, and the directional lines of application, can be extremely challenging to a contemporary painter who is using modern materials.

The pigments used in early paints were coarsely and unevenly ground, and they were dispersed in the paint medium by hand; thus, there is a subtle unevenness of color across the surface of many pre-1875 paints. The dry pigments had to be ground in oil to form a paste and the paste had to be successively thinned with more oil and turpentine before the paint was ready for application. The thickness of the oil medium produced the shiny surface desired in the 18th century.

In combination with the cylindrical (or round) shaped brushes with wood handles and boar bristles, , it also produced a paint film with a surface texture of brush strokes.

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