Mauve and the Birth of Modern Colour

Colour, as we know it, was not so many years ago. There was a time when the only colours in the world came from our friend Roy G. Biv. A time when the only green dyes available had to be squeezed out from the loins of a frog. A time when procuring white pigment involved the laborious task of cloud gathering. A time when there was no such thing as ‘salmon pink’ (thankfully!). Yes, a lot has changed since the days of old. But now, thanks to science, we have given birth to Modern Colour.

A long labour

Modern colour went through a substantially long labour period in the 1850s. A chemist by the name of Henry Perkin, who is now a Sir (although he’s obviously dead now anyway), was attempting to synthesise an anti-malaria drug called quinine.

After much failure in the lab, the only thing that he could come up with was a chunk of black tar sitting in a beaker. But Perkin, unable to give up his pet project, noticed something a bit colourful in amongst the blackness. After toying with his tar here and there, he eventually ascertained what that something was. And that something was mauve. Yes, Perkin, at the age of 18, had invented a new colour

Mmm mauve

Mmm mauve

And so began the synthetic dye industry. Perkin made his fortune and now we have this brand new colour. But, as you may have guessed, it didn’t stop there. Initially, most of the dyes used in fashion, textiles, art, photography and the food industry came from naturally occuring sources.

With Perkins successfully synthesising a commercial dye, of a brand new colour no less, the proverbial door was flung open faster than when I really need the bathroom. To date, since Perkin’s discovery of Mauve in 1856, there have been over 100,000 different dyes produced, with an annual turnover of 700,000 tonnes. Frick!

As an example of the influence of the dye industry today, consider The Coca Cola Company. Every can of coke they produce, every sticker on a coke bottle and just about any advertising that coke does, they use the exact same red. This red is manufactured specifically for Coca Cola to ensure that their brand is reproducible and consistent, worldwide.

Coca cola red!

Coca cola red!

Synthetic dyes have dominated the world over and contribute to the colours that we would never otherwise exist. Some people though argue that synthetic dyes aren’t environmentally friendly and contribute to pollution while others would argue that natural dyes aren’t immune to toxicity or harm either. But do you want to live in a mauve-less world? Leave a comment and let me know 😉

Over to you:

  • Could you live in a mauve-less world?
  • What colour are you most thankful for?
  • What do you think of me in a mauve dress?

me in a mauve dress

About Noby Leong

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