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The Munsell Water Colors

A vintage Munsell water colors set

The Munsell Water Colors were created around 1914. The set contains 10 scientifically measured colors inside metal tins along with a No.7 camel hair brush and info sheet all tucked inside a metal case with a color sphere printed on the top.

The sets were intended as an aid for art educators to teach the basics of color theory and could be accompanied by other teacher aids like the crayons, charts and color tree. It cost 50 cents, the equivalent of $9.31 today.

The Water Colors Info Sheet

Below is the text found on the info sheet included in the set. 

These two boxes are specially made for use in the Munsell Color System, and adapted to all beautiful color work. The artist finds these measured colors quite as helpful as the beginner, for MIDDLE COLORS are close to the harmonies he seeks. They save much time and waste in color mixture.

The outside tin of the Munsell Water Colors set

They are scientifically measured, and known as MIDDLE RED, MIDDLE YELLOW, MIDDLE GREEN, MIDDLE BLUE and MIDDLE PURPLE. The beginner uses them freely without risk of the crudities often perpetrated with strong red, yellow and blue. They early cultivate the taste for balance and harmonious color.

A safe rule for their use is easily learned: USE ANY MIDDLE COLOR WITH ITS TWO NEIGHBORS, or with its TWO OPPOSITES in the color circle. NEVER USE ALL FIVE IN THE SAME SCHEME. See the teacher’s hand book, A Color Notation, post paid $1.00.

A look inside the Munsell water color set with 10 colors in metal tin and case with a brush

Box 1 contains the five middle colors, red, yellow, green, blue and purple: also the neutrals gray and black to make tempered color scales.

Box 2 contains the same colors as no. 1, together with the maxima of red, yellow and blue. These strongest pigments may be used warily after learning the scales of tempered color. Price .50.

The Munsell Water Colors paint set with 10 colors, a brush and info sheet

For sale, with other illustrative materials of the system, and the teacher’s handbook by Wadsworth, Howland & Co., Inc. General Distributing Agents, 82-84 Washington St., Boston, Mass. Favor, Ruhl & Co., 423 Wabash Ave., Chicago, IL., Western Agents.

The Munsell Water Color set showing the imprint of the Wadsworth Howland company

Munsell Water Colors in Advertisements

At the time of the release of the Munsell Water Colors, advertisements for the sets and the color system appeared in many educational publications.

An advertisement in the School Arts Magazine featuring Munsell  Water Colors from Wadsworth and Howland

An advertisement for Munsell Water Colors on how it’s, “now possible to teach the first principles of art as accurately as music.”

An advertisement for the Munsell Water Colors in the Eastern Manual Training Association guide.

The ad above shows the other teaching tools that can accompany the Water Colors including cards and color spheres. Teachers can also request a copy of “The Munsell Color System: Children’s Studies in Measured Color,” especially designed to help children learn the subtleties of color.

An advertisement from Favor and Ruhl for the Munsell Water Colors in the School Arts Magazine

An advertisement for Munsell Water Colors stating, if you “adopt the Munsell Color System and material for teaching” you know your pupils will be able to standardize color so, “you can handle your color problem without hesitancy and it will be a pleasure for you to talk color to your classes.”

An advertisement for the Munsell Water Colors in the Journal of Education from 1914

This ad tells us, the middle colors, along with gray and black (which are included in the set) are the, “only way to obtain an accurate knowledge of color harmony.”

An advertisement for the Munsell Water Colors from Wadsworth Howland in the School Arts Magazine

This ad emphasized the importance of the the Munsell Color System as the, “correct theory of colors,” which, “gives children an accurate art sense.”

An advertisement for Munsell Water Colors in the 1915 Schools Arts Magazine

The scientific and harmonious approach to teaching color to children was incredibly important to Albert Munsell. In the ad above, we see the evidence of that messaging when it says to, “Avoid Violent Colors in Teaching Art,” to help a child, “get a true sense of beauty” in color. As Regina Blaszczyk put it so well, Albert was, “A tastemaker, and he felt that the bright new colors that were created by the synthetic dyes and pigments were not in good taste. He wanted to see subtle hues that had grey in them; he appreciated subdued colors.” You can see all this reflected in the Munsell Water Colors.


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One response to “The Munsell Water Colors”

  1. Linda shedlock says:

    If they don’t make this anymore, could Munsell share which pigments were used in establishing the Munsell color system?

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