A heritage colour palette

The colours of books

A visit to the hidden collections of the Turnbull Library becomes both an absorbing and distracting experience for me. I become caught up in the colours of spines on shelves, the row upon row of adjustable shelving, the sheer volume and weight of stored paper; as a single page resting upon another builds to become tons of stored material.

I am drawn to the serendipities of one spine placed next to another on a shelf. It might be the wording in two neighbouring titles, that when read together become poetic or satirical. Mostly however, it’s the colours of the books housed in their protective nooks that I find most distracting of all. Colours unselfconsciously build to display an array of different heritage colour palettes.

Fashions in colours and materials have changed over decades, as do the technologies of bookbinding. Some of these colour palettes come about because of the quality of the materials used – cheaper materials usually mean more light degradation, causing colours to fade; cheaper leathers will crack, exposing little patches of brighter dyed textures beneath in the lower layer of skin dermis.

I ended up creating 26 palettes. Eight of them are in this post, and you can see the rest on Facebook.

History embedded in the bindings

A good example of a fashionable colour pallet of its time can be seen in the retro styling of these 1933 box-set of journals, telling the tales of three adventurers’ ‘First New Zealand Christmases’ – those of Tasman, Cook and Marsden. The colour palette matches shades of turquoise green to a bright orange print – probably the same ink used on different coloured paper to produce variation in the orange tone. I’ve included a purple picked up off the marbled box also.

Covers of journal with Māori-inspired motifs.First New Zealand Christmases: Tasman 1642, Cook 1769, Marsden 1814, 1933. Record page.

Colour palette derived from the previous image.Palette 1 Hex, RGB, and CYMK values, from left to right:
e91c26 / 233 28 38 / 0 77 73 29
3c816e / 60 129 110 / 30 0 12 53
dd8752 / 221 135 82 / 0 28 49 25
972220 / 151 34 32 / 0 59 63 55
8ba387 / 139 163 135 / 8 0 12 40
b79193 / 183 145 147 / 0 14 16 35

Collection items will often show a previous life, labelled by a previous owner. You can see book series displaying call numbers from a library-life before being donated to the Turnbull. White tippex writing is scrawled in bold across the spines of bound newspaper collections from the 80s; this is not done today at the library and is a big no-no in collection care.

Bound copies of the Rotorua Post with dates written in white.Bound copies of the Rotorua Post. Record page.

Colour palette derived from the previous image.Palette 6 Hex, RGB, and CYMK values, from left to right:
535b36 / 83 91 54 / 0 24 44 36
778372 / 119 131 114 / 9 0 13 49
c5c2d0 / 197 194 208 / 5 7 0 18
a27b5a / 162 123 90 / 0 24 44 36

It is likely that the publishers who bound their own newspapers wrote directly on the spines themselves, leaving a handwritten mark of identity in contrast to the volumes of printed type. Under today’s standards, labelling of new items is carefully written in pencil or on a cover slip that protects a book, so that any mark to the original item can be reversed.

Gold tooling can be seen on some of the beautifully decorated older books, much of the work done by hand. Tools were heated, and gold leaf was then applied to high quality leather. One such leather is known as ‘Morocco’ leather. Morocco leather is a beautifully textured binding, usually of goatskin, which keeps a rich red colour. Seen here the red leather and gold tooling attract a colour-lovers eye like a sparkle to a magpie.

Bound and lettered volume of Dr Augustus Florance, Log books and notes on New Zealand.Dr Augustus Florance, Log books and notes on New Zealand, 1857-ca 1870. Record page.

Colour palette derived from the previous image.Palette 7 Hex, RGB, and CYMK values, from left to right:
9f292e / 159 41 46 / 0 74 71 38
a04731 / 160 71 49 / 0 56 69 37
f9ee8d / 249 238 141 / 0 4 43 2
291d19 / 41 29 25 / 0 29 39 84
d8b352 / 216 179 82 / 0 17 62 15

Go forth and colour the world!

To create my heritage colour pallets I used several free online tools, uploading images to these sites, and comparing the results. I then selected between three to seven colours which best represented the images. I mostly used CSSdrive's image palette and Pictaculous. With these sites as guides I used Adobe Illustrator to create the final palettes.

If you choose to use any of these palettes, I would love to see what you do with them! And if you come up with appropriately bookish names for them, leave them in the comments.

A special thank you to Katrina Tamaira, Library Assistant, for letting me scamper all around the collections and for help with referencing in the aftermath of acting snap-happy; and to Laura Mirebeau, Conservator Books/Paper, for her time and insights into different materials and book-binding techniques.

Palettes from around the collections

Two books, Lives of the Presidents of the United States and Conflict with oblivionJohn S C Abbott and Russell H Conwell, Lives of the Presidents of the United States, ca 1889. Record page.; Wilbur Cortez Abbott, Conflicts with oblivion, 1924. Record page.

Colour palette derived from the previous image.Palette 5 Hex, RGB, and CYMK values, from left to right:
251c1f / 37 28 31 / 0 24 16 85
847037 / 132 112 55 / 0 15 58 48
faf6bb / 250 246 187 / 0 2 25 2
d8d988 / 216 217 136 / 0 0 37 15
9d8f3f / 157 143 64 / 0 9 60 38

Turnbull Library collection close-up.Turnbull Library collection close-up.

Colour palette derived from the previous image.Palette 14 Hex, RGB, and CYMK values, from left to right:
6c514d / 108 81 77 / 0 25 29 58
5c6f5f / 92 111 95 / 17 0 14 56
6e8785 / 110 135 133 / 19 0 1 47
af804b / 175 128 75 / 0 28 57 31
b27262 / 178 114 98 / 0 36 45 30
b3b186 / 179 177 134 / 0 1 25 30
272e31 / 39 46 49 / 20 6 0 81

Bound materials with marbled edges.Bound materials (MSZ-430 and MSZ-431) with marbled edges.

Colour palette derived from the previous image.Palette 17 Hex, RGB, and CYMK values, from left to right:
8f3731 / 143 55 49 / 0 62 66 44
853542 / 133 53 66 / 0 60 50 48
6a907d / 106 144 125 / 26 0 13 44
b39158 / 179 145 88 / 0 19 51 30
324558 / 50 69 88 / 43 22 0 65
242942 / 36 41 66 / 45 38 0 74

3 volumes of Armand Fouquier, Causes célèbres de tous les peuples.Armand Fouquier, Causes célèbres de tous les peuples, 1858-1874. Record page.

Colour palette derived from the previous image.Palette 23 Hex, RGB, and CYMK values, from left to right:
5a332a / 90 51 42 / 0 43 53 65
283e2a / 40 62 42 / 35 0 32 76
b8a374 / 184 163 116 / 0 11 37 28

Several issues of London Magazine.Several issues of London Magazine. Record page.

Colour palette derived from the previous image.Palette 24 Hex, RGB, and CYMK values, from left to right:
a3905f / 163 144 95 / 0 12 42 36
945e82 / 148 94 130 / 0 36 12 42
ccc7b5 / 204 199 181 / 0 2 11 20
842833 / 132 40 51 / 0 70 61 48
6eadb9 / 110 173 185 / 41 6 0 27
5c807c / 92 128 124 / 28 0 3 50
aea2bc / 174 162 188 / 7 14 0 26

By Arawhetu Berdinner

Arawhetu is a Learning Facilitator with Public Programmes.

Post a Comment

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Jared Davidson July 28th at 11:00AM

Just awesome. Really, this is a great post, thank you!

Gavin Pascoe July 29th at 11:42AM

Very cool

Lynette Tyrrell July 31st at 12:45PM

This is gorgeous Arawhetu....I love it, thank you.

Laura Mirebeau August 4th at 9:14AM

What a brilliant way to look at collection items. This is beautiful!

Lesley Hardy August 4th at 2:12PM

Wow that is so creative and I love the pallets. So inspirational

Peter Rowlands August 4th at 2:24PM

Delicious, Arawhetu. It's like a Farrow and Ball exercise for bookbinders.

Mereana Taungapeau August 6th at 12:51PM

This is my favourite blog - so creative! Well done Arawhetu! I am going to forward link to my mates at NZHPT aka Heritage NZ. Tumeke!

Alexis McCullough August 25th at 1:59PM

So beautiful! Great post.

Joann Ransom August 28th at 9:36AM

So beautiful - and a lovely post

Julie Starr August 28th at 11:54AM

LOVE this. Thank you.

Katherine August 28th at 1:48PM

Beautiful! Thanks for this post.

Lauren McEwan-Nugent June 7th at 2:56PM

This is fascinating. Thanks for sharing!