Top ten facts about colour and its role over the centuries

Published on: 08 November 2018

Author Clive Gifford shares a few quirky facts from his book, The Colours of History: How Colours Shaped the World – and proves there's a lot more to colour than meets the eye...

The Colours of History (QED Publishing), written by Clive Gifford and illustrated by Marc-Etienne Peintre, is on the Blue Peter Book Award shortlist for 2019!

See all the books on the Blue Peter shortlist

Colour fact #1

It took 9,000 sea snails to make just a single gram of Tyrian purple dye. During the times of the Ancient Romans, the dye became three times more expensive than gold.

Colour fact #2

The most popular brown colour used in artists’ paints in Europe in the past was made from crushed-up ancient Egyptian mummies.

Colour fact #3

Teenager William Henry Perkin was using his chemistry set to try to make a cure for malaria when he invented the world’s first artificial purple dye… by accident.

Colour fact #4

Scheele’s green was a dye used to colour curtains and dresses, but it was so poisonous that it was later used by farmers in America to kill crop-eating insects.

Colour fact #5

Margarine was dyed pink by law in many states in the USA to make it appear different from butter.

Colour fact #6

An entire war was fought in 1374 over a single ship carrying saffron dye, which was stolen by pirates. It took as many as 170,000 crocus flowers to make a kilo of the golden orange colour dye.

Colour fact #7

Egyptian blue was a colour lost for 1,600 years, until people uncovered the ruined city of Pompeii and rediscovered the colour there on its walls and bowls.

Colour fact #8

A cheap type of purple dye called orchil was made from lichens mixed with stale human wee and left for 70 days – creating a terrible pong!

Colour fact #9

An orange-coloured powder dropped into the Chicago river every St Patrick’s Day is a vegetable dye which magically turns the entire river bright green for the day.

Finally, colour fact #10...

The world’s oldest paintbox was found in a cave in South Africa and is over 70,000 years old.

More about the Blue Peter Book Awards 2019

See more colour facts from inside the book

Play
Egyptian blue: spread from The Colours of History by Clive Gifford and illustrated by Marc-Etienne Peintre
Gamboge: spread from The Colours of History by Clive Gifford and illustrated by Marc-Etienne Peintre
Pink: spread from The Colours of History by Clive Gifford and illustrated by Marc-Etienne Peintre
Saffron: spread from The Colours of History by Clive Gifford and illustrated by Marc-Etienne Peintre
Scheele's Green: spread from The Colours of History by Clive Gifford and illustrated by Marc-Etienne Peintre
Tyrian purple: spread from The Colours of History by Clive Gifford and illustrated by Marc-Etienne Peintre
Egyptian blue: spread from The Colours of History by Clive Gifford and illustrated by Marc-Etienne Peintre

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Gamboge: spread from The Colours of History by Clive Gifford and illustrated by Marc-Etienne Peintre

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Pink: spread from The Colours of History by Clive Gifford and illustrated by Marc-Etienne Peintre

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Saffron: spread from The Colours of History by Clive Gifford and illustrated by Marc-Etienne Peintre

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Scheele's Green: spread from The Colours of History by Clive Gifford and illustrated by Marc-Etienne Peintre

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Tyrian purple: spread from The Colours of History by Clive Gifford and illustrated by Marc-Etienne Peintre

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