Thursday, May 10, 2018

The Regency in Color: Werner's Nomenclature

Thursday, May 10, 2018
Loretta reports:

The Regency era—both the short “official” (1811-1820) one and the long one (running from, depending on the historian, about 1800 to 1837, when Victoria’s accession to the throne began the Victorian era) was more colorful than a great many people (including me early in my career) believe.

The question about bright colors came up in relation to one of my fashion plate posts: As a commenter remarked, bright colors were indeed available. I also knew where to go to interpret the fanciful names for colors used in fashion: Deb Salisbury's Elephant’s Breath & London Smoke.

What I didn’t know was that a book with a system for naming colors was created during the Regency. Werner’s Nomenclature of Colours was first published in 1814, with a second edition in 1821. It apparently became a color bible for artists, explorers, naturalists, and others. A new edition, which came out in the U.S. in February of this year, cites Charles Darwin as one of its devotees.

From the introduction:
“A nomenclature of colours, with proper coloured examples of the different tints, as a general standard to refer to in the description of any object, has been long wanted in arts and sciences. It is singular, that a thing so obviously useful, and in the description of objects of natural history and the arts, where colour is an object indispensably necessary, should have been so long overlooked ... To remove the present confusion in the names of colours, and establish a standard that may be useful in general science, particularly those branches, viz. Zoology, Botany, Mineralogy, Chemistry, and Morbid Anatomy, is the object of the present attempt.”
You find out more about the book, learn how it came to be, and see some sample pages here at the publisher’s site.

And I’m happy to report that the original 1821 edition is online here, complete with the color pages.

Syme, Patrick. Werner’s Nomenclature of Colours: Adapted to Zoology, Botany, Chemistry, Mineralogy, Anatomy, and the Arts
Since I purchased my copy from a bookseller, no disclaimers are necessary.

Clicking on the image will enlarge it.  Clicking on the caption will take you to the source, where you can learn more and enlarge images as needed.


Deb Salisbury, Magic Seeker and Mantua-Maker said...

Werner’s Nomenclature is a great resource!

Thanks for mentioning my book. Color names are so much fun. :-)

Unknown said...

Fascinating article! I wonder though whether the colors of the vintage 1821 book match those before it had aged almost 200 years. I particularly wonder about the Cochineal (which today is a word for a bright red (think of bright red lipstick) and looks fairly muted in the scan of the 1821 book. Of course, maybe it is only our name for that color that has evolved over time. And how were the colors in the modern reprint chosen?

Loretta Chase said...

Deb, your book is a magnificent resource! I've referred to it here more than once, and turned to it frequently as I write my books.

Michael, re colors changing, here's what the intro to the new edition says, after noting that they've combined the 1814 and the 1821 editions in trying to create as close a color match as possible: "Nonetheless, the inevitable changes to the colours over the course of time and the constraints of modern printing mean that the colours reproduced here can only be a close approximation of what they were originally."

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