We have so many rewarding links with customers, many of whom have been faithfully using our inks and paints for decades. As a manufacturer, the only ‘downside’ of making a really good product is that they last a long time. If we were counting, this probably impacts on sales… but it does mean that a conversation with charming customers such as Roy Perry revealed he has tubes of Spectrum paint from the 1960’s still containing perfectly usable paint. Do let us know if you can beat that!

Roy's tube

The grid pattern Roy placed the tube on for the photograph above does make it look as if it wanted by the police in connection with a serious crime, which we do not believe to be the case…

These old tubes got us thinking about the history of paint in aluminium tubes and it makes for an interesting story.

If you were painting over two hundred years ago, you either would have made your own paint (albeit with a very short shelf-life) or would have purchased paint in small tins, tubs or enamel jars. If you were established and painting produced a good income, you may have an assistant to mix up colour each day, but this didn’t leave much room for spontaneity with colour or easy transport if painting away from the studio.

tube in crimper

In the early 1800’s, commercial paint makers would use open lid tins and sometimes enamel or metal pots but there remained the problem of waste as the paint skinned. With a large surface area, the oil paint would dry relatively quickly leaving the artist to fish out bits of dried paint (sometimes referred to as hickies) from every brush stroke.

But the notion of a sealed container, from which paint could be squeezed provided a method whereby the paint could be protected from the oxidising effect of the air. The initial method however would not have appealed to vegans or vegetarians as for a considerable period of time, paints were decanted into pig’s bladders to make small pouches the size of a golf ball. I don’t know when they fell out of use inside footballs, but the bladder was replaced by glass syringes in the early 1800’s. Certainly cleaner than the bladder, but expensive and fragile!

It needed the frustration of a painter from South Carolina painter named John Rand. Perhaps Mr. Rand had a bad day in 1841 and dropped on one of his glass syringe tubes of Alizarin Crimson or sat on a pig’s bladder of Ultramarine before finding inspiration to invent the collapsible metal paint tube!

This forerunner to the tube known by artists today (squeezed by artists in shops around the world to the annoyance of retailers), with its bung rather than cap, made paint portable. Artists could leave the studio and take to the world…