Sunday, April 18, 2010

Vintage Coloring Books Part 1

I have to admit that I have a fascination with old coloring books. I had a lot of them as a child and even though I remember spending lots of time coloring in them, I also remember that it was an activity that I frequently grew bored with. I would often start a picture and then want to move on to another activity. I preferred drawing my own pictures to coloring someone else's. Maybe that is why so many of the coloring books that I saved from my childhood, have pictures in them that are only partially colored or not colored at all. I think our mom, like a lot of moms, probably gave us coloring books because it was a quiet activity that would keep us out of trouble for a little while.

Regardless of what I just said, I still have a fondness for old coloring books. Part of it is a fascination with the imagery. I like the bold, heavy-line, comic book style of drawing that is a hallmark of these inexpensive publications. Sometimes some amazing graphics can be found in these books. I'm also fascinated by what sort of subjects were chosen to be included.

One of my favorite coloring book covers belongs to the "Jack the Giant Killer" coloring book that came out in 1963.  If only the inside drawings were equal to the humorous cover image. Unfortunately what is inside is quite uninteresting.  In fact, this book contains what I think must be the most boring coloring book image ever published - an image of a rope noose.  A child was supposed to find that an interesting subject to color?  There is so much going on in the caption below the picture - Jack escaping from prison, Jack making the noose, couldn't they have illustrated one of those scenes instead?  It just seems lazy on the part of the artist to show only a piece of rope. You can see by the image on the right, that it remains blank, attesting to the fact that I had no interest in coloring a noose. Very little of this book is devoted to the exploits of Jack the Giant Killer.  Instead, there are stories about Samson (I never knew he was considered a giant), Hercules, Atlas, David and Goliath and Paul Bunyan.  In the hands of a more imaginative artist, this could have been a really fun book, but unfortunately all of the images are simple and dull.

A book that is much more imaginative is one that is called "Color Everything Book."  There is no copyright date on this book, but judging from the illustrations, I imagine it is from the late 1950's or early 60's.  The cover image on this one is quite funny.  A little boy with his paint brushes in hand, has taken to heart the message in the book's title - he is coloring everything, including the cow and the pig who look at him angrily after he has painted them with dots and stripes.  The images on the inside are done in an entirely different style, they have a rather mid-century modern look to them and they are quite wonderful. They depict children taking part in various activities, usually with an animal companion at their side.  One thing that is very unusual about this book, something I've never seen in another coloring book is the inclusion of a small image in the lower right corner of all of the right hand pages that acts as a flip book.  It is a sequence of images of a bunny riding a unicycle that comes to animated life when you flip through the pages rapidly. It's just another example of this book's creativity and imagination.

The last third of the book contains a section called "Simple Objects to Color," with drawings done in a more traditional style.  It makes me wonder if the artist of the first two-thirds of the book ran out of time or ideas.  To me, this last section of the book looks like filler that might have been left over material from an entirely different, possibly even older coloring book.  Some of the images are rather bizarre.  Is that worm-like thing with the round body segments and female head (see image at right), some sort of a child's rattle?  And is there a reason that it's paired with an antique telephone? 

One of the oldest coloring books that I've had since I was a child, is sadly in very poor shape. It's a coloring book devoted to the singer Patti Page.  I would love to know what the cover of this book looked like but unfortunately it's missing and some of the pages have been ripped out. Judging from the condition of the book and the way the images have been colored, it must have been one of my first coloring books.

A few of the coloring books that I have in my collection I purchased as an adult at garage sales.  You can usually find them at very little cost.  This one, titled "First Color Book," I found for 75 cents.  The images in it are fairly uninteresting, but the thing that is interesting about this 1969 publication is that it is in mint, unused condition.  Not a single image has been colored.  As I said though, the images are rather dull as you can see from this drawing of two dogs.  It's obvious that only one dog was drawn and then flipped around to create the second dog.  That's just plain lazy if you ask me.

Another coloring book purchased at a yard sale was this one titled "Big Painting and Coloring Book."  Dating from 1934 it is also the oldest coloring book in my collection.  It's a great hodgepodge of a book filled with funny animals, scenes from fairy tales, a how to draw section, a section of Native American patterns and even botanical information.


  1. I loved this post. Like you I had coloring books that I found interesting for a while, and then moved on to books of paper dolls. But I found that I loved making my own paper dolls and their clothes far more.

  2. Thanks Ginger, I'm glad that you enjoyed the post. I will be posting more coloring books and paper dolls in the future. I just have to dig out from storage in the basement and get them scanned. I'm glad that there are people out there like yourself who appreciate them.