This past Spring we have been hard at work refreshing some of the interior paint at the 1900 house. It is difficult to find time to do small projects like this as the 1900 house is in use year round. Still, we’ve managed (with the help of some good volunteers) to paint the trim in both the dining room and the parlor and have plans to complete the rest of the trim and the ceilings on the main level. Freshening up paint could have been done in 1900 as well, with ready made oil paint purchased from the Sears and Roebuck Catalog.
I did a little research about house paint at the turn of the century and came across a helpful book entitled House Paints, 1900-1960 by Dr. Harriet A.L. Standeven and published by the Getty Foundation. In the first chapter of her book Dr. Standeven describes the transition of paints and how they became more accessible for the home. In 2012 many of us will take on home paint projects ourselves with paint that is highly accessible in hundreds of different colors at your local hardware store. Dr. Standheven suggests that two things made paint inexpensive to purchase and easy in application; the introduction of ready-made paints in the 19th century and synthetic resins in the 20th century. The information about early paints in the following two paragraphs can also be found in her book.
The earliest incantations of paint were mixes of different naturally occurring ingredients such as tallow, which could be mixed with paint to make it more waterproof. These paints would be mixed shortly before application by professional painters. Then the Industrial Revolution came, new trains, buildings, and bridges demanded protection and decoration that paint could provide. This led to specialists in the fields of paint and varnish and mass production of paints from highly guarded recipes.