Coloring Books Have Been Around a Lot Longer Than You Think

Recently the adult coloring book trend exploded. Over 10 million books sold in 2015 and over 14 million sold in 2016. Though the trend seems to have calmed down because of a now saturated market, dedicated fans are still picking up books. There are still many fun new coloring books coming out including books that feature pop culture titles like Destiny, Rick and Morty, Labyrinth, The Legend of Korra and Disney.

Though they certainly got trendy recently, coloring books aren’t a new thing.

An 18th Century Coloring Book

Amy Pool, a plant taxonomist at the Missouri Botanical Garden, was reading a book about botanical illustration when a citation for an 18th-century title piqued her curiosity. She searched the library’s catalogue and found The Florist. This book was a coloring book for adults containing 60 illustrations of flowers.

Printed by the publisher Robert Sayer around 1760, The Florist is one of the earliest examples of coloring books found yet. Kate Greenaway’s The Little Folks’ Painting Book, published in 1879, had previously been considered as the first coloring book.

According to Hyperallergic, “The Florist was intended, as its title page relays, ‘for the use and amusement of Gentlemen and Ladies.’ But, unlike most contemporary coloring books, it wasn’t meant to soothe the mind or encourage limitless creativity; rather, it served more as a manual for those seeking to sharpen their artistic skills. The Florist was for serious adult colorists only, filled with detailed instructions on how to paint each flower strictly according to its natural colors.”

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The book also included tips for coloring. It explained how to mix pigments to get the correct shade for each flower. According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, fewer than 10 copies of The Florist exist in libraries. The Yale Center for British Art does have a colored version.

Color a Free Download

The library has digitized and uploaded The Florist to its website. Each page is available for download. Wether you go scientifically accurate with your colors or a little fantastic, the pages are free to download and color.

Feeling inspired to try something else? Enjoy these free coloring pages from our book Color the Living Island. Click on the image to save it so you can print your own copy.

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