“BURNT SIENNA” — -ONE OF THE GREATEST COLORS OF ALL TIME; ASK CRAYOLA!!!
It’s a good thing that the ever-evolving creative staff at Crayola Crayons — the iconic concern founded as Binney & Smith Company in 1885 which introduced drawing crayons in 1903 and now boasts over 200 distinctive colors in a wide variety of assortments — erred on the side of good taste and purity in their selection of color names.
But what other tack to take when the thirst for brand name recognition in the United States has been quenched to the tune of 99% in the nation’s consumer households?
And when its products are sold in more than 80 countries?
And get this: when a Yale University study on scent recognition found that the smell of Crayola crayons is one of the most recognizable for adults, ranking 18th., trailing coffee (#1) and peanut butter (#2) but nipping at the wire, cheese (#19) and bleach (#20)?
Never mind that the inimitable Fred Rogers himself of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood children’s show fame was selected to mold the official 100 billionth crayon in February 1996 — twenty-plus years ago — at the company’s plant in Easton, PA.
A timeline of Crayola Crayon colors begins in 1903 when B&S introduced 8 colors in a box: black, blue, brown, green, orange, red, violet and yellow.
By 1949 40 colors were added and the biggest box of Crayolas held all 48. In ’58 16 new entries were welcomed and the new 64-color box with a built-in sharpener made its inaugural appearance.
In 1972 Crayola created a fluorescent furor tossing eight “ultra” shades into the mix — 72 colors at work aptly enough in ’72.
(Since the introduction of fluorescent colors, the standard colors have been complemented by a host of specialty crayon assortments and sets including but not limited to “Silver Swirls,” “Gem Tones,” “Pearl Brite,” “Metallic FX,” “Magic Scent,” “Silly Scents” and others).
By 1990 16 more colors came aboard and eight existing ones were retired as Crayola felt they had outlived their appeal; 80 colors and counting.
Eighty became 120 when 16 more and then 24 were added in ’93 and ’98 respectively.
In celebration of the company’s 100th. Anniversary in 2003, 4 new colors were added and four were voted out by the crazed crayon-using public, the 120-color tally holding steady.
Whatever today’s actual figure, Ed Welter, a devoted collector of crayons who by 2014 had somehow amassed over 3,000 boxes of the colored wax variety — half of which were Crayola — contends that “new” Crayola crayons oftentimes were not new, but renamed.
In his research-enhanced collecting mania he counted 755 color names ever sold, but only 331 individual colors.
In 1903, the company used 54 names for 38 separate colors; by the end of ’58 the company had created 138 names for 108 colors released and sold at any point in time.
And by 2015 the figure had risen to 759 names bestowed upon the 331 colors.
In fact, according to Welter, Crayola once issued a box including several crayons of the same color but with different names. He challenged even the most discerning eye to see the difference between Light Turquoise Blue and Turquoise Blue; Dark Green and Green; Brilliant Rose, Medium Rose and Light Magenta; or Medium Violet and Violet (surely among other colors for example).
Then there was the issue of political correctness.
The color Flesh stirred controversy with its implicit reference to skin tone particularly when the only skin-tone crayon made was in a light beige shade.
But it wasn’t until the early ‘60s — and on the receiving end of an admonishment or two from social researchers — that the company realized the public unease and disquiet it was feeding.
Flesh became Pink Beige and then Peach.
Indian Red, actually referring to a pigment from a plant indigenous to India and not to the Native American community, could have been renamed India Red. Instead the company erred on the side of caution and neutrality choosing Chestnut.
In 1992 Crayola opened up naming rights to anyone.
Groupies of all ages, shapes and sizes were invited to name the sixteen brand new colors scheduled for release in ‘93.
A six-year-old named an orangey crayon after her favorite food; please welcome warmly Macaroni and Cheese.
A 12-year-old drew small facial expressions to correspond with each new color. His “laughter” face was pink because he volunteered that he blushed when he was tickled as a kid. Say hello to Tickle Me Pink.
And an 89-year-old came up with Purple Mountains Majesty.
Welter admiringly concedes that despite all the changes over time, Crayola’s color quality has remained consistent throughout the past century. “Since the ’60s, they’ve kept pretty true to their basic colors.” High praise from a collector so heavily invested in minutiae with a capital “m.”
Francesco Marciuliano for smosh.com satirically cited the ten worst Crayola colors of all-time.
Red-Orange/Orange-Red — never a threat to the real Red or Orange; the aforementioned Flesh and Indian Red — igniting political firestorms; Thistle — impossible for a kid learning to talk to even pronounce let alone want to use; Bittersweet — “minor hopes dashed all too soon” for a small child…really?; Asparagus — aside from the fact that few four-year-olds would willingly choose to eat vegetables, Marciuliano humorously observes that this color’s value could only be seen by the child “…who used his Crayola(s) to create perfect art forgeries of Flemish food still-lifes [and relied on this shade as] an essential tool in their international art thief kit.”
Manatee; the near-nonagenarian’s Purple Mountains Majesty; the 6-year-old’s Macaroni and Cheese; and Mauvelous round out his list.
As for exercising good taste and promoting purity in the color-naming selection process, the bottom line is that crayons were made for kids.
Kids become adults who remember fondly and even vividly their Crayola-using youth.
I thank my lucky stars that my favorite color was dubbed Burnt Sienna, and not Cognac or Tobacco.
There would be plenty of time for all that deeper understanding.
[Editor’s Note: This piece was written by Mr. Kaplan in November 2016.]