To celebrate the opening of Saturated: The Allure and Science of Color (May 11, 2018-January 13, 2019), Object of the Day this month will feature colorful objects from the exhibition.

Before Pantone, there was the Wiener Farbenkabinet (Viennese Color Collection or Complete Book of Samples of all Natural, Basic, and Combined Colors). This manual is one of only four known copies in the United States; detailing the various formulaic compositions of naturally made color shades for schwartz (black), wieß (white), rot (red), gelb (yellow), blau (blue), braun (brown), and grün (green) to name a few. This manual contains 2,592 hand-colored natural dye specimens, along with details on how to apply them to silk, cotton, wool, leather, wood, bone, paper, and many other materials. Published in 1794 by Johann Ferdinand Ritter von Schönfeld and before the discovery of synthetic dyes in 1856, this manual reveals an extraordinary and vibrant system of calibrated, named and numbered colors organized prismatically. This multi-volume guidebook is a valuable resource for conservators and anyone interested in color materials, techniques and applications.

Schönfeld’s publication is featured in the Creating Colors section of Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum’s exhibition Saturated: The Allure and Science of Color. Divided into several thematic categories, this section is devoted to how objects are colored, featuring various examples of naturally and synthetically dyed objects.

Printed in the German Blackletter typeface Fraktur that dates to the early 16th century, it is not machine-readable and requires manual transcription in order to provide full text searching. Using the power of crowdsourcing through Smithsonian Digital Volunteers: Transcription Center, Wiener Farbenkabinet has been transcribed by over 600 contributors and is near completion as of this post. The Smithsonian Transcription Center seeks to engage the public in making collections more accessible by working hand-in-hand with digital volunteers to transcribe historic documents and collection records to facilitate research from archives all around the world.

A fully digitized version of the Weiner Farbenkabinet can be found here in Smithsonian Libraries online catalog, SIRIS.

This object will be on view in Saturated: The Allure and Science of Color beginning May 11.

Sylvia J. Ferguson is a Master’s candidate in the Master’s Program in the History of Design and Curatorial Studies offered by Parsons, The New School of Design jointly with Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum. She served as the curatorial research fellow on Saturated: The Allure and Science of Color.

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