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Random Thoughts

Cray On

Hudson Cooper
Posted 4/8/22

What product was red, orange, yellow, green, blue, violet, brown and black? Here is a hint. In 1903 you could buy them all for a nickel. Those colors were sold in the first box of Crayola crayons. …

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Random Thoughts

Cray On


What product was red, orange, yellow, green, blue, violet, brown and black? Here is a hint. In 1903 you could buy them all for a nickel. Those colors were sold in the first box of Crayola crayons. Growing up, a box of Crayola crayons was a prized possession. Whether using them to draw a picture of your house or filling in a coloring book, they are a fond memory of childhood.

The Crayola company put crayons on the map. Crayola is a trademark protected name, but it is commonly used as a generic term for crayons. So please excuse me if I occasionally interchange the trademarked brand with the actual product.

The word “crayon” was developed in the sixteenth century many years before Crayola. It is derived from the French word “craie” which means chalk. Originally it was just a chalk pencil that bore no resemblance to today’s crayon.

I consulted with Michael Magenta, the author of the fictional “Between The Lines- The History of The Coloring Book,” to explore the emergence of today’s crayon. He informed me that the creation of a wax stick capable of writing with colors goes back to Roman times. Some scholars credit Pliny the Elder as the first to describe the use of wax to create colored crayon drawings. At some point he noticed his children, Pliny the Younger and Pliny the Baby, trying to lick the colored wax implement. Pliny then became the first to scold his kids with “For the last time, do not eat the wax stick. If I catch you again, no emmer porridge for dessert!”

Eventually many companies experimented with creating wax crayons to attract artists to try the medium. They met their match when two cousins, Edwin Binney and C. Harold Smith perfected the method of mixing color with paraffin wax to make a marketable crayon. To differentiate themselves from crayon competitors, they had to pick a name for their product. Names such as “Craymation” and “Binney Stick” were rejected. On a Tuesday in 1903, Edwin’s wife Alice Binney combined the word “craie” with the first letters of “oleaginous,” which is another word for paraffin wax and the name “Crayola” was born.

Within a year the Crayola company introduced its “Gold Medal” box containing the eight colored crayons mentioned in this column’s opening paragraph. There have been many colors sold by the Crayola company. Today they produce 120 assorted colors. Over the years the company has eliminated many and added others. The brand is so popular that any change to available colors makes the news.

They have eliminated over 400 colors over the years. Some of these are Frostbite(vivid violet), Give Peach A Chance(peach), Taxi Cab(yellow), Back To The Fuchsia(purple-red), Leather Jacket(black) and America The Blue-tiful(Blue). Eliminated is too harsh a word for Crayola. When a color is discontinued it is considered “retired.” All the colors I mentioned were some of those retired except for “Back To The Fuchsia” which is one I made up as an homage to the successful film trilogy starring Michael J. Fox.

Like baseball cards or Cabbage Patch Kids, there is value in collecting rare Crayola colors. Some were quickly retired while others were made in limited quantities. One of the rarest is “The Color Purple.” In 2006, Oprah Winfrey hosted a show called “Million Dollar Ideas” which mentioned Crayola. On that show the great-granddaughter of Edwin Binney presented Oprah with a box of 64 “The Color Purple” crayons. The crayon’s label had Oprah’s signature on it and besides the 64, no others were ever produced. To this day it is one of the rarest of any collectibles.

One color that Crayola will never produce would be Vegan Violet. If you have kids and are trying to maintain a vegan lifestyle at home, you should know that Crayola crayons are not vegan friendly. They are partially derived from animal products like gelatins, bone char and beeswax. So, although Jazzberry Jam, Banana Mania and Cotton Candy may sound delicious, for my vegan friends, it’s best not to ingest.


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