by Pat Jacobs
The 1960s are widely considered the "golden age" of coloring books; virtually thousands of subjects appeared in them. There were even coloring books for products such as Planters Peanuts, Cracker Jack, Hoover Sweepers (!), and Campbell Soup.
But it was TV programs, from kids' cartoons to popular evening primetime comedies and dramas, that provided the overwhelming majority of coloring book themes. Nearly every major show had at least one (Beeny and Cecil, Julia, Daniel Boone, The Flintstones, Green Acres, The Addams Family, were just a few, among many others).
Comic book characters were also still popular; Dennis The Menace, Beetle Baily, Casper The Friendly Ghost (This comic book also spawned Wendy The Good Little Witch, Hot Stuff-about a kid devil!, Nightmare-about a ghost horse, and The Ghostly
Trio-who I believe watched over, but also made fun of Casper .) , Alley Oop, King Leonardo-about a cartoon lion who ruled over the land of Bongo Congo. He had a loyal "go-fer", Odie Colonie, a skunk that spoke with a British accent, and an evil relative, Itchy Brother, and his friend, Biggy Rat, who were always plotting to take over the kingdom. For a cartoon, it was rather involved, but very interesting.
Some of these coloring books, if unused and in mint condition, now command top dollar-A "My Favorite Martian" book, circa 1964, can fetch $119.95. "Wild Bill Hickok And Jingles", from 1955, can go for $295.95. "Shari Lewis And Her Puppets" (1958) can go for $129.95. And a "Beatles" coloring book can go for $299.95! Vintage coloring books are no longer for kids anymore, are they?
The vast majority of these books were produced from just a few publishing firms, starting with the McLoughlin Brothers. Did you know that coloring books were originally PAINTING books? In the 1880s, The McLoughlins produced "The Little Folks Painting Book" with the noted illustrator Kate Greenaway.
The company, already a leader in children's books, continued to publish this genre through the 1920s (McLoughlin then became part of the Milton Bradley company.) The McLoughlins carried on with the Little Orphan Annie Crayon and Coloring Book (1933), and later the Popeye Paint Book.
Richard F. Outcault, the inventor of the modern comic strip ("The Yellow Kid"-He used multiple panels and "speech balloons"-Outcault wasn't the first to use these techniques, but his use of them created the standard by which comics were and are measured ) , also created the character of Buster Brown in 1902.
He created one of America's first character coloring books of the 20th century with "Buster's Paint Book" in 1907. The ten by four booklet (by the Stokes Company) was a tribute to the Buster Brown comic strip. In 1908 the company also issued the
Buster Brown Stocking paint box (a cardboard folder containing a packet of pictures for coloring). Other major coloring book publishers later included Saalfield, Merrill, and Whitman.
Saalfield first achieved fame with the popular "Billy Whiskers" series, and later in 1931, came out with the Mickey Mouse Paint Book and Mickey Mouse Coloring Book. But they really scored a major coup with their Shirley Temple books. Among the many were Shirley Temple: A Great Big Book To Color (1936), Shirley Temple: My Book To Color (1937), and Shirley Temple's Blue Bird Coloring Book (1939).
Merrill began publishing paper doll and coloring books in Chicago, also during the 1930s. From this decade through the 1950s, they were probably the second largest publisher of children's coloring books.
Whitman Publishing was founded in the early 1900s; they marketed the Dick Tracey Paint Book and a Peter Rabbit series in the late 1930s. Today, as Western Publishing, this company is America's largest producer of children's books.
Did you know that before the 1930s, the basic coloring book was NOT accepted; Painting books were widely used. Even during the 1930s when crayons came into greater use, books were still designed for painting or coloring.
Coloring books would expand in the 20th century beyond comic strip characters and heroes to feature cartoons, radio and television, Disney, cowboys, historical themes, movies, advertising, and even ice skating (Sonja Henie had her own coloring books in
1939 and in 1940 ).
Movie stars were a big attraction of coloring books during the 1940s-Judy Garland, Betty Grable, Rita Hayworth, and Margaret O' Brien had one or a series (Even the Dionne Quints were featured). Western film heroes such as Roy Rogers and Dale
Evans (A coloring book of theirs can go for $249.95!) and Gene Autry were also popular. ( And of course, the comics-Blondie, Smilin' Jack, Bugs Bunny, and Tubby Tom ).
Cowboy heroes continued to be popular throughout the 1950s (An unusual product of this genre was Gabby Hayes' Tall Tales, Magic Dial Funny Coloring Book. It featured a die-cut opening shaped like a TV screen.
A disk wheel was turned to produce pictures of Gabby, and the pictures were then colored in.); and with the advent of TV, there were new faces such as Ozzie and Harriet, David and Ricky (The Nelsons!), The Cisco Kid and Pancho, Baby Huey, Sergeant Preston of the Yukon, Ramar of the Jungle, Space Ranger, Jimmy Dodd of The Mouseketeers (Wasn't he the Chief Mouse?), and Leave It To Beaver.
"I had a lot of coloring books, but what I clearly remember is the Annette Funicello one my mom gave me", recalled Pamela Foster. I absolutely adored her; heck, I wanted to BE Annette. I also had the BIG box (64 colors!) of Crayola Crayons, so I was in coloring book heaven!"
I now have a 24-color box set of original Crayola Crayons. I basically have this for a collector's item, but every so often, I pull out the crayons and design homemade posters with them. I'm going to try my best to find the big set (64 colors!) that I used to have and hold on to them for dear life."
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