Look At All The Pretty Colors!
Introducing Bold And Beautiful Colors!
The late fifties was really a colorful time. New advances in technology and fresh sensibilities across the design industry spoke to the consumer with new colors that echo to this day. Gone were muted and blended colors of staid and conservative war torn times. In came a veritable rainbow, metallics, use of contrast and funky texturing, with cool trendy names that have become associated with the 50s.
To really appreciate the historic significance of these colors, you need to try and imagine a world where every day things you bought were available only in black, white, grays and browns. People were married to everything with origins in wood from our ancestral days. Sitting down on furniture, getting from place to place, or living in a house that wasn't made of all naturally occurring materials was still revolutionary. One example bakelite, an emulsion polymer preceding modern day plastics, even though it was available in any color from 30s, people still preferred black, brown, gray and white.
The other perspective is mass production manufacturing. Early 20th century production favored same parts, same processes, same colors to minimize costs and defects. The war industry brought many advances in manufacturing processes, standardization, and quality controls, which made offering a variety of color options more economically feasible.
One important reference for colors in vogue at any time is new car model color options. Arguably, car manufacturers make a big bet on what the public is craving with the color choices they offer. They don't decide what colors to offer without serious consideration.
Ditzler was a Detroit-based auto paint company started in 1902 that was bought by Pittsburgh Plate Glass, PPG Industries in 1928. Ditzler provided paint for many car manufacturers in the 50s. The paint chip cards available for each manufacturer model year offered colors with names hoping to appeal to the nascent American consumer.
Here's Ditzler's color chart for the 1957 Desoto:
Here's 1959 Chevrolet Corvette, Impala, Belair and Biscayne color options:
Names like "Seafoam Green," "Fiesta Red," "Mist Green," "Sunburst Yellow," "Shell Pink," "Cameo Coral," made their early entry into our collective consciousness from what was seen everywhere. Nowadays, when you say "seafoam green" people know exactly what you're talking about and probably have deep associations with that color name. That was not always the case.
Contrasting one of these imaginative colors with a muted color like black or white adds another dimension. This was a very popular design approach during the 50s and 60s timeframe. The color dichotomy is visually more interesting than with any one of the colors alone. Whereas these colors by themselves can be described with a few words, put white or black next to it and it seems like a whole new dialogue is started.
A 1956 RCA Victor 8-C-7FE in contrasting pink and white
Turquoise And White 1958 Philco H836-124
By far the most symbolic and unique of 50s radio colors are pink and turquoise varieties. Primary reds, greens, and blues were also found in the 50s, but they were also found in 40s and 60s as well.
1957 Motorola 57CC in pink
The pink varieties include carnation pink which is based in red and white only. "Carnation Pink," or "Shell Pink" has more white than red while "Coral" or "Salmon" pinks are more red than white. Add a little yellow and you get a beige pink, or fleshy pink, or buff pink. Add a lot of yellow and you get an orange almost, or a "Flame" color.1957 Arvin Model 5572 in "Flame"
The turquoise varieties are based in blue and white and yellow. If it's just blue and white, you get a "Cornflower Blue." If it's more white than blue, you get a light blue or "Powder Blue." Add a little yellow and you get turquoise; "Ocean Turquoise," "Aquamarine," or "Laguna Turquoise," or "Seafoam."
Turquoise and White 1958 Admiral Model 5D4
"Seafoam Green" is a very rare and desirable color to find in a radio but it is sometimes a misunderstood color. If it's more blue than green, it almost looks like turquoise like the Admiral above. If it's more green, it looks like "Surf Green," or "Sea Green:"1957 Motorola 56H in Seafoam Green
Oddly, true yellow representation is noticeably absent in late fifties radios, but it would seem yellows would have had their place. Maybe it's because many ivories almost looked yellow? True purples and lavender are also rare, not sure why.
1959 Yellow RCA Victor 8-C-6M Clock Radio
1957 Motorola 57CDin "Hyacinth"
When we look at the collect-ability of these radios it is not just nostalgia. These various colors represent an exuberance in design that has waned over the years. But color is still an important design feature. Industry still spends exorbitant amounts of man-power and money marketing color choices for today’s consumer. Phrases like “pop of color” and “color of the year” speak to this reality. These trends are iterations of ones that began in the fifties.