Polychromos - 111 Years of colours

Our popular Polychromos artist's pencil celebrates its 111th anniversary this year. We take you on a journey through time: Every four weeks we introduce you to three new colours from the limited edition and at the same time give you exciting insights into the unique company and family history of Faber-Castell.

Creative competition 111 years of Polychromos artists’ coloured pencils

1989 - in the same year that Tim Berners Lee produced the proposal document that became the blueprint for the World Wide Web a color concept for the German factory buildings is implemented to make the increased engagement of the company visible from afar.

"light burnt ochre" a house

The Light Burnt ochre is literally burnt! Exposed to heat the pigment dehydrates and transforms from a bright yellow into a brown toned colour. As the pigment has already been used during the Stone Age “Burnt Ochre” might have been one of the first modifications of a colour by humans.

"sap green" two riding knights

Sap green as a colorant also has the Latin name " sucus viridis ". Immature berries of the Rhamnus gave an olive green, partly yellow green or yellow gray dye.

Artists like Leonardo da Vinci, Tizian or Rembrandt used the "chocolate brown”, lavender pigment Bistre . It is made of carbon black, which was obtained from woods, such as beech or oak.

On December 12th, 1987, the wedding of Count Anton Wolfgang von Faber Castell and Mary Elizabeth Hogan was celebrated. The church ceremony took place in the church in Stein. Afterwards, the bridal couple drove to the new castle in a carriage, cheered by the crowds.

"rose lake" a wedding cake

The stunning colour “rose lake” is created by combining bluish and red shades. In former times, it was produced from crapp roots.

"earth green" a coach with 4 horses

Green Earth is considered by many a classy colour due to its deep green and yellow undertones. It was already used in the ancient times for murals, and it is still highly appreciated by artists.

The alluring Light Cinnabar can be found in European painting since the 15th century, frequently used as colour design of garments and robes. As a colorant, Cinnabar is already detectable in murals of ancient Pompeii and Herculaneeum as well as in Chinese documents.

Under the management of Count Anton Wolfgang, Faber Castell initiates 1982 a forestry project in Brazil, which is unique worldwide, and ensures a sustainable supply of valuable raw material for wood cased pencils.

"dark cadmium" a little plant

The vivid Dark Cadmium Yellow is an inspiring colour with orange tone. Monet was particularly associated with the pigment in such paintings as Autumn at Argenteuil and the Water Lilies and Irises.

"viridian" a bush

The name Viridian comes from Latin viridis ” and means green. Nowadays it is created with organic pigments, replacing the former toxic pigments. These formerly used pigments, help art historians to distinguish between an original van Gogh from and a fake one.

In the early 17th Century, the pigment "Natural Brown 8" was very often used by artists such as Rembrandt, Rubens but also the Flemish artist Anthonis van Dyck (1599 1641). Today this pigment is also called "Van Dyck Brown" due to his intensive use.

On July 21st 1969, Neil Alden Armstrong is the first man to stand on the moon. While all world is celebrating this event, Faber-Castell has to fight a fire that broke out in our factory building in Germany on the very next day. Nearly ten years later, in 1978, Count Anton-Wolfgang took over the company from his father.

"ultramarine" a building

This lovely light blue colour reminds us of clear water on sandy beaches. Ultramarine means “beyond the sea” according to its Latin translation: ultra (lat: beyond) and mare (lat.: sea). The name tells us something about its origin coming from oversea Asia to medieval Italy where it was used for colourings in early book miniatures.

"indigo" american astronaut

Indigo has already played an important role for artists in ancient Egypt. And though Newton might not have been an artist in the classical sense he made Indigo even more popular by classifying it as 7th colour in the visible spectrum.

Did you know that the mesmerizing colour scarlet lake used to be produced from Cochineal (scale insect)? Nowadays, it is produced from synthetical organic pigments which are maintaining the beautiful shade and in addition increase the lightfastness of the colour.

On July 14th 1961, Faber-Castell celebrated its 200th anniversary. The enthusiaticpopulation of Stein, Germany, joined a procession that wended its way through town. Another ceremony was held at Nuremberg Exhibition Centre in the afternoon.

Light cadmium yellow

Light Cadmium yellow is luminous and bright, perfect to produce warm mixes in your artwork. Since around 1850 it is being produced in industrial quantities as a lightfast pigment for artist colours.

"madder carmine" 200 years

The roots of Rubiatinctorumalready were an important ingredient for red dye in ancient Europe. In combination with aluminiumthe colourMadder carmine was created and became very common for pastels, oil paints and other artist materials.

Golden Ochre has already been used as pigment for paintings in the Stone Age, and some of these drawings are still visible in ancient caves today. Its lightfastness is excellent and the beautiful warm yellow shades perfectly matches earthy colourpallets.

In the course of the economic upswing, Count Roland von Faber-Castell devoted himself with intense energy to the founding of branches and the reacquiring of lost companies all over the world. Exotic parrots adorned the 50th Polychromos packages. Meanwhile Roland’s son Anton-Wolfgang set new school records in shot-put. It took another thirty years to beat his record.

"cadmium yellow lemon" a medal

With the discovery of the metal cadmium in 1817 by the professor Friedrich Stromeyer in Göttingen. The derived yellow cadmium pigments were important as colorants in the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century. The cadmium shades contained in modern Polychromos and Albrecht Dürer artist color pencils are achieved by toxicologically harmless, organic pigments, which have a colouristic and application-related properties to original.

"orange" a bird

When you think of orange, what springs to mind? For many eastern cultures, it is perceived as a sacred hue. In the western world, it is a polarising colour—you either love it or you hate it.

Thanks to a lack of pure potash Diesbach discovered the “Berliner Blau”. Instead of a red pigment he got a deep blue colour. With "Berliner Blau" it was possible for the first time to produce a modern pigment that was not found in the nature. His well kept secret was published 1724.

During his entire life, Count Roland von Faber-Castell was an enthusiast horseman. During these turbulent times Gone with the Wind set a record for Academy Award with eight wins and 13 nominations. The castle in Stein at the same time became the centre of life for many reporters that came to Nuremberg for reporting about the Nuremberg War Crime Trials. They stayed in the Faber-Castell castle, which had been turned into a press camp by the Americans.

"light crome yellow" an oscar

Sunflowers, billowing cornfields and starry deep blue nights. That is what we associate with chrome yellow. Van Gogh used it extensively in his paintings. Due to its opulent use of yellow, he could not afford the twenty times more expensive cadmium yellow.

"may green" a camera and a notebook

Even German poets and musicians in the Romantic period praised the spring month May for its lush green. Our May green is inspired by the colour of delicate birch and beech leaves in May. The colour is standardized in the German RAL system with the number 6017 and is nowadays mostly blended from organic pigments.

William Hooker was a sought-after plant artist. Long before the era of photography, he illustrated plants and their foliage for the famous Royal Horticultural Society. In his quest for green shades, he created an opaque Green which got his name. Who wouldn’t dream of a picnic on such beautiful green meadows?

Count Roland von Faber-Castell enjoys his winter holidays skiing in St. Moritz. Meanwhile construction and building of the highest skyscraper at that time starts at the other end of the world – the New York Empire State Building.

"sepia" the empire state building

Sepia – the scientific name for cuttlefish is the namesake for this colour. The dark brown to grey black dyestuff has been obtained from the dried ink sacs of these animals. Today no original Sepia is used for art materials.

"carmine extra fine" a car

Spanish conquerors brought prickly pears from Central and South America to Europe in the 16th century. The plants delivered not only good tasting fruits, but were also the host plant for scale insects. The strong red Carmine colour used in arts and cosmetics was produced from these scale insects. Today, synthetic pigments are used which have better light fastness than natural carmine.

Though Parisian and Berlin blue are chemically identical, they are not the same. The blue sky in the city of love, Paris, just seems to be a bit brighter than the sky in vibrant Berlin. This is reflected in the two shades of blue.

This elegant and colourful package reflects the Art Déco Zeitgeist, which had its climax in 1925. Did you know that 1926 was also the year of birth of both Queen Elizabeth II and Marylin Monroe?

Route 66 on a yellow background

Nothing is more annoying for artists than a chemical reaction of used colours. Due to its tendency to become greenish and its harmful properties the original pigment zinc yellow lost importance in painting. Nowadays the colour shade is being generated by non-toxic organic pigments with light-fastness and is highly popular for its brilliance.

"bluish purple" marylin monroe

Countesss Ottilie von Faber rejoiced over this colour: bluish purple. She chose wall coverings, silk curtains and the upholstery fabrics in her favorite tone. Bluish purple was a popular colour name at the turn of the century and therefore made its way in the Polychromos artist pencil range.

Nearly as old as the mountains and bright as a sky on a sunny summit. Naturally occurring azurite is the base for this awesome colour, that was frequently used in European paintings until the 18th century. With the availability of modern blue pigments, such as Prussian Blue, Mountain Blue has lost much in importance.

The construction of a new modern manufacturing complex in shape of a “U” was started to meet the increasing demand for the A.W. Faber products. Did you know? These buildings and our Faber-Castell production inside can be visited as part of our Faber-Castell experience.

an engine room in green

In former times artists were poisoned by toxic ingredients of the colours they used for painting. The toxic copper-arsenic pigment has long been replaced since then. The desired bright, light-resistant shade of green is pre-dominantly produced by non-toxic phthalocyanine-pigments with very good light resistance.

"burnt umber" two workers

El Greco, Rembrandt, van Rijn and Van Gogh created masterpieces with it: Burnt umber, a natural pigment consisting of iron oxides and manganese brown. Grinded and sintered generates a deep brown colour shade.

The name of the red pigment with a brownish colour shade was first mentioned about 300 years ago. Did you know that English Red is a synthetic iron-oxide-pigment, produced by a sintering process of 700° to 800°?

In 1908, Count Alexander von Faber-Castell introduces the new colour pencils "Polychromos". His youngest son Roland, who is three years old at that time, will later take over the company. When Alexander traveled to the United States in 1909, the New-Yorker Staatszeitung bestowed the title "Pencil King" on him. 

"light blue" iceskates

As clear as the sky on a cold and sunny winter morning: the light blue Polychromos. In medieval times this fragile and slightly cool blue was created by mixing indigo, white lead and water. Isn't it beautiful?

"light grey" a boat at sea

Did you know that the human eye can make out almost 60 different shades of grey from white to black? Wikipedia describes grey as "a colour darker than white and lighter than black, but without making a colourful impression" – we'd like to disagree.

In ancient Rome Lead (II, IV) oxide was prepared by calcination of white lead. The transformation of white lead into the red lead was said to be discovered in a fire at the old Athens harbour of Piraeus, where barrels of white lead were burned at over 480° in a fire accident and the white powder turned red.

Polychromos: a coloured pencil praised by prominent artists and creative minds from Karl Lagerfeld to Ferdinand Porsche, enjoying unrivalled popularity with anyone who loves creating with colour. And the pencil has been on the market for an impressive 111 years. We have come up with something really special to mark this extraordinary anniversary: a limited anniversary edition. We are going back to 1908 when the Polychromos was “born”. It was Alexander Graf von Faber-Castell who came up with the idea for this new
pencil product range. The main challenge when manufacturing these pencils was to guarantee the lightfastness of the leads. It took a lot of experimenting to achieve a satisfactory result. Finally, a round polished pencil encased in cedar wood was produced in 60 colours, from Opaque white and Mountain blue, Saturn red and Van-Dyck-brown, to Ivory black. We found just what we needed in old product catalogues: presented as a new addition, the Polychromos is offered well-sorted in different packaging and advertised with the colourful image of a spectacular sunrise – the symbol for the start of a new era!
The Polychromos did not disappoint. Like the green “Castell” pencil launched just a few years before, the model developed into a real classic that is regarded among the top products to this day. For the anniversary edition, we have chosen a metal-cased version in four different sizes and 36 colours. Have we simply filled these cases with the modern products? Of course not! The product stamping has also changed over time. To reflect the historic original, we have used the former stamp design.
111th anniversary Polychromos artists colour pencils
Polychromos: enjoying unrivalled popularity with anyone who loves creating with colour.
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