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Invention of the Paint Tube

Photo Gallery: Winsor & Newton Factory Tour

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Paint Tube invention

Left: Bladders used for storing paint and a glass syringe for paint. Right: Various stages in the development of the collapsible metal tube for paint.

Photo courtesy of Winsor & Newton

In the small museum on art materials at the Winsor & Newton factory in London, one of the displays is about the invention of the paint tube. Buying paint in a tube is something we take for granted these days, being able to reach out and instantly have some fresh paint in however many colors we have bought. In fact, the squeezable tube with a screw-on lid is the one thing invented for art materials that found its way into everyday life. Think about how many things come in this container, toothpaste, ointments and creams, even food pastes.

Originally artists made up their own paint (or, rather, the studio apprentice did) using the pigments they bought. The first ready-made paint was sold by colormen in pig's bladders, which you punched a hole in to get the paint out and then sealed with a tack. The next invention was a glass syringe, with the plunger squeezing the paint out, invented by the English artist James Hams in 1822. Then in 1841 the American portrait painter John Goffe Rand invented the squeezable or collapsible metal tube.

Rand took out patents in 1841 London, and in America (on 11 September 1841) for his Improvement in the Construction of Vessels or Apparatus for Preserving Paint. (You can read the full patent and see his drawing on the Smithsonian's website.) W&N was soon using tubes for its oil and watercolor paints.

"My invention related to a mode of preserving paints and other fluids by confining them in a close metallic vessels so constructed as to collapse with slight pressure and thus force out the paint or fluid contained therein... a screw-cap as is show, by which means the fluid contained can be from time to time removed and the end c closed air-tight by the cap." -- John G Rand's patent for the invention of the paint tube

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