Old Town color chart circa 1920

Benson Gray

Canoe History Enthusiast
Staff member
Well, eBay has proven me wrong again. People have been asking about the exact colors used on their Old Town canoes for years and I have been advising them to pick a color that they like since no one will probably ever know what precise shade was originally used. The undated Old Town Canoe color chart shown below was described by the seller as circa 1920 which seems about right. It only shows 12 colors so this will not help with the more than 150 others mentioned in the build records. These colors may still not be accurate but it should provide a better approximation than anything I've ever seen before. Hopefully this will not lead to significant numbers of people to wanting repaint their canoes.



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Ah the fun of ephemera! I love it, not only for the help it may provide some people, but knowing that just about anything could turn up suggests there are more exciting things out there, yet to be placed on eBay and craigslist!
color chart

Benson --

On my computer, the two reds look very similar, both a bit brownish and the "bright red" not very bright. The dark green certainly looks dark, but the "medium or brilliant green" seems nearly as dark, and not at all "brilliant."

Is this just a distortion of color by the computer, or have the chip colors changed in the 90 years since the chart was printed?

Other colors seem to fit their descriptions quite well.

I snipped this photo and edited it in MS Photo Editor to pull up the colors. Here is the result. I'm not sure that the reds are more crisp as a result, but the greens are now a bit more distinct.


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Hello Benson,
I thought you had several paint charts from over the years. I have one that I belive is from the mid 60's. It has 207 zip code in the telephone number. Maybe you can tell from the style of printing. I was given the chart by Morris Brinker back in 1989. I always assumed that this was a fairly common chart. Would you consider these colors one accurate for the older canoes?Copy of Old  Town color chart.jpgCopy of Old  Town color chart.jpg
Merged Charts

This may make it easier to see the differences between charts.
I revised this to add a comparison of the Greens and Blues.
I added the Pantone for Yale Blue. Draw your conclusions about the charts from that.
The Marsh Green is a bit odd, more like Marsh Brown......
I can't decide how the greens should progress. Let me know and I'll revise it....


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Even though the colors on the 1920's chart may be slightly different than when it was new, it still puts us closer than we were before. I remember a discussion on this form about Yale blue. Now we at least have an idea of what it was.
The comparison chart is very interesting.
Would you consider these colors one accurate for the older canoes?
That chart is probably from the 1960s as described at http://forums.wcha.org/showthread.php?6887 since is has a zip code and may not be accurate for the older canoes.

The information at http://www.valsparglobal.com/about/ourhistory.jsp and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Valspar indicates that the older chart was probably made between 1905 and 1932. The "bright red" and "medium or brilliant green" are both darker than I would have expected from their names. I appreciate that Dave and everyone else who saw this on eBay did not bid me up. Thanks,

You have to remember that the way these jpeg images show up on the computer screen or from a printer varies from computer to computer. The only accurate color matching system is the PMS or Pantone Matching System. It's pretty much impossible to get an exact match off a computer image.

Perhaps we need a color engineer who has been in the business awhile. The very cooperative people at Kirby's might describe (and have early color cards) if what early colors and shades looked like. They may be able to describe the early pigments and how the mixing of paints has changed with modern solvents and chemicals. It appears that early samples are quite a bit duller than modern choices. Was this because of fading with age or was this what they were truly able to produce?

Have you given any consideration to approaching Kirby about computer matching the colors. They could be the source for "Original Old Town Colors" for build record appropriate paints....
Have you given any consideration to approaching Kirby about computer matching the colors. They could be the source for "Original Old Town Colors" for build record appropriate paints....

Not really since Old Town used many different paint vendors over the years and there is not much consistency of colors originally as MGC demonstrated. I'm also not convinced that these paint chips haven't faded since they appear quite dull as R.C. pointed out. My usual advice is to encourage people to pick colors that they like rather than worrying about originality in this case. Anyone including Kirbys is welcome to computer match these colors if they wish and I'm happy to share this information.

brown Japan oil

Hi - the build record for a canoe I picked up yesterday lists "brown Japan oil". Any ideas on how to achieve that color, or where I might see it? I'm guessing that the 1920 color chart Benson posted has a pretty close brown for my 1922 canoe. Thx, Mike