Thursday, September 23, 2010

Napoleonic British Artillery Colour

You may recall a few month's back I bought some of the new Perry Royal Horse Artillery limber's, this led me to start thinking about what colour I was going to paint them.

As a bit of an old timer I have traditionally used 'British Equipment Grey' from the Humbrol Authentic range an enamel paint I bought in the 70's ('old timer' paints really last for a lifetime!). In the '70's you never had to argue over what shade to paint your Napoleonic's, French were French Blue, British were British Scarlet, you name it there was a colour for it even the infamous 'Polish Crimson'. So without ever a thought of whether it was right or wrong, 'British Equipment Grey' just was 'the' colour, simpler days. Of course these days the Humbrol's tend to get put down, if they even come up in conversation, as just a marketing strategy and they just threw in any old paint.

These days however everything you see, from books, to models, to websites use a very light grey for British field equipment, some even use what looks to me to be a light blue(?!!). So I started to wonder whether in the light of modern research had light grey been proved to be the real colour to use?

So I started to look through the books to find if there was a definitive answer to what the colour was. As it happens there are surprisingly few contemporary colour prints of British artillery pieces, and most books use modern day artist drawings and have little to say on the actual colour. However I did find in that masterpiece of a work 'British Napoleonic Field Artillery' by C.E. Franklin a small section devoted to exactly this subject, so lets take a look at that and I will continue below;

From British Napoleonic Field Artillery by C.E. Franklin
Colour of Artillery Equipment
There is some dispute between different authorities regarding the colour of artillery equipment. The contemporary paintings show a dark grey colour, but modern artists seem to prefer a blue-grey. As far as can be determined during the Napoleonic period all wood and iron work of artillery equipment was painted to protect it and the brass gunes were polished when circumstances warranted but were usually left dull on campaign(45).

There are several indicators that the carriages were painted; Dickson recorded in December 1809 that his brigade had been sent to Quinta Nova for just that purpose(46). The facilities in the Royal Carriage department included 'painters stores and sheds for the painting of carriages' and there are several references to the cost of paint colours and and oil(47). One reference in 1812 specifically refers to gun carriages painted in a 'lead colour'(48). One of the few paintings to show such equipment is David Morier's 'Royal Artillery in the Low Countries'; this shows a darkish grey, which matches the description 'lead' (49).

According to later records of 1858 when white zinc oxide had replaced white lead, all wood was painted a grey, called 'lead', later 'white lead':
The principal ingredient, used in making paint in this Department, is the oxide of zinc. The raw oxide is mixed with raw linseed oil, in the proportion of two gallons of oil to one cwt. of oxide, it is then incorporated in a pug mill, and afterwards passed between stone rollers until it acquires a uniform consistency; in this state it is termed 'ground white zinc', and is stored in kegs until required for use. the proportions of the ingredients for making the several kinds of paint used in the service are as follows:

For Carriages, &c. for Home Service

Ground oxide, of white zinc 112lb
Lamp-black 6lb
Oil (bolied), for grinding 3 quarts
Manganese, as a drier 8 ounces
Raw linseed oil, for mixing 2.5 gallons
Bold linseed oil, to give body and gloss 2.5 gallons
Turpentine, for thinning and drying 2.5 gallons
The above ingredients are carefully incorporated and strained through a wire sieve to make 197lb. For tropical climates, where a lighter colour is required, the lampblack is reduced to 1lb mixed with one pint of boiled oil.

Black Paint, for Iron Work

Boiled oil, for grounding 8 gallons
Boiled oil, for mixing 4.5 gallons
Turpentine 1 quart
Rd lead for drying 2lb
Litharge for drying 4lb
The above ingredients are carefully incorporated and strained through a wire sieve to make 164lb(50).

There is no evidence to support the use of any other colourant and while ironwork was painted black the metal ends of the shafts, the elevating mechanisms, trunnion bearing, inside of the capsquares, axletree arms, linchpins and the washers were not painted but 'kept bright' and lightly oiled. Tests conducted with the relevant pigments and oils give two quite different tones of grey.

The re-enactor or modeller should note when lead white is mixed to the above recipe it produced a colour very similar to Dulux, Ebony Mist 3. The zinc white, used after the period, produced a darker grey similar to Dulux Ebony Mist 2. Analysis of the sample of the earlier paint using white lead was sent to the NCS Colour Center and provide NCS reading of 'S 6000-N'. NCS Colours can be obtained at a variety of outlets including Dulux, crown, Johnston and Leyland. A similar analysis was carried out by DG Colour using the 'Munsell' system and this gave a grey scale reading that is nearest to N.45. A further sample was sent to Humbrol Modelers Paints. The modeller will find their nearest equivalent is Matt Ocean Grey 106, which is equivalent to Revel 47.

In 1861, the colour of British artillery equipment was changed to green, to make the equipment less conspicuous, but this was abandoned in December 1862, and the colour reverted to the original lead colour.

45 Mercer, 1807 p333
46 Dickson, 1908 pp.126,130,142,145
47 Hogg, 1963 pp485,527
48 Henry, 2003 p16
49 Morier, D. Royal Arillery in the Low Coutries Rotal Collection cat#125
50 HMSP, 1858 p11

So there is plenty of specifics there, and I was stunned to see Humbrol mentioned, they had actually been part of the test to find out what the colour was, even the colour was given, Matt Ocean Grey 106, which surprised me even more as I have known for years that that colour actually was the old Authentic's 'British Equipment Grey'. So it seems these guys did do some proper research and maybe those Authentic's aren't quite as shabby as some would now like us to believe.

However I was left with a couple of questions, why if that was the colour do all the illustration's in Franklin's book use a very very light grey and was the Humbrol colour really a match for 'S 6000-N' as stated?

Well recently I had a conversation with Dr. Stephen Summerfield at the Napoleon-Series forums about Franklin's note. He told me that when Franklin was putting together his book he had advised Franklin about how white lead and not zinc oxide was in use during this period and that the illustration's were too light a colour and the correct colour should be 'Mid Grey', this was rather late in the production of the book hence the illustrations were not changed to reflect the new information.

One other piece of useful information from Stephen was that 'white lead' actually reacts to the hostile acid environment of oxides of sulphur and nitrogen plus hydrogen sulphides i.e. gunpowder, causing it to darken with use.

So that's one mystery resolved, but now what does 'NCS S 6000-N' look like, well there is a problem here, both the NCS and Maunsell color systems are proprietary color models generally used by commercial and professional organisations, for that read 'have to pay very large sums of money for'. However they do have an online resource that supposedly converts between the NCS color model and the more common RGB color model here. Also exactly what does the 'Mid-Grey' that Dr. Stephen Summerfield speaks of look like.

Below are the two possible RGB colours:

'Dark Amberish Gray'

'Mid Grey'

The second colour is Dr. Stephen Summerfield's 'Mid-Grey' and actually is a match for the Humbrol colour I have (FYI the Humbrol paint swatches on their website bear absolutely no relation to how the colours looks in real life, and that's for all colours not just this grey), the first colour is the NCS colour as converted by the NCS color navigator. They are different and the NCS colour is not really a good match for the Humbrol colour I have, though I feel it probably represent's the colour 'newly applied' whereas the Humbrol is a 'used in the field' mid-grey.

I should also note that trying to work out the correct shade of colour using a computer monitor is a difficult thing to do, there is a wide variance in how a colour looks between different brands and different types of monitor, having worked in IT in the fashion industry for a while it used to cost a lot of money to have monitors capable of displaying accurate colour shades that could be translated into 'real world' colours. In fact those two colours above look quite different at the top of my screen to the bottom of the screen due mainly to variation's in brightness as well as viewing angle and other factors. Also if you are looking at pictures of models on the web then you have to allow for the lighting used when taking the shot having a substantial impact on the perception of the colour.

So there you have it, from my perspective at least, until someone can come up with solid fact's to prove otherwise I am reasonably happy to say that the Humbrol colour was based on real research, unlike any other colour you can mention, and it probably represents the colour of equipment as it was in the field in the Napoleonic era that had gone though a battle or two and that's what I have gone with.


Stephen's Science Club said...

Just a clarification.
White Lead (lead carbonate) reacts with sulphides to form lead sulphide which is black. Hence darkens in their presence.

Hydrogen sulphide (bad eggs smell) and potassium sulphide are degradation products of the sulphur in gunpowder after deflagration.

Dr Stephen Summerfield

BlackMamba said...

Thank you very much for catching that!

I had meant 'gunsmoke' rather than 'gunpowder' and unintentionally obscured the process as a result!

Neil said...

Very timely post! I'm getting ready to paint some Royal Artillery 9lb's.