Full Chisel Blog

February 13, 2009

What was available in 1807?

Filed under: Finishing,Historical Material,Of Interest,Publications,The Trade,Uncategorized — Stephen Shepherd @ 9:00 am

This is a newspaper advertisement from Connecticut in 1807.  Note that the paint colors come in hogsheads, barrels, casks and cases, etc., as paint in the nineteenth century was sold by the pound.  It was therefore a powder pigment which was made into paint by adding linseed oil, turpentine and other ingredients.


There are also shellac, copal and other gums and resins for making shellac and other varnishes.  As you may note there is no mention of milk.



  1. Nope, I’ve ever only seen milk paint referenced in modern texts as a safe alternative to the lead based finishes of yore. It does sometimes come across that it was a traditional period finish but in what period is the question. I still like it even if it’s not period acurate. I’m not period acurate anyway :).

    Comment by Bob Rozaieski — February 18, 2009 @ 7:04 am

  2. Bob,

    You can still buy safe oil based paints. And they last a lot longer than modern paints. You can get them in any color you want, I sometimes buy white paint and add my own coloring pigments.


    Comment by Stephen Shepherd — February 18, 2009 @ 5:25 pm

  3. Hello- I realize this is an old post, and maybe this comment will never be seen. I bought your book on linseed oil, shellac, and paint recently. I was struck by the bold and incorrect statement that milkpaint was a recent innovation. It sort of called into question the validity of the rest of the book for me. I knew I had a reference that I obtained from the finish conservator at Colonial Williamsburg several years ago. Until I find those even earlier references, here are several I found within a minute or two on Google. The first one is the one I am most familiar with.

    Smith’s Art of house-painting; improved by W. Butcher – 1821

    Western farmer and gardener: Volume 2 – 1846

    An encyclopædia of cottage, farm, and villa architecture and furniture – 1839

    Agricultural journal of the Cape of Good Hope, Volume 10 – 1897

    An analytical index to the sixteen volumes of the first series of The repertory of arts and manufactures… – 1806

    Certainly milk paint or milk distemper was not predominant and probably not common, but there is clearly a long historical record. It is possible it was so simple and common knowledge, and so pedestrian, that it did not make it into the written record.

    Comment by Garvan Carver — January 25, 2012 @ 9:00 am

  4. Garvan,
    I appreciate your comments and have no idea what the people at Williamsburg said on this matter, so I can’t comment, but would like to see their results.
    As for your other entries, I checked those and others out and they are recipes for ‘whitewash’ and not milk paint for furniture, which I still contend is a myth. Milk paint rubs off and you don’t want that on furniture. Whitewash is an inexpensive alternative to oil paint and in some cases is desired for a ‘healthy’ room. But whitewash was not used to paint furniture which is my contention.


    Comment by Stephen Shepherd — January 25, 2012 @ 9:45 am

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