Werner’s Nomenclature of Colours Is BACK. / by Shanna Shryne

Centuries after naturalists used it to define the colors they saw in the natural world, Werner’s Nomenclature of Colours is back.

Color swatches seem like a modern invention. Yet more than a century before Pantone and standardized paint palettes, there was Werner’s Nomenclature of Colours. And it’s officially been redesigned by Nicholas Rougeux into an online resource for all to use.

Published in 1814 by the painter Patrick Syme and geologist Abraham Gottlob Werner, Werner’s Nomenclature of Colours is a working dictionary aim to illustrate and identify tones found in the natural world. The book is complete with paint swatches accompanied by handwritten descriptions and examples of where a particular color can be found in the wild.

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For example, “Greenish Grey” or no. 15 “is ash grey mixed with a little emerald green, a small portion of black and a little lemon yellow.” You can find it on the “quill feathers of a robin” or “bark of ash tree” or “clay slate wacke.”

 [ IMAGE SOURCE:  Greys ,  Robin ,  Clay Slate . ]

[ IMAGE SOURCE: Greys, Robin, Clay Slate. ]

“Red Lilac Purple” or no. 43, “is campanula purple, with a considerable portion of snow white and a very little carmine red.” You can find it in “light spots of the upper wings of a peacock butterfly”, red lilac” or “lepidolite.”

 [ IMAGE SOURCE:  Purples ,  Butterfly ,  Lilacs ,  Stone  ]

[ IMAGE SOURCE: Purples, Butterfly, Lilacs, Stone ]

“Wax Yellow” or no. 64, “is composed of lemon yellow, reddish brown and a little ash grey.” It can be found in the “larvae of large water beatles”, “semi opal” or the “greenish parts of a nonpareil apple”.

 [ SOURCE:  Yellow ,  Opal ,  Apple  ]

[ SOURCE: Yellow, Opal, Apple ]

While Werner's Nomenclature of Colours may seem like a relic of the past and a less than practical way of how color is defined today, there is still something intriguing about its definitions and specifications about the colors that surround us. Have fun exploring the 110 swatches of color here. See if you can find the color that matches the fur of a polar bear or human skin.

And if your feeling really like a design enthusiast, you can also purchase your own pocket-size copy here.