Paint by number

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A paint by numbers kit

Paint by number or painting by numbers describes kits having a board on which light blue or gray lines indicate areas to paint, and each area has a number and a corresponding numbered paint to use. The kits were invented, developed and marketed in 1950 by Max S. Klein, an engineer and owner of the Palmer Paint Company of Detroit, Michigan, and Dan Robbins, a commercial artist.[1][2]

In children's activity books, some simple activities are often presented to children that are called color by numbers. When Palmer Paint introduced crayons to consumers, they also posted images online for a "Crayon by Number" version.


In 1951 Palmer Paint introduced the Craft Master brand which sold over 12 million kits. This public response induced other companies to produce their own versions of paint by number. The Craft Master paint kit box tops proclaimed, "A BEAUTIFUL OIL PAINTING THE FIRST TIME YOU TRY."

In the 1960s, the first images of Mars were completed like a paint by number.

In the 1960s, employees from the Voyager Telecommunications Section, too anxious to wait for the first official processed image from Mars, attached strips side-by-side to a display panel and hand colored the numbers like a paint by numbers picture.

Following the death of Max Klein in 1993, his daughter, Jacquelyn Schiffman, donated the Palmer Paint Co. archives to the Smithsonian Museum of American History.[3] The archival materials have been placed in the museum's Archives Center where they have been designated collection #544, the "Paint by Number Collection", and are available to both the public and museum staff for research and exhibition purposes. Artifacts which establish Max Klein as the inventor and main merchandiser of these items are part of the collection.

In 1992, Michael O'Donoghue and Trey Speegle organized and mounted a show of O'Donoghue's paint by number collection in New York City at the Bridgewater/Lustberg Gallery. After O'Donoghue's death in 1994, the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History exhibited many key pieces from O'Donoghue's collection, now owned by Speegle, along with works from other collectors in 2001.[4] Since then, the vintage kits and paintings have experienced a resurgence through yard sales and eBay auctions.[citation needed]

In 2008, a private collector[who?] in Massachusetts assembled over 6,000 paint by number works dating back to the 1950s from eBay and other American collectors to create the Paint By Number Museum, the world's largest online archive of paint by number works.[5]

An example of paint by number from 2011 entitled Last Supper

In 2011, the Museum of Modern Art in New York accepted four early designs of paint by number by Max Klein for its Department of Architecture and Design, donated by Jacquelyn Schiffman.

In May 2011, Dan Robbins and Palmer Paint Products, Inc., together developed and brought to market a new 60th-anniversary paint by number set.[6] This collectors' set was created in memory of the survivors and those who had lost their lives on September 11, 2001, and depicts the Twin Towers standing in spirit across the Manhattan skyline. A portion[clarification needed] of the proceeds from this set is being donated to the charitable organization Voices of September 11th.[citation needed]

See also[edit]


  2. ^ "Paint by Numbers". Thursday, 4 October 2018
  3. ^ National Museum of American History
  4. ^ 2001 National Museum of American History exhibit
  5. ^ The online Paint by Number Museum
  6. ^ "Gone But Not Forgotten 2001" Archived 2012-03-24 at the Wayback Machine., a registered trademark of Dan Robbins.

Further reading[edit]

  • William L. Bird, Jr. Paint by Number: The How-to Craze that Swept the Nation. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of American History in Association with Princeton Architectural Press, 2001.