Colourful Discoveries — exploring Newcastle’s museum collections through colour: Purple

by Helen Vasey, Assistant Keeper of History, Discovery Museum

Step into a world of colour. Discover fascinating objects from across Discovery Museum’s wonderful collections through a kaleidoscopic lens.

Each week we will focus on a different colour linked to our new Google Arts & Culture online exhibition. This week we’re looking into the colour purple.

TWCMS : 2009 : 1475 : b (left), TWCMS : 05 : 3067 (middle) and TWCMS : 2018 : 697 (right)
TWCMS : Q163a (left) and TWCMS : 2001 : 120 (right)

At one time, purple was the most expensive of all the colours to produce. It was made using crushed murex shells, 12,000 of which were needed to produce 1.4 grams of purple dye! Most people could not afford to use it and it became the preserve of royalty and great leaders. Roman emperors, popes and leading church figures, as well as the British Royal family are all associated with the colour purple.

TWCMS : J18521a (left), TWCMS : 2003 : 694 : a (middle) and TWCMS : M3737a (right)
TWCMS : 2018 : 442 (left) and TWCMS : 3738a (right)

In 1856 William Henry Perkin accidently discovered how to make synthetic purple dye, when trying to produce quinine, making the colour available to the masses. He named it Mauveine, after the purple coloured flower.

TWCMS : 11 : 1366a (left) and TWCMS : 94 : 714a (right)
TWCMS : 2005 : 451 : b (left), TWCMS : 05 : 3068 (middle) and TWCMS : K1821 (right)

Did you know? In the 1970s it became a fashionable colour for clothes and is linked to Psychedelia, with musicians David Bowie, Prince and Jimi Hendrix wearing and singing about the colour purple. Companies continue to use it to convey expense and high quality.

TWCMS : 08 : 3628 (left), TWCMS : 2018 : 807 (middle) and TWCMS : 99 : 1334 (right)
TWCMS : 01 : 3522a (left), TWCMS : 99 : 1319a (middle) and TWCMS : H16939a (right)

If you would like to delve deeper into Discovery’s colourful collections, you can explore the online exhibition here.

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