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Trial of the Reds



In a previous post: http://www.rmweb.co.uk/community/index.php?/blog/1405/entry-12531-milk-churns-and-siphons/

I mentioned that I had tried painting a GWR wagon with Farrow & Ball 'Rectory Red' paint.


To re-cap, this colour is described by the manufacturer as Vermilion mixed with Lead Oxide, to make it cheaper. It seems to me that could be a plausible formula for the red used during the 19th century on GWR wagons.


Because it is difficult to compare colours accurately between different photographs, I have taken a shot of two wagons together. .The one on the left is painted in 'Rectory Red' and the other is sprayed with red car primer.



comparison of wagon reds


I think that the brighter red, on the left, matches the 'light red' description, which some writers used to describe GWR wagons, rather well. Because of the red lead content, this paint would darken with age, which was, allegedly, the fate of early GWR wagons :)


Edit: I analysed the wagon colours in Photoshop, which shows that the oxide primer is more yellow (i.e.less blue content) than Rectory Red, as shown below:





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  • RMweb Gold

Hi Mike, nice to see your three-plankers again - two of them now I see. Wish I had bought another of the round ended ones, must get on the phone to David Geen as that seems to be the only reliable way to contact him at the moment.


Your theory about the Rectory Red is interesting. Maybe both of your colours are valid: If the wagons turned dark, maybe the one in car primer is not a too far-off representation of some stage of that?

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Thank you Mikkel.  I have always been interested in the human perception of colour but am often taken by surprise when analysing the constituents of a particular colour. 


When I looked at the two wagons above with the colour picker in Photoshop it surprised me that the main difference between them is that there is more blue in the left-hand one! - I've added another image to the blog post above to illustrate this. 


To my eyes,the right hand one is quite like BR bauxite, whereas the other is a much more vibrant shade that I feel would appeal to Victorian tastes.  It's all speculation, of course!


I've also been reading a bit more about pigments. Apparently, although red lead darkens very rapidly in air, it is stabilised when mixed with oil.  Also, red lead stands up better than white lead with vermilion, according to




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  • RMweb Gold

Hi again Mike, that's a clever way of analysing colours, I hadn't thought of that. Maybe I should try that with some of my wagons just to see where I've gone wrong on those where I couldn't get the shade quite as I wanted.


Thanks for the link also. From Buckjumper's post some time ago, I gathered that it was not only air, but also Sulphur from coal smoke etc which might darken red oxide?


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Mikkel wrote:"From Buckjumper's post some time ago, I gathered that it was not only air, but also Sulphur from coal smoke etc which might darken red oxide?"


Yes, I read that correspondence quite a while ago - I'd forgotten.  In England, we are so used to burning coal that sulphur is seen as a 'normal' component of the air!  It is quite true that it is the sulphides that tend to be black. It makes polishing all the silver (!!!) a real chore.


I have written various technical notes on colour spaces and on how Photoshop works with colour on my website at http://home.btconnect.com/mike.flemming/technical/brightness/bright1.htm

if you are interested.



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  • RMweb Gold

Thanks Mike, I'll sit down with a cup of coffee and have a read through it when my brain is more active than right now!

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I think my brain was a bit dozy when I wrote about the colour compositions before.  It is much more obvious to say that the right hand wagon has more yellow (the complement of blue) :)

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Exactly what sort of paint is your Farrow and Ball Rectory Red? Most of the paint used in my decorating seems unlikely to stick to a model wagon. I must say that I think the red seems more "right" than the oxide/bauxite version. Maybe that would look better if it was heavily weathered as well to make it look more l;ike something that has been in servicve a long time?

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Hi webbcompound.  According to the manufacturer's data sheet, F&B modern emulsion is based on a 100% acrylic resin.  I used a primer first on the white metal wagons and I suspect this paint behaves similarly to any other acrylic paints.


I was more interested in the colour (hue) than the specific make of paint. This paint is apparently based on research into traditional paint formulations - in this case a vermilion (China red) - Lead Oxide mix.  Since both these pigments were in the GW inventory, I felt that this could represent a plausible formulation. Of course, the same colour could be achieved by mixing modelling paints, as shown in Mikkel's blog.


Since I am aiming to model the early days of railways, my stock will be relatively 'new' but a degree of weathering is certainly necessary to create a realistic look.  These old paints were notorious for blackening with age.


Thank you for commenting.

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Hi Mike


Just realised I "lose" anything older than a day or two on RM Web, so only just picked up your answer. Thanks for the info. I'll seek out matchpots/testers for colours now and see how they work (try out on old wrecks first of course).



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