The history of paint by numbers

The first record of a paint’s sales by numbers set can be traced to a Macy’s branch located in New York City’s Herald Square. This happened in 1951. It was months after the frenzied shopping for Christmas and New year’s, so it was quite surprising to see many shoppers descend on Macy’s. The frenzy and rush were so extreme and unprecedented that news of it quickly reached the yearly New York City Toy Fair, taking place a few blocks from the store. This only increased the frenzy, and orders started pouring from all corners.

Shockingly, the frenzy was mostly fake. Most of the customers were not interested in the product. They had been made to buy the products. This was a brilliant scheme on the part of the manufacturers to make the product very popular. The invention of the product was inspired by one of the most distinguished painters the world has ever seen, Leonardo Da Vinci.

The creation of paint by numbers as we know it today, started when Dan Robbins, an employee of the Detroit firm – Palmer Paint Co., read that Da Vinci had taught his apprentices the rudiments of a painting by using numbered patterns much like what paint by number sets look like. Dan Robbins discovered that the technique could be very useful and appealing to people. He, therefore, created a product called Crafts Master kits. And so, paint by numbers was created. He created the product to help young and inexperienced painters and make painting fun and easily accessible to everyone.

However, the product was not as popular as he had envisioned. Most retailers were skeptical about stocking the products because they feared that people wouldn’t want such an old art project. Finally, SS Kresge, the founder of Kmart, placed a big order. It was a big gamble on his part, and it didn’t pay off. This was because two paint kits had been swapped. Colors intended for “The Fisherman” ended up in boxes for “The Bullfighter.” Imagine the confusion and outrage when buyers ended up with paintings of blue-capped matadors battling green bulls. Kresge canceled all future orders.

Palmer Paint went back to the drawing board to think of new strategies to market their product. Max Klein, the founder, struck gold with his idea. The company asked Macy’s toy buyer to showcase the Craft Master Kits in their store. The agreement was made on the ground that unsold products could be returned without payments. It was a win-win situation for Macy’s. After this, Klein hired two sales representatives. Their job was to use the $250 they had each been given by Klein to “urge” people to shop for the kits. The kits were being sold for $2.50, so $500 would have bought about 200 kits. Genius right?

 The trick worked. People were curious about the product that a lot of customers were interested in. The fake customers had brought original customers. Even though Robbins and Klein didn’t record their plants, it was no longer important as orders for the kits were pouring in from different retail stores around the country.

Art critics and experienced artists shunned the idea of the kits. They believed nothing halfway.

Anyone could ever paint decently without experience and training. This was, however, not an opinion shared by many. Soon, most houses were filled with paint by numbers, sceneries and adorable puppies, amongst other things. Mails poured in from fans. One housewife from Maryland wrote: “My home is disgraceful, and I sit here all day and paint. I’m spending my husband’s money, which I ought to be saving. Please send me a list of any new subjects you have.” Three years after the shoppers flooded Macy’s in 1951, Palmer Paint could boast of $20 million in sales of its Craft Master Kits, 1200 employees, and dozens of competitors. Palmer seemingly achieved the impossible with just $500 and a stroke of genius.

Now that you have learned all about creating paint by numbers sets, you can think about these amazing and brilliant people while you work with your kit. Enjoy the everlasting fun like other hobbyists. Just pick out one of our kits and be a part of this fantastic history. You can also read up on the benefits of paint by numbers sets on your mental health.