Hofmann’s Violet and Perkin’s Mauveine

March 12th, 2018

Today’s Google Doodle honors Sir William Henry Perkin’s 180th birthday and the organic dye mauveine for which he is best known. We counter with a volume on natural and synthetic dyes from our exhibit “Print in Color, Color in Print”: William Crookes’ A practical handbook of dyeing and calico-printing (1874).

Title page of William Crooke’s handbook of dyeing and calico-printing (London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1874). Department of Special Collections, Memorial Library, University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Crookes (1832-1919) noted that “In August, 1856, Mr. Perkin patented his process for the production of a violet [or mauve] colouring matter from aniline” (p. 187). In his handbook, Crookes offered instead a vivid sample of Hofmann’s violet, like Perkin’s “Britannia” and the “Paris violet,” readily soluble in water (p. 194).

Fabric sample of Hoffmann’s violet, 144 years after the fact.

“Retorts of the distillation of methyl-aniline.”

We are fortunate to have two copies of Crookes’ handbook, one in the Duveen Collection (with call number Duveen D 439) and another (call number CA 18327) acquired through the generosity of the Nora and William Cole Fund for Special Collections.