Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Reeves - A Colourful History

I have used Reeves watercolours since I was a little girl. Reeves is a very old brand, which has been at the forefront of paint supply for centuries, and has an interesting history. 

Mr. William Reeves opened his first paint shop in 1776 in Well Lane, Little Britain. There he manufactured and sold his paints, and did so well he invited his older brother Thomas to join him in partnership. 

William’s invention in 1781 of the Moist Watercolour Paint-Cake is what took Reeves from a successful paint shop to a leader in the field. Observing the gentry and artists, William noticed they often purchased a large lumps of paint, for which they paid a great deal. They would then chip these up to use as watercolours. 

Having been trained as a wire-drawer, William had the notion that paint might be able to be moulded like wire, and chopped into rectangular cakes, so people could purchase many colours rather than a few enormous chunks at great expense they would take many years to use. In order to be usable however, he realised the paint not only needed to be firm enough to retain its shape, but also needed to have a gelatinous consistency. 

After a great deal of investigation he discovered the addition of honey kept the paint cakes firm, yet moist and ready-to-use. 

Before they were ready to sell, the cakes were wrapped in damp cloths to soften the outer crust so the Reeves trademark could be embossed upon them. 

The Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manafacturers and Commerce – now know as the Royal Society of Arts – was impressed by the invention and awarded the Reeves the Great Silver Palette “for the manufacture of Watercolour improved.”

Late 18th Century Reeves Watercolour Box - The Whimsie Studio
Unfortunately, the brothers had a disagreement, which saw them go their separate ways. William Reeves was inventive and brilliant, but had a difficult personality, being both stubborn and opinionated. Thomas, on the other hand, was a friendly pillar of society, and ended up taking the reins of the business. An embittered William left his family and family business behind, and when he died, left his rather extensive fortune to his housekeepers. 

Nevertheless, the company William had founded continued to be a great success. Reeves’ supplied the English military with paint necessary for creating maps. So popular where the paints abroad, Reeves became official ‘Colourmakers to the Honourable East India Company’ who exported them across the globe. 

Reeves’ famous greyhound crest was appropriated from the arms of the extinct Ryves family of Dorset.

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