Polychromos - 111 Years of colours

Our popular Polychromos artist's pencil celebrates its 111th anniversary this year. We take you on a journey through time: Every four weeks we introduce you to three new colours from the limited edition and at the same time give you exciting insights into the unique company and family history of Faber-Castell.

Creative competition 111 years of Polychromos artists’ coloured pencils

On July 21st 1969, Neil Alden Armstrong is the first man to stand on the moon. While all world is celebrating this event, Faber-Castell has to fight a fire that broke out in our factory building in Germany on the very next day. Nearly ten years later, in 1978, Count Anton-Wolfgang took over the company from his father.


This lovely light blue colour reminds us of clear water on sandy beaches. Ultramarine means “beyond the sea” according to its Latin translation: ultra (lat: beyond) and mare (lat.: sea). The name tells us something about its origin coming from oversea Asia to medieval Italy where it was used for colourings in early book miniatures.


Indigo has already played an important role for artists in ancient Egypt. And though Newton might not have been an artist in the classical sense he made Indigo even more popular by classifying it as 7th colour in the visible spectrum.

Did you know that the mesmerizing colour scarlet lake used to be produced from Cochineal (scale insect)? Nowadays, it is produced from synthetical organic pigments which are maintaining the beautiful shade and in addition increase the lightfastness of the colour.

On July 14th 1961, Faber-Castell celebrated its 200th anniversary. The enthusiaticpopulation of Stein, Germany, joined a procession that wended its way through town. Another ceremony was held at Nuremberg Exhibition Centre in the afternoon.


Light Cadmium yellow is luminous and bright, perfect to produce warm mixes in your artwork. Since around 1850 it is being produced in industrial quantities as a lightfast pigment for artist colours.


The roots of Rubiatinctorumalready were an important ingredient for red dye in ancient Europe. In combination with aluminiumthe colourMadder carmine was created and became very common for pastels, oil paints and other artist materials.

Golden Ochre has already been used as pigment for paintings in the Stone Age, and some of these drawings are still visible in ancient caves today. Its lightfastness is excellent and the beautiful warm yellow shades perfectly matches earthy colourpallets.

In the course of the economic upswing, Count Roland von Faber-Castell devoted himself with intense energy to the founding of branches and the reacquiring of lost companies all over the world. Exotic parrots adorned the 50th Polychromos packages. Meanwhile Roland’s son Anton-Wolfgang set new school records in shot-put. It took another thirty years to beat his record.


With the discovery of the metal cadmium in 1817 by the professor Friedrich Stromeyer in Göttingen. The derived yellow cadmium pigments were important as colorants in the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century. The cadmium shades contained in modern Polychromos and Albrecht Dürer artist color pencils are achieved by toxicologically harmless, organic pigments, which have a colouristic and application-related properties to original.


When you think of orange, what springs to mind? For many eastern cultures, it is perceived as a sacred hue. In the western world, it is a polarising colour—you either love it or you hate it.

Thanks to a lack of pure potash Diesbach discovered the “Berliner Blau”. Instead of a red pigment he got a deep blue colour. With "Berliner Blau" it was possible for the first time to produce a modern pigment that was not found in the nature. His well kept secret was published 1724.

During his entire life, Count Roland von Faber-Castell was an enthusiast horseman. During these turbulent times Gone with the Wind set a record for Academy Award with eight wins and 13 nominations. The castle in Stein at the same time became the centre of life for many reporters that came to Nuremberg for reporting about the Nuremberg War Crime Trials. They stayed in the Faber-Castell castle, which had been turned into a press camp by the Americans.


Sunflowers, billowing cornfields and starry deep blue nights. That is what we associate with chrome yellow. Van Gogh used it extensively in his paintings. Due to its opulent use of yellow, he could not afford the twenty times more expensive cadmium yellow.


Even German poets and musicians in the Romantic period praised the spring month May for its lush green. Our May green is inspired by the colour of delicate birch and beech leaves in May. The colour is standardized in the German RAL system with the number 6017 and is nowadays mostly blended from organic pigments.

William Hooker was a sought-after plant artist. Long before the era of photography, he illustrated plants and their foliage for the famous Royal Horticultural Society. In his quest for green shades, he created an opaque Green which got his name. Who wouldn’t dream of a picnic on such beautiful green meadows?

Count Roland von Faber-Castell enjoys his winter holidays skiing in St. Moritz. Meanwhile construction and building of the highest skyscraper at that time starts at the other end of the world – the New York Empire State Building.


Sepia – the scientific name for cuttlefish is the namesake for this colour. The dark brown to grey black dyestuff has been obtained from the dried ink sacs of these animals. Today no original Sepia is used for art materials.


Spanish conquerors brought prickly pears from Central and South America to Europe in the 16th century. The plants delivered not only good tasting fruits, but were also the host plant for scale insects. The strong red Carmine colour used in arts and cosmetics was produced from these scale insects. Today, synthetic pigments are used which have better light fastness than natural carmine.

Though Parisian and Berlin blue are chemically identical, they are not the same. The blue sky in the city of love, Paris, just seems to be a bit brighter than the sky in vibrant Berlin. This is reflected in the two shades of blue.

This elegant and colourful package reflects the Art Déco Zeitgeist, which had its climax in 1925. Did you know that 1926 was also the year of birth of both Queen Elizabeth II and Marylin Monroe?


Nothing is more annoying for artists than a chemical reaction of used colours. Due to its tendency to become greenish and its harmful properties the original pigment zinc yellow lost importance in painting. Nowadays the colour shade is being generated by non-toxic organic pigments with light-fastness and is highly popular for its brilliance.


Countesss Ottilie von Faber rejoiced over this colour: bluish purple. She chose wall coverings, silk curtains and the upholstery fabrics in her favorite tone. Bluish purple was a popular colour name at the turn of the century and therefore made its way in the Polychromos artist pencil range.

Nearly as old as the mountains and bright as a sky on a sunny summit. Naturally occurring azurite is the base for this awesome colour, that was frequently used in European paintings until the 18th century. With the availability of modern blue pigments, such as Prussian Blue, Mountain Blue has lost much in importance.

The construction of a new modern manufacturing complex in shape of a “U” was started to meet the increasing demand for the A.W. Faber products. Did you know? These buildings and our Faber-Castell production inside can be visited as part of our Faber-Castell experience.


In former times artists were poisoned by toxic ingredients of the colours they used for painting. The toxic copper-arsenic pigment has long been replaced since then. The desired bright, light-resistant shade of green is pre-dominantly produced by non-toxic phthalocyanine-pigments with very good light resistance.


El Greco, Rembrandt, van Rijn and Van Gogh created masterpieces with it: Burnt umber, a natural pigment consisting of iron oxides and manganese brown. Grinded and sintered generates a deep brown colour shade.

The name of the red pigment with a brownish colour shade was first mentioned about 300 years ago. Did you know that English Red is a synthetic iron-oxide-pigment, produced by a sintering process of 700° to 800°?

In 1908, Count Alexander von Faber-Castell introduces the new colour pencils "Polychromos". His youngest son Roland, who is three years old at that time, will later take over the company. When Alexander traveled to the United States in 1909, the New-Yorker Staatszeitung bestowed the title "Pencil King" on him. 


As clear as the sky on a cold and sunny winter morning: the light blue Polychromos. In medieval times this fragile and slightly cool blue was created by mixing indigo, white lead and water. Isn't it beautiful?


Did you know that the human eye can make out almost 60 different shades of grey from white to black? Wikipedia describes grey as "a colour darker than white and lighter than black, but without making a colourful impression" – we'd like to disagree.

In ancient Rome Lead (II, IV) oxide was prepared by calcination of white lead. The transformation of white lead into the red lead was said to be discovered in a fire at the old Athens harbour of Piraeus, where barrels of white lead were burned at over 480° in a fire accident and the white powder turned red.

Polychromos: a coloured pencil praised by prominent artists and creative minds from Karl Lagerfeld to Ferdinand Porsche, enjoying unrivalled popularity with anyone who loves creating with colour. And the pencil has been on the market for an impressive 111 years. We have come up with something really special to mark this extraordinary anniversary: a limited anniversary edition. We are going back to 1908 when the Polychromos was “born”. It was Alexander Graf von Faber-Castell who came up with the idea for this new
pencil product range. The main challenge when manufacturing these pencils was to guarantee the lightfastness of the leads. It took a lot of experimenting to achieve a satisfactory result. Finally, a round polished pencil encased in cedar wood was produced in 60 colours, from Opaque white and Mountain blue, Saturn red and Van-Dyck-brown, to Ivory black. We found just what we needed in old product catalogues: presented as a new addition, the Polychromos is offered well-sorted in different packaging and advertised with the colourful image of a spectacular sunrise – the symbol for the start of a new era!
The Polychromos did not disappoint. Like the green “Castell” pencil launched just a few years before, the model developed into a real classic that is regarded among the top products to this day. For the anniversary edition, we have chosen a metal-cased version in four different sizes and 36 colours. Have we simply filled these cases with the modern products? Of course not! The product stamping has also changed over time. To reflect the historic original, we have used the former stamp design.
Faber-Castell - Polychromos colour pencil, 111th anniversary, tin of 12
Polychromos colour pencil, 111th anniversary, tin of 12
Faber-Castell - Polychromos colour pencil, 111th anniversary, tin of 24
Polychromos colour pencil, 111th anniversary, tin of 24
Faber-Castell - Polychromos colour pencil, 111th anniversary, tin of 36
Polychromos colour pencil, 111th anniversary, tin of 36
Faber-Castell - Polychromos colour pencil, 111th anniversary, tin of 12
Polychromos colour pencil, 111th anniversary, tin of 12
111th anniversary Polychromos artists colour pencils
Polychromos: enjoying unrivalled popularity with anyone who loves creating with colour.
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