Is this the big four grouped companies liveries you are interested in? (GWR, LMS, LNER, SR) Or the pre-grouping companies which were their precursors which had an even wider range of livery colours? The simple fact is that these businesses had their paint mixed on a craft basis, and the know how was proprietary. One of the consequences of this has been a long-running and ongoing saga of arguments about exactly what colour certain items were painted!
The introduction of standardised colour scales with samples (such as the well known Pantone references) long post dates the development and routine use of these railway livery colours, and it would be interesting to know if any credible matching has been undertaken; but I don't presently know of a site with such references.
This is one of those "how long is a piece of string" questions.
to start with the paint was (as 34C says) mixed on a craft basis. often, particularly with coaches, the coach would be painted along one side. moved along the production lone and onto a traverser. it would come back along the other side fo the painters and have the other side painted. often they would run out of paint between those 2 movements and mix some new stuff. so it is perfectly feasable that 2 sides of the same coach actually didnt precisly match.
There are a few genuine colour samples. (york has some from the GWR) and i understand phoenix has access to a decent collection.
You really cant rely on photographs. the emulsions at that time were really not good enough to accuratly reproduce colours. and the 3 colours aged differently so a photograph in existance now would be miles out in terms of colour accuracy.
A pet hate of mine is when someone sees a model and says "oah i remember it being darker than that"!! they seem to forget that the coach they saw was probably weathered and left out in the sun. you cant remember precise colours anyway. they are viewing the model under different lighting. and most importantly their eyes are 50 years older with 50 years of wear and tare on them.
There is no-one to really argue if a colour is right or wrong.
I do have a paint chip of royal claret. and a couple of others.
the only model i have ever seen that i would trust the colour 100% was a caledonian cardean that was produced in the works by aprentices and painted in blue from the actual works. its the very same batch of paint that went on the real thing! i believe that model is now in the science museum.
after about 1950 there are generally pretty good records of mixtures and batch production was much more prevelant.
There are a couple of colours i disagree with. phoenix LNWR white. the recipie is known. its white with a skight hint of blue. but i still think the phoenix colour looks too blue. i suspect that the blue pigmant they are using now is stronger than the one 100 years ago but i will never know.
P.S. this is not a problem restricted to model railways. there is a long running debate (that will untimatly never be settled) regarding the colour of 'white star buf'. the colour that was on titannics funnels. a very eminant historian thinks it should be more of an orange colour. but most models and paintings have it as more of a yellow. a paint chip dosent exist and so we will never know.
colour grading is also a problem with film restoration. people are scouring fancy dress shops trying to find props used in films because if they can find one then they can use that colour for reference and make sure that the piece of film its in is accurate. but allot of film restoration is down to the eye of the grader.
Good answer Peter, and if I recall we have had this dicussion, or a very similar one before. Another point that has to be borne in mind is that even with photographs the angle of light on the subject can alter the perception of the colour. EFE fell into this trap a few (10?) years ago when they produced a couple of East Kent buses in completely the wrong colour!
Sorry for not replying sooner, but totally forgot i had posted this question. What i am really interested in is the HTML colour conversions for the 4 main companies. I have found a site for the southern railway, but cannot find the others.
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