The Very First Coloring Book, The Little Folks’ Painting Book (Circa 1879)


Fun­ny how not that long ago col­or­ing books were con­sid­ered the exclu­sive domain of chil­dren. How times have changed. If you are the sort of adult who unwinds with a big box of Cray­olas and pages of man­dalas or out­lines of Ryan Gosling, you owe a debt of grat­i­tude to the McLough­lin Broth­ers and illus­tra­tor Kate Green­away.

First Coloring Book 1

Their Lit­tle Folks’ Paint­ing Book burst onto the scene in around 1879 with such fun-to-col­or out­line engrav­ings as “The Owl’s Advice,” “A Flower Fairy,” and “Lit­tle Miss Pride,” each accom­pa­nied by nurs­ery rhymes and sto­ries. The abun­dance of mob caps, pinafores, and breech­es are of a piece with Green­away’s endur­ing takes on nurs­ery rhymes, though grown up man­u­al dex­ter­i­ty seems almost manda­to­ry giv­en the tiny pat­terns and oth­er details.

First Coloring Book 2

See­ing as how there was no prece­dent, the pub­lish­ers of the world’s first col­or­ing book went ahead and filled in the fron­tispiece so that those tack­ling the oth­er hun­dred draw­ings would know what to do. (Hint: Stay inside the lines and don’t get too cre­ative with skin or hair col­or.)

First Coloring Book 3

Also note: the copy rep­re­sent­ed here has been care­ful­ly hand-col­ored by the pre­vi­ous own­ers, with one con­tribut­ing some exu­ber­ant scrib­bles in pen­cil. See the full book, and down­load it in var­i­ous for­mats, at

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Down­load Free Col­or­ing Books from World-Class Libraries & Muse­ums: The New York Pub­lic Library, Bodleian, Smith­son­ian & More

The First Adult Col­or­ing Book: See the Sub­ver­sive Exec­u­tive Col­or­ing Book From 1961

Down­load 15,000+ Free Gold­en Age Comics from the Dig­i­tal Com­ic Muse­um

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