Colourful Discoveries

Uncover fascinating objects from across Discovery Museum's wonderful collections through a kaleidoscopic lens and step into a world of colour.

By Discovery Museum

Equality ribbon produced by the charity Stonewall by TWCMS : 2000.4651Discovery Museum

Pride rainbow flag

The Pride rainbow flag was debuted in 1978 in San Francisco, USA. It was designed by the artist Gilbert Baker and commissioned by Harvey Milk, a local politician in San Francisco. Until that point the most commonly used symbol for the LGBTQ+ community was a pink triangle, despite its negative connotations with the Nazi party, who used it to identify LGBTQ+ people in the 1930s and 1940s.  Since 1978, there has been a variety of designs and the colours used have changed over the years. The original 1978 flag had hot pink at one end but was later removed as the fabric was expensive. Turquoise and indigo were replaced by blue when San Francisco Pride wanted to display a flag across a street and needed an even number of colours to do so. More recently, some people have added a brown and black stripe at one end to represent non-white members of the LGBTQ+ community.  Each colour has a meaning: Red = life, Orange = healing, Yellow = sunlight, Green = nature, Blue = harmony, Violet/purple = spirit. The rainbow flag represents the diversity of the LGBTQ+ community. It is also thought to reference Judy Garland and her most famous song, ‘Somewhere over the Rainbow’, as she was, and remains to this day, an icon for the gay community.  

Red CollageDiscovery Museum

Red

Red has come to symbolise strong, and sometimes contrasting emotions such as anger and danger, love and passion.  Red is one of the oldest colours used in art and can be seen in ancient cave paintings that are thousands of years old. Red pigment is widely available in nature. Cochineal insects are one of the most vibrant natural sources of pigment and was imported to Europe in the 16th century from Mexico. In the middle of the 19th century, synthetic red dyes were invented.  

Dress, TWCMS : J3912, 1968/1970, From the collection of: Discovery Museum
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Fan, TWCMS : J6286, 1890/1910, From the collection of: Discovery Museum
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Badge, TWCMS : 2008.951.2, From the collection of: Discovery Museum
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Leaflet advertising Domestos, TWCMS : 2008.462, 1950s, From the collection of: Discovery Museum
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Pair of boots, TWCMS : J2553, 1963, From the collection of: Discovery Museum
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Cotton patch, TWCMS : 2009.3734, 1939/1955, From the collection of: Discovery Museum
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Hat, TWCMS : 2009.3805, 1960/1979, From the collection of: Discovery Museum
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Badge, TWCMS : 2005_3069, 1980, From the collection of: Discovery Museum
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Pair of boots, K13967a, Walker, 1980, From the collection of: Discovery Museum
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Pair of dice, TWCMS : 2007.2022, From the collection of: Discovery Museum
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Waistcoat, TWCMS : E4475, 1770/1780, From the collection of: Discovery Museum
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Dummy, TWCMS : 2010.3622, 1930/1945, From the collection of: Discovery Museum
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Pair of shoes, TWCMS : 2006_692, Hobbs, 2005, From the collection of: Discovery Museum
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commemorative tin, C6799a, 1902, From the collection of: Discovery Museum
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Red hat., TWCMS : J2359, Mortimer, 1948/1952, From the collection of: Discovery Museum
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Badge, TWCMS : 2005.3088, From the collection of: Discovery Museum
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Pair of shoes, TWCMS : K13957, Saxone, 1930, From the collection of: Discovery Museum
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Puppet, TWCMS : 2010.3639, 1945/1960, From the collection of: Discovery Museum
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Dress, TWCMS : J18242, Acques, 1941/1945, From the collection of: Discovery Museum
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Pair of boots, TWCMS : S29, 1968/1972, From the collection of: Discovery Museum
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Christmas card, TWCMS : 1996.2104, From the collection of: Discovery Museum
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Dress, TWCMS : K1777, Sara Bolton, 1947, From the collection of: Discovery Museum
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Pair of shoes, TWCMS : 2009.3784, Kurt Geiger, 1970/1979, From the collection of: Discovery Museum
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Red CollageDiscovery Museum

Red

Roses are red.... In some Asian countries red is the colour of happiness and good luck. In China red envelopes with money inside are given out at special occasions and red outfits and decorations are common at New Year. In India, bridal outfits are red and married women show their marital status with red henna on their hands. Red is also linked to love, most Valentine's Day cards and gifts are red and red roses are a traditional token of love. Conversely red is also connected to anger, ‘seeing red’ describes someone caught in a rage. Mars, the Roman god of war, was linked to the colour red.  Did you know? There is a theory that the colour red stimulates appetite, many restaurant chains use red for their logo. 

Orange CollageDiscovery Museum

Orange

Orange is often described as zingy and is considered bright, energetic and cheerful. Orange pigment was originally made from the mineral orpiment, which contained slight traces of arsenic. It has been used prolifically by artists: from Egyptian tomb painters to the Pre-Raphaelites (who idolised red haired women) and then to Impressionists, who used orange to depict the sunshine of southern Europe.  

RNLI cap, RNLI, TWCMS : 2001.3619, From the collection of: Discovery Museum
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Cookbook, TWCMS : 2007.1971, 1939/1945, From the collection of: Discovery Museum
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Dress, TWCMS : J9770, 1960/1970, From the collection of: Discovery Museum
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Film poster, TWCMS : 2008.1005, From the collection of: Discovery Museum
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Book, TWCMS : 2006.4169, Maximo Park, 2006, From the collection of: Discovery Museum
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Pair of shoes, TWCMS : K13969, 1980, From the collection of: Discovery Museum
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Poster, TWCMS : 1994.831.1, From the collection of: Discovery Museum
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Swimming costume, TWCMS : G17427, 1978, From the collection of: Discovery Museum
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Film poster, TWCMS : 2008.1015, From the collection of: Discovery Museum
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Pepper tins, TWCMS : G12129, From the collection of: Discovery Museum
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Fan, TWCMS : P1406, 1920/1930, From the collection of: Discovery Museum
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Pair of shoes, TWCMS : 1997.3436, 1975/1985, From the collection of: Discovery Museum
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Tea packaging, TWCMS : G3798, From the collection of: Discovery Museum
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Silk flower, TWCMS : K1004.2, From the collection of: Discovery Museum
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Dress, TWCMS : C19997, 1969, From the collection of: Discovery Museum
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Film poster, TWCMS : 2008.1013, From the collection of: Discovery Museum
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Pair of shoes, TWCMS : 2006.688, 2006, From the collection of: Discovery Museum
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lifebelt, TWCMS : 2001.3658, From the collection of: Discovery Museum
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Hat, TWCMS : 2000.2262, From the collection of: Discovery Museum
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Dress, TWCMS : K1841, 1910/1914, From the collection of: Discovery Museum
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Shoe box, TWCMS : 2006.693, Rocket Dog, 2006, From the collection of: Discovery Museum
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Orange CollageDiscovery Museum

Orange

Trick or treat? Orange has various symbolic meanings across the globe. In the Netherlands it is the colour of the Royal Family and on King’s Day everyone dresses in orange clothing. In western countries it is linked to Halloween, probably due to pumpkins and autumnal leaves. Did you know? In the western world the colour orange was referred to as yellow-red until the fruit was introduced to Europe in the late 15th century. It is often used by brands who want to express that they offer value for money or excitement and adventure.   

Yellow CollageDiscovery Museum

Yellow

The colour of gold was first created from clay pigments and is one of the oldest colours to be used in art.  Yellow can be seen in prehistoric cave art.  The Egyptians used yellow in tomb paintings extensively and on mummies because it looks like gold. All sunshine and happiness? It is often linked to the sun meaning it has happy and optimistic connotations.   

Film poster, TWCMS : 2008.1004, 1952, From the collection of: Discovery Museum
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Booklet, TWCMS : 2007.1977, 1920/1929, From the collection of: Discovery Museum
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Toy crane, TWCMS : 2015.1730, From the collection of: Discovery Museum
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Vaseline tin, TWCMS : G12142, 1914/1918, From the collection of: Discovery Museum
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Florrie Carr dress, Florrie Carr, 1971, From the collection of: Discovery Museum
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Poster, TWCMS : 2008.1086, 1940/1954, From the collection of: Discovery Museum
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Luggage label, TWCMS : 2015.1768, 1970/1976, From the collection of: Discovery Museum
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Cookbook, TWCMS : 2002.699, Homepride, 1973, From the collection of: Discovery Museum
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Leaflet, TWCMS : 2011.1406, Co-operative, From the collection of: Discovery Museum
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Matchbook, TWCMS : 2015.1769, 1973/1976, From the collection of: Discovery Museum
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Badge, TWCMS : 2009.3732, Women's League of Health and Beauty, 1930/1939, From the collection of: Discovery Museum
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Pair of shoes, TWCMS : D480, 1973, From the collection of: Discovery Museum
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Ruler, TWCMS : 1994.392.1, Tyne and Wear Passenger Transport, From the collection of: Discovery Museum
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Napkin. Northeast Airlines., TWCMS : 2015.1767, 1970/1976, From the collection of: Discovery Museum
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Boots, TWCMS : S26, Mary Quant, 1967, From the collection of: Discovery Museum
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Badge, TWCMS : 2008.3441, 1970/1985, From the collection of: Discovery Museum
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Punch magazine, TWCMS : 2011.816, 1951, From the collection of: Discovery Museum
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Toy car, TWCMS : 2015.1706, Meccano, From the collection of: Discovery Museum
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Packaging, TWCMS : 2015.2445, Fenwick, 2015, From the collection of: Discovery Museum
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Pair of shoes, TWCMS : P998, 1720/1750, From the collection of: Discovery Museum
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Yellow CollageDiscovery Museum

Yellow

Suffragettes in Kansas, USA, wore yellow ribbons to show their support for votes for women. However, yellow is also linked to cowardice and illness, such as jaundice. In Christianity Judas is often shown wearing yellow after he betrayed Jesus. The phrase ‘yellow-bellied’ describes someone behaving in a cowardly manner.  Did you know? Due to yellow being a bright colour it is often used in emergency signing and high visibility clothing.  

Green CollageDiscovery Museum

Green

Green was a tricky pigment to create as dyes created from plants turn brown quickly. The Egyptians tried the mineral Malachite but it was expensive and sometimes turned black. The Romans soaked copper plates in wine, creating verdigris, a pigment that they then used to dye mosaics and stained glass. In 1775 the chemist Carl Wilhel Scheele invented a bright  green pigment.  People loved the colour and used it in clothes and wallpapers, despite the fact that it had arsenic in it, which is toxic and dangerous to people in large quantities. 

Puppet, TWCMS : 2010.3640, 1930/1945, From the collection of: Discovery Museum
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Hat, TWCMS : J2353, 1970/1972, From the collection of: Discovery Museum
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Model of a corn grinder, TWCMS : 2014.1398, From the collection of: Discovery Museum
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Pair of shoes, TWCMS : P1674, 1986, From the collection of: Discovery Museum
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Film poster, TWCMS : 2008.1014, From the collection of: Discovery Museum
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Telephone, TWCMS : 2005.1876, 1960/1970, From the collection of: Discovery Museum
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Cuddly dinosoar toy, TWCMS : 2000.5604, From the collection of: Discovery Museum
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Stamps, TWCMS : 2011.1369, 1971, From the collection of: Discovery Museum
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Pair of sandals, TWCMS : 2009.3781, 1990/1999, From the collection of: Discovery Museum
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Safety goggles, TWCMS : 2009.1260, From the collection of: Discovery Museum
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Phonecard, TWCMS : 2015.1824, 1980/1989, From the collection of: Discovery Museum
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Oatine tin, TWCMS : N2810, 1930/1940, From the collection of: Discovery Museum
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Film poster, TWCMS : 2008.1001, From the collection of: Discovery Museum
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Pair of shoes, TWCMS : H16963, Abbotts, 1931, From the collection of: Discovery Museum
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Bottle, TWCMS : 1996.1033, 1996, From the collection of: Discovery Museum
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Stamps, TWCMS : 2011.1365, 1971, From the collection of: Discovery Museum
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Badge, TWCMS : 2005.4662, From the collection of: Discovery Museum
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Dress, TWCMS : J16229, 1929/1931, From the collection of: Discovery Museum
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Booklet, TWCMS : 2007.1975, 1930/1939, From the collection of: Discovery Museum
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Parasol, TWCMS : J4361, 1850/1860, From the collection of: Discovery Museum
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Bottle, TWCMS : 2006.662, 1962, From the collection of: Discovery Museum
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Pair of shoes, TWCMS : H3932, 1936, From the collection of: Discovery Museum
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Film poster, TWCMS : 2008.1000, From the collection of: Discovery Museum
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Dress, TWCMS : K1002, 1960, From the collection of: Discovery Museum
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Cuddly toy, TWCMS : 2017.614, 1965/1985, From the collection of: Discovery Museum
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Pair of shoes, TWCMS : J2551, 1963, From the collection of: Discovery Museum
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Advertising board fro Andrews Liver Salts, TWCMS : 2015.2482, From the collection of: Discovery Museum
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Green CollageDiscovery Museum

Green

The green-eyed monster? Shakespeare made it the colour of jealousy when he coined the phrase ‘green-eyed monster’. It is also associated with illness and poison, and people are described as going green when they feel unwell. The supernatural has links with the colour green too: the witch’s skin in the 'Wizard of Oz' is green and aliens are often depicted as ‘green men from outer space’. However, it is also seen as a calming colour. In many countries it means it’s safe to proceed, ‘given the green light’.  Going green - and, because it is the colour of nature, it has come to represent being environmentally conscious.  

Blue CollageDiscovery Museum

Blue

Blue is the world’s most popular colour and has the greatest variety of meanings. Before plant-based dyes were created, blue was produced by crushing the semi-precious stone Lapis Lazuli. This made it a luxury colour used sparingly to depict important people in art, for example in Christian art Mary, mother of Jesus, is often shown wearing blue.  

candle, TWCMS : 2006.7187, From the collection of: Discovery Museum
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Film poster, TWCMS : 2008.999, 1948, From the collection of: Discovery Museum
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Booklet, TWCMS : 2007.1974, From the collection of: Discovery Museum
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Film poster, TWCMS : 2008.1009, 1944, From the collection of: Discovery Museum
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Soft toy, TWCMS : 2018.693, 2000, From the collection of: Discovery Museum
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Leaflet promoting Bubbly Stergene, made by Domestos, TWCMS : 2008.460, 1950/1959, From the collection of: Discovery Museum
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Telephone box, TWCMS : 1995.2316, 1950/1970, From the collection of: Discovery Museum
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Saucer, TWCMS : 2006.4216, From the collection of: Discovery Museum
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Toy car, TWCMS : 2015.1729, From the collection of: Discovery Museum
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Tin for malt extract tablets, TWCMS : G12115, 1914/1918, From the collection of: Discovery Museum
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Swimming costume, TWCMS : J2368, Jantzen, 1920/1935, From the collection of: Discovery Museum
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Puppet, TWCMS : 2010.3627, 1945/1960, From the collection of: Discovery Museum
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Pair of skis and poles, TWCMS : 1997.3827, 1920/1939, From the collection of: Discovery Museum
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Leaflet, TWCMS : 2008.1073, 1949, From the collection of: Discovery Museum
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Plate, TWCMS : 2009.1274, 1984, From the collection of: Discovery Museum
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TWCMS_2005_1958, From the collection of: Discovery Museum
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Toy car, TWCMS : 2015.1723.1, From the collection of: Discovery Museum
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Toffee tin, TWCMS : G12131, 1914/1918, From the collection of: Discovery Museum
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Hat, TWCMS : 2009.3817, 1980/1989, From the collection of: Discovery Museum
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Badge, TWCMS : 2008.508, 1914/1918, From the collection of: Discovery Museum
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Film poster, TWCMS : 2008.1003, 1943, From the collection of: Discovery Museum
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Puppet, TWCMS : 2010.3635, 1930/1945, From the collection of: Discovery Museum
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Blue CollageDiscovery Museum

Blue

Are you feeling blue? Blue can have a calming effect due to its link to the sky and water but is also linked to sadness, people who feel unhappy may say they are ‘feeling blue’. Blue the only colour to have a type of music named after it, Rhythm and Blues, and a type of humour. Blue is often used for financial institutions and official organisations, it conveys professionalism and trustworthiness. Did you know? From the first half of the 20th century blue was the colour worn by baby girls and pink was for baby boys.  

Purple CollageDiscovery Museum

Purple

At one time, purple was the most expensive of all the colours to produce. It was made using crushed murex shells, 12,000 of which were needed to produce 1.4 grams of purple dye! Most people could not afford to use it and it became the preserve of royalty and great leaders. Roman emperors, popes and leading church figures, as well as the British Royal family are all associated with the colour purple. 

Badge, TWCMS : 2005.3067, 1979, From the collection of: Discovery Museum
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Poster, TWCMS : 2008.3628, 1996, From the collection of: Discovery Museum
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Pair of boots, TWCMS : 1994.714, Doc Marten, 1994, From the collection of: Discovery Museum
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Frisbee, TWCMS : 1999.1334, 1999, From the collection of: Discovery Museum
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Patch, TWCMS : 2018.807, From the collection of: Discovery Museum
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Toy alien, TWCMS : 2018.697, 1998, From the collection of: Discovery Museum
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Tracksuit, TWCMS : 2009.1475, 2009, From the collection of: Discovery Museum
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Booklet of saver stamps, TWCMS : 2011.1366, 1971, From the collection of: Discovery Museum
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Shoes, Peter Yapp, 1909, From the collection of: Discovery Museum
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Badge, TWCMS : 2005.3068, 1979, From the collection of: Discovery Museum
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Dress, TWCMS : K1821, 1914, From the collection of: Discovery Museum
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Programme, TWCMS : 2001.210, 2001, From the collection of: Discovery Museum
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Bag, TWCMS : M3737, 1955/1960, From the collection of: Discovery Museum
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Record sleeve, TWCMS : 2005.451, From the collection of: Discovery Museum
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Wedding dress, TWCMS : J18521, 1893/1894, From the collection of: Discovery Museum
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Patch, TWCMS : 2018.442, 2018, From the collection of: Discovery Museum
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Hat, TWCMS : Q163, 1989, From the collection of: Discovery Museum
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Programme, TWCMS : 2001.3522, 2001, From the collection of: Discovery Museum
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Pocket organiser, TWCMS : 1999.1319, 1999, From the collection of: Discovery Museum
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Souvenir booklet, TWCMS : 2003.694, 1935, From the collection of: Discovery Museum
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Pair of shoes, TWCMS : M3738, 1955/1960, From the collection of: Discovery Museum
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Purple CollageDiscovery Museum

Purple

In 1856 William Henry Perkin accidently discovered how to make synthetic purple dye, when trying to produce quinine, making the colour available to the masses.  He named it Mauveine, after the purple coloured flower. Did you know? In the 1970s it became a fashionable colour for clothes and is linked to Psychedelia, with musicians David Bowie, Prince and Jimi Hendrix wearing and singing about the colour purple. Companies continue to use it to convey expense and high quality. 

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The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.