History of Paint by Numbers

Where it all began!?

An employee of a Detroit based Palmer Paint Company found out Leonard da Vinci taught the basics of by painting using a technique that involved number patterns on a canvas to his students. He realized this could be a potential business idea. He was right. The product, now known as ‘Paint by numbers’, was eventually released. However, the journey was rocky but the fruits ripped quickly and eventually.

Dan Robbins Inventor of Paint by Numbers Kit

Struggle at the Start

Initially, no one as remotely interested in his Paint by number kits. When pitched to potential customers and retailers, he was told no one would be interested in such a product as it could be considered ‘remedial’ of an art project.

Hard work pays off, eventually and so did all the efforts made by Dan Robbins as S.S.Kresge, now known as Kmart took a gamble and placed a large-sized order. However, there was an issue with the packaging as the paints of two paintings got swapped and customers’ demands refunds. Due to this, S.S. Kresge canceled all future orders.

Paint by Numbers Kits Store

It’s Now or Never

Palmer Paint knew it had to act immediately if they wanted Paint by numbers survive. The founder of the company, Max  Klein and Robbins reached out to Macy’s and signed a contract which meant their paint by number kits would be displayed in the store and in case, any kits aren’t sold, they’d be refunded free of cost. Macy’s saw it as a win-win situation and came into the contract. 

Next, both gents handed $250 to two reps and told them to give the money to their friends, family, and relatives so they could go down to Macy’s and buy a set for $2.50. The $500 benchmark was enough to buy all the sets in the store.

Macy's Paint by Numbers Kits Store

Best Marketing Stunt

Although it worked as due to this marketing stunt, orders came pouring in. However, Palmer Paint forgot one major detail. They didn’t keep track of who had been given a  chunk from $500 which meant they had no way of separating real customers, who came down to the store due to the news of this amazing art set which spread like wildfire, or fake customers.

Nonetheless, the stunt worked as the $500 investment paid off and orders from around the country started rolling in. This stunt goes down in history as one of the most brilliantly executed stunts in the marketing business.

Palmer Paints' Paint by Numbers Kits

I Want a Paint by Numbers kit!

However, critics argued against the technique but the rest of the country was going crazy. It just couldn’t get enough. It was like a productive addiction. Soon, every household had various pictures, painted on Painting by numbers’ canvases. The range of designs available catered to everyone in the country.  These popular kits were at all stores, nationwide in no time as the demand for these rose drastically. Before anyone realized, with the help of these kits, everyone was an artist and was framing their own work.  

First Ever Paint by Numbers Kits

The Rise and Downfall

The clients of Paint by Numbers had a very specific taste. Abstract sets were left on shelves to catch dust while landmarks, portraits, and animal designs could hardly be found on shelves. Paint by numbers was seen as a chance for everyone to explore their inner artist. Once they got the hang of it, some even moved to regular art projects.  In the 1950s, paint by numbers was amongst the most favorite hobbies as it could be afforded by almost everyone and was the best way to relax and fill your leisure time.  Fan mail was pouring in. One housewife, who was hooked to Paint by Numbers, wrote to them telling how she spends her whole day painting and spending her husband’s money on these kits which she should be saving.

Paint by Numbers Kits

Palmer Paint generated sales worth $20 Million from Paint by Numbers kits. However, the demand saw a decrease in the late 1950s as television dominated free time.  Klein sold Craft Master, which started due to the success of paint by numbers.