How 19th-century picturebooks made everyone see the world in colour

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About the Project

The PiCoBoo project aims to assess the significance of 19th-century European picturebooks, printed in colour for children: leading to a completely new visual culture, with colour quickly becoming widespread, 19th-century picturebooks are catalyst for major cultural and social changes.


The invention of lithography in Germany in 1796 opened new possibilities for printing, with chromo-lithography being patented in France in 1837. Meanwhile, in Britain, other techniques were developed to print colour, at first combining intaglio and relief printing, then using woodblocks in register. These methods allowed to print colour in a cheaper and more refined extent. For the first time, from the mid-19th century, people – no matter their age, gender, social class, ethnicity, nationality – saw the world in colour.


Quite remarkably, this revolution in visual culture had its origins in picturebooks for children. It is doubly remarkable that the genesis, development and effects of this major shift in print culture have very limitedly been investigated. PiCoBoo will draw new attention to this chapter in the history of the book providing the first comprehensive analysis of a large genre of books that, although mass-produced and widespread all over Europe and of undoubted significance to the history of print as well as many individuals’ reading experiences, is still almost entirely neglected by scholarship.


Adopting an object-based interdisciplinary approach and taking archival sources into analysis, this will be the first detailed account of 19th-century colour picturebooks and will investigate what they were, when, where and how they were made, who produced them and for whom, what their role in cultural, publishing and visual history and their long-term influence. In the absence of European aggregators of children's books, PiCoBoo will build a network of collections of colour picturebooks and establish protocols for recognising, taxonomising and cataloguing them.

Project Outputs

Online catalogue of books: https://www.picoboo.eu/advanced-search/

Project updates

1 April 2021

A ‘spot the difference’ game through Victorian coloured picturebooks

This post is part of a strand of research on the PiCoBoo project, hosted by Newcastle University, in partnership with Seven Stories, the National Centre for Children’s Books, with a secondment at the V&A Research...

The Team

Francesca Tancini

Marie Skłodowska-Curie fellow and research associate

Francesca Tancini has been researching 19th-century children's books through postdoctoral fellowships granted by universities including Oxford, Harvard, Yale and Princeton. Holding a PhD in Visual Studies at the University of Siena supervised by profe ... Read more

Matthew O. Grenby


PiCoBoo is supervised by professor Matthew O. Grenby and hosted by the Children's Literature Unit in the School of English Literature, Language and Linguistics at Newcastle University. The project includes a Secondment at the Victoria and Albert Muse ... Read more