Monday, February 12, 2018

Munsell - the Father of Color Science? (part 2)

Albert Munsell has been called the Father of Color Science. In the previous blog post, I looked at whether he earned that accolade through his crusade to put the Science into Color Science Education. I concluded that he would probably have to share this with Milton Bradley -- the board game magnate. I dunno, though. Saying that Munsell and Bradley are both of the Fathers of Color Science might get a bit weird for some.

Before I continue, Munsell is held in esteem by real color scientists, not just color science wannabes who write corny blogs on color in hopes of being invited to the real people parties. One of those cool people parties is the Munsell Centennial Color Symposium, June 10-15, 2018, MassArt, Boston, MA.

So far, I have only gotten as far as being invited to give a webinar for cool people, which is based on this series of posts.  If you are reading this before Feb 21, 2018, then there is still time to sign up. As further.

Today, I try another possible explanation for why Munsell might be due the honor. Albert Munsell developed the Munsell Color System. Unlike previous two-dimensional color systems, the Munsell Color Space is three-dimensional! That made it way cooler. All of the avid readers of my blog even know why color is three-dimensional.

World famous Color Science Model admires the Munsell Color System

But was he the first to bring 3D to color?

Munsell invented the idea of a three-dimensional color space?

Here is a quote from the Introduction of Munsell's book A Color Notation System (1919). (The Introduction was written by H. E. Clifford. Evidently Clifford was his publicist. The world famous Color Science Model shown above is my publicist.)

"The attempt to express color relations by using merely two dimensions, or two definite characteristics, can never lead to a successful system. For this reason alone the system proposed by Mr. Munsell, with its three dimensions of hue, value, and chroma, is a decided step in advance over any previous proposition."

Huevalue, and chroma

That kinda sounds like three dimensional color was Munsell's idea?

Here is another piece of evidence suggesting that Munsell may have been the guy that brought 3D color to a cinema near you. US Patent #824,374 for a Color Chart or Scale was issued to Munsell in 1906. His disclosure states: "It may assist in understanding the order of arrangement of my charts to know that the idea was suggested by the form of a spherical solid subdivided through the equator and in parallel planes thereto, ..."

Doncha just love drawings from old patents?

Fig. 2 above shows a page where the hues of the rainbow are arranged around the perimeter, with them all fading to gray at the center. This is but one page of color. Previous pages would have a brighter version of this, and subsequent pages would be darker. Fig. 1 shows a cut-away version of these pages assembled into a book.

So, he got the patent! Case closed. Munsell deserves to be the Father of Color Science.

Or did he patent the color space?

But... hold on a sec. Another part of the disclosure in the patent refers to "the three well-known constants or qualities of color -- namely, hue, value or luminosity, and purity of chroma..." In the patent biz, we would refer to that hyphenated word well-known as a pretty clear admission of prior art!

Clearly Munsell did not invent the idea of using three coordinates to identify unique colors. This is why I keep telling my dogs that you have to read patents very carefully to understand what is being patented. My cute little puppies are always ready to get out the pitchforks and torches after doing a quick read of a patent.

In Munsell's paper A Pigment Color System and Notation (The Journal of Psychology, 1912), he refers to a number of previous color ordering schemes by "Lambert, Runge, Chevreul, Benson, and others".

A slice of Munsell

So, I did a little investigation. Munsell also mentioned Ogden Rood as an experimenter in color. I dug out a book named Modern Chromatics, by Ogden Rood. I should point out that using the word modern in the title of a book may not be such a good idea if you want the book to be around for a while. This book was published a while ago, like thoroughly before Modern Millie, like in 1879.

The diagrams below are from Rood's book. They look kinda like representations of three-dimensional things to me!

Cross section of Rood's color cylinder and color cone

Not only does Rood's book predate the Munsell patent by about 30 years, but on page 215, he pushed the discovery of three dimensional color back by a full century: "This colour-cone is analogous to the color pyramid described by Lambert in 1772." That was soooo rood of him!

(That was probably the worst pun of my life. I apologize to the anyone whose sense of humor was offended.)

How about these other color systems?

I stumbled on a website called which chronicles more color systems that you can shake a crayon at. Here is their list of the three-dimensional color systems which predate Munsell. Are you ready?

I just love the name of his color space. In addition to being a world famous Color Scientist Model, my wife makes a pretty decent savory kugel.

Benson touts this as both an additive color space and a subtractive one. Orient it one way and you get RGB axes. Orient it another, and you get (what I would call) CMY. He called them yellow, sea-green, and pink. I have used this trick in classes for years. I had no idea that it was invented so long ago.

So, including Rood's, we have eight different suggestions for a three-dimensional color space, all of which came before Munsell. Oh... wait, I almost forget the earliest one.

Robert Grosseteste, 1230

This gentleman deserves a bit of comment. The colorsystem entry on Grosseteste is a bit sparse, if you ask me. First, Grosseteste has to share a webpage with Leon Battista Alberti and Leonardo da Vinci. I would be honored to share a webpage with da Vinci, but colorsystem didn't mention that Grosseteste's color system was likely the first three-dimensional color system ever conceived.

I do not mean to malign the good folks at colorsystem (although that would be pretty much in line with my reaction to anyone who knows more than I do). I love their website. I think the whole cover-up of Grosseteste's three-dimensional color system was part of a bigger conspiracy to deprive him of his rightful place in the History of Science. In the words of David Knowles (in The Evolution of Medieval Thought, p. 281, "[Grosseteste] is now only a name ... because his chief work was done in fields where he could light a torch and hand it on, but could not himself be a burning flame for ever."

Roger Bacon, who was one of the thinkers that led our way into the renaissance, would become one of the burning flames kindled by Grosseteste. Thus, we see that Robert Grosseteste had two degrees of separation from Kevin Bacon, who was in the movie Apollo 13, which kinda had something to with with science.

Here is a quote from an in-depth study by some people who sound gosh-darn scholarly. The quote is pertinent to the debate over the first three-dimensional color space: "De colore [the paper from Grosseteste] dates from the early thirteenth century and contains a convincing argument for a three-dimensional colour space that does not follow the linear arguments that Grosseteste had inherited from previous philosophers..." 

Back to the Munsell Color Space

It would appear that my original premise was far from being correct. Munsell did not create the first three-dimensional color space.

BUT!!!! The astute picture looker will notice something critical. Rood gave us color spaces that were a cylinder and a cone. Bezold also gave us a cone, and Grosseteste gave us a double cone. Lambert's was a pyramid. Mayer's was a triangular prism. Runge, Chevreul, and Wundt all provided spheres. The Benson color space is a cube.

Please do me the favor of scrolling up to the diagram entitled "A slice of Munsell". Please do me the favor of identifying the shape of that slice. This reminds me of the time when my shrink gave me a Rorschach test. Him: "What does this ink blot look like?" Me: "An ink blot." I failed the test.

Most of the drawings in Munsell's A Color Notation System depict his color space as being a sphere, but there are a few drawings like Fig, 20 (above) that show that his color space is irregular. In his own words, "Fig. 20 is a horizontal chart of all the colors which present middle value (5), and describes by an uneven contour the chroma of every hue at this level."

The last pages of this book are color plates that are slices from his Color Atlas. Note the distinct non-standard-shapedness of this.

Why was Munsell's color space groundbreaking?

We finally come to the unique and revolutionary feature: The Munsell Color Space is not a standard geometric shape. As shown below, the high chroma red hues stick out a lot further than the blue ones. It's hard to see this, but the yellow hues with the highest chroma are near the top, whereas the richest purples are nearer the bottom.

The Munsell color solid

Munsell took the non-intuitive road not taken, and that has made all the difference. That will be taken up in the next exciting installment of this series


  1. Since the "World Famous Colour Science Model" makes a mean Kugel, I'm sure you know that the Germans call an integrating sphere (essential in modern day colour measurement) an Ulbrichtk├╝gel (after, not surprisingly, Dr. Ulbricht). Now if the World Famous Colour Science Model is good at making that type of K├╝gel, we have a job for her!

  2. Interesting tidbit. I had to look up the Wikipedia article to find out why the Jewish pudding /casserole is given the name "ball".

    I will ask her if she has a recipe for an UlbrechtKugel. If she doesn't, I don't suppose you would be interested in an integrating icosohedron that I built?