skip to content

Whipple Library

Department of History and Philosophy of Science

Lovibond book coverIn the 1870s, the brewer Joseph Williams Lovibond (1833-1918) began to look for a way to measure the quality and consistency of the beer produced in his family’s breweries. He went on to produce a colour classification system to grade the colour of the beer and an optical instrument, which he named the Tintometer, to measure colour. By the time the Tintometer was put on the market in 1887, many other industries had expressed interest in a way of measuring and standardising colour.


Click to see this image enlarged

Measurement of light and colour sensations, by Joseph W. Lovibond
London : George Gill and Sons, [1893]

This book is a record of the investigations on light and colour carried out by Lovibond whilst perfecting the Tintometer. Lovibond was self-taught and made extensive use of the burgeoning literature on the science of colour. He aspired to be viewed as a legitimate colour scientist, and went on to publish several other books on the laws of colour.

   Tintometer slides pic

  Tintometer slides
  by J. W. Lovibond Ltd., English, circa 1910
  From the Whipple Museum
  Wh.4521; T338


These slides were designed to be inserted into the Tintometer, a simple viewing tube, in order to measure the colour of a particular material. By combining red, blue, and yellow glasses with regular gradations, any colour could be expressed as a formula of R+B+Y. These measurements would allow manufacturers to assess the consistency of the colour of their products, and colour measurement became a proxy test for many other chemical qualities.

The Tintometer went on to be used in a variety of ways beyond the brewing industry, and in 1890 it was tested by the Royal Society Committee on Colour-Vision in their investigations into colour blindness. Tintometers were also adapted to measure colour vision. They were taken to the Torres Straits as part of the landmark Cambridge Anthropological Expedition in 1898 to test the colour sensitivity of the Torres Islanders.



Back                                                                                                                                                                                                 Next