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History of Dyes and Dyeing: About

A guide to the Othmer Library's holdings of Dye related materials.

General Information

Othmer Library of Chemical History

Science History Institute
315 Chestnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19106

Monday - Friday
10:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. 

A Note on Pigments

Pigments differ from dyes in that they are substances that sit on top of the materials they color as opposed to becoming fixed to the materials' internal structure. This subject guide will not generally discuss pigments.  

About Dyes and Dyeing

The Othmer Library has an extensive collection of materials on dyes, dyeing and dyers. Use this subject guide to find materials across collections.  

Classification of Dyestuffs:

Color or Hue: named to indicate the color imparted on the dyed material.

Origin: natural or synthetic.

Chemical Structure: arrangement of atoms in a molecule and the chemical bonds that hold the atoms together. 

Utilization: based on the materials to which the dyes are applied. Cloth of natural fibers, Cloth of synthetic fibers, Paper, Leather, Wood, Pigments, Food, Oils, Plastics and rubbers, Biological samples, Photography, and more such as soap and metal. 

Methods of Application: Acid dyes, Basic dyes, Mordant dyes, Direct dyes, Ingrain dyes, Disperse dyes, Vat dyes, Sulfur dyes, and Solvent dyes.

Dictionary of Dye Terms

Dye: A color substance that is able to be fixed to the internal structure of fibers therefore imparting the color to the material. 

Coal Tar Dyes: Dyes made from organic chemicals from coal tar. Synthetic dyes.

Dye-bath: A general term for the liquors in which the material is dyed. 

Inorganic: Mineral substance which does not contain carbon.

Intermediates: The chemical compounds from which dyes are manufactured. 

Fast Color: A dye color that is fairly resistant to fading by washing or light.

Fugitive Dye: A dye color that is easily removed or fades quickly.

Mordant: A substance that works to bind a dye to a material, a fixing agent.

Organic: Derived from a carbon compound.

Vat Dye: A water insoluble dye. 


"Fairy" Dyes playing card, undated

Playing card advertising Fairy Dyes Ltd., a dyestuffs company based in Glasgow, Scotland.

CHF Collections, object ID 2012.007.

Dye Manufacturers

American Cyanamid Co. founded 1907

Badische Anilin & Soda Fabrik A.G. founded 1865

Clayton Aniline Co. Ltd

Cassella Farbwerke Mainkur A.G.

CIBA Ltd, formerly Society of Chemical Industry, Basle

E. I. du Pont de Nemours & Co. Inc.

Farbenfabriken Bayer A.G.

Farbwerke Hoechst A.G.

J.R. Geigy S.A.

Imperial Chemical Industries Ltd

I.G. Farbenindustrie A.G.

L.B. Holliday & Co. Ltd

National Aniline Division, Allied Chemical Corporation

Sandoz Ltd

Yorkshire Dyeware & Chemical Co. Ltd

Calco Chemical Co.