Friday 27 October 2023

Donald W Thorpe's Japanese Colours

This unplanned blog article, cutting into the intended season of IJN floatplane models, was prompted by the comment about Donald W Thorpe from Aviation of Japan Texas correspondent Mark Smith on the 8609 blog. In my response to his comment I got the year wrong and in fact Donald Thorpe's letter to the British modelling magazine Plastic Aircraft Models International (PAM News) was in 1980. The letter and accompanying chart appeared in Issue No.36 of that magazine published in January 1980. The only change made to the scanned images shown below has been to blank out Thorpe's residential postal address. Disbelievers or those in denial can check out the magazine for themselves as second hand copies may be sought on eBay and are generally available.

Significantly the chart shows the original Munsell values Thorpe had identified but which had not been included in his books. Those values allowed the late Bill Leyh and I to work together to produce a table (one sample page shown below) with the colours presented in sRGB together with their Munsell values, sRGB values and quantified closest FS colours, not always usefully comparable. The two books had originally included only printed colour charts with limitations as to the fidelity of the colours shown. Because of the source of the Munsell values our 'Thorpe Table' was not a commercial proposition but a work of mutual interest and enthusiasm to be provided on request to those who had the Thorpe books and wished to gain a better idea of the colours as presented in them. It proved to be of limited interest as the 'consensus' had already moved towards a consideration of Thorpe's work as 'out of date' and supplanted by new ideas being driven from both the USA and Japan. But it was used as a tool of reconciliation for the new information becoming available and was updated with various discussion notes. 

Thorpe's contention in his letter to PAM News that the Japanese standards had not survived was incorrect but for decades they had been of limited access in Japan and treated rather secretively. Sporadic references to official IJN colour designations in Japanese aviation magazines seem not to have been picked up in the West.  In neither his letter to PAM New nor in his books did Thorpe refer to the 8609 standard or directly to the facsimile swatches sent by Mr Toda to US researchers. There is also no mention of the Army's Koukaku 39 or Navy's Kariki 117 colour standards. In fact the Army colours book was published in 1968, before those 8609 swatches were made available in 1975. The Navy colours book followed two years later in 1977. The late Jim Lansdale very kindly sent me a copy of the 8609 swatches as sent and the reverse of the working paper laying them out is endorsed as follows and dated November 1975.

'JAAF - JNAF Colors Source M.Toda (Kokufan) via B Mikesh Stated as "Official Color Standards # 8609. Source in Japan unknown - believed standards for one aircraft mfr only -'

It subsequently transpired that Mr Mikesh refuted being the source of the swatches and Jim came to believe that they might have been sent to Al Makiel who at the time was in correspondence with both Mr Toda and Donald Thorpe. Nevertheless the swatches are correct as to their 8609 designations and each swatch is accompanied by a hand written notation with comparable Munsell values, FS values and, except for 2-6, a Thorpe designation in red. The date these notations were added is unknown. Interestingly the red Thorpe notation adjacent to the 2-6 swatch is 'None'! With the L*a*b" values of the 8609 swatches measured and reported in 2023 it is now possible to present them in direct comparison to the 1975 assessments and the Thorpe colours, with the cautionary understanding that 48 years has passed between them.

Following this presentation Pat Donahue has very kindly shared images of a paint chips folder sent to him by Mr Thorpe. It appears that the chips were probably cut from original Munsell swatches as they  seem to match well the rendered chips in our Thorpe Table. When Don published his books Pat wrote to him and asked if he had any hard copies' of the colours. Don said he had made a very few copies, about a dozen, and that really perked his interest.  Pat offered to build him a model of the Zero on the cover of the  IJN book in exchange for one of the sets of colour chips and the deal was struck. The folder has been stored in a climate controlled environment out of sunlight and in the original packing container except when Pat needed it for colour references, as shown above and below. With thanks to Pat for sharing the images and his permission to show them here.

Image credit:- Book covers © 1968 & 1977 Aero Publishers, Inc.; Magazine cover & excerpts © 1980 PAM News International published by Independent Magazines Ltd.; Thorpe Table © 2005 William Leyh & Nick Millman; Thorpe Colour Chips pamphlet images via Pat Donahue.


Anonymous said...

Thanks so very much for this, Nick; both the summary response and its rapid appearance are greatly appreciated. I vaguely remember some of this but not most, it's very helpful - and interesting. I hope others benefit also.


Baronvonrob said...

Absolutely fascinating... the lengths that these individuals all went to are astounding, to say the least

Thanks, Nick, for getting the groundbreaking story and colors all finally figured out

Michael Thurow said...

Thanks Nick for the Thorpe colour chips and FS reference. I was always frustrated by the poor printed representation in the books.

Kevin Bade said...

Thanks for the upgrade/ explanation of Thorpes books and particularly the color chart. Helpful stuff for us navigating the
uncertainty of WW2 Japanese colors.

Straggler 脱走兵 said...

Thanks for your comments. The Thorpe colour chart shown above is just meant as a sample page. The actual chart is a five page PDF presenting all the Thorpe colours and includes discussion notes. Let me know if you would like a copy. It is still available on request.


Danilo said...

Thank you Nick for these posts on the Japanese WWII colors. I didn't comment these posts since I am getting a bit lost in a huge amount of information - so I would like to receive a copy of PDF chart. Thank you

Chunks O'Reilley said...

Thank you very much for this. I have his books and am well aware of the, seemingly mandatory, controversies. During his last days, he was becoming active on j-aircraft and we had an opportunity to say hi.