Colour coding 2

A few months ago we wrote about the use of Charles Booth’s poverty map and the use of colour-coding for social class, pink for affluence, blue for poverty and so on. The military use of code has also been explored in these pages, and the concept of coding regularly appears.


The Handy Black Cat English-French Dictionary was one of a series of little booklets published fro Carreras Ltd for inclusion in their packets of cigarettes. Five titles were published, each with the same front cover design, with its inventive use of the inverted 5 to do the job of the ‘ç’. But, when seen under a handy magnifying-glass, also noticeable is the monochrome coding of the colours of the flags – the dark blue, white and red of the Union flag, the blue, white and red of the Tricolor, and the black, yellow and red of the Belgian flag.


These are tonally coded by block ink – here solid for the dark blue and black; by no ink, for the white; and by line or dot shading – horizontal for French blue, vertical for red and dotted for yellow. The three shadings for hues correspond to the language for conveying colour by monochrome signifiers used in heraldry (see ); according to the heraldica website ‘This method is usually attributed to the Jesuit S. da Pietra Santa (1638) although it was in use earlier.’

Screen Shot 2018-10-23 at 16.07.13

Given that the black coloration of the Carreras Black Cat was already in use as a blocked colour, the use of solid black for the black of the Belgian flag is understandable; heraldry carries no signifier for the specific blue of the Union flag, and it would have to be distinguished from the blue of the Tricolor. A mix then of Entente compromise and very old traditional visual translation.



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