Last Look

Kind of blue

The oldest Old Blues weren’t Blue at all. Green was the official Yale color until 1894, when—following the lead of the Yale crew, which had rowed in blue since the 1850s— the university switched colors.

Two scraps of silk, one framed (right) and one loose, are still preserved in the vault at the university secretary’s office as the first official Yale Blue. Tradition says they came from a bolt of cloth for an academic robe. In 1938, an art professor sought to hedge against their fading by painting a copy of the color (left), but over time, that version degraded faster than the silk.

So when University Printer John Gambell was asked to designate a definitive Yale Blue in 2005, the color choice took some guessing. Tilt the fabric one way and it looks lighter; another, and it looks redder. And then there were the many faux blues in use around the university. The right color, Gambell says, is “dark, but not so dark that you can’t tell it’s blue, and neither green nor purple, though possibly a little grey.”

These days, that tint lives in Gambell’s book of samples, along with directions for reproducing it. You can also order Yale Blue inks, premixed by the Superior Printing Ink Co., formulas 6254 and 6255. They’re less poetic but more reliable than silk.

The comment period has expired.