Everything You Need to Know About Paint by Numbers
Thrift
January 20, 2022

Everything You Need to Know About Paint by Numbers

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Vintage paint by numbers is a fun and colorful item to collect and are perfect to decorate with for different seasons, holidays, and themes. If you’ve wanted to start your own collection or just want to know more about them, I’m sharing everything you need to know about vintage paint by numbers!

I have loved paint by numbers since I found my first two stuffed in the bottom of a box at a random, side of the road, flea market years ago. They were both of horses, set against a beautiful aqua background and, the best part, they were only $5! I’ve found that, like most everything I love to collect, paint by numbers have become more popular (thanks to being featured in different magazines), so the prices have gone up on them at antique store and flea markets. They can still be found at garage sales and estate sales, though, where they’re not necessarily as desirable or sought after, so I can occasionally still buy them for a reasonable price.

You can also look for vintage paint by number paintings on Etsy, Ebay, and Chairish. While pricing might be a little higher purchasing online, you will likely find a wider variety of designs and sizes to choose from. There are several paint by number designs that were sold as sets, as well, so if you’re looking for a match to one you have, looking online is a great option.

The first patent for the paint by numbers technique was filed in 1923, but the first kits weren’t marketed until 1950. Max S. Klein, owner of the Palmer Paint Company and Dan Robbins (a commercial artist) sold the first paint by number kits, including the designs, paints, and brushes. (Source:Wikepedia)

The 1950’s were a great time for a product like paint by number kits to be launched because the U.S. was post war and people had more disposable income and more free time on their hands to enjoy hobbies. The concept of painting by number was based on the way Leonardo da Vinci would outline sections of his designs and number them for apprentices to finish. This allowed him to focus on the parts that were integral for him to paint himself, and less important parts, could be done by someone else.

The Palmer Paint Company changed its name to Craft Master and, at its peak, employed “800 people who would work round the clock to produce 50,000 paint by number sets per day.” (Source:My Modern Met) Unfortunately, Craft Master couldn’t keep up with the popularity of the kits and ended up going bankrupt. There were other companies who had jumped on the paint by number bandwagon, though, so the craft could go on over the next few decades.

The first Paint by Number painting was called “Abstract No. One” — by Dan Robbins (Photo credit: My Modern Met)


I have 3 favorite paint by number paintings in my collection. They are all scenes from Paris and are gorgeous. I love the images, paint colors, and precision with which they were done.

This is one of those things that I want to answer with “you’ll just know when you see it,” but that’s easy for me to say because I know what they look like. So, first of all, most all of the paint by number designs were printed and painted on a thicker piece of cardboard-type material. I only have one in my collection that is on paper and I didn’t realize that it was until I took it out of its frame (more on that later). Next, the designs weren’t abstract, but instead, very distinct subjects and shapes, landscapes, cityscapes, florals, pastoral scenes, and nature inspired. The kits were meant to appeal to the masses, so they also included popular icons such as the Queen of England, The Fonz from Happy Days, and even religious figures, including The Last Supper.

When you find a paint by number, the colors will be done in very straight lines. The colors won’t be blended at all, but instead, be in very specific spots on the painting—not a lot of actual artistry. Since each of the areas of the designs were numbered to go with specific colors, the paintings would look the same, no matter who was doing them. Some were done a little better than others, but they all have the same look to them—all the colors in the same spots and no deviation from that.


The cost of vintage paint by numbers can vary greatly. There are a few subjects that can bring in a higher price, like the less widely produced nudes—marketed to a smaller audience originally. The price also depends on current popularity. Over the last several years, the vintage paintings have been featured in magazines as something to collect and display—that translates to pricing. Ideally, I like to find them at thrift stores, as they seem to have the best prices—$5 or below would be a great price for me. Garage and estate sales can also be a good place to find vintage paint by number paintings, as long as they’re not wise to the popularity of them.

The most I’ve spent on a paint by numbers is around $30. I bought it on Etsy, it was large and a nice piece, but thinking back, I wish that I wouldn’t have spent that much. I’ve bought a couple pairs of paintings for right around that $30 mark, but the most I like to spend on them at an antique shop or flea market is $10-$15. Just like any collectible, the value is really up to who’s buying it. How much are you willing to spend to buy the items that you like and want to collect? Whenever I’m asked about collecting, I try to urge people to not worry about what resale could be, but buy something, instead, because you love it!


Everyone is going to have something different that they’re going to look for. It could be subject matter, color, size, or even whether the paintings come in a pair or set. I tend to look more at the quality of the paintings themselves, meaning I like cleaner paint lines. I usually shy away from people or animals because eyes can be very tricky to get right—they often ended up looking weird. I’m also drawn to brighter colors, but my collection has lots of different color combinations.

I have been trying to acquire enough to complete my wall of paint by numbers, so there are some in there that aren’t my favorites. Now that I have it done, I’m going to concentrate on finding some that are more suited toward what I really want and, also different sizes that will help me tighten up the spacing toward the bottom of the wall. Decorating takes time and I’m willing to swap out as I find more and better pieces!


Usually when I find vintage paint by numbers, they are in a frame. A lot of them come in a very simple, wide banded, wooden frame. I find the majority in that kind of frame, so I thought maybe they came with the kits, but I don’t think they did. Instead, I’ll bet that the popularity of paint by numbers created a whole separate opportunity for certain sized frames to be made and sold. The frames usually have a wire or hanger on the backs for hanging. If they don’t, I have found that the VelcroCommand Stripswork great—one pair on either side of the backs of the frames.

I prefer to have the paintings without the frames, so I always remove them. If I can, I’ll leave the frame behind at the thrift store, so they can resell it and I don’t have to deal with it. I use the Command strips to hang the paintings. They are so lightweight, and the Velcro strips work great. They’re also easy to reposition if needed.


Vintage paint by numbers might be popular with a wider audience right now, but I know that will change as soon as something else comes along. As someone who collects vintage, it’s important to be in-tune with what you really love and stay the course. Prices and availability will fluctuate based on what magazines and popular social media accounts are sharing, but that too shall pass.

There are certain items that always seem to hold their price (vintage Pyrex, I’m looking at you), but the pricing on other items will level back out. I think this is true for paint by numbers. Also, when they fall out of mainstream popularity again, they should be easier to source. Right now, you’re not only up against other collectors finding them in the wild, but you’re up against resellers. It’s just sort of the name of the game in the world of collecting vintage and makes it even more exciting when you find the coveted pieces!

I found a great dupe for my vintage Hudson Bay striped blanket! The originals can be very expensive, but this one looks good and is a fraction of the price.


Do you have any paint by numbers? Maybe you have a couple that your grandma painted or you have a stash that you’ve collected, but haven’t known what to do with. I hope this post has inspired you to pull them out, dust them off, and display them! We are so lucky to still have vintage anything. My generation clears out and chants minimalism so much, I’m afraid that there won’t be anything left from our “era” to be collected. Whatever it is you collect, you should definitely have it out on display to enjoy…not packed away in boxes.

If you have any paint by numbers, I would love to see! Share a picture in your Instagram stories and tag me when you do! You can find me on Instagram at @hilaryprall.

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