Paint By Number Kits were first produced in the early 1950s by premier manufacturer Craftmaster. The first artist was Dan Robbins. Paint By Number became a craze and thousands of painting kits were manufactured and sold. By 1960, the craze had burned out. In the following decades, paint-by-number paintings fell out of favor and were thrown away or were stored in attics, barns and basements.
In the mid-1980s, a few collectors began to emerge. Galleries exhibited collections of PBN paintings, usually tongue-in-cheek. In 2001, the Smithsonian Museum held an exhibition of PBN paintings, and a catalog was published. William L. Bird, Jr. was the show’s curator, himself a paint-by- number collector. Since the close of the Smithsonian exhibition, prices are beginning to escalate for certain works.
Knowing which images to collect is important. Clearly, the first generation of CraftMaster pictures have surfaced as the most collectible. The 36 original designs of Dan Robbins are the most sought after. Additionally, there are the works of Adam Grant, another CraftMaster artist and a specialist in figure painting. “Love Ballet”(18″ x 24”) and “Ballet Intermission” (12″ x 16) are two of his most popular first generation CraftMasters. Grant’s works today can bring anywhere from a few hundred dollars to maybe as much as $800 or more for his super CraftMaster masterpiece, “The Red Shoes”(27″ x 36”).
Picture Craft, a competing company, made some very appealing pictures, also printed on canvas. The very popular image, “Oriental Cat”, is one of those odd ’50s juxtapositions of content, miniature dancing Siamese figures, incense burning and a big white cat. Another very popular title was “Mediterranean Scene”, a beautiful picture in very controlled colors. Both date to the early ’50s.
Collecting today is often subject specific. There are collectors of birds, tropicals, dogs, cats, children, horses, flowers, etc. Some ’60s vintage pictures can be bought for two or three dollars. Some can run into the hundreds for nudes and French scenes. The “Blue Heron” is from the ’60s and is superbly colored. It will usually sell for $40-$60.
As is the case with so many collectibles, the most valuable are the very first generation of works produced. But some really great later pictures are very worthy of collecting. For reference I recommend the Paint By Number Museum online and the book Paint by Number: The How-To Craze that Swept the Nationby William L. Bird Jr.