Francesco Spreafico returns with another guest post today containing more interesting historical facts about LEGO® colours. Francesco first published this article in Italian on his excellent blog Old Bricks.
The name sounds a bit strange (at least to my Italian ear) because I don't generally associate actual bricks with the colour yellow. Generally I think of bricks as “red” (even though, obviously, they're not actually red). After thinking for a bit, I realized that there are in fact lots of buildings made of “yellow-ish” bricks too. Even though, just like the red ones, they're not actually yellow, they're, basically... tan. I'm not sure if this also happens in English-speaking countries but it sure does, at a certain level, in Italy. I imagine it happens even more commonly in Denmark, and here are some examples I found in Billund.
The name “Brick Yellow” started being used with Modulex bricks (1963); these were smaller bricks produced by TLG with a muted colour palette that were supposed to be used by architects, as professional tools. In future articles I intend to talk extensively about Modulex, but what matters now is that two of these muted colours were called “Brick Yellow” (colour code: 005) and “Brick Red” (colour code: 004). Actually, the real names were in Danish: “Tegl Gul” and “Tegl Rød”, since then English wasn't yet the official language used at TLG.
“Brick Red” is what you would expect, the typical colour of bricks (in a Modulex context today we commonly call this colour “Terracotta”), while “Brick Yellow” is what now is better known in the AFOL world as Tan. Since Modulex bricks were used by architects to design buildings, both colours were concieved to reproduce houses' bricks faithfully.
“Brick Yellow” soon started to spread outside of the Modulex line (and as if it wasn't already complicated enough, in a Modulex context today we call this colour “Buff”) in regular LEGO bricks used internally for statues and LEGOLAND® builds. It has been noticed that Tan was also used in a few composite DUPLO® and Fabuland® parts beginning in 1981. At last, in the 1990s, Tan bricks started being sold to the public in normal sets and today it is probably one of the most popular colours.
“Brick Red” wasn't as lucky, unfortunately. No regular brick was ever produced in this colour (the one you can see in the photo is just a 7xC Bayer prototype) and outside of Modulex it was only used for a few Fabuland pieces and heads as well as a few DUPLO parts, all produced between 1979 and 1991. On BrickLink you can find an almost complete list of these parts (minus the heads). After that, the colour “died" and is still dormant today. Because of its use in the Fabuland theme the colour is now known on BrickLink as “Fabuland Brown”.
If you're eagle-eyed, you'll notice that in the photo the oldest Modulex bricks (the ones on the far left that have “LEGO” on the studs) have a slightly different shade. The other Modulex bricks (with an “M” on the studs) are the same exact colours of the other parts.