“My grandfather reached out to Eli Lilly and Company and called in a box of 50,000 empty gelatin capsules, which he and my grandmother separated while sitting in front of the TV,” Ms. Robbins wrote. With a grease gun, they manually filled each capsule with paint.
After heavy marketing, sales eventually took off, and they streamlined the process, hiring more illustrators and mechanizing the process of squeezing paints into tiny plastic pots.
Their first hire was an illustrator, Adam Grant, a Holocaust survivor. He created the company’s best-selling paint-by-numbers painting, which, fittingly, was Leonardo’s “The Last Supper.”
Palmer’s Craft Master was not the first company to produce a numbered painting kit; a patent for the concept had been filed in 1923. But Craft Master originated the modern industry and became a leader in the field as dozens of competitors popped up.
Alas, when the big boxy appliance that accompanied those TV dinners started invading living rooms in the mid-1950s, sales of paint-by-numbers kits ebbed. But they still sell steadily today, having become ever more sophisticated. In appealing to adults, they are marketed as ways to relax and shut down the brain.
Mr. Robbins died in hospice care in Sylvania, Ohio. His son Larry said the cause was complications of pneumonia. In addition to him, Mr. Robbins is survived by his wife; another son, Michael; three grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
Larry Robbins said that despite the scorn of critics, his father remained adamant that paint-by-numbers gave everyone the chance to create something, even if they could not draw at all. And, he said, 20 copies of the same painting can still show variations in style and coloring, “just as if you had 20 different people playing Beethoven, you would have 20 different sounds.”