When did manufacture of Swedish red paint actually start?
The red paint is mentioned in numerous accounts of copper processing at Stora Kopparberget in Falun. In a letter to the chief superintendent at Stockholm Castle, Johan III writes in 1573 that he wants to order “rust lead” or “mine bran” to paint all the castle’s roofs red.
People have been using red iron oxide as a colouring pigment for thousands of years, most well-known are the cave paintings in southern France and northern Spain. The fact that metallic salts are formed in mines with sulphurous ores has also been known for a long time. After drying, the sediment produces a yellow dye, iron ochre, which in turn becomes red after heating.
In the 17th century it was still unusual and exclusive to paint houses and the pigment was mixed with wood tar for both protection and colour. It wasn’t until the start of the 18th century that industrial manufacture of red paint was seriously considered.
After a number of more or less successful attempts, 25 tonnes of pigment were produced during the period 1764 – 74 as a side operation to vitriol production. It was around this time that the red paint started to be boiled with water and rye flour.
Manufacturing has been taking place in the area around Falun Mine since 1764. After all the earlier failures, Bergslaget leased out the manufacture, and the lease remained in place until the mid-19th century. The leaseholders didn’t just use the slag from the vitriol works, but also utilized the raw material from the mine water and from old crumbled waste rock (ore from the mining operation that was poor in copper). There are still waste tips in the area and today’s Falu Rödfärg still derives its raw material from there.
The raw material was easy to extract and the success of the paint resulted in the establishment of a number of red paint works around Falun during the 19th century. Bergslaget terminated the lease in 1865 and became sole owner of all red paint factories in Falun.
The red paint works at the edge of Falun Mine was enlarged and modernised. The paint became increasingly popular. 900 tonnes were manufactured in 1861 and by 1877 it had increased to 1,402 tonnes of paint. Production during the 20th century has varied between 1,000 and 1,600 tonnes, with a peak during the 1930s of 2,000 tonnes.
Following a fire in 1975 when the entire burning plant and all the stores were destroyed, the production process was rationalised in line with demands for fewer heavy manual tasks.
Falun Mine closed in 1992 after more than a thousand years of mining. All that remains is the manufacture of the red pigment and boiling of Falu Rödfärg.
We now manufacture 700 tonnes of pigment, which makes 3,600 tonnes of paint or approximately 3 million litres of Falu Rödfärg (2009).
There is enough raw material to last for about 100 years more, after which we’ll just have to open the mine again.