I went looking for a defining color of its era. I found it in an old jar of paint.
Apple’s second computer — its first to have a case — launched in 1977, and that boxy beige Apple II was soon everywhere: in classrooms, living rooms and offices. At the vanguard of a generation of personal computers to come, it featured a particular and carefully-chosen beige. But what did that look like? Those first machines — the ones that have escaped landfills anyway — have shifted in color over 40 years. The documented public record is sketchy and confused. But I stumbled upon a way to investigate what Apple Beige was like.
I came by this relic, a remarkable artifact of the fledgling home computer era. It’s a small glass jar filled with an oil-based paint — there’s a little brush built into the cap, and the monochromatic label glued to it sports the old Apple Computer Inc logotype and the title “Apple Beige Touch-Up Paint”.
This is the green-inflected cool beige of the original Apple II computer cases. Unlike later models, these first Apple cases were manufactured with a sprayed-on paint finish. Scrapes and other abuse could damage the surface. Hence the need for a touch-up paint, a handy item apparently available only to dealers for use on their repair benches.
It stands to reason this still-fresh paint may be the closest you can get today to that original color. I made a couple “swatches”, a layer on coated paper (which worked well) and two coats on a primered wood shim (worked less well). And I compared the swatches to a surviving Apple II and to other known color references.
Aren’t the computers themselves living examples of Apple Beige?
Sort of! But it’s a bit unreliable. All paints shift color with exposure to light over time, and this is true of the painted case machines (Apple II, II+, early IIe). Interestingly, these early finishes have aged better than later ones. Apple was small and running so lean in those years that retooling for higher quality ABS injection molding (using integrally-dyed plastic) didn’t become a priority until about 1984…