Poison books: the 19th-century volumes bound in arsenic-laced green cloth

Originally published at: Poison books: the 19th-century volumes bound in arsenic-laced green cloth | Boing Boing

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There’s poisonous and radioactive wallpaper too. :grin: Arsenic and radium were used as pigment in a lot of places.

NPR did a story a while back about a group who’s job it is to track down remaining Victorian-era wallpaper and safely remove it. Pretty interesting stuff.

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the 19th-century volumes bound in arsenic-laced green cloth

That explains the declining readership.

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Just checked my book collection. Three tomes from the relevant period and in the relevant color. Hey, amazon has arsenic test kits!

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DIY home tests are much cheaper. You need a second party to confirm the results, though. :wink:

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The link in the original article is broken, so I guess we’re talking about that old favourite Scheele’s Green (copper hydrogen arsenite)? It was a sensation when it appeared as it replaced less-fast organic green dyes from plants and copper carbonate which was much less intense. It was found in paper, candles, wallpaper; even candy and toys.

It fell out of favour less because of its toxicity, but because it discoloured in the presence of hydrogen sulphide which was often a contaminant in town (coal) gas supplies widely used for illumination and cooking.

It was replaced in the late 19th Century by Paris Green (another copper arsenic compound) and then Cobalt Green which was significantly less toxic. Scheele’s Green did find an afterlife however - as an insecticide.

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Typo in the link.

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Knowledge is dangerous.

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Hence the term giftgrün.

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That’s super cool. I hope you can report back! And, be safe.

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So is pudding, don’t ask.

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Famously, Napolean may have been poisoned by the green wallpaper in his room on St. Helena.

Early Fiesta Ware dishes, especially the red ones, are quite radioactive owing to the use of uranium oxide in the glaze.

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One of my early jobs was creating dioramas in a local natural history museum using Victorian and Edwardian stuffed birds and animals. Just before the opening a health and safety officer called to check the final installation (safely behind glass as far as the public were concerned). All the birds and animals had been dusted with arsenic to prevent pests – nobody had told us this when we were handling them though.

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image

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Curators get hazard pay right?

King Tut and all.

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The ‘radioactive red’ FiestaWare does emit radioactivity, but you would have to eat spaghetti from it daily practically for life (acidic food leaching uranium from the glaze) before you got a notable dose. See also: radioactivity from bananas.

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Ever seen older bird or arthropod collections in drawers? They usually have a small watch glass installed. Curators used to put some drops of mercury on it, to evaporate slowly in the drawer.

A friend of mine got several old cupboards with those drawers as a gift from an old curator. As far as I know, he still has them, but far away from his living spaces. Need to ask him about his beetles next time I see him … And make some mad hatter references.

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We have some potential candidates where I work. We cover them with either mylar, or acid free paper, and they are safe(ish) to handle.

Always wash your hands and keep them away from your mouth during and after handling.

Latex or nitrile gloves are not a bad idea either.

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The safer alternatives were expensive leather, or dyes that didn’t shout “Buy me!”.

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I have some french books bound in green from the 1890s and 1900s. It’s a dull green though. Should I test them?

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