Killer Reading – The Hunt for the Potentially Deadly Arsenic-Infused Books of the 19th Century

Book conservationists have launched an effort to locate thousands of 19th-century books containing ’emerald green’, a rare and coveted pigment created with the help of arsenic.

Before the industrial revolution, books were leather-bound artisanal creations that took a lot of time and effort to produce, but the invention of bookcloth changed everything. It was both cheaper and easier to make, but it also allowed for the use of pigments to make book covers more appealing. For example, one of the most popular bookcloth colors of the late 19th century was a vibrant green that came to be known as Paris green or emerald green. No other pigment even came close in terms of intensity, and although a series of arsenic poisoning accidents were reported during that time, the demand for it was so strong that manufacturers didn’t even consider canceling production. Tens, maybe even hundreds of thousands of emerald green books were produced until the risk of arsenic poisoning became a big enough issue and the pigment was finally pulled from production, and thousands of them are still in libraries and private collections today.

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Shadows From the Walls of Death – A Book That Can Literally Kill You

When people speak of potentially-deadly books, they usually refer to the radical or controversial ideas they contain, but in the case of one very scary book, the potential for lethalness is quite literal.

Shadows from the Walls of Death: Facts and Inferences Prefacing a Book of Specimens of Arsenical Wall Papers is a book published in 1874 by Dr. Robert M. Kedzie, a Union surgeon during the American Civil War who later became a professor of chemistry. Of its 100 or so pages, 86 are just samples of arsenic-pigmented wallpaper that people used to decorate their homes during those times. Even though arsenic was a known toxin capable of killing a person if ingested, no one imagined it could kill even when used as an active ingredient to make wallpaper colors more vibrant. Kedzie did, though, so he printed this book as a warning.

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