Antique books can be poisonous: what to pay attention to

Bylim Olena

Antique books can be poisonous: what to pay attention to
Antique books can be dangerous. Source: Photo by Leah Newhouse: https://www.pexels.com/uk-ua/photo/373465/

We rarely think of books as dangerous objects. However, some of them contain elements so harmful that they need to be carefully studied before reaching the shelves of public libraries, bookstores, or even private homes.

The Poison Book Project is a joint study between the Winterthur Museum, Garden and Library and the University of Delaware that catalogs such books. They are not interested in the content written on the pages, but the physical components of the books themselves, in particular the colors of the covers.

Recently, the project influenced the decision to withdraw two books from the national library of France. The reason – their bright green fabric covers raised suspicions about the content of arsenic, writes ScienceAlert.

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Which old books can be dangerous:

  • Green: In the 19th century, Scheele green, which contained arsenic, was often used to dye fabric book covers. This pigment was cheap and bright, but faded over time and released poisonous arsenic.
  • Red: Cinnabar, a bright red pigment used for thousands of years, contains mercury. Exposure to mercury can lead to poisoning.
  • Yellow: Lead chromate, a yellow-hot pigment that was popular in the Victorian era, is also toxic. However, books with yellow covers are less of a concern because lead chromate does not dissolve well.

What should you do if you find an old book with a suspicious cover?

You are unlikely to be in danger if you simply touch or read a book. If you regularly work with such books, wear gloves and do not touch your face. Wash your hands thoroughly after handling the book.

Read how books were selected to suit the wallpaper in the USSR.

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