Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Restoration: Wallpapers , early chemicals and TRIVIA

In todays heavily regulated world we assume just about everything we bring into our home is safe to use. However in the Victorian Era no such regulations existed. Today people now must spend thousands on "lead abatement" as contractors  place down heavy layers of plastic around your house when they scrape, lest any "lead' fall onto the ground...never mind that the ground in any Urban city has higher levels of lead, PCB's and other chemicals than your child would ever be exposed to if a chip of paint fell.. In fact those "urban gardens' that make you feel so "green' are often planted in lead contaminated soil. Oh, and those new light bulbs you soon will have no choice but to buy? Break one and you need to use 'containment protocols ' because they have Mercury in them. Maybe we are not as safe as we think we are?

Imagine however living in the Victorian Age. Lead was touted proudly in the ads as the best 'bonding agent" for a quality paint job. In fact lead content was how one determined how "good' a paint was and it was used i about everything in an old house. No regulations existed at all for most compounds and chemicals and I came across this article in doing some research recently. The one thing the Victorians 'knew'; was bad for them was Arsenic. So in the spirit of "Old House Trivia" for your next dinner party, this article, published in The Canadian Builder and Architect, July 1889, a 'to the trade' magazine had this article entitled:

Tests for Arsenic Wallpaper

The British Medical Journal says: "A simple and easily applied test for wallpaper has been devised by Mr F.Greensted. No apparatus is needed beyond an ordinary gas jet, which is turned down to quite a point, until the flame is wholly blue. When this has been done a strip of the paper suspected to contain arsenic is cut one sixteenth if an inch wide and an inch or two long. Directly the edge of this paper is brought into contact with the outer edge in the flame (test No 1). The paper is burned a little and the fumes that are given off will be found to have a strong garlic like odor, due to the vapor of arsenic acid.


(test number 2)

Take the paper away from the flame and look at the charred end; the carbon will be colored a bronze red. This is copper reduced by the carbon.


(test number3)

Being now away from the flame, in a fine state of division, the copper is slightly oxidized by the air and on placing the charred end a second time, not too far into the flame will now be colored green by the copper.


By this simple means it is possible to form an opinion, without apparatus and without leaving the room, as to whether any wallpaper contains arsenic: for copper arsenate is commonly used in preparing wallpapers The first and second tests would be yielded by any paper containing arsenic in considerable quantities"

So now you have some Victorian trivia and can be the smartest person in the room and if you find that rare Victorian wallpaper you now know how to test it. however I'm sure the EPA will want you to wear a Hazmat suit however!

1 comment:

Karen Anne said...

I can remember those little balls of mercury running around if a thermometer broke. Yet here I am, many years later :-) and without an accurate thermometer since then.