French National Library quarantines four books decorated with arsenic

These works were identified through a German-American research program called the Poison Book, which lists books affected by “Schweinfurt Green” or “Paris Green” treatments.

France’s national library told AFP on Thursday it had quarantined four 19th-century books decorated with arsenic to avoid any risk from the toxic agent. The warning came in late 2010 from academics who discovered the chemical element on the covers of books dating back to that time.

A German-American research program called the Poison Book Project (“The Poisoned Book Project”) task to create a list of relevant books. The vast majority of those known so far are in the United States. The BnF compared the titles already identified in other countries with its own catalogue. And after analysis, only four of the 28 potentially affected bundles actually contained arsenic. “These works have been quarantined and will undergo additional analysis by external laboratories designed to assess the amount of arsenic present in each volume”, marked the institution. What all four have in common is that they were printed in Great Britain and rarely consulted. These are two volumes of Irish ballads collected by Edward Hayes in 1855, a bilingual anthology of Romanian poetry by Henry Stanley in 1856, and a collection of the works of the British Royal Horticultural Society in 1862-1863.

Arsenic was valued for the named color “Schweinfurt Green” Or “Paris green” which he put on the covers between 1790 and 1880 according to the current database. This pigment was mainly used in English-speaking countries and Germany, more rarely in France. The BNF has indicated that it is looking for more books with green covers “off the Poison Book Project list”.

In theory, readers who consult such works risk becoming sick or vomiting. The library told AFP the risk to users was a priori very modest. In fact, there have been no cases of suspected poisoning anywhere in the world in recent years. Since March, German public libraries have embarked on a massive search to find relevant books, with tens of thousands of analyzes to be carried out. The results are not yet known.

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