Libraries and rare book collections often carry volumes that feature poisons on their pages, from famous murder mysteries to seminal works on toxicology and forensics. The poisons described in these books are merely words on a page, but some books scattered throughout the world are literally poisonous.
These toxic books, produced in the 19th century, are bound in vivid cloth colored with a notorious pigment known as emerald green that’s laced with arsenic. Many of them are going unnoticed on shelves and in collections. So Melissa Tedone, the lab head for library materials conservation at the Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library in Delaware, has launched an effort dubbed the Poison Book Project to locate and catalogue these noxious volumes.
As it turns out, old libraries with old emerald green aren’t the safest of places. What’s worse, I suppose, is learning that this pigment was also used in wallpaper, clothing, and paint of the walls.
The Victorian Era was living, figuratively speaking, in an early version of one of my favorite dark movies, “Arsenic and Old Lace.”