Community Chat: Poisonous Pigment: Exploring Arsenical Green in GLAM Collections

Thursday January 25, 2025
10:00am CST, Zoom

Kim Bell, Coordinator, Queen’s University
Robin Canham, Conservator, Royal Saskatchewan Museum

Many museum professionals are well-acquainted with the historical use of pesticides in the care of their collections, such as the application of arsenic in taxidermy for the preservation of animal skins. However, a lesser-known aspect of arsenic’s historical role lies in its use as a green pigment during the nineteenth century. Notably, emerald green (also known as copper acetoarsenite) became a commonly used colourant for a wide array of everyday items, ranging from clothing and home textiles to wallpaper, books, decorative boxes, stereoscope slides, and even food packaging.
Kim Bell, Coordinator, Queen’s University, and Robin Canham, Conservator, Royal Saskatchewan Museum, will shed light on their collaborative project undertaken at Queen’s University, between the W.D. Jordan Rare Books and Special Collections Library, the Conservation Unit, and the Art Conservation Department. This project focused on the identification of arsenical green books within the library’s collection. Attendees will gain a deeper understanding of the distinctive challenges presented by arsenical green artifacts and will be equipped with insights into the optimal methods for identification, handling, and preservation of arsenical green collection items.

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