The Bata Shoe Museum’s current exhibition Fashion Victims: The Pleasures and Perils of Dress in the 19th Century exposes the dangers in the manufacture and wearing of many fashion trends of the past. One trend, a beautiful green dye used in the mid-19th century, led to illness and death because it was arsenic-based. These objects require vigilant management in museum collections today, because of their risks to collections staff.
Arsenic was also used to color paper, as discussed in this news item from 1861, where a child sucked on a green ticket, and died. Materials research is important not only for study of history, but also for modern management of collections. Smaller institutions often have large ephemera collections. It is important information about hazardous materials, contaminated collections, and safe handling are widely shared.
The National Park Service’s Conserv-o-Gram series has many useful articles on the management of museum collections. For more information on working on collections where arsenic may be present, click here.