Death By Green: Arsenic Poisoning

Paris_GreenThe 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.

Arsenic 02211861 Pittsfield Sun

Pittsfield Sun. Feburary 21, 1861. American Antiquarian Society.


About Becky Fifield

Becky Fifield is a cultural heritage professional with 25 years experience in institutions large and small. She is currently Head of Collection Management for the Special Collections of the New York Public Library. An advocate for preventive conservation, Ms. Fifield is a Professional Associate of the American Institute for Conservation, Chair of the AIC Collection Care Network, and former Chair of Alliance for Response NYC. She is also a scholar of 18th century female unfree labor and dress. There's a bit of pun in the title The Still Room, delineating a quiet space brimming with the ingredients of memory, where consideration, analysis, and wordcraft can take place. Ms. Fifield’s interests include museum practice, dress history, historic preservation, transit, social and women’s history, food, current events, geneaology, roadtrips, and considerations on general sense of place. Becky and her husband, Dr. V, live in the Hudson Valley.