Perilous Pigments: Analysing for Arsenic in Historic Wallpapers
This research by Dr Naomi Luxford (English Heritage), Dr Sarah Paynter (Historic England) and wallpaper specialist Dr Phillippa Mapes uses non-destructive analysis, by portable X-ray fluorescence, to identify arsenical pigments on historic wallpapers.
Remnants of historic wallpapers sometimes survive in older properties and many others have been preserved as part of the Architectural Study Collection at Wrest Park (English Heritage).
Earlier wallpapers were hand painted or block-printed on small sheets, largely in black and white, but overtime they diversify into mass-produced, vividly coloured designs on continuous-length, machine-made paper. Developments in the 19th century meant that wallpaper became cheaper and more widely used; unfortunately the bright green pigment that was very popular at this time was arsenic-based, and was eventually discontinued on health grounds in the 1870s.
Arsenical Wallpaper Image Gallery
All images in this gallery are copyright English Heritage. Click on the images to enlarge them.