Arsenic and old wallpaper

Anne here. There I was, blithely writing a scene of my hero standing in his newly refurbished bedroom, and briefly describing what it looked like to set the scene. I'd already fallen down a general wallpaper rabbit hole — there are so many gorgeous wallpapers from that period. (Here's a National Trust site that has some beauties.)


But my hero is rather a plain man, and the gorgeous Chinese wallpapers I fancied were not the kind of thing he'd want in his bedchamber — perhaps in more public rooms in the house, but not where he slept.

So I gave him a nicely masculine room, with a green bamboo patterned wallpaper, and I had him pulling back his curtains — plain dark green with a kind of watermark pattern (which is male-speak for damask) — and looking down into the garden below. . . but as I continued writing, getting to the actual meat of the scene, a little voice started nagging at my brain.

Something about the color green and arsenic. So naturally I hit google . . . and fell down another research rabbit hole.

You see in the 18th and 19th century all kinds of experiments with chemicals and dyes were going on, and in 1771 a Swedish chemist called Carl Sheele used copper arsenite (which contains arsenic) to create a bright green dye. In 1814, Wilhelm Sattler, a German industrialist, improved on it by using arsenic and verdigris for a better green. The pigment could also be mixed to create bright yellows and rich blues.

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Word Wenches is a blog featuring seven authors, plotting in the present, writing about the past. . . and improvising the rest. Authors include Mary Jo Putney, Patricia Rice, Anne Gracie, Susan King aka Susan Fraser King, Nicola Cornick, Andrea Penrose, & Christina Courtenay.

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