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Heavy Metal Manuscripts

So just the other day, I found out (1) that this exists; and (2) that four (4) archival institutions in the United States have copies of it in their collections:

Shared Article from en.wikipedia.org

Shadows from the Walls of Death

Shadows from the Walls of Death: Facts and Inferences Prefacing a Book of Specimens of Arsenical Wall Papers is an 1874 book by Dr. Robert C. Kedzie (1823-1902) of Michigan. The book warns of the dangers then commonly used arsenic-pigmented wallpaper….

en.wikipedia.org


Shadows from the Walls of Death: Facts and Inferences Prefacing a Book of Specimens of Arsenical Wall Papers is an 1874 book by Dr. Robert C. Kedzie (1823-1902) of Michigan.[1]

The book warns of the dangers then commonly used arsenic-pigmented wallpaper. The book contains 86 samples of said wallpaper. Due to the dangerous amount of arsenic in the work, of the original 100 copies, only four have survived. Most copies were destroyed by the recipient libraries. These are only handled using special precautions for safety.[2] As of 2021, the remaining copies were held at Harvard University Medical School, the U.S. National Library of Medicine in Bethesda, MD, and the university libraries of Michigan State University and the University of Michigan.[3] The copy in the National Library of Medicine has been digitized and is freely available.[4]

— Wikipedia: Shadows from the Walls of Death
Retrieved 4 November 2021

Because of the samples of poisonous wallpaper in the book, archivists have to make decisions about how to make the booklet available to researchers. If you handle the pages the arsenic gets on your fingers. If you lick your fingers or otherwise ingest the residue, it can make you sick or it can kill you. Some institutions require anyone handling the document to do so with gloves and a mask; one has encapsulated every page so that they can be handled without inadvertently poisoning the researcher. This is simultaneously the most metal fact I have learned all week, and also the most Umberto Eco fact that I have learned all week.

You can now read and see the full book online, in full color, without taking extreme measures to make sure that you do not die from exposure to the pages, because technological civilization is awesome.

Shared Article from collections.nlm.nih.gov

(Read Online) Shadows from the walls of death: facts and inferences prefacing a book of specimens of arsenical wall papers

View Book, Download — Author(s): Kedzie, R. C. (Robert Clark), 1823-1902, author

collections.nlm.nih.gov


  1. [1]“Shadows from the walls of death”. search.lib.umich.edu. Retrieved 2021-06-02.
  2. [2]Zawacki, Alexander J. (2018-01-23). “How a Library Handles a Rare and Deadly Book of Wallpaper Samples”. Atlas Obscura. Retrieved 2018-06-16.
  3. [3]Kedzie, R. C; Baker, Henry B; Michigan; State Board of Health; W.S. George & Co (1874). “Shadows from the walls of death”: facts and inferences prefacing a book of specimens of arsenical wall papers. OCLC 1194639611.
  4. [4]Zawacki, Alexander J. (2018-01-23). “How a Library Handles a Rare and Deadly Book of Wallpaper Samples”. Atlas Obscura. Retrieved 2018-06-16.

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