Chrome Yellow Bookcloth
As part of the Poison Book Project at Winterthur Museum, Garden, and Library, the toxic pigment chrome yellow was detected in 19th-century cloth-case bookbindings using X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy (XRF) and confirmed using Raman spectroscopy.
Color Range of Chrome Yellow Bookcloths
Victorian-era bookcloth colored with chrome yellow pigment may range from deep, bright, or olive greens (achieved by mixing chrome yellow with various percentages of Prussian blue) to yellows, oranges, and browns. Smaller percentages of chrome yellow mixed with Prussian blue were used to color chromium green bookcloth throughout the 19th century. Chrome yellow was used in larger quantities to color yellow and orange bookcloths predominantly in the 1880s-1890s, a time period that correlates with more affordable pricing for the pigment than earlier in the century.
General Handling Tips for 19th-Century Cloth-Case Bindings
Nearly 50% of the 19th-century, cloth-case bindings analyzed for this project to date contain lead in the bookcloth. Lead levels have been shown to be particularly high in chrome yellow bindings.
No matter which pigments or dyes may be present, it is best practice to avoid ingesting anything or touching the face while handling 19th-century, cloth-bound books. It is also best practice to wash hands after handling books, especially before eating, drinking, or smoking.
Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). 2008. “Chromium Toxicity.” U.S. Department of Health Human Services. Accessed July 20, 2021.
Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). 2012. “Toxicological profile for Chromium.” Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service.
Glenn, W.M. 1889. “Chrome Yellow Considered as a Poison.” Science 13 (326): 347-349.
Khühn, Hermann, and Mary Curran. 1986. [“Chrome Yellow and Other Chromate Pigments.” In Artists’ Pigments: A Handbook of Their History and Characteristics, vol. 1, Edited by Robert L. Feller, 187-200. Washington: National Gallery of Art.
Otero, Vanessa, Leslie Carlyle, Márcia Vilarigues, and Maria J. Melo. 2011. “Chrome yellow in nineteenth century art: historic reconstruction of an artists’ pigment.” RSC Advances 2: 1798-1805.
US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). 2000. “Chromium Compounds: Hazard Summary.” Accessed July 14, 2021.
Lead Conservator: Dr. Melissa Tedone
Lead Scientist: Dr. Rosie Grayburn
- Emily Guthrie, (former) Winterthur Library Director, and Winterthur Library staff
- Mina Porell, Winterthur Postgraduate Fellow in Paintings Conservation
- Meghan Abercrombie, Winterthur Intern
- Philip DePaola, Winterthur Intern
- Layla Huff, Winterthur Intern
- Sara Leonowitz, Winterthur Intern
- Jess Ortegon, WUDPAC Fellow
- Esther Weyer, Winterthur Intern