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Bitten by Witch Fever: Wallpaper and Arsenic in the Nineteenth-Century Home - Lucinda Hawksley

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In Germany, in 1814, Wilhelm Sattler created an extremely toxic arsenic and Verdigris compound pigment, Schweinfurt green–known also as Paris, Vienna, or emerald green–which became an instant favourite amongst designers and manufacturers the world over, thanks to its versatility in creating enduring yellows, vivid greens, and brilliant blues. Most insidiously, the arsenic-laced pigment made its way into intricately patterned, brightly coloured wallpapers and from there, as they became increasingly in vogue, into the Victorian home. As its use became widespread, commercial arsenic mines increased production to meet the near-insatiable demand. Not least of which was the UK’s largest mining plant, DGC whose owner was William Morris, originator of the British Arts and Crafts movement and arguably the finest wallpaper designer of his generation.

Bitten by Witch Fever (Morris’s own phrase to dismiss arsenic- and- wall-paper-related public health concerns in 1885) tells this fatal story of Victorian home décor, building upon new research conducted especially for this book by the British National Archive, on their own samples. Spliced between the sections of text are stunning facsimiles of the wallpapers themselves.