Some unusual, hidden, surprising, or forgotten sources of (possible) sulfur contamination in museums and historic structures

Paul L. Benson

Abstract

Common environmental sources of sulfur pollution in museums are well documented. Less well-known are sources of sulfur that may have been incorporated into the artworks themselves or built into the fabric of the building. Historically, sulfur has had a multitude of uses, including as a strengthening material in hollowware jewelry, as an adhesive in ceramic repairs, and as a cement to anchor iron rods in stone. More recently it has been used as a joining material for cast iron pipes in the plumbing trade, as a binder for graphite in pencils, as an electrical insulator, and as decorative inlays in furniture and musical instruments. Several examples of these unusual occurrences will be highlighted, and a case history of building construction-related corrosion of ancient bronzes while on display will be presented along with remedial measures taken to prevent future contamination of these objects.

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