Protecting books with arsenic and chains

By Felicity Duncan

Worrying about our valuables is as old as the notion of owning valuables. today, we rely on bank vaults, burglar bars, and alarm systems to keep our jewellery and electronics safe. Centuries ago, however, few things were more valuable than books, which were unique, handcrafted objects that took hundreds of hours of work to create. Book owners accordingly took extreme measures to protect them. 

Researchers in Denmark recently discovered three rare old books that are liberally coated in arsenic as an anti-pest device – only the bravest rats would nibble on those deadly tomes. And, to protect books from human pests, many early libraries used to chain the books to the wall to prevent light-fingered readers from pilfering their favourite works. Human beings, it seems, haven’t changed much when it comes to protecting the things they love.

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