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sired proportions to form the mixture. This mixture


formed the ceruse. The Wane de plonib, which was pure
white lead, was ground without the admixture of any
substance, " and being," Jars says, " harder, and requiring
to be finer, and ground with more care, the mills could
produce but ten quintals per day, while of the ceruse,
fifteen quintals were turned out."

The last operation, drying, was managed as follows:
the ceruse, in a pulpy state, was filled into unglazed earthen
pots, in shape like a section of an inverted cone ; these
pots were placed upon long wooden shelves, in a long and
narrow building, in the sides of which a great number of
little doors were provided, to open and close at pleasure,
to shield the ceruse from the sun and rain, which would
impair its color. After five or six weeks the pots were
removed, and the ceruse was turned out, the contents of
each pot forming a conical mass, or loaf ; when perfectly
dry this was trimmed, tied up in blue paper, and packed
in barrels for market.

The blanc de plonib was treated in the same manner,
except that the loaves were smaller, and were called " blanc
de plonib d'ecailles" * Sometimes this term, " flake-white,"
included pieces of perfectly corroded white lead, as it came
from the beds, without grinding or preparation. Artists
are frequently advised, in the literature of the period, to
buy only this substance, and to grind and prepare it them-
selves, to insure absolute purity.

This extract from Jars shows that the Dutch, in the
middle of the eighteenth century, made white lead by the
process in use by the Venetians a hundred years earlier,
who in turn merely enlarged the process described by the
authors of manuscripts of the tenth to the twelfth century.
The process originally in practice in Germany was the
same as described by Yernatti as in use in Venice, and
which may properly be termed the " Italian method." The

1 Gabriel Jars, Voyages Metal lurgiques (Paris, 1780), vol. ii. sec. 8.


Germans, however, have very generally changed their
methods to what is known as the "chamber process."
This is a modification of "the Dutch method, and is al-
most precisely like that described by Muspratt as v origi-
nally used by the Dutch manufacturers. Some changes in
the details may be observed, but all the important features
are present.

Tingry, describing the Dutch method, says that the pots
containing the lead and vinegar are placed upon a warm
sand bath, u but some manufacturers bury them in beds
of dung. Other manufacturers," he continues, " so ar-
range their apparatus as to favor distillation ; and when
the vapors of vinegar condense and fall back into the
vessel they are charged with lead, and are utilized in the
manufacture of set de Saturn, lead acetate." The white
lead which was sold in scales, he asserts, was pure, but
all that sold in a powdered state was adulterated. 1 This
description recalls the methods described by ancient writers,
where lead acetate and white lead were * perhaps produced
in the same apparatus.

United States Consul Eckstein, of Amsterdam, says in
his report of December, 1886, to the State Department,
that beyond doubt the numerous factories engaged in the
manufacture of white lead in Holland, a century or more
ago, employed the method known as the Dutch process ;
and that decomposing stable-litter was used as the source
of heat. An attempt was made, " a good while ago,"
to introduce what is known as the German method at
Wormerveer, and more recently at Utrecht, but it was
abandoned. The precipitation method, according to this
authority, has never been tried in Holland. 2

After the discovery of the passage to India by the way

1 P. F. Tingry, Traite Theoretique et Pratique sur 1'Art de Faire et d'Ap-
pliquer les Vernis, etc. (Geneve, 1803, 2 vols.), vol. ii. p. 16.

2 Consular Report, No. 73 (Washington, 1886), p. 61.


of the Cape of Good Hope, and the consequent rupture of
the trade with the East, which the Italian cities had held
for so many centuries, the trade of the Dutch increased
largely and rapidly. This enterprising people, favored by
the wars which devastated France, added largely to their
manufactures, and were enabled to compete successfully
with the Italians, and finally to secure almost a monopoly
of the trade in drugs, and materials used in painting.
They established manufactories for the production of white
lead at Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Dortrecht, and other cities,
and supplying themselves with raw material from Eng-
land, Germany, Sweden, France, and Spain, returned to
those countries the manufactured products. For many
years they retained this supremacy in the trade, until the
German and English manufacturers, encouraged by the
adoption of a wise policy by their governments, and
favored by an abundant supply of raw material, were
enabled to gradually usurp the place which the Dutch
had held for so many years. 1

The importance of the manufacture of white lead in
Holland has declined very largely during the past fifty
years. "Formerly," says Consul Eckstein, "there were
a great many factories in Holland. Long rows of them
were situated along the road from Amsterdam to Haarlem,
and on the river Zann." In the year 1875, it is estimated
that the ten factories then existing produced from 1,600
to 2,200 tons per annum. "At present," he says, "the
product is much less, as several factories have been closed."
There are factories now in operation at Rotterdam, Utrecht,
Schoonhoven, Gonda, Kralingen, etc. Consul Visser, of
Rotterdam, estimates the product of the white-lead facto-
ries in the Netherlands at four thousand tons per annum.
This is chiefly consumed in the home markets, but little

1 See Huet, View of the Dutch Trade; also Lexicon der Kaufmannischer
(Wiesenschaften, 1838), article Blei.


being now exported. He states that some German and
Belgian white lead is imported, and being of an inferior
quality and cheaper, is used to mix with the Dutch when
a second rate and cheaper variety is wanted. 1

The manufacture of white lead has doubtless been con-
tinuously practised in Italy since the time of Vitruvius and
Pliny. During the period between the fall of the Empire
and the Revival, the extremely limited demand was sup-
plied from the laboratories of the monastic establishments ;
but after the Revival, the manufacture of white lead be-
came a well established industry in the secular world, and
has so continued to the present day. The enterprise of
the Dutch and of the English has deprived the Italian
manufacturers of their monopoly of the trade of Northern
Europe ; but they continue to supply Italy, and retain the
trade of the Levant. Until the vigorous working of the
Sardinian lead mines, encouraged some twenty-five years
ago by the wise measures of Victor Ernanuel II., the Ital-
ian manufacturers were at some disadvantage, being forced
to bring from Spain and other foreign countries their sup-
plies of raw material ; but in later years they have drawn
their metallic lead from their own mines, and have been
enabled to substantially increase their output of white

According to Mr. Consul Johnson, in a report of trades
and industries of the city of Venice presented in 1773 to
the Deputazione Straordinaria Delle Arte, the manufacture
of white lead is not mentioned. Two establishments, he
says, formerly existed in Venice, but both had ceased
operations before 1830. The method used at these facto-
ries was probably that commonly known as the Dutch pro-
cess. In 1840 a factory was established in which a process
similar to that in use at Klagenf urth was employed ; but

1 Consular Report, No. 74 (Washington, 1887) : Report of John Visser, Esq.,
Consul, p. 499.


the competition of the Carinthian manufacturers soon caused
the abandonment of the enterprise. 1

In the last century there were factories at Venice,
Genoa, Coregliano, and at Rome; but the principal pro-
duction of white lead in Italy, at the present day, is at
Genoa and its neighborhood. At Cogoleto, fourteen miles
from Genoa, the principal seat of the industry, there are
said to be fifteen manufactories, eight of which are now in
operation, producing annually about twenty-five hundred
tons. There are eight small establishments at Naples, and
one at Milan. Consul-General Alden, in his report to the
State Department, does not refer to a factory in Rome.
The manufacture there is perhaps abandoned.

The method universally employed in Italy, until very
recent times, was the Dutch process. In 1881 a modifi-
cation of this method, closely resembling that adopted by
the German manufacturers, was introduced at Cogoleto.
This process is described as follows : " The lead is cast in
thin sheets, which are hung in a close chamber ; on the
floor a number of copper receptacles are placed, each being
in communication, by pipes, with a boiler in which dilute
acetic acid is volatilized, and with a furnace in which
carbon dioxide is produced. These vapors are admitted
into the chamber in proper quantities and proportions, and
at the end of six weeks the conversion of the metallic lead
is complete."

At Milan a process, described as transforming metallic
lead into white lead " by the use of revolving heaters," is
said to be in use. The annual production of white lead in
Italy, in the early years of this century, is placed at 800
to 1,000 tons; in 1840, at 1,500 tons; and at the present
time it is estimated that 3,500 to 4,000 tons are produced.
White lead, ground in oil and prepared for the painter, is

1 United States Consular Report, No. 78 (Washington, 1887) : Report of
Consul H. Abert Johnson, p. 445.




still known under the name of biacca, the term given to it
by the monks of the middle ages ; while in the dry state,
in which condition it is usually sold, it is called carbonato
di piombo.

The Italian manufacturers successfully resisted the
temptation to adulterate their productions until 1862, and
to that time maintained their deservedly high reputation.
Since that date they have yielded to the universal practice
in Europe of sophisticating white lead, and now compete
with the English and German manufacturers in the pro-
duction of adulterated wares. 1

The manufacture of white lead was introduced into Bel-
gium about the year 1815. Wat in, in a work published at
Liege in 1774, bewails the supineness of his countrymen,
and refers to the enterprise of the Dutch, who bought the
ore and vinegar produced in his district, and returned
the manufactured blanc de plorrib. This author describes
the methods in use by the Dutch, but says the pots should
be luted and put over a moderate fire, or warm cinders ;
but in this, perhaps, he refers to a laboratory experiment,
or to the manufacture in a small way ; as " in large es-
tablishments," he observes, " the practice was to bury the
pots in beds of dung for ten days." At the expiration
of that time the pots were opened, and the plates of lead
were found thickened and covered with white pieces, hard
and friable, and termed Wane de plomb en ecailles, which
was ground in water and dried. 2 This author describes a
method of testing the purity of white lead, which is distin-
guished for its extreme simplicity, and its convincing results.
This method has been extensively advertised by some manu-
facturers in the United States, and this has had much to
do with the substitution of pure lead, by the best painters

1 United States Consular Eeport, No. 75 (Washington, 1887) : Report of
Consul-General Alden, pp. 581, 582 ; Report of Consul Fletcher, p. 583.

2 Le Sieur J. F. Watin, L'Art du Peintrc, etc. (Liege, 1774), p. 17.


of this country, for the fraudulent mixtures imposed upon
them by unscrupulous dealers twenty years ago. Watin
recommends that a piece of charcoal be provided, in which
a small cavity is bored ; into this cavity a pinch of white
lead is introduced, and by means of a flame mixed with
air ; if the sample is pure the carbonic acid is dissipated,
and globules of metallic lead result. Impurities, even if
present in small quantities, prevent the satisfactory termi-
nation of this experiment ; chalk parts with its carbonic
acid and remains a white powder; barium sulphate is

The process employed in Belgium in the manufacture
of white lead is the Dutch method, stable-litter being
generally used as the source of heat. The industry flour-
ished in Belgium in the early part of this century, the
proximity to the lead deposits enabling the Belgian manu-
facturers to successfully compete with the Dutch for the
trade of France, where the products of the Belgian facto-
ries found a ready market. The exhaustion of the Belgian
lead mines, with the consequent increase in the value of
metallic lead, which is now brought from Spain and Ger-
many, added to the increase in the production of the
German white-lead factories and the sharp competition of
the German manufacturers, has in later years deprived
Belgium of her foreign trade, and the manufacture has
largely declined in importance. 1

1 See Report of Consul G. D. Robertson to State Department : Consular
Report, No. 74 (Washington, 1887), p. 492.



HP* HE manufacture of white lead in a large way was
JL introduced into England some years subsequent to
the establishment of the industry in Holland. The policy
of Elizabeth, in absolutely prohibiting the importation into
England of all articles produced from metals, encouraged
the establishment in her own dominions of manufacturing
industries. Previous to her reign, Germany and other
continental nations had drawn supplies of raw materials
from Great Britain, and had returned the same substances
transformed into articles of every-day use and necessity.

Red lead and litharge had doubtless been produced in
England for many years, but probably only as incidental
to the desilverizing of the product of the lead mines.
During the reign of Elizabeth, encouraged by her prohib-
itory decrees, attempts were made to establish the manu-
facture of white lead upon a permanent basis. An English
writer on painting and materials, in 1581, 1 refers to " Ven-
nis cereuse," but makes no mention of any home produc-
tion. Venice white lead was undoubtedly considered to
be the best, and this may be a sufficient explanation of
his omission ; but it is extremely probable that the manu-
facture of white lead was not then thoroughly established
in England. In 1622, however, one Christopher Eland
was awarded a patent, No. 22, " for makinge of white and

1 A Very Proper Treatise, etc., London, 1581.


redd leade as it is now made for painters within this our
realine of Englande." No specifications of this patent
are given, but by its terms Eland seems to have secured a
monopoly of the trade in red lead in England. Eland's
patent is entitled " for makinge of white and redd leade,"
etc. ; no reference is made to white lead except in the
above quotation, but it would appear from the provisions
that there were four work-houses, or factories, in England
for the manufacture of red lead ; and as white lead is
mentioned in connection with red lead, that pigment was
doubtless also manufactured. In 1635, patent No. 88 was
granted to James Rosse and Alexander Roberte, for "a
newe way of makeing of redd and white leade, and glaz-
ing earthenware with lytharge out of which the silver is
first extracted." l No specifications of this patent were
enrolled, but it is evident that the manufacture of white
lead was then completely established.

An English author, a little later, treating of pigments
to be used in painting, says : " The first in order of whites,
the most excellent, pure, virgin colours, are ceruse
and white lead. The latter is the best for use and less
subject to mixtures." " Ceruse " and this name was
applied at that time to adulterated white lead "ceruse,"
he says, " after it is wrought will starve, lavish, and dye,
and being laid on with a pencil a fair white, will in a few
months become a russet, reddish, or yellowish." "White
lead," by which term flake-white, or pure lead as it
came from the corroding-pot, was intended, "if you
grind it fine, as all our colours must be, it will glisten and
shine both in the shell, 2 and after it is wrought ; and if not
ground it will not work, nor be serviceable. To prevent

1 Abridgments of Specifications relating to Paints, Colours, and Varnishes
(London, 1871), p. 2.

2 Painter-artists in that day mixed their colors in a shell; the painter's
palette is a comparatively modern invention.


these inconveniences of both colors/' he continues, "this
is the remedy : Before you grind either of them, lay them
especially the white lead in the sun for two or three
days, which will exhale and draw away the salt, grease,
and commixtures, that starve and poison the colour ; be-
sides, you must scrape off the superficies of the white lead,
reserving only the middle as the cleanest and purest. Be
careful of your whites," he says, " that being the ground
and foundation of all your other colours, and if faulty, all
the work is marred."

Nicolius le Febvre, " Royal Professor in Chymistry to His
Majesty of England, and Apothecary to His Honourable
Household," had a very mean opinion of the metal lead,
and in his elaborate and ponderous work dismisses the
subject we have under consideration in a very few words.
He says : " White lead is made by suspending plates of
lead upon a spirit or sharp liquid, the vapour of which
does by degrees calcine the lead and reduces it to that
substance called white lead, or ceruss." 2 Smith, in the
first edition of " The Art of Painting in Oyl," says :
" Ceruse is only white lead more refined, which advances
its price and renders it something more esteemed among
picture-drawers ; but the white lead is every way as use-
ful. It is the only white color used in painting in oyl." 3
In the second edition Smith says that white lead owes
its origin to the common plumbers' lead, and he describes
the process of manufacture as practised at Venice, fol-
lowing Yernatti, to whose description he refers. He says :
" The principle of all whites is white lead, two kinds of
which are sold at the colour shops, one called ceruse,
which is most pure, the other called white lead." In this,

1 Wm. Sanderson, Esq., Graphice : The Use of the Pen and Pencil (Lon-
don, 1658), p. 55.

2 Nicolius le Febvre, A Compendious Body of Chymistry, vol. ii. p. 185.
8 John Smith, The Art of Painting in Oyl, p. 11.


Smith is at variance with Sanderson, who says that white
lead is most pure ; but Smith adds, " another white is sold,
called ( flake-white,' which by some is said to be the best.
The reason I do not understand, except because it is scarce
and dear. This lead is said to be found under the lead of
some very old buildings, where time has, by the assistance
of some sharp quality of the air, thus reduced the under-
most superficies of the lead in thin white calx, which
proves a very good white, but, in my opinion, not exceed-
ing the best ceruse." After describing the manner of
grinding colors in oil, he recommends, " if they are to be
kept," that they be put up in bladders, to keep them from
drying. 1 Smith defines the meaning of the term " body,"
as applied to pigments ; and the possession of this prop-
erty by white lead seems to have been well understood at
that time. " Some may say," he observes, " what is to be
understood by a colour's bearing body. I say, to bear a
body is to be of such a nature as is capable of being
ground so fine, and mixing with the oyl so intimately,
as to seem only a thick oyl of the same colour ; and of
this nature is ceruse." 2

On the 15th of December, 1749, patent No. 651 was
issued to Sir James Creed, " for a method or way of mak-
ing white lead," etc. An abridgment of the specifications
is as follows : " Making white lead by the heat of fire,
instead of horse-dung, hitherto the common method,
placing in chambers, rooms, stoves, ovens, or other close and
confined places heated with fire, lead cast in thin plates ; and
raising or conveying therein the steam or vapour of vinegar
or other acid, raised by fire, until the plates are corroded
thereby into flakes, or dust, of white lead ; the steam or
heat is to be regulated by slides, valves, stopples, stop-
cocks, or the like, and discharged into the air, or collected

1 John Smith, The Art of Painting in Oyl (2d ed. 1678), p. 15.

2 Ibid., p. 27.


in a still-head and condensed by a refrigerator." l This is
the first patent granted in England for the manufacture of
white lead, the specifications of which are preserved. The
method here described is a modification of the Dutch pro-
cess, and is based upon principles familiarly known in this
country as the " chamber process." It resembles very
closely what is now known in Europe as the " German
method," a process introduced very generally into that
country during the present century. Improvements in
the details of Sir James Creed's process have been re-
peatedly patented, and the manufacture of white lead by
this method established in this country and in England
during the past fifty years; but these enterprises have
universally resulted disastrously.

Gabriel Jars extended his " Voyages Metallurgiques "
to England, and visited the white-lead works at Sheffield.
He mentions no other seat of the manufacture, and so
acute an observer would probably select one of the most
important establishments for his observations and inqui-
ries. Jars found the methods in use at Sheffield (in 1760)
much the same as those he observed at Rotterdam and at
Amsterdam ; the differences being unimportant, and con-
sisting principally in the manner of casting the lead pre-
paratory to placing it in the pots, and in the separation of
the carbonate from the unconverted metallic lead upon its
removal from the stacks. At Sheffield this was effected
by agitating it in a closed box, provided with a grating.
He also mentions some improvements in washing and dry-
ing. White lead was dried at that time without the use
of artificial heat. Jars says that drying with artificial
heat had a tendency to turn white lead yellow ; so it was
allowed to dry naturally, for which six weeks in winter,
and four weeks in summer, was necessary. 2

1 Abridgments of Specifications, etc., p. 3.

2 Jars, Voyages Metallurgiques, vol. ii. sec. 8.


Sir John Hill, in a note in his translation of Theo-
phrastus's " History of Stones," says that at that time
(1774) there were three or four different modes of mak-
ing white lead in use in England, but " all were of the
same nature as that described by Theophrastus, and are
the effect of vinegar upon lead." By some, he says, it
was made by " infusing filings of lead in strong vinegar,
which in twelve or fourteen days would be almost entirely
dissolved, and leave a very good ceruse at the bottom of
the vessel." Others made it by plunging thin plates of
the same metal into vinegar and placing the vessel over a
gentle heat. In about ten days the plates would be found
to be covered with a white " rust," which was scraped off ;
and the plates were again plunged into vinegar, scraped
again after another interval, and the operation repeated
until the plates " were wholly eaten in pieces." The
scrapings were afterwards ground together. Another
method he describes as putting vinegar into an earthen
vessel, covering the vessel with a plate of lead, and placing
it in the sun in hot weather. After ten days, he says, the
lead would be dissolved, and precipitated in the form of
ceruse to the bottom of the vessel. 1

These processes are so very similar to those described
by Theophrastus, Vitruvius, Pliny, and Dioscorides, and
so unlike the methods in use at Sheffield fourteen years
earlier, as described by Jars, that we may infer that the
learned translator of the old Greek writer was unac-
quainted with the practice in his own country, and that
he was content to assume that the old methods were still
in vogue.

There has been lately introduced into the markets of
England and of the United States, as a substitute for
white lead, the purified and decolorized condensation of
lead fumes resulting from the smelting of galena.

Online LibraryWilliam Henry PulsiferNotes for a history of lead → online text (page 22 of 33)