Thursday, March 14, 2013

Red Lead

The New York Review of Books recently featured Helen Epstein's review of Gerald Markowitz and David Rosner's Lead Wars: The Politics of Science and the Fate of America's Children. It reminded us in the Southeastern Architectural Archive how much we see documentation associated with the use of lead as a painting medium. Often architects required lead white for use in building projects, and the SEAA retains many specification contracts indicating type and percentage of lead white demanded for painting work.

We recently came across the National Lead Company's (upper right) and Sherwin-Williams Company's (upper left) promotional pamphlets for "red lead," both with paste variants that they recommended as a cost-effective and safe replacement for dry red lead pigment. Marketing its new product to architects and engineers, the National Lead Company advocated the use of its Dutch Boy Red Lead paste as a way to protect structural iron and as a wood primer:

"Engineers and architects who were thoroughly aware of the supreme excellence of the pigment itself as a protector of steel often objected to using it simply because they could not get shop coats applied properly, where the labor was of the most unskilled kind, and even field coats were sometimes precarious because of the difficulty of brushing out the paint properly from high and dangerous perches on bridges and sky-scrapers."


"Dutch Boy Red Lead in Oil, like old-style red lead, makes a most desirable primer for all kinds of lumber, particularly pitchy and sappy hard wood, such as yellow pine, cypress, spruce, walnut, etc., where difficulty is oftentimes experienced in making paint adhere properly. Unless a good, hard foundation is laid on hard wood the resinous matter in the wood is apt to soften under the heat of the sun and work its way back to the surface -- a frequent cause of scaling and cracking in outer coats. Red lead not only insures a solid foundation but it acts on the resinous substance in the nature of a drier, keeping it hard and confined."

Although the League of Nations proposed a worldwide lead paint ban in 1922, the first U.S. regulations limiting lead content in paint were enacted fifty years later.

Quoted matter and top right image from: National Lead Company. Pure Red Lead in Paste Form. New York: National Lead Co., 1914.

Top left image: Sherwin-Williams Company. Perfect Method Red Lead in Oil: Semi-Paste. Cleveland: Sherwin-Williams Co., n.d.

Bottom image:  Detail of American Paint Works letterhead, 1919. Martin Shepard Office Records, Southeastern Architectural Archive, Special Collections Division, Tulane University Libraries.

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