Page 9 - February 2015
P. 9

covered in scabs, from constant scratching,      The use of bronzing powder to achieve
and his pubic hair was “grass-green”.            ‘gold’ printing effects continued throughout
                                                 the nineteenth century, leaving a trail of
Further enquiries by Oakley’s doctor revealed    industrial injuries and ill-health in its wake.
that the lad had been employed in de la Rue’s    Dust extraction equipment was eventually
printing works, engaged in the production        developed to safeguard workers, but effective
of the “golden Sun”. Oakley revealed to the      protective legislation was not enacted until
medic that gold printing was achieved by         the second decade of the 20th century.
dusting the wet yellow ink with a fine, bronze-  Bronzing powders produced the best ‘gold’
coloured powder, believed to be composed         finish, superior to metallic inks for over 150
of “copperas, verdigris and quicksilver”.        years, eventually becoming the domain of
The compound was distributed in one ounce        specialist printers. Although still used today,
packets to 40 men involved in dusting the        the process has limited applications having
sheets. Many of them left the job, debilitated   been largely superceded by gold foiling which
after a couple of days. Few managed to           is much closer in principle to the methods
continue working for more than a week and        employed by Erhardt Ratdolt over five
all suffered effects similar to Oakley’s         hundred years ago.
condition. Further examination revealed the
hair in his armpits was of the same bright       photogrAphs And imAges Are © st bride
green shade. After three days’ work at del la    foundAtion And Are used with permission.
Rue’s John Oakley began vomiting a greenish-
coloured fluid and experienced a sensation
“of heat and obstruction in the oesophagus”.
He and his colleagues had swallowed
significant quantities of the bronzing
preparation, diffused through the air of
the marquee.

Mr Gurney Turney, MRCS, was determined
to get to the root of the problem and asked
permission to see the bronzing process in
operation. A dozen men were involved in
the work when he visited Bunhill Row and all
complained of ulcers on the genitals, constant
salivation and spongy gums. When he tried
to obtain a small quantity of the powder for
analysis he was refused, as the composition
was a trade secret. All that de la Rue was
prepared to reveal was that the mixture was
made in Germany. It looked like very fine
brass filings and Turney noted “The whole air
of the room was loaded with it, and my coat
glistened, as also did my face and hair, which
rivalled the wig of Caligula, who had recourse
to gold-dust to produce the effect I obtained
so cheaply”.

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