27 Jan 2024

Why Lead Paint Makes Signs Last: A Toxic Legacy

“Since I first came to be interested in ghost signs, and their longevity, I’ve always heard the refrain that this was due to the lead in the paint. However, while not doubting the truth of the claim, I’d never received a satisfactory explanation for why that might be the case. Until now.

“In a casual conversation ahead of her BLAG Meet session, Jill Strong (@jill.strong.signs) let slip that she has a PhD in polymer photochemistry. I didn’t hesitate to put the lead question directly to her, resulting in this in-depth exploration of the material, its properties and, of course, the major hazards associated with it.”


These are the opening two paragraphs from an extended account at bl.ag online of the enduring (and highly toxic) legacy of lead paint on signs, and sign painters.

Etching of the Capitol with wording "Capitol White Lead. Ground in Pure Linseed Oil by the Nassau White Lead and Color Works, New York.
1860s advertising for Capitol White Lead, from bl.ag/lead.

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