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Jack Griffin

Lead in antique fountains

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Hi all, I wanted to share a concern I have for safety. I have a JR fountain, circa 1920-1930s, and it is lovely, works with no leaks, and is a wonderful piece to have. HOWEVER, before using it, I wanted to make certain it was safe.

 

Many collectors buy and use these lovely Art Deco fountains, so one would think research has been done. I did my own testing, and sadly, these things are simply FULL of lead. Not just in the solder, but the casting metal is very high in lead. Even the plated surfaces of the filter, the cover, inside the well under the filter...ALL these areas reacted quickly and alarmingly fast to the lead test swabs. In addition, many of these have an asbestos filter inside the filter housing. I was hoping that by removing this filter, the fountain would be safe, but alas, this was not to be the case! Thankfully, when I checked my modern fountain, I found no traces of lead.

 

I just wanted to share this, as I care about people and want you to know!

 

-Scott

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Yup...Here's the proof. Each of these swabs was simply touched to various interior and exterior surfaces.

The test says to rub on the surface for 30 seconds. These all turned bright red within a matter of seconds.

These are wonderful pieces, even if for display. My concern is that I've seen them on Ebay claiming things like "work perfectly" etc...and some may want to use them for the romance of it. Easy to understand, but unwise.

 

LeadTest.jpg

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Nice find and thanks for sharing! I've read about asbestos in the filters, but I don't recall anyone testing absinthe fountains for lead before.

 

If you've got some extra swabs, would you mind checking your antique brouilleurs?

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FWIW, my guess would be that the amount of lead leaching into ice-cold water would be very, very, very miniscule. I would just make sure that it is clean and free of lead oxides before using it. Lead typically is not very soluable in water that is non-acidic.

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All the metal antique brouilleurs I've seen were silver-plated brass. No reason to expect lead there.

I tested them just now, after seeing your post Phoenix, expected to find nothing, and that is just what I found!

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Yes Marc, however the solder used to affix the robinettes inside the well was very oxidized and crumbly.

I would expect this to be common, and such loose particulate lead content would be dangerous.

One can coat the solder points with a metal epoxy, then cover the inside of the well with a layer of food grade silicone. The water would not touch the metal insde the well this way, however, the un-plated inside of the filter cover also showed lead.

 

In theory, if the screw-on filter cover were re-plated in nickel, and the well coated in silicone, the water would not contact any of the areas with the lead, as the robinettes and valves were free of lead. This is something I might consider, as this wonderful fountain works great and doesn't leak. For special occasions, this treatment would make me comfortable using it.

 

It is a personal choice people will have to make! The same swabs reacted much slower on the lead samples sent with the kit, so the content in the fountain must be very very high. As far as the asbestos filters, they are not needed, and can easily be removed. Perhaps a fountain in great shape used occassionally is not a danger. I am only reporting what I found.

 

This reminds me, I need more Pacifique!

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In theory, if the screw-on filter cover were re-plated in nickel, and the well coated in silicone, the water would not contact any of the areas with the lead, as the robinettes and valves were free of lead. This is something I might consider, as this wonderful fountain works great and doesn't leak. For special occasions, this treatment would make me comfortable using it.

 

Says the man who didn't want to see a $5-10 vintage spoon get re-plated. :laf:

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True Phoenix, but re-plating an inner component to make it safer isn't the same as re-plating the piece itself!

It's just a thought I'm considering. Actually, it is really only the inside of the filter cover that has the lead, as it isn't plated. This could be coated as well to seal in the lead. I DO prefer to NOT re-plate anything.

Your fun-loving mockery has made me think...thanks!

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As I think I am the only plater here ? I highly recommend that you do not plate your antique fountains, this cast metal that was used to make them is very hard to work with and can be ruined in seconds, brass on the other hands is easy to work with, but still, don't do it.

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Thanks Rob, I really think that the idea of NOT using these is correct. there is lead in the cast metal, plain and simple. As you said in your e-mail to me, where it is plated, it is safest, and you were right, the tiny trace of lead on the exterior plating was only surface migration, and when cleaned, tested clear.

 

Again, my main concern is that people are buying them with the idea of using them. On the last couple Ebay auctions, questions were being asked that implied people wanted to use them, and I wanted to make sure folks knew about the lead thing, so they could then decide for themselves what is best.

 

I MIGHT use mine, once or twice a year, if I feel I can isolate the water from the un-plated metal in the well area beneath the filter. I'm still on the fence however.

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The amount of lead that would actually leach into the water during use would most likely be below any measurable threshold. It's the same as with keeping spirits in lead crystal decanters. As long as the liquid is not stored in the container, there is no danger.

Asbestos is only dangerous when it is airborne and inhaled into the lungs (and over a long period of time....usually years). Being used as a water filter, I don't see much chance of that happening.

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One of my early professors claimed to have worked with Orson Wells in the early days of WPA radio. She told us she was in the studio when Orson gave the set-up line to his partner, Bob who had the opening for a local commercial, "Asbestos! Your best bet for all your insulating needs." The set-up line Orson delivered and was reportedly fired for was,

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ready?

 

 

 

So, Bob? What do you like bestos?

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Nice! What I like as bestos doesn't matter I reckon. :)

Asbestos is only dangerous when it is airborne and inhaled into the lungs

Very true, it was a contributing factor in my father in law's demise.

 

His wife won the lawsuit!

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Since I have the same fountain that Scott speaks of, I will this week run an analisys for lead in the water as it comes from the fountain, with the atomic absorption equipment I can go <1ppm. I will run the water a little to make sure spigots and valves have good contact with the water and grab a sample after 2 hrs and again overnite. Just because there is lead present, it does not mean it leaches into the water. You can also find lead in brass and as for stainless steel, remember it's an alloy not an element, you will find chrome and nickel. I will post findings on tuesday.

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Well the EPA limit on lead in drinking water is "0" that does not mean <.01ppm, it means "0". My blank,water from the tap was 0, the water after a 2hr soak was .3ppm and after 12hrs. .4ppm, maybe I should have moved to a second spigot. But since heavy metals can accumulate in the body put those fountains made from cheap castings away. So, could lead poisoning have been some of the absinthe madness from the past ? Not just bad absinthe but bad accessories ?

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As a friend of mine stated, in France there are still many leaded pipes in old buildings, at least in ou country. There are greater risks with running water in plumbing, I suppose.

 

As far as I am concerned, I only have one fountain, that I use when I don't use my brouilleurs, and it is a JR, just like yours.

 

I think I am fine, overall, but then again, I hardly ever louche more than one absinthe a week, and most of the time use a brouilleur.

 

By the by, did you know famous painters were fond of absinthe because it helped coping with the saturnism they got by using paint that contained lead.

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Thanks reporting back with the results, Rob. It's very interesting information if you ask me.

 

So, could lead poisoning have been some of the absinthe madness from the past ? Not just bad absinthe but bad accessories ?

I doubt this is the case. I don't know what levels of lead would be needed to start showing symptoms or how well their lead poisoning detection was back then, but I do know that the fountains in question aren't actually absinthe fountains, they're pastis fountains. From what I know, antique absinthe fountains are few and far between. Using a fountain to prepare absinthe was not the norm.

Edited by Phoenix

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did you know famous painters were fond of absinthe because it helped coping with the saturnism they got by using paint that contained lead.

A reference, please. Who in particular and where is it mentioned?

 

when I try to provide my humble knowledge, often quoted and with reference
Edited by Boggy

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Oh my, Boggy's late edit has shown me some posts in a thread that I had missed. I didn't know he was causing a ruckus over there and is trying to bring it to this thread as well. It now seems like I should explain my above post a little.

 

I only laugh at Boggy's request for a reference because of the constant crackpot claims that come out of his mouth with absolutely no proof to back them up. If you ask for proof you'll either get told that it's private and he can't share it, or you'll get the run around until he wears you down and you give up once it's apparent that there was never any proof to begin with.

Edited by Phoenix

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Fair enough

De fait, le vin d’absinthe allongé de miel, menthe ou cannelle, soulage le saturnisme et rétablit le «levain de l’estomac» des peintres exposés au blanc de plomb ou pire, au blanc de céruse

 

Benoit Noel, 2005

In fact, the wine of wormwood lengthened with honey, mint or grooves, relieves lead poisoning and restores the “leaven of the stomach” of the painters exposed to the white lead or worse, with the ceruse white-lead

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Don't know, but what I thinkg I know is where anyone can find an answer to your question :

 

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Labsinthe-Muse-pei...e/dp/2859172866

 

(and I think I recall where I've first read it and why I could not find it in the internet : I may have read it at Marie Claude Delahaye's museum - hard to quote don't you think ?)

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