Bronzing powder exposure

EDIT: Have read around on how nasty bronzing powder can be, just trying to understand if there’s any risk associated with short term/incidental contact.

Was going through and old print shop today, noticed a can of bronzing powder when the building owner picked it up and some came off/out of the container. Was a small amount that was visible in the air where we were standing for a few moments and then left the area. Wondering if there’s any cause for concern or if it’s generally longer term exposure that poses the largest risk? All of the posts here advocating for wearing masks have me wondering about inadvertent bronzing :)

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We started using Bronzing Powders in the early 1950’s; it
is VERY toxic as it’s really finely-ground metal—————-
it does give an unusual effect to the printed piece but ask
yourself if it’s worth the health risk—-the answer is NO.
We last did a bronzing job 3-years ago—-outdoors—-and we decided that it was to be our last…..if you do decide to go ahead with bronzing use a mask, do it outdoors and be prepared for a very labor-intensive experience……then immediately and thoroughly wash your hands when you’re thru…’s your decision! wta

Thanks for the quick reply. Let me be clear, I’m NOT planning on using it, mostly just wondering about the short term/incidental exposure and whether there’s cause for concern since I wasn’t wearing a mask.

Obviously not anything I can do about it now, just trying to get a better understanding of whether it poses more of a risk when exposed for a long time or for a short period/incidentally like I was.

On the occasion of the coronation of Queen Victoria in 1838, Thomas De la Rue printed a commemorative “gold” newspaper to mark the event. It was printed with varnish and dusted with bronzing powder, made to a secret German recipe but almost certainly containing copper and mercury compounds. Everyone involved became sick. De la Rue himself spent only a few hours in the marquee where the dusting was carried out, quickly realising how noxious the material was.

The phenomenal success of the newspaper - nicknamed “The Golden Sun” - which changed hands for up to a guinea a copy (cover price one shilling) persuaded De la Rue to continue printing it for three weeks, rather than the single day he originally intended. The medical report on John Oakley, one of the workers who used the bronzing powder, still exists at the Royal College of Physicians in London. It’s pretty horrific. Details may be found here

Appreciate all the history of its use, but still wondering if anyone can tell me - should I be concerned with being exposed to it for such a short amount of time/small amount? In the grand scheme of things lots of bad stuff out there I know.

Back in the 60’s I used this and gold dusting when I was an apprentice for wedding invitations etc., About once a month I am still here so I would not worry too much.


Like most industrial exposure, the exposure to the copper, brass, zinc, or aluminum powders is dangerous with extensive exposure. Your exposure was quite incidental and not worth worry unless you are sensitive to these materials. If the air were filled with the dust for hours on end, you would have right to be concerned.

I’m not suggesting the process come back into general use, but I have used it myself on occasion for effect.

John Henry

When I was an apprentice aged 15 yrs. I used to do a lot of invitations using a base varnish and gold or silver dust, there was not any health and safety in those days (anyone remember wet anti set off spray) I still have my lungs etc. heading towards my 75 th. year, so I don’t think a small exposure should concern you.