There is Death in the Pot

By Johanna Goldberg, Information Services Librarian

While in the stacks recently, we came across this intriguing cover.





















How can you not open the book? The title page did not disappoint.

DeathinthePot-titlepageFood adulteration was a dangerous problem in 19th-century London. In 1820, chemist Fredrick Accum wrote A Treatise on Adulterations of Food and Culinary Poisons, the first book of its kind to attempt to expose the dangers of the food, water, and beverage supply.¹

Among many other practices, Accum cautioned against alum in the bread supply, used to make bread whiter; fraudulent peppercorns, made of lintseed, clay, and a small bit of Cayenne; vinegar laced with sulphuric acid; red lead used to color cheese; and beer mixed with a poisonous narcotic plant, cocculus indicus.² Forty years after the book’s publication, Parliament passed the Food Adulteration Act.¹

The Royal Society of Chemistry’s Library and Information Centre offers an excellent online exhibit on the life and times of Accum (including a career-ending scandal involving mistreatment of library books). Learn more here.

Edit: A reader recognized the artwork as that of Berkeley King and kindly provided us with the following image of the cover of Accum’s Plans of the Gas Works in London, which King also designed.


















1. The fight against food adulteration. (n.d.). Retrieved May 16, 2013, from

2. Accum, F. (1820). A treatise on adulterations of food, and culinary poisons exhibiting the fraudulent sophistications of bread, beer, wine, spirituous liquors, tea, coffee, cream, confectionery, vinegar, mustard, pepper, cheese, olive oil, pickles, and other articles employed in domestic economy, and methods of detecting them. London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, and Brown.

11 thoughts on “There is Death in the Pot

  1. The lithographer responsible for the cover was my great great grandfather, Berkeley King, also responsible for the cover of Accum’s “A Practical Treaty on Gas-Light”

    • Very neat, thanks for letting us know who was behind this fantastic cover! Unfortunately we don’t have the other title in our collection, but we’d love to know what it looks like.

      • If your cover had been complete, which from the picture it obviously isn’t, his name and address would be on the bottom of the boards. I have a copy of Accum’s “Plans of the Gas Works in London and Other Towns”, which is a slightly updated later version with the same cover. It’s not as interesting a cover as the Food Adulteration one. I could try scanning it, if it’s of interest.

      • If it’s not a bother, we’d be curious to see it, and we can share it with our readers. No need to go to any trouble, though. We’re grateful for the background info.

      • I’ve scanned it, but can’t attach the image here as far as I can tell. Happy to send it to an email address if you can give me one.

      • The image above is the complete front board. The back is the same. The spine has a bit of additional art on it, but it would be too difficult to scan it.

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