Saturday, June 16, 2007


Psst... Wanna Hot Watch?

This week in Slate I go hunting for radioactive antiques on eBay:

Hotly contested auctions include that much-loved 1950s kiddies' delight, an Atomic Energy lab (no, they were not falsely advertised); a 2-inch pod of "very radioactive" cuprosklodowskite that fetched $225 after 12 bids; and two pricey auctions for circa-1920 Revigator radium water coolers. You can find most isotopes without much effort on eBay. Bidding on old Coleman camping lamp mantles? Thorium. Vintage Doramad Radioaktive Zahncreme ("radioactive toothpaste"), used by Germans to keep teeth gamma-ray bright? Radium, with even a squished-out tube fetching a high bid of $122.50.
My favorite find: a uranium absinthe cup.

Some of the most worrisome items of all, though, are the most most ordinary: old watches with radium dials. Check out this Geiger counter going nuts over an old Timex:

Lost on my cutting room floor was a great line by radiation collector William Kolb. After I mentioned how surprised I was that dentures used to be radioactive -- the fluorescing uranium made them shine better -- Kolb said: "I think most people would be surprised to find that older eyeglasses and camera lenses can be radioactive--much more so than dentures."

It's true: here's a thoriated lens...

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