Lithopone or sulphide of zinc white has been in general use for twenty years or more in many industries where a white pigment of considerable body or hiding power is required that is not subject to change like lead carbonate and has not the brittle character of zinc oxide, besides being sold at a lower figure than either of these. Nevertheless it is still comparatively new to the general painting trade. Because of our tariff protection its manufacture in this country has made great progress. Yet in spite of this and the duty imposed on it, the imports are still in excess of the quantity manufactured here. A short history of its origin will no doubt prove of interest to our readers.
As early as sixty years ago, zinc sulphide was first thought of as a pigment for coloring India rubber and a patent for the process of its manufacture was issued in England. But it was not until twenty years later that zinc sulphide and its manufacture was seriously considered as a pigment for paint, and in 1874 a patent was issued for a process of manufacturing a white pigment, composed of zinc sulphide and barium sulphate, known as Charlton white, also as Orr's white enamel. This was followed in 1876 by a patent issued to a manufacturer named Griffith and the product, which was similar in character to Charlton white, was known as Griffith's patent zinc white. In 1879 another patent for a more novel process was obtained by Griffith & Cawley, the product made under this process proving the best of the series placed upon the market up to that date. After that time many new processes were patented, all, however, tending to the same object, that of producing a white pigment, composed of zinc sulphide and barium carbonate, the results, however, in many cases ending with failure.
In the meantime, the chemical factories of Continental Europe, principally in Germany, Austria and Belgium, had taken hold of the novelty and under the collective name of lithopone or lithophone, by numerous processes, produced various grades of the pigment, branding the respective qualities as red seal, green seal, yellow seal, blue seal, etc., or selling them under some fancy name. Of this we shall speak later on. The crusade against the use of white lead in the various countries of Continental Europe, assisted the manufacturers, to a very great extent, in marketing their products, not only to industrial concerns, as has been the case in this country, until recently, but to the general painting trade. Up to 1889 the imports into this country were comparatively small. At that time one of the largest concerns manufacturing oilcloth and linoleum in the State of New Jersey began to import and use Charlton white. Shortly after that other oilcloth manufacturers followed suit, replacing zinc white with lithopone in the making of white tablecloth, etc., and later on abandoning the use of white lead in floor cloth and linoleum. This gave an impetus to several chemical concerns, that erected plants and began to manufacture the pigment. Competition among the manufacturers and the activity of the importers induced other industries to experiment with lithopone, and the shade cloth makers, who formerly used white lead chiefly, are now among the largest consumers. Makers of India rubber goods, implement makers and paint manufacturers are also consumers of great quantities, and the demand is very much on the increase, as the nature of the pigment is becoming better understood and its defects brought under control. Large quantities find their way into floor paints, machinery paints, implement paints and enamel paints, while the flat wall paints that have of late come into such extensive use owe their existence to the use of lithopone in their makeup.
Having thus described the origin and uses of the pigment, we now come to the question, what is lithopone? It is, in short, a chemical compound usually consisting of 30.5 per cent zinc sulphide, 1.5 per cent zinc oxide and 68 per cent barium sulphate, but these proportions vary slightly in the different makes. Lithopone of this composition is sold as the highest grade, either as red seal or green seal, as it best suits the idea of the manufacturer. Many manufacturers, especially in Europe, sell and also export other brands under other seals, containing 24, 20, 18 and as little as 12 per cent of zinc sulphide with very small percentages of zinc oxide, the balance being usually barium sulphate, but sometimes certain portions of China clay or gypsum (calcium sulphate) or whiting (calcium carbonate). Such brands are not a chemical compound, but mechanical mixtures of the chemically compounded lithopone and the admixtures referred to.
The brands of lithopone of the normal class, that of chemical manufacture, are marketed under such names as Ponolith, Beckton White, Jersey Lily White, Oleum White, Zinc Sulphide White, all of these being of domestic manufacture, and their composition is of the 30 per cent. zinc sulphide type. The German manufacturers and exporters of lithopone make use of fancy names for their brands and here are a few examples of these and the composition of the pigment:-
Porcelain White, 32 per cent sulphide, 68 per cent barium sulphate.
Durabo White, 24.5 per cent zinc sulphide, 51 per cent barium sulphate, 18 per cent white clay, 5.5 per cent infusorial earth.
Blanc de Comines, 27 per cent zinc sulphide, 70.5 per cent barium sulphate, 2.5 per cent zinc carbonate.
Neutral White, 26 per cent zinc sulphide, 66 per cent barium sulphate, 5 per cent infusorial earth, 3 per cent whiting.
Edelweiss, 14.5 per cent zinc sulphide, 84 per cent barium sulphate, 1.5 per cent carbonate of lime.
A great number of other brands with fancy names have gone out of the German market, because of some defects in the processes of manufacture. The English exporters, as a rule, offer three or four grades of lithopone, the lowest priced consisting of about 12 per cent zinc sulphide, the best varying between 30 and 32 per cent zinc sulphide. A white pigment of this composition containing more than 32 per cent zinc sulphide does not work well in oil as a paint, although in the oilcloth and shade cloth industries an article containing as high as 45 per cent zinc sulphide has been used apparently with success. Carefully prepared lithopone, containing 30 to 32 per cent sulphide of zinc with not over 1.5 per cent zinc oxide, the balance being barium sulphate, is a white powder almost equal to the best grades of French process zinc oxide in whiteness and holds a medium position in specific gravity between white lead and zinc oxide. Its oil absorption is also fairly well in the middle between the two white pigments mentioned, lead carbonate requiring 9 per cent of oil, zinc oxide on an average 17 per cent and lithopone 13 per cent to form a stiff paste. There is one advantage in the manipulation of lithopone in oil over both white lead and zinc oxide, it is more readily mis-cible than either of these, for some purposes requiring no mill grinding at all, simply thorough mixing with the oil. However, when lithopone has not been furnaced up to the required time, it will require a much greater percentage of oil for grinding and more thinners for spreading than the normal pigment. Pigment of that character is not well adapted for use in the manufacture of paints, as it lacks in body and color resisting properties and does not work well under the brush. In those industries, where the paint can be applied with machinery, as in shade cloth making, etc., it appears to be preferred, because of these very defects. As this sort of lithopone, ground in linseed oil in paste form, is thinned for application to the cloth with benzine only, and on account of its greater tendency to thicken, requires more of this comparatively cheap thinning medium, it is preferred by most of the manufacturers of machine painted shade cloth. Another point considered by them is that it does not require as much coloring matter to tint the white paste to the required standard depth as would be the case if the lithopone were of the standard required for the making of paint or enamels. On the other hand, the lithopone preferred by the shade cloth trade would prove a failure in the manufacture of oil paints and much more so, when used as a pigment in the so-called enamel or varnish paints. Every paint manufacturer knows, or should know, that a pigment containing hygroscopic moisture does not work well with oil and driers in a paint and that with varnish especially it is very susceptible to livering on standing and to becoming puffed to such an extent as to make it unworkable under the brush. While the process of making lithopone is not very difficult or complicated, the success of obtaining a first class product depends to a great extent on the purity of the material used. Foreign substances in these are readily eliminated by careful manipulation, which, however, requires thorough knowledge and great care, as otherwise the result will be a failure, rendering a product of bad color and lack of covering power.