Nuclear Collection (Part I)

May 5, 2008

Here are some relatively recent additions to my collection of radioactive and nuclear-related items. Some of them I don’t know nearly enough about! Take a look, and if you have some information to add, please contact me. I will post other galleries as I get the chance. Also: I collect this kind of stuff (obviously), so if you have something radioactive and you’re not a big fan of radioactive stuff, let’s make a deal: send it to me. You get rid of the hot stuff that’s gonna harelip your kids and give you leukemia and whatnot, and I’ll pay you money for it.

Click on a photo for large size. Descriptions are at bottom of post.

graphite from CP1Graphite from CP-1, the world’s first nuclear reactor, built under the stands of Stagg Field at the University of Chicago in 1942. This 25th Anniversary memento popped up on eBay not long ago and I paid dearly for it. However, there’s not much of this stuff left; all but a couple bars of this famously pure graphite went on to be incorporated in CP-2 and thereafter entombed in concrete under a nondescript field in Illinois. The eBay seller would only say “I do know that my grandfather worked on the building of the atomic bomb but other than that I don’t know much else.” I have a feeling that the human story could be interesting, but on account of the seller’s reluctance to share so much as her grandfather’s name and other “personal information,” there’s nothing more to say right now. Tips appreciated…

graphite from CP1More Graphite from CP-1. This example was also obtained on eBay, but bears slightly different markings (the additional Argonne National Laboratory label on the side of the graphite piece) and different dimensions. Also, no notecard or box came with this one.

worker\'s badge from ChernobylWorker’s badge from the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, dating from 1987 (the year after the catastrophe at Unit 4). Anyone able to read Russian shorthand? The back of the badge contains addresses and perhaps a description of what this man did at the plant. This badge is not discernibly radioactive.

Uranium glassUranium glass memento from the “Conference Nucleaire Europeenne” of 1975, held in Paris. The box also came with a slip of paper informing the recipient that “Ce verre est colore par un sel d’uranium” (“This glass is colored by a salt of uranium”). A present from a good friend, James Thiel. Shown at right under light from a mercury vapor discharge.

ionium“Ionium thorium nitrate” from Marie Curie’s lab. At least that’s the provenance claimed by the previous curator of this fascinating and rather radioactive vial. Ionium was a name for Th-230, the naturally-occurring parent of radium (Ra-226). Today, the vial contains 8.6 +/- 10% microcuries of radium as determined by careful gamma radiation measurements. If it’s indeed as old as the Curie lab, then there should be a couple hundred microcuries of alpha-emitting Th-230 present, in addition to a rather inconsequential activity of Th-232 carrier. The vial is contained in a test tube that has some rather cryptic markings on it. Take a look at the full-size pic and let me know if this means anything to you…

Walkie recordallThis late-model Walkie-Recordall contains a 4.8 microcurie radium source. An expensive dictation recorder in its day (ca. 1950s and ’60s), the battery-operated apparatus came in a discreet suitcase with hidden microphone—perfect for industrial espionage. Radium was used to discharge static on the “sonoband” embossing medium. This specimen was found by scintillation detector in a flea market in Ohio. The included sonoband, containing a medical lecture, was heavily damaged by radiation in the place where it sat in front of the radium source for years. The band still plays (video coming shortly). I pay $50 per Walkie radium source; taking out this radioactive strip does not impact operability of the recorder.

back in the good ol\' daysBack in the good ol’ days of 2004, an average joe could still buy uranium oxide from MV Laboratories in New Jersey, with nary a question asked. Those days are history! This 30-gram quantity of greenish-black U3O8 remains sealed in its bottle, an emblem of American freedom that has been eroded by the drumbeat of irrational fear. Something about “islamofascists” I think.

alpha sourceThis is an interesting alpha check source kindly given to me by Taylor Wilson. On the backside is a bare surface deposit of black UO2, evidently reading 700 CPM on the Nuclear Chicago Model R6 survey meter. Perhaps the UO2 was electrodeposited?


radium calibration sourceAnother interesting check source from Taylor, this one an “ionotron” type radium foil (probably about 0.1 microcurie) on a card that was last calibrated in 1955 at the height of the golden age of nuclear. It’s hard to see on the photo, but radiation damage has denatured and cracked the plastic right over the source strip in the lower right-hand corner.


  1. Nice collection, Carl. I’m really envious of your graphite specimen.

    On your Nuclear-Chicago alpha source…I think one could tell if the UO2 was electrodepositied by the quality of its alpha spectrum. (Should be a nice, clean, well resolved spectrum if in fact the UO2 was electrodepositied). If you ever get down my way bring it along and we’ll run a alpha spec on it.


    • I have the one of the Vartanian lithographs that you picture and would like to sell it. If anyone is interested please call me at 815-774-0592.

  2. I collect vintage recording machines, and recently acquired a Walkie Recordall that appears to be in very good shape. In a Google search I found your article mentioning the radioactive properties of this machine. Can you tell me how dangerous it is, what the purpose of the radioactive strip was, and how to properly store it to avoid exposure? Thank you for your help.

    -John Clay
    Burke, VA

  3. Nice Stuff!

    This is really an interesting collection of goodies Carl, and quite a nice show and tell about the meaning of it all.

    Sorry you were too young to have collected fallout in the birdbath like I did in the 50’s. Th’ stuff fell like manna from heaven. Likewise, you could buy the actual nuclides straight from Oakridge freshly pulled from X-10 until the operation went commercial in 1963. The AEC handed unlicensed quantity radio nuclide sales to the public over to several firms at that time as X-10 was planned to be shut down. I received two batches of Co60 and P-32 from X-10 and from then on ordered them from Abott Laboratories or Nuclear Chicago.

    You are right, those were the days.

    Richard Hull

  4. Nice. I’ll use that at my web-page

  5. Forgive me…I’m an artist/science idiot.

    Is the CP-1 “paperweight” thing from 1942 potentially dangerous?

    • It isn’t detectably radioactive. CP-1 was a very-low-power reactor, so few activation byproducts were formed in its graphite moderator.

  6. Hi,

    I have a piece of graphite from CP-1 in lucite like the one you have from Argonne Labs, thinking about selling, can you give me aby indication what it may be worth??



    • Pete,

      If you decide to sell the display piece, would you mind leaving a reply. There are some fairly rabid collectors here, myself included who would be interested.


      • Interesting! My father, a physicist at U of C and Argonne National Labs, gave me this piece years ago (mine does not have the Argonne logo on the underside).

        How rare is it?

    • Pete,

      You wouldn’t happen to still have the piece, would you? I’m interested in buying one.


  7. Hello! Great collection.

    I just purchased on ebay a piece of graphite in lucite from CP1 that is identical to yours. However, there is another seller with this listing


    with a slightly different look to the lucite, especially the lettering positioning. He claims

    “This was given to alumni that donated $10,000 or more to The University of Chicago in the mid-70’s . The Lucite paperweight is in excellent condition as the photo. I was the production person in charge of producing this for The University of Chicago Press at the time these where made.

    Seal in Lucite for a paperweight.

    The Lucite Paperweight is 3 3/4″ X 2 1/2″ X 1 3 5/8″The rare sample is about 3 1/4″ X 1/2 X 1/2 There were maybe 35 made. They used all but a little Graphite to produce these. The most of the balance went into building CP-2. My old business card to to show size.

    The came in a special packaging box, all done in the University’s of Maroon with Gold foil printing. The box got destroyed in Hurricane Hugo in 1985. ”

    Were there two versions of this made? Thanks!

    • Pete,

      You wouldn’t happen to still have the piece, would you? I’m interested in buying one if you might be looking to sell to an enthusiast.


    • Nucleon – I apologize for using the wrong name. I accidentally copied/pasted from a previous reply!

  8. Very Nice Collection. Your Collection Caught my eye when researching an Item. I have a placque with piece of the grafite from the reactor known as
    CP-1. It is framed and on cardboard gold background and the information about is printed in black. With this I received a letter telling me there were 200 of these. Most were given to worker and six were given to his mother. She was the secretary to the VP of Allis Chalmers nucler-reactor-division, the people who designed and built the reactor. If I were going to sell something like this where would I go.

    • Hi Don,

      You wouldn’t happen to still have the piece, would you? I’m interested in buying one if you might be looking to sell to an enthusiast.


  9. Hi I have in my possession several cristal of thorium sulfate nonahydrate cristalised in monoclinic form, are you interest?, for the moment my larger cristal have 1 cm size but i work to have 10 gram of more size cristal
    let me know

  10. Hi I have in my possession several cristal of thorium sulfate nonahydrate cristalised in monoclinic form, are you interest?, for the moment my larger cristal have 1 cm size but i work to have 10 gram of more size cristal
    let me know
    Jeff !

  11. I think I know where some more CP-1 graphite may be. It was used in the AFSR (Argonne Fast Source Reactor) at Argonne-West. That reactor was deactivated about 10 or 15 years ago, but I think most of it is still in place. The HEU core is probably still in the vault at the attached ZPPR facility. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen a 20 kg cylinder of HEU, but that was the core of the reactor. It came in 2 or 3 stainless-clad pieces. Not ever put together anywhere but inside the reactor of course.

    I doubt that you could actually get any of that graphite, but I think it’s still there anyway.

    Argonne used to give out plastic-encased parts of CP-1 graphite as awards for years of service. I think they stopped doing that sometime before I got there, though.

  12. Paper weight, first nuclear chain reaction chicago 1942, willed to me. Looking to sell. If interested contact Gary @ propwash@grantsburgtelcom.net.

    • Good evening Gary,

      You wouldn’t happen to still have the piece, would you? I’m interested in buying one if you might be looking to sell to an enthusiast. I sent an email, as well.


  13. […] My version is pictured above, the left hand photo showing its response to a radium source from a Walkie Record-All and the right hand photo the response to a Nuclespot 5-mCi Po-210 source.  Note that this is not a […]

  14. My Dad has the same lithograph photo and Graphite paperweight from CP-1 willed to him from his Father who worked at Argonne National Laboratories. We were just curious as to how much these items might be worth if we indeed decided to sell. Could you offer any information on this?

    • I am the daughter of one of the physicists on the Manhattan project. We have several of the Vartanian sketches and also the encased Graphite paperweight. I also have a photo of the wine bottle they all signed after the chain reaction.I would be very interested in knowing the value of these items. Thanks so much.dianddean@aol.com

      • Hi Danai,

        You wouldn’t happen to still have the piece, would you? I’m interested in buying one if you might be looking to sell to an enthusiast.


    • Jessica,

      It’s been a while, but you wouldn’t happen to still have the piece, would you? I’m interested in buying one if you might be looking to sell to an enthusiast.


      • Hi Scott,
        My dad does still have it. Not sure if he wants to sell…How much would you be willing to pay for it?

    • Hi Jessica – for some reason it won’t let me reply to your comment below. Today, I could pay $500 if that would work. It’d certainly be going to a loving home. 🙂 Contact me at sprombo@gmail.com if he’s interested in selling it, and I’m sure we can work something out.

  15. I have something that might interest nuclear enthusiasts. It is a lucite paperweight containing graphite from cp-1. Here is my listing of it on ebay.


    • Hi Michael,

      I messaged you on ebay as well, but for a better chance of finding you, I thought I’d post here too.

      You don’t happen to have another CP-1 graphite piece, or know where I can find one, do you? I’m lookng to buy one.



  17. Hi Carl I spoke to you about a year ago I have the cp-1 lithograph from Argonne I am looking to sell it as it just sits in a closet do you know anyone interested I don’t know how much to ask. Thank You

    • I have the paper weight with cp-1 on it also. What would be a fair sale price? Mike mryan@lths.org

      • Hi Mike,

        I tried reachiing out to your Lockport email, but it came back undelivered. You don’t still have the CP-1 piece, do you? I’d be interested in buying if you do.


    • Hi Chris,

      You don’t still happen to have the CP-1 piece, do you? I’ve been buffing up on nuclear testing history lately and am interested in buying if it’s for sale.


      • My name is Dana I have a graphite peice from cp1 in a paperweight the same as pictured above if you are interested. My email is beitz1971@gmail.com. Thanks

  18. I have a round Lucite piece that is about 2.5″ in diameter (Looks like a paperweight, but not heavy). It contains round piece of “GRAHITE FROM FIRST CHAIN REACTOR 12-2-42” as per the engraving on the Lucite. This belonged to my husband’s grandmother who, as I understand it, worked as a secretary at the University of Chicago at the time the event occured. I don’t know in what department she worked or why she was given this piece, but it has been passed along in the family for decades. Can anyone tell me more about it?

    • Stacy,

      Round you say? That’s interesting. I’ve personally never seen a round Lucite or acrylic display of CP-1’s fuel or construction material, aside from one example (www.orau.org/ptp/collection/reactors/reactors.htm). In this case, the piece displayed is fuel from the reactor, but from the limited distribution of this item and the text not matching, it’s doubtful you have fuel–I would consider that a disappointment, but I can understand others not being enthusiastic about reactor fuel 🙂

      You probably have a piece of graphite that was either used in one of the outermost portions of the pile, or was set aside and thus part of the project, even if it never got to the reactor itself. As they are not extremely common, most nuke collectors would consider this one of their ultimate pieces if not their pièce de résistance.

      It will be interesting to hear if Carl has ever seen or heard of such an item.

      J. Smith

      • I too have a round paperweight that I inherited from my late grandfather who was a machinist at U of C it is as described above and has a bit of a domed/magnifying top. The graphite inside is round. I can send a picture if you are interested. As for selling, I am not sure I’d sell it, but then again, I have college loans to pay.

    • Hi Stacey,

      You don’t happen to still have this CP-1 piece, do you? If so, I’ve been deliving into the history surrounding it lately and am interested in buying if it’s still for sale.


  19. Interesting! Thank you for your reply. The graphite is about the size and shape of a dime and approximately .25″ thick. It is engraved from the bottom, in a font that definitely looks to be from that era, and is seen when viewed through the Lucite from the top. I wish I knew more of the backstory. Grandma’s daughter is still alive, I’ll talk to her and see if she remembers more.

  20. I have 2 paperweights containing graphite from 1st nuclear reactor at U of Chicago dated Dec. 2, 1942, and would like to sell them. N. Albert

  21. My nephew Roy says he has been in contact with you. Like myself, he has a piece of graphite from the first nuclear reactor at U of Chicago. My Dad was a Professor there, and he left me 2 paperweights. One contains a round piece of graphite approx. 3/4 inches in diameter labeled “Graphite from First Chain Reaction 12-2-42 and the second contains a rectangular piece of graphite approx. 3 inches long and labeled “Graphite from CP-1 First Nuclear Reactor Dec. 2, 1942 Stagg Field – The University of Chicago.” I am interested in selling them both.
    N. Albert

    • Hi Nancy,

      You don’t happen to still have these graphite pieces from CP-1, do you? I’m interested in buying them, if so. Thanks!

  22. I have 2 paperweights containing graphite from the 1st nuclear reactor at University of Chicago. Dated December 2, 1942. I would be willing to sell.

    • Hi Katherine,

      You wouldn’t happen to still have a paperweight with the CP-1 graphite, would you? If so, I’d be interested in buying it!


  23. I personally own one of the Argonne National Laboratory labeled graphite bars, my grandfather was a nuclear engineer at Argonne for over 30 years.

    • Hi JVW,

      You don’t happen to still have it, do you?

  24. I came upon your site by surfing while doing research. Trying to find out if radiation warning labels are required on WWII warbirdsbeing restored which have instruments installed with radium markings. I need a definitive reference and have been unable to find one both in 10 CFR and 49 CFR. Am I looking in wrong areas? Any info would be greatly appreciated.
    LtCol G. Meyers, USMC Ret

  25. I have a pice of cp1from my grandfather who’s name is Edward Bartal.He worked on the program in Chicago .

    • Very cool! You’re not interested in sellilng it, are you?

  26. I have a piece of the graphite from Cp-1 and would like to know the value

    • Do you still have the piece of graphite from CP-1?

  27. I have a Lucite paperweight Identical to the one above under the heading “More Graphite From CP-1”, except that mine doesn’t have the Argonne Labs logo on the side. I’m not really intent on selling it, but from several postings above, I get the impression that other members of the site have gotten 4-800 dollars for such on eBay. What is a more accurate estimate of the things value? I’ve just had it knocking around on my desk, should I be wrapping it up and storing it next to the big Zeiss lens I have in my closet instead?

    • Hi Ken,

      You’re still not interested in selling it, are you?


  28. Just curious. What would larger quantities, say pounds of the Cp1/2 graphite be worth, from a collector/ historical perspective? Thanks!

    • There is no established “market” for the material. It’s whatever a willing seller and buyer agree on. Obviously, CP-1 artifacts are collectible, but it’s impossible to appraise the monetary value generally. Historically, these artifacts are much more valuable if the story and provenance are known or can be established. Large, intact pieces that have obvious signifying markings (graphite grade and lot), or are machined to accept fuel, or are detectably radioactive, can be expected to command premium value.

      • Hi Carl,

        I’m so sorry for spamming your comment section here – I’m just an enthusiast trying my best to find a graphite piece from CP-1, because I find the whole ordeal fascinating.

        You wouldn’t happen to know where I can find some, do you? Even a tiny amount would be great.

        (by the way, I love the site)

  29. I have one of those cp1 paperweights just like yours and may be interested in getting rid of it for fair price. Let me know.

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