Shellac sample case, London, post-1939

© Technisches Museum Wien, Photo: Peter Sedlaczek
© Technisches Museum Wien, Photo: Peter Sedlaczek
© Technisches Museum Wien, Photo: Peter Sedlaczek
Collection Area
Production Technology
1930 - 1939
At the moment this object is not published in the museum.
It takes around 300,000 kerria lacca scale insects working around the clock to produce one kilo of shellac. And not just for the round black discs that make music. Shellac can do a lot more.

Shellac is a resin-like substance produced from the excretions (gum lac) of a specific species of plant lice. In other words, these scale insects convert certain types of plant sap into resin. They occur mostly in South Asia and South East Asia, mainly in India and Thailand. The twigs entirely coated with these excretions are harvested and the resin is cleared from the wood and other impurities in several stages. Depending on the raw material and the processing method, the shellac obtained as a result is either bleached or dyed in different colour tones.

The material became all the rage as shellac records. Before today’s synthetic materials were available, shellac was used until the 1960s to produce or seal the surface of records. Shellac still has many other applications in products such as lacquer, varnish, polish, ink and impregnating agents. Less well known is the use of shellac in the food industry and in pharmaceuticals (e.g. the coating on dragées) and in natural cosmetics (e.g. hair spray) as the purely natural substance is biodegradable and does not pose a health risk.

The lid of the shellac sample case at the Technisches Museum Wien gives a detailed description of the material’s history, extraction, harvesting, preparation, processing and use. The manufacturer expressly states that, unless otherwise indicated, all his shellac varieties ‘are guaranteed to be free from Rosin and Orpiment’. The mention of the fact that, prior to 1939, it had been customary to adulterate shellac with resins or orpiment indicates that the exhibit is most likely to date from the 1940s.

Today shellac is once again regaining importance as a natural alternative to synthetic resins.

Manufacturer: Robert Stewart & Sons Ltd., London
Production date: post-1939

Inv.Nr. 28371

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