On the left is an oval Union case laminated with black shellac, made by Samuel Peck and Co, United States, c 1850. The object on the right is a rectangular ebonite vesta match box, made in Hanover, Germany, c 1900. Between the two is a buff coloured imitation marble necklace, made in England, c 1930. Shellac is produced from the secretions of small insects which live on acacia trees in India and south-east Asia, and was one of the first mouldable compounds. Two of its major uses have been in making Union (or Peck) cases in the for holding photographs and in making gramophone records from 1897 until the arrival of vinyl LPs in the 1950s. Ebonite is perhaps best known today for being used to make bowling balls.
© Science Museum / Science & Society Picture Library