Gutta percha inkstand, c 1850.
© Science Museum / Science & Society Picture Library
Described as 'Inkstand No 1' in the Gutta Percha Company catalogue of 1851, this inkstand was moulded to commemorate the use of gutta percha to insulate the first submarine telegraph cable laid from England to France in 1851. Its excellent insulating properties made it ideal for this purpose. Gutta percha is a rubber-like material from the dried sap of trees of the genus Palaquium found in Malaysia. It has the same chemical composition as natural rubber, but a different molecular structure (it is an isomer of rubber). Because of this, unlike rubber, gutta percha is hard at room temperature. This material was first exploited in Britain by Charles Hancock and Henry Bewley who set up the Gutta Percha Company in 1845.