Octagonal shellac Union case, 1851.
© Science Museum / Science & Society Picture Library
This Union case is made of brown shellac mixed with a filler, posibly woodflour. It is elaborately moulded and contains a hand-coloured ambrotype (known in Britain as a glas collodion positive) photograh. Made by Samuel Peck and Company, United States, the case is lined in maroon velvet with an elaborate motif. Union cases were used to carry light-sensitive early photographs like ambrotypes or daguerreotypes to prevent them from fading. Shellac is produced from the secretions of the lac beetle which live on trees native to India and south-east Asia. Shellac was used to make the first 78 rpm gramophone records in 1897 and was only superseded by vinyl LPs in 1948.