Extract of a Letter* from the Reverend Mr.—— to —————, Member of the Society for encouraging Arts, Manufactures, and Commerce; and by him ſent to Dr. Templeman: Containing Hints towards attaining a Method of ſtaining Elm of a fine Mahogany Colour.
* This letter was read before a committee, on Sept. 12, 1763
You know very well, my dear ſir, in what manner I ſpend much of my time, I agree with you that philoſophical enquiries are very amuſing; but ſhould not we ſometimes indeavour to benefit the world by our reſearches, as well as entertain ourſelves? I have been for ſome months thinking of a novelty, at leaſt, in the arts; whether, if compaſſed, you would allow it to be an improvement, I cannot ſay.
The world of England has been, for ſome years paſt, running mad after mahogany furniture: an inferior artiſan thinks it a great misfortune, if he cannot have his two or three mahogany tables, or whatever elſe you pleaſe to call it, the wood is abſolutely, as I am very well informed, grown ſcarce in our Weſt-India iſlands, ſo that a great deal of French mahogany is yearly imported *, notwithſtanding which, the price, the dealers ſay, is of late very much riſen. What I would propoſe is that the hard cloſe-grained English elm ſhould be ſubſtituted in its place. I know it will take a good stain, but I have not yet found out a method of giving it a true mahogany colour.
* A great deal of mahogany, of a very inferior quality, has been lately imported from the Havannah: It is much ſofter and paler than the Jamaica wood, and will ſooner decay.
The wood before it is ſtained, ſhould be prepared: perhaps the following manner may be as good as any; I have tried it, and find the wood receives and retains the colour much better than when unprepared.
When the wood has been cut into thin boards, I get it rough-planed with a common jack-plane; after which, I heat a large copper full of pond-water. When it boils, I put in my boards, taking care that they be entirely covered with water all the time they are kept boiling, which is to be at leaſt an hour, but the time is to be governed by the quantity of ſap they have in them.
I then take them out of the water, and wiping them as dry as poſſible, with either a coarſe cloth, or any thing elſe that won’t ſtain, I lay one of the boards on three or more pieces of thick deal laths: on this I place more pieces of laths, then another board and ſo on till the number of boards amounts to ten or a dozen: over all I put two or three heavy weights. They are then left to dry, which, being placed in this manner with a thorough draught of air, they do without warping: were it not for this precaution, they would after boiling, as I have often experienced, be very apt to both warp and ſplit. I must not omit obſerving, that whilſt they are drying they muſt be laid in the ſhade.
This method of preparing boards diveſts them almoſt entirely of their ſap, makes the wood much lighter, and more ſuſceptible of the impreſſion of colour, than it would be in its natural ſtate; and the ſtain you give it is more uniform.
When firſt I thought of the affair, I naturally imagined that a vegetable colour would be moſt proper to impregnate a vegetable ſubſtance withall; but I was herein in ſome meaſure, miſtaken, for ſome other matter was required to make it at all ſtable, and after all, much of it would waſh off with a wet cloth, and almoſt the whole of it would diſappear when the board was boiled a little while in pond water.*
*We could wiſh our ingenious correſpondent would try to ſtain ſome other wood, of a cloſer grain than elm; ſuppoſe oak, as we are apt to think it would not only be more durable, but take a better poliſh, in which the beauty of mahogany in a great meaſure conſiſts. -E.
After this, I had recourſe to colours extracted from minerals. And muſt own, I here met with much better ſucceſs, yet ſtill did not gain my point. In this ſituation the matter now reſts, though I don’t mean to give it up.
My reaſon for troubling you with this narrative is, that you may, if you think proper, communicate it to the illuſtrious ſociety of which you are a member. If they may perhaps advertiſe a premium for the diſcovery; and in that caſe theſe hints may be of uſe.
I have purpoſely avoided mentioning the ſeveral things I tried to ſtain the boards withal, becauſe the ſame article, which failed me, may poſſibly, by a different proceſs, ſucceed with ſomebody elſe, and it would be pity to proſcribe ſo many probable materials from having a varied trial in other hands. Yet, after all, my own opinion is, that the colour will beſt be procured from ſome mineral extract, at least, ſo my repeated experiments ſeem to declare.
Perhaps, if we can once gain our point in this firſt inſtance, we may hereafter attain a method of colouring ivory better than it has hitherto done; and we may probably go ſtill a ſtep further, and be able to ſtain white marble with laſting colours, regularly diſpoſed: could we once do this, we ſhould have no occaſion to lament that canvas is of ſo periſhable a nature; for ſuch painters as were willing (which moſt are) to have their works reach remote poſterity, would doubtleſs prefer marble. Some, indeed, have uſed copper; but they do not find it answer, the colours being remarkably apt to peel off.
Muſeum Ruſticum Et Commerciale – (London) November 1763
Or, Select Papers on Agriculture, Commerce, Arts, and Manufactures Drawn from Experience, and Communicated by Gentlemen engaged in these Purſuits.
Reviſed and Digeſted by ſeveral Members of the Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures, and Commerce.
Hæ tibi erunt Artes.
– Jeff Burks