Africa gum traders


I PRESUME our little folks have often exclaimed, as they have seen a new carriage pass swiftly by, "Look! How the wheels of that carriage glitter in the sun! I wonder how the painter made them so bright!"

We answer, by the use of varnish. Listen, and we will tell you something about it.

The "earth is Nature's great storehouse," from which she produces many wonderful things. Varnish is made from gums which are nearly all found by mining, though they are not so deep down in the earth as are gold and coal. Now you will probably be astonished when I tell you that all the varnish gums are supposed to be the hardened sap of the copal tree, found in Africa and Australia; and you will wonder how it can be obtained by mining if it is the sap of a tree.

It is a curious fact that these gums are found in deserts, where there is not a vestige of a tree now in existence. It is supposed that the forests which formerly grew where these gum beds exist, were destroyed by a great fire, and that the sap which was tried out by the excessive heat run over the ground and settled in hollows and gullies, which, in the course of time, became hardened by the rays of a torrid sun, and then were gradually covered with sand which the wind blew over it.

There are several varieties of gums from which varnish is made. Zanzibar, amber, angola, Benguela, Northcoast Kauri, and Manilla gums belong to the copal order. 

Zanzibar is procured and shipped from an island by the same name in Africa.

It is supposed that the earth has contained these gums for ages. They are found at the depth of from a few inches to that of three feet or more, and are mined by the natives, as the climate proves in many cases fatal to the white man.

The natives simply dig a trench, and if successful in striking a vein, it is followed, the gums are collected, and sometimes brought direct to market by the finders, who "tote" it on their heads or backs. 

But a greater quantity is conveyed by Arabian traders, who organize large caravans for the purpose of conveying various articles of produce, such as ivory, rubber, and gums from the interior. 

We will tell you more about this wonderful product soon. 


THE principal ingredient of varnish, as we stated in a previous article, is a gum which is supposed to be the hardened sap of the copal tree, and which has been covered by earth, and is now dug up from the ground. Adhering to this gum, are sometimes found fragments of wood and leaves, which crumble at the touch. Insects of various kinds, bugs, flies, moths, and the like, are also found imbedded in it. Prof. Gunning says that if the little insect had but just lit in its crystal coffin, it could not appear more life-like and perfect Gum copal closely resembles amber, which is also a kind of resin, and is chiefly found along the shores of the Baltic Sea. 

Amber is thought to have once been a soft gum, which oozed from a tree, and has now become fossilized. It was once used in the manufacture of varnish, but is now prized chiefly for making articles of ornament and beauty. It is said that in Turkey there have been instances where as high as 1000 have been paid for the mouth-piece to a single pipe, made of this beautiful substance. Gum copal resembles amber so closely that it has been used for the same purposes, and it is quite hard to detect the difference, it being "mellow, rich, and ripe," as the poet Byron describes it.

We will here notice but two other gums, shellac, and asphaltum.

Perhaps there is not found among the whole family of gum resins one that is more interesting in its formation than shellac. It is obtained from trees found in the East Indies, the limbs and twigs of which are incrusted with a sticky substance supposed to be the exudation from the bodies of little insects, which puncture the bark. 

When this substance is first obtained, it has a deep red color, caused by the insects, which are imbedded in it, and is called stick-lac.

The natives gather the stick-lac, and convey it to Bengal and Calcutta, the places of export. It is then melted, and cleansed from its impurities, and poured upon a smooth surface, where it is left to become cold and hard. Two crops are gathered in the year, the best in October and November, and an inferior crop in April and May. 

Asphaltum is procured nearer home. 

On the north side of the island of Cuba, men go down under water in diving bells, and from the bottom of the sea, by mining, bring up this peculiar substance, in which are found imbedded sea-shells, and the remains of fish. It seems to have once been in a liquid form. It is also found quite extensively in other portions of the world.

This gum, like all others that are excavated, lies in veins which are irregular and of different sizes, and is very difficult to mine, as a storm often fills with sand the excavations which it has taken days to open. 

Thus we see what riches are concealed in the bosom of the earth. How wondrous are all God's works! With what wisdom he has created all things for our comfort while we remain here, and what rich and precious promises for those who worship none but the true and living God.

Dear children, let us have no other gods before Him who has created all things, that we may have an abundant entrance into that beautiful city whose gates are of pearl, and whose streets are of shining gold.



THERE are three ingredients used in the manufacture of varnish, linseed (or flax- seed) oil, turpentine, and gum copal, which, as we have already noticed, is the chief.

For the best quality of varnish is required a superior quality of flaxseed, and this it is difficult to obtain. If it is harvested before quite ripe, or if injured in any way while coming from Calcutta (where the best varieties are obtained), the value of the oil is much diminished.

The process of making this oil is quite simple. The seed is first ground, and the meal placed in hollow iron cylinders, which hold about half a bushel. It is then subjected to very powerful hydraulic pressure, and the liquid expressed. After this has had time to settle, the oil is separated from the sediment.

Before it is fit for the varnish maker's use, however, it must pass through another process, that of boiling and bleaching. 

The oil becomes so hot when boiling that it will scorch a feather, and great care must be taken lest it take fire, and be consumed. Should it become ignited, it cannot be extinguished by applying water, but must be smothered by placing over it a closely fitting lid.

Turpentine is made from the gum of the long-leafed pine of North Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. The trees are hewed square on two sides, for a distance of eight or ten feet from the ground. The rising sap oozes out upon the smooth surface, and is scraped off, and placed in a turnip-shaped still which is made of copper, set in brick work, and which holds from ten to fifty barrels. When the still is full, they fit on the cover. This is connected by an arm to the worm, which is constantly surrounded by cold water, and fire is kept directly underneath the still.

As the process of stilling goes on, the turpentine becomes condensed in the worm, and, mingled with water, runs out into a tub, where it settles to the bottom. When it has reached a certain temperature, the distiller draws out the fire and allows it to cool. The cap or cover is then removed, and the liquid is skimmed to remove all impurities.

If the cover is removed too soon, the whole mass will at once take fire. When the turpentine is ready for shipment, it is drawn off from the tubs into well glued barrels by means of a syphon.

The largest distillery in this country is said to be located at Wilmington, North Carolina.



THERE is nothing that plays a more important part in all external decoration, and still perhaps receives less credit for the same, than does varnish, to which many objects owe their beauty and durability.

How many of our readers have admired the interior of the palace car, with its beautiful mirror-like walls of native wood, and thought how essential is varnish in bringing out all this beauty. Like the glass with the amalgam behind, it becomes a reflector, and it matters little what surface it may cover, whether wood, brass, or paint, varnish serves to render it more attractive.

Before applying the varnish or finishing coat to a carriage body, the painter is very careful that every defect is removed, and every rough spot or hollow is made smooth or level. He applies coat after coat of a preparation called filler, until he is quite sure that the grain of the wood is all filled. 

He then takes pumice, or rubbing stone, and water, and carefully scours his work till it is perfectly smooth. The color is then applied, which is followed by what is termed rubbing varnish, of which two or more coats are used. The surface must now go through another process of scouring; but this time the painter uses the fine ground powder of the pumice stone, so fine that the surface is not scratched.

The carriage body is once more carefully examined by the workman, and if all has been well done, the surface is smooth, like glass, and after washing with the greatest care, to remove all particles of the pumice stone, the work is ready to receive the last touch of beauty. The door of the varnish room is now closed against all intruders, and with brush in hand, the painter begins carefully and quickly to apply the finishing coat of varnish. If all has been skillfully done, the surface will shine like a mirror; but if a small mote or speck has adhered to the body, it is reflected by the varnish, and, as it were, becomes a mountain in the eyes of the beholder.

Varnish is very particular in regard to the company it keeps, and will not work readily when applied, if mixed with any other substance. I hope the readers are just as careful in the choice of their companions, not to select those who use rough and vulgar language, or indulge other wrong habits; for though these may seem like small faults to you, yet to Him who sees all things, they appear like serious defects, marring the character far more than the motes in the varnish injure the finished work of the painter.

Let us cleanse our hearts from everything evil, and put far away from us even the so-called small sins, that not a speck or mote may be found upon our characters in the last great day, when the hidden things of the heart shall be made known.