The following was copied from
Most people have no idea of what shellac is or where it comes from.
Shellac is a natural, organic resin that comes from an insect, Laccifera
lacca, that is about the size of an apple seed. This bug alights on
certain trees indigenous to India and Thailand and during its
reproductive cycle feeds on the sap that it sucks from the twigs of
these trees. The bug secretes an amber colored resinous substance that
is called "lac", a word that comes from the Sanskrit "lakh" which means
one-hundred thousand. The resin forms a cocoon around the insect which
serves to incubate the eggs she lays. This cocoon is the raw material
for shellac and is called "sticklac", because it contains resin, parts
of the twig and bug remains. The sticklac is washed and then refined
either chemically or by hand, to produce the raw material available for
sale to commerce.
The original cultivation of shellac was not for the resin, but rather,
for the dye that gives the resin its characteristic color. The use of
lac dye can be traced back to 250 AD when it was mentioned by Claudius
Aelianus, a Roman writer in a volume on natural history. The lac dye was
removed by the initial washing of the shellac resin in large kettles,
which is also the first step in preparing the resin. This dye remained a
valuable commodity until the mid-1800's, when Perkins, an English
chemist, synthesized the first chemical 'aniline' dyes which killed the
natural dye industry. Fortunately the use of the resin had been firmly
established, so the loss of the use of the dye had little impact on
shellac trade. The first use of shellac as a protective coating appears
as early as 1590 in a work by an English writer who was sent to India to
observe the country and its people."
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