EPS Review #15 - Adventures in Man's First Plastic

Romance of natural waxes The Romance of Natural Waxes by Nelson S. Knaggs, 1947.

The forward begins:

"Everyone should have not only one but several hobbies. One of mine is the study of natural fats, oils, and waxes."

I spotted this title on Ebay, but bought it cheaper on ABE. There are chapters on Wax Through the Ages; Carnauba wax; Candelilla wax; Spermaceti; Shellac; Chinese Insect wax; Beeswax; Ozokerite wax (mined), and so on. It's not quite as interesting as it sounds. The first bit is about his Amazon trip to look for new wax plants, culminating in finding the Cauassu palm, which has a thin film of wax on its leaves, like the important Carnauba palm (very high melting-point wax). Knaggs has a habit of reporting fantasy (cows putting their heads in the Amazon to drink, and pulling them out as skulls, eaten by piranha) and fantasizing himself, e.g. about early man's use of wax. Some of these he writes as stories, as about young Chin Lu and the Insect Wax Caravan. There are a lot of sepia photographs, of a Bhilwaya stretching a sheet of shellac with his feet, or of Madame Tussaud's head of Marie Antionette. It is all very 1950's (including a picture of a beaming housewife in her kitchen with a mop, subtitled "We Live on a Film of Wax"). He will often speak of "milady's lipstick" when speaking of wax's uses, and here's an interesting look back at industry:

The carbon paper industry grew by leaps and bounds in the United States until today there are nearly sixty different companies engaged in the manufacture of this highly important product.

This is followed by talk of "driving great ocean liners around the world on thimblefuls of atomic power."

I would have hoped to have come away with some Amazing Wax Facts with which to bore my friends, but there aren't many. The chapter on bees revealed how little we knew about them until quite recently (like that the queen is female), and their significance in religion ("telling the bees" about deaths in the family is a very old superstition). And I am really no wiser about why a whale has 400 gallons of spermaceti wax in its head.