Formula of an amber glue

19 June 2020
Press Office of the Amber Museum

In the 1980s, in the attic of an abandoned house in Staroutkinsk (Sverdlovsk region), old handwritings were found. They included formulas for art works with wood, metal, glass, and a range of other surfaces, as well as description of solutions to produce lacquers and colours, that were used in making icons and book miniatures. In 1991, Ural archaeographists managed to copy three manuscripts. Later, the valuable textual material was processed by S.Beloborodov, and in 2006, in the Museum newsletter "Nevyansk Icon" (issue 2) he published an article "Find a living yellow lizard and put in into mercury..." (The Book of Recipes for Art Works from the Collection of The Laboratory of Archaeographic Research USU). The author made a conclusion: "A careful examination of the manuscripts allows us to state with bigger confidence that members of the famous dynasty of icon painters Filatovs who lived namely in Utkinsk zavod (now Staroutkinsk) were involved in writing the books".

Among others, there is a formula for production of an amber glue in the article. It could be written around 1850–1860. We have several suggestions on how the mixture could be used (we engaged in it an icon painter, a candidate of chemical sciences, and an amber specialist). It could be used to make golden elements dull (matting), or as a glue laid before the golden pattern (i.e. gold hatching).

Here is the whole formula with the authorial style.

[№ 52]. For mixture of matt.

  1. Wine spirit 90 % or the best alcohol in 120 % — 1 pound (so!)
  2. Benzoin — 12 zolotniks
  3. Simple frankincense — 6 [zolotniks]
  4. Amber — 3 [zolotniks]
  5. Arabica gum — 6 [zolotniks]
  6. Copal gum — 4 [zolotniks]
  7. Resin— 6 [zolotniks]
  8. Sandarac— 6 [zolotniks]
  9. Arsenic — 3 [zolotniks]

Everything at all make into powder, add into a certain amount of alcohol corking tight the flask and let stand for several days until it gets soluble, and it can stay this way for any time until the usage. Take the best ichthyocolla, boil it until the colour corresponds the middling fluid, neither dense, nor watery, then pass through a cloth and according to the equal amount of alcohol also pass through a cloth and combine with the glue, so there will be milky fluid, that then can be ready for use, and when it is used to cover (so!) gilded places with matt, this essence should be warmed a little before covering. The flask filled with the matt essence is put into warm water so that hand could hold it.

And here are some comments of the author to this formula.

Amber is fossil resin of conifers. Exposed to the high temperature, amber is partly decomposed. In this state (amber galipot) it is easily dissolved at usual temperature. It was used to produce highly firm lacquers.

Arabica gum is juice of Arabian and African acacia. When becoming dense, comes as colourless or yellowish lumps. Dissolves in water. Comes with gluing properties, was used as binding substance when "creating" gold or silver, as well as in production of water-colours and tempera colours.

Copal gum (copal) is amber-like resin from the tree Rhus copallinum. Vegetable glue.