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Book Review: Valuable Secrets…

24 February 2012

Click here to downloadThe Valuable Secrets Concerning Arts and Trades is basically an 18th century instruction manual for tradesmen to make supplies that were required to support their trade.  This manual tackles topics such as engraving, metallurgy, varnishes, glues, paints and stains as well as casting bronze.  It also covers important topics like making jelly and removing spots from cloth (I guess OxiClean® isn’t such a new idea).  Do you want to tie a bone into a knot?  Check out page 142.  Do you want to make glue from cheese?  You can find it on page 58.  There is a tremendous amount of information regarding the finishes and pigments of the day, so it is a very interesting resource that divulges all the tips and tricks that were widely circulated during the second half of the 18th century.  The version of the book that I have linked to here seems to have been published in 1795, however it appears that the majority of this information had been previously published in 1775.  I would imagine that a good bit of the information would have been circulating for quite some time before the first publication of this book.  If you are looking to reproduce most of the techniques outlined in this book, your research does not stop here… most of the directions call for ingredients by names that are not in today’s vernacular.  Some of the ingredients may be deciphered through further research, but remember that the concentrations of the materials that were available in the 18th century may be much different than are available today.  You’ll find a lot of references to materials such as aqua-fortis (“fortified water” = Nitric Acid which may contain dissolved iron).  There are also lots of references to white lead and mercury as well as a multitude of other nasty substances where extreme caution must be exercised.  I do not recommend trying most of these techniques at home since there is often a safer solution sitting on a hardware store shelf, but it will provide insight for the historically curious.  I admit that sometimes we live in a world of laughable warning labels but after skimming this book you will surely recognize some reasons why the average life expectancy has increased by 45 years.

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