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It seems that casein was used by Middle Age and Renaissance artists for making a "medieval gouache", a mixture of casein and lime, that was used for creating icons or as a coating for wall frescoes.


However, the first use of casein as the forerunner for making a polymeric material was in the form of formaldehyde casein. This protein-based plastic is derived from organic substances such as milk. It was obtained in 1897 by Adolph Spitteler and W. Kirsche from lactoserum and formaldehyde, through the action of an enzyme. The patent was filed in Bavaria, then extended to the United States, Great Britain and Italy. Known under the tradename of Galalithe (derived from the Greek gala = milk and lithos = stone) or Erinoid in the United Kingdom, this material had an appearance similar sometimes to that of Celluloid and sometimes to that of ivory or artificial horn. Very hard, Galalithe is worked like horn, it cannot be molded and requires shaping work and hand polishing. The process for obtaining it was perfected at the beginning of the 19th century and the first industrial establishment was built in Great Britain in 1913. In 1930, world-wide production had already reached 10,000 tons. Formaldehyde casein was used above all to make buttons, pins, cigarette holders, pens, umbrella sticks, combs…


The appearance of present-day plastics sealed the fate of Galalithe: too expensive and unpleasant (odor of cheese in the summer!!), its production was stopped. There are, however, a few craftsmen or sculptors who still use it, pointing out, above all, its biodegradability and its method of production, both simple and ecological (formaldehyde is no longer used).




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