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Johann Strauss Rosin Box

Georgia Kerby, Exhibitions Curator


Some of the most useful items that we keep from the past are pieces of advertising like newspaper articles, packaging and signage. Most advertisements, particularly around the turn of the Twentieth Century, record little nuggets of information that help us at Whangarei Museum to unravel their past and tell larger stories about the time. One such piece is a rather eye catching cardboard box donated by C. McEvoy in 2019. Its purpose is not initially obvious as the text is all in German and, upon opening the box, its empty and residue-free contents reveal nothing.

However, visual clues start unravelling the mystery. Both the cover-man Johann Strauss and the musical notes floating above his image puts this box in the musical category. A short research and translate via Google reveal we have in our care an antique box of ‘Finest dust free solo rosin’ for applying to string instruments such as violins and cellos.

Rosin is a derivative of the more commonly known resin which comes from coniferous trees. Heat changes the nature of the resin to form a more stable ‘rosin’ that comes as a solid semi-transparent cake. Rosin is a particularly versatile material and can be found in many products like printing inks, pharmaceuticals, soldering flux, soap and glues. Like its sticky counterpart, resin, rosin has friction-increasing properties, like tack, and therefore is applied by musicians to their bows, often before each play. A coating of rosin, sometimes containing additives of beeswax or precious metals, assists the vibrations of the strings resulting in a smoother sound. Our Johann Strauss rosin was a lighter type designed for solo artists with slightly different projection and sound properties than darker rosins designed to create sounds which would blend within an orchestra.

It was common practice in the Victorian era to decorate advertisements with patents or awards won at various exhibitions. These are very useful in ascertaining a date range for antique items. Two dates clearly decorate the sides of the rosin box- “1825” and “1899”. Johann Strauss, who is figured between these dates, was a Austrian composer dubbed as “The Waltz King”, famous around Austria, Poland and Germany. He was born in 1825 and died in 1899, so the dates clearly describe his era. However the phrase “Ges Geschützt” is usually printed on German antiques between 1900 and 1920 to mean “legally protected” or as we know ‘patented’. Unfortunately it unclear quite how the patent dates and Johann Strauss’s lifespan interrelate, but for our purposes they clearly indicate a German manufacture and production between 1899 and 1920. The exact same product is still on the market today. It comes in very similar packaging, is still made in Germany, and carries on a rich musical tradition.