The Turpentine Story

Click on this newspaper article to view a readable version of the story that appeared in Collector's Journal.      Turpentine Story

To read the March 2006 letter to our customers
click here: "IMPORTANT NOTICE"

Since receiving word on January 5, 2006, that our source for turpentine was quitting business and this valued commodity is no longer available in this country, we have, by necessity and by interest, gathered a great amount of relevant information.

Many of you have expressed interest and concern about the situation, and would undoubtedly also be interested in what we are learning and what develops. This page of turpentine information will be done in Notebook form so we can add to it in “bits-and-pieces”. It will contain all kinds of odd information about turps, its relevance, and its place in history, as well as my comments and explanations about how important turpentine is to Kramer’s Best and other purposes of our day.

We also welcome your COMMENTS.

(Is this a blog?)



Since receiving our first shipment of Turpentine from Brazil in April of 2006, we are glad to report that the supply has remained steady and reliable. The bad news is that the cost increase has also been steady. We don't like it, but at least we can continue to produce our product.

For now anyway, we hope to have nothing new to add to this blog. For current news about "happenings" at the Kramer Company, go to the News & Blog page. We also invite you to visit and contribute to our Facebook page. There you will find current news and photos from Kramer's as well as from our customers.

However, we also urge you to "scroll" on down through this blog. There is a lot of very interesting information about Turpentine, plus links to some great sites.

And, again, we thank all of you for "hanging in there" with us through this, and other crises that seen to be inevitable for the small business. You do have our commitment to continue to make an exceptional product -- that will not change in any way.



Our Turpentine shipment is finally a reality and I have been quoted a price with the warning that the price is continually rising on the world market. Our new supply is from Brazil which seems to be one of very few sources available. The Chinese I've learned, haven't actually cut off turpentine supply, they've just priced theirs well above the current world market, discouraging trade.

But, for the moment, the crisis is over.

Next comes the reality of structuring and implementing product pricing that will cover new Turpentine costs as well as other unprecedented raw material increases we have experienced since new pricing was implemented in May, 2005.

This is the hardest task I face – telling my dealers and customers that I must raise the price. At the time of the 2005 increase we were proud of the fact that we had not raised the price since 1997 – and before that, 1990. But times have changed.

Our customers have indicated that they want Kramer’s Best to survive. I intend to do whatever it takes to keep my products on the market and to maintain the quality my customers have come to expect. Yes, these are expensive products – they contain the most expensive ingredients – this is why they work so well. I will not ever sacrifice that quality in order to reduce price.

The new pricing listed below will take effect on June 1, 2006 – we will be into “the expensive stuff” by then.

I am relieved that the price does not have to go up as much as I feared it might. But the increase is definitely more significant than we would have preferred.

We are able to hold the current price on Wood Food Oyl. And, though we have been absorbing multiple increases in shipping costs and fuel surcharges, we will continue to maintain the same shipping rates.

We truly do appreciate your patience and encouragement during this difficult period. It has been heartwarming to hear words of encouragment. We also love hearing about (and seeing pictures of) the many ways the products benefit our customers – who have become our friends.

Thank you one and all.

- - - - -

Retail Prices Effective June 1, 2006

Kramer’s Best
Antique Improver, Half-Pint (8-oz.) . . . $19.95
Antique Improver, Pint (16-oz.) . . . $38.95
Antique Improver, Quart . . . $69.95
Antique Improver, Gallon . . . $239.95

Kramer’s Best
Blemish Clarifier, Half-Pint (8-oz.) . . . $19.95
Blemish Clarifier, Pint (16-oz.) . . . $38.95
Blemish Clarifier, Quart . . . $69.95
Blemish Clarifier, Gallon . . . $239.95

Kramer’s Best Wood Food Oyl, 3-oz. . . . $12.95

Buy 5 – Get One FREE . . .
For our large-quantity users, we have added a “Special Offer” of one FREE Gallon after the purchase of 5 Gallons within the calendar year.

Kramer's Best . . . products that do what you hoped the others would do!



GOOD NEWS! 8-oz. (half-pint) bottles have arrived. No notice – they just appeared. Our local rep is checking to try to find out how stable the future supply will be and/or how much we need to buy ahead to avoid further disruption in production.

We should be able to be back to a normal shipping schedule on the "half-pints" by the end of the week.

We are expecting the final figures on Turpentine costs in the next day or two. Watch this space for information on how it will affect product pricing.



Still no sign of our Turpentine shipment from Brazil, or any information about what the amount of the bill will be. A scary way to do business, but we don’t have any choice. As we have said before, we will post developments as we know them.

Wood Food Oyl. Through all of the other turmoil we have not mentioned anything about the fate of Kramer’s Best Wood Food Oyl. Though there was a sharp price increase in those ingredients a couple of years ago, there is currently no indication of a need for an increase in price, nor word of any shortage of ingredients or its glass container. We hope it stays that way.

Ounces vs. Pints and Quarts. “We have 8-oz., quarts and gallons.” We have repeated that phrase so often for so many years that it has become automatic. Throwing the new “16-oz. size” in there almost makes it a tongue twister. Add to that the mathematical wheels that start turning in trying to determine pricing structure, and equivalent amounts of product with the added item, and it can get a little confusing.

It has occurred to us that it might be simpler for everyone if, instead of referring to the sizes in “ounces”, we refer to them in “pints, quarts and gallons – with the 8-oz. size now sporting the moniker of “1/2 pint”. Old habits die hard however, and you will probably hear a combination of terminologies out of us for quite a long while.

Speaking of the “half pint” – 8-oz. bottles – there is still no word about when (or if) we will receive the needed additional supply. We know you are getting as tired of hearing this as we are. We continue to look at all options but so far have found that waiting is all we can do. We will keep you posted.



We have found another Web Site that contains important information on the history of Turpentine. It is from The Horry County, South Carolina, Historical Society. The Turpentine page of that site can be found at:

Horry County Historical Society / Turpentine

One quote gives a possible indication of cause for the current situation:

“The exploitation of the long-leaf pine forest of the Deep South . . . was one means by which southerners recouped their capital after the war. . . . In approximately two generations, from 1870 to 1930, most of the original stands of long-leaf pine, covering 130,000,000 acres, were consumed. (Percival Perry in the Encyclopedia of Southern Culture)”



We now have 16-ounce bottles. Arkansas Glass Container Corp. came through exactly as they promised. The new 16-ounce size of Antique Improver will start shipping the end of the week – orders are already stacking up. We will also soon have the 16-ounce size in Blemish Clarifier.

The 16-ounce size retails for $28.95.

We have no more cases of 8-ounce Antique Improver. There are a few bottles we can still use for single-bottle retail orders, but after those are gone there will be no more until we receive additional glass bottle supplies. We do still have a few cases of 8-ounce Blemish Clarifier.

There is no news about the Turpentine shipment. We have no idea when (and if) it will be here, or what it is going to cost us.

We will keep you posted.



Turpentine Situation: Our shipment from Brazil has not arrived, nor do we have any word yet on what the cost will be. I did buy up what I could when I first became aware of the problem, so we have enough to continue production for a short while. We will keep you posted.

Bottle Shortage: On Tuesday of last week (March 21), I asked my local distributor to get me some samples of the 16-oz. bottle from Arkansas Glass Container Corporation, in Jonesboro Arkansas. The samples were in my hands on Friday. I told my distributor to go ahead and place an order. The 16-oz. bottles will be here this week, on Thursday, March 30.

That’s the service you get when you are able to “Buy American!”.

We expect to begin having 16-oz. bottles of Antique Improver and Blemish Clarifier ready for shipment beginning April 3. For now the retail price per bottle will be $28.95.

We have a small supply of 8-oz. bottles of both products available. When they are gone, there will be no more until we receive more glass bottle stock. As we said before, we have no idea when that will be. We do intend to continue to stock the 8-oz. size whenever they are available.

And again we say, thank you for your patience and support. Feedback from our customers continues to be supportive and much appreciated.



Today I have learned that the bottle crisis is perhaps better, and worse, than I thought yesterday.

The old names in glass, like BALL, are gone – most of them to some French company rumored to be difficult to deal with.

Moving production for what is perhaps the largest supplier of glass from South America to the Orient has put many packaging products on TBA (To Be Advised) listing only. Shipping dates aren't even promised.

Most inventories are depleted and many businesses can't buy bottles for the upcoming season. (In KCMO barbeque sauce is a very important item, and that season is fast approaching with no bottles in sight.)

No one seems to know why the Mexican-made deliveries are so slow in coming. The current only dependable glass bottle supplier seems to be Arkansas Glass – and does it surprise you that they still happen to make their bottles here in the good old USA?

The bottle that I currently cannot get is our 8-oz. bottle. It is on backorder and no delivery dates are promised. I cannot find a replacement bottle that uses a lid I feel is trustworthy for our products. Arkansas Glass doesn’t make an 8-ounce bottle, but they do make a 16-ounce, as well as the 32-ounce we've always used. I may find it necessary to add a 16-ounce size to our line to satisfy our customers needs, and still offer 8-ounce sizes when the necessary bottles are available. With Arkansas Glass being the only current producing supplier, they might be swamped already, but it would be good to be back using American-made bottles again.

I think we are entering more uncertain times than known to recent memory. We will remain flexible and make adjustments as necessary to continue to provide our customers with the exceptional products they've come to trust.

Thank you for your support.



And the hits just keep on coming.

A few weeks ago we learned of the "great Turpentine crisis of 2006". We now face additional challenges in supply.

We recently found it necessary to refuse two shipments of another of our ingredients because of quality, and it is now on backorder.

Today we learn of a bottle shortage that seems to have brought the packaging industry to crisis.

Several years ago we were forced to start using bottles made in Mexico when Ball moved production of our bottle there. Now it seems that Mexican production facilities are way behind on production quotas. We might have some in April, and we might not. We learned that there is also a problem with bottle production in South America and one major company that outsourced their products there has pulled their molds and shipped them to Asia. Since we no longer have significant domestic production there is nothing to pick up the slack.

As a small manufacturer we have little control over our sources of supply — too often we are at the mercy of short sighted business and government policies. We will adapt as best we can, but if you see your order arrive in an odd shape bottle, it is because that's the only bottle we can get.

The price of turpentine remains unknown. When there are shortages the price always goes up. Prices are going up so fast you can only get a price quote AFTER the supplier ships.

I don't care what the pundits say, I think inflation is rampant.



We have been contacted by a gentleman in Georgia whose small business is also experiencing a crisis due to loss of his turpentine supply.

His product is a linament that he makes from a recipe he purchased from an old Doctor years ago. He says it works very well and is valued by sports teams among others. Hopefully we can share supplier information to the benefit of all parties.

And, in the meantime, we think we want to place an order for some of his concoction – these old bones can use all the help they can get!

We will share more information as we have it.



The good news is we’ve found a new source of supply for turpentine. The bad news is we still don’t know what the new price will be.

The world supply is rapidly shrinking. Rumor suggests the Chinese have ceased turpentine exports, which leaves Brazil as the next largest producer.

Our shipment from Brazil is supposedly on its way to us and we should have final information by April 1st. We are not looking forward to what the pricing news might be, but we will, of course, be relieved to have the situation resolved so we can move ahead.



We want to send our appreciation to each of our customers who has taken the time to contact us since we shared word of the Turpentine crisis. Your words of encouragement and support always “make our day”!

Attached are excerpts from some of the messages we have received.



In response to a customer’s query concerning the possibility of setting up a turpentine still:

There are sufficient long leaf pine (if farmed wisely) to provide a lot more turpentine than I need; that is a tiny fraction of the forest that was.

There are others who use turps so there is some market and an unstable, shrinking, world supply. Getting someone to gather the 5 barrels of gum needed to make a barrel of turpentine is the problem. That which is available is running about $250-$350 a barrel and the museum [Agrirama, Tifton, Georgia] has a difficult time getting enough to process 25 gallons once a year.

The industry was dismantled — there are one or two other stills existing but the commercial steam stills have been dismantled. It is not a difficult technology — getting gum to distill is the hard part, it is hard sticky work.

The museum figures that for them to go into commercial turpentine production would result in an end price more than 100 times my most current price per barrel.

I haven’t got a “next price” yet. A high grade of turpentine is coming in from Brazil. If something happens there, India may be all that’s left, if the rumored Chinese boycott on exporting turps comes true.

At one time there were many kinds of turpentine. Different parts of the world with differing evergreen specie would produce specialty turpentines. One of the most revered was Venetian Turpentine which for a great deal of money is still available and for certain uses (like violin varnish) remains unexcelled. —John



Check out this EXCELLENT WEB SITE!
Click here: Valdosta

[quoted from the Introduction]:

“ ‘Faces’ in the Piney Woods: Traditions of Turpentining in South Georgia"

"This site is an oral history project of the South Georgia Folklife Project at Valdosta State University.

"...The last bucket of gum for commercial turpentine was dipped by Major Phillips on August 9, 2001, outside Soperton in Treutlen County, Georgia. The end of domestic turpentining in the United States inspired the project team to interview former turpentiners about their lives and traditions....These workers developed specialized knowledge, terminology, customs, and lore which folklorists call 'occupational folklife'.

"This site contains information gathered from 1998-2004 through background research, photographs, video, and oral interviews. It includes information on work in the woods and life in the turpentine camps as told by those who lived it.”

[You can even listen to their wonderful music including a rendition of “Turpentine Blues”]



The following is an excerpt from the book “Treasures of the Longleaf Pines Naval Stores”, Carroll B. Butler, author. The book was published by Tarkel Publishing, ©1998 Carroll B. Butler. This reproduction is with the permission of the author.

There were many uses of turpentine and rosin, but a limited number of uses consumed the vast majority of the production. The major industrial and retail users of turpentine as a solvent for paint and varnish were the automotive, railroad, and the building trades. Retail markets were also major users of turpentine as a paint thinner for household consumption. The development of mineral spirits from crude petroleum and its lower price, coupled with its use as an adequate thinner, reduced the demand for gum turpentine as a thinner. The American Turpentine Farmers Association Cooperative sponsored a national advertising effort in various publications and radio to promote the household use of turpentine.

The use of turpentine in pharmaceuticals and chemicals in the 1920s was relatively small, but in the 1940s the consumption of turpentine by these industries was significant. Early pharmaceutical uses included disinfectants, liniments, medicated soaps, salves, and Haarlem oil. Gum turpentine currently produced at the one remaining US central still at Baxley, Georgia, [now closed], is used by the pharmaceutical industry. Several liniments including Sloans, Watkins White Crème, and Easy Rub utilize turpentine. Vicks Vapor Rub and Numol are two other products that include turpentine.

The manufacture of many synthetics utilizes turpentine. The Hercules Powder Company started producing synthetic resins in 1942. The resin esters were another group of synthetic resins which utilized turpentine in the production process. The production of terpines, terpinolene, and terpin hydrate also used turpentine.

German, Swiss, and Italian plants were producing synthetic camphor from pinene, the essence of turpentine. Large-scale production of synthetic camphor in the US began with a Dupont plant in 1932. Large quantities of camphor were used in making photographic film used by the Army and Navy. Other camphor uses included shoelace tips, drafting instruments, and slide rules. In 1946, sufficient synthetic camphor met the plastic industry’s demand for 5,000,000 pounds per year. Arabian physicians of the eleventh century appreciated the medicinal advantages of camphor, which was distilled from camphor wood. Crude bamboo tubes condensed the white crystals. In 1895, the cellulose plastic of camphor was used as a plasticizer in transforming chemically treated cotton into combs, umbrella handles, toys, and celluloid collars.

One of the early uses of turpentine was as an illuminant. The American Farmer publication in 1833 described a mixture of turpentine and castor oil as a fluid for use in lamps. In 1834, the Southern Agriculturist publication provided a description of another lamp fluid, consisting of a mixture of rectified oil of turpentine and alcohol. By 1843, the latter camphene lamps were in extensive use. The camphene oil was a highly rectified oil of turpentine or pine oil produced by multiple distillation. Alcohol was used in the camphene mixture to reduce the tendency of the turpentine to smoke and exude an odor. The downside of the alcohol addition was increased volatility of the fluid. A mixture of the vapors of these fluids with air was highly explosive. An 1852 improvement to the camphene lamp consisted of an adaptation of the lamp used by miners that kept the flame out of contact with vapors emitting from the fluid. By the late 1850s camphene lamps were being replaced by adamantine candles and kerosene, which was produced from coal. The use of kerosene in the lamps reduced the fire and explosive hazard common to the camphene lamp. Another attractive feature of kerosene was its lower cost compared to camphene. Porcher* provided the following uses of turpentine in 1863:

"Turpentine is now one of the most uniformly employed of remedial agents. It is quite surprising to how great a diversity of conditions it is applicable. All these depend, however, upon its natural properties. As an external rubefacient, a stimulant, and astringent, a stimulating diuretic and laxative, it admits of frequent application. To burn turpentine in lamps it only requires purification by re-distillation and a burner which will give increased oxygen for the consumption of the large amount of carbon which it contains.

"Turpentine is one of the best means of chasing away fleas, whether from place or animal and a bed of very fine shavings of some wood which abounds in turpentine is one of the easiest and most effective means of banishing them from dogs. Wilson states that the oil of turpentine is almost a specific for spasm in the bowels of the horse.

"Turpentine and rosins are both abundantly within our limits. An excellent English mixture to render leather water-proof is made of turpentine. In the present scarcity of leather and exposure of our soldiers I think its introduction not inappropriate. It is used by the punt shooters in the fenny parts of England. Melt together in an earthen pipkin half a pound of tallow, four ounces of hog’s lard, two ounces of turpentine, and as much beeswax. Make the booth thoroughly dry and warm and rub in the mixture well with a little tow as hot as the hand can bear, or else hold the leather over a very gentle fire till it has thoroughly imbibed the mixture. Another mixture for the same purpose is made thus: Burgundy pitch and turpentine, each two ounces; tallow, four ounces, or half a pound of beeswax, a quarter of a pound of rosin, and a quarter of a pound of beef suet. The leather must be dry and the mixture warm.

"To make cloth waterproof with turpentine for the use of Negroes in picking cotton when the weed is wet from rains or dews, and also for tents, the following method is adopted: To every gallon of spirits of turpentine put two and a half pounds of beeswax, boil well in a pot, remove the fire, and while it is hot put in the goods. Move it about until well saturated, then hang it up to dry. It will require one gallon of turpentine to every eight yards of goods. It is more pliant than India Rubber."

The market for gum or wood turpentine has changed dramatically since the 1930s when turpentine was used extensively for retail and industrial solvents. Industrial uses such as paint, varnish, lacquer, shoe polish, and foundry supplies, which once were important, declined by 1962 to represent less than two percent of domestic turpentine consumption. By the 1940s, the use of rosin in pharmaceuticals and chemicals resulted from research within those industries. In 1960, chemical products included in the overall category chemicals and pharmaceuticals accounted for 71 percent of all domestic consumption. Currently, most wood turpentine is upgraded into chemicals, resins and adhesives, pine oil and diptene solvents, and diluents. Fragrance chemicals are currently the most rapidly growing market, consuming about one-third of the turpentine processed.

Shoe polish containing gum turpentine was preferred by bootblacks because of its aroma. The use of emulsified dressing began to replace the paste type polish. Furniture polish included a mixture of turpentine and sweet oil. Stove polish used a mixture of turpentine and rosin. Auto wax, copper polishes, and liquid floor wax also used turpentine.

Turpentine was used as a cement ingredient for metal, leather, and rubber cements. It was used as a laboratory cement for gas tight joints, cleaning solvent to remove paint and other compounds from tools or skin, lubricant in grinding and drilling glass, and stain remover.

Turpentine was used in drawing crayons, printing inks, laundry indelible marking ink, mixtures to waterproof and preserve leather, and waterproof cloth, tents, and covers for wagons. It was used for washing clothes or removing grease from clothes, and rinse to whiten clothes. It was used as a mild fumigate, an insecticide to rid ants and bugs from closets and storerooms, to moth proof closets, drawers, and clothing, on animals, fowls, and fruit trees, to get rid of unwanted pests, to chase away fleas, and to repel insects from trees using bands of turpentine.

Turpentine was used as a solvent in the rubber industry. The demand for turpentine as a solvent increased when the demand for rubber increased, as new applications of rubber were discovered. Other applications as solvents included waterproofing and resins in lacquers and varnishes.

A typical home used turpentine. It was used to fight infection, to relieve soreness, and to aid heating of boils, cuts and bruises. If one suffered insect bites or athlete’s foot, one applied liberal amounts on affected parts. Other home medical uses included treatment of burns, blisters, rheumatism, snakebite, croup, worms, coughing, and sore throats.** Mary Frier of Nicholls, Georgia, filled small jars with cotton balls soaked in turpentine. Open jars were placed in several rooms throughout the house to counter a cold or infection. Joanna Calhoun Peterson of Montgomery County Georgia, used the following recipe for liniment, .33 turpentine, .33 kerosene oil and .33 Neatt’s-foot oil. Neatt’s-foot oil was made by boiling the bones of cattle. Harriet Britt’s liniment consisted of one-cup apple vinegar, one-cup turpentine, one-cup kerosene, one-cup whiskey, and five cents of camphor dissolved in the solution.

To keep moths and other insects away, turpentine was sprayed or brushed on clothing at 30-day intervals and a few drops placed in chiffonier or bureau drawers. Bugs, roaches, ants, or other insects fled a home where gum turpentine was freely used. In laundry, a few drops of gum turpentine added to water in washing clothes made them sweeter and whiter. It was easy to keep a clean home with pure gum turpentine. It cleaned furniture, woodwork, floors, windows, bath tops, porcelain fixtures, linoleum, silver, and other metals. It was used as furniture polish. One part turpentine and two parts linseed oil were mixed for an unexcelled and economical furniture polish.

*”Surgeon Francis Peyre Porcher listed uses of turpentine and rosin products in 1863, including medical uses. He considered the longleaf pine one of God’s great gifts to man.” pp 176

**Excessive internal use of turpentine could be deadly.

John T. Kramer, maker of Kramer's Best Antique Improver
P.O. Box 8715, Sugar Creek, MO  64054
816-252-9512 / Fax 816-252-9121
E-mail:  see Contact Us

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