Cetaceum. Spermaceti.

Botanical name: 

A Peculiar Concrete Substance Obtained from the Spermaceti Whale.

Preparation. — Spermaceti is obtained from the Cachalot or Sperm whale, the Physeter Macrocephalus of naturalists, a species of the family Cetacea; it is a gregarious animal, inhabiting the Pacific ocean, the waters of the Indian Archipelago, and the Chinese seas. It varies in size, being from fifty to eighty feet in length, with a huge, quadrangular head, from twenty to thirty feet, or more, in circumference, and which constitutes about a third of its whole length. Spermaceti is found in various parts of its body, in small proportions, dissolved in its blubber, but that which is met with in commerce, is obtained from large cavities in the upper part of the head; these are divided into numerous cells, which are filled with a milky, oleaginous solution of spermaceti. From a large whale forty to sixty hundred weight of this fluid may be collected. It is removed from the cavities and boiled to separate the oleaginous matter from the solid substance, and as it cools, the spermaceti crystallizes. The oil is then drained off as much as possible, and the remainder is removed from the spermaceti by powerful pressure. The crude spermaceti is subsequently purified by fusing and skimming it, then fusing it in weak ley of potassa, and finally by a third fusion at a gentle heat; after which it is solidified in tin molds.

History. — Spermaceti is concrete, crystalline and foliaceous in texture, white, pearly, tasteless, inodorous, friable, soft, and somewhat unctuous to the touch ; pulverizable on the addition of a little alcohol or almond-oil, of specific gravity 0.943, fusible at 112° F., combustible, insoluble in water, sparingly soluble in cold alcohol, more soluble in boiling alcohol, ether, and oil of turpentine, but deposited as the liquids cool, and readily soluble in volatile oils, fixed oils, or fused fats. The mineral acids do not affect it, except the sulphuric, which decomposes and dissolves it. Long exposure to the air renders it yellow and rancid, in consequence of its containing a little oil, but it may again be purified by washing it with a warm ley of potassa, or by boiling in alcohol, which deposits the pure spermaceti as it cools. Spermaceti, when deprived of oil by means of an alkali, becomes a pure proximate principle, intermediate between wax and the concrete oils, and presenting all the leading properties of the ordinary article, but less unctuous, rather harder, and fusible only at 120°; it is then termed Cetin, and is soluble in forty parts of boiling alcohol of sp. gr. 0.821. When boiled in a solution of caustic potassa, cetin is partially saponified, forming a brittle soap, composed chiefly of margarate of potassa, oleate of potassa, and a crystalline principle called Ethal, and which soap is not wholly soluble in water. Cetin is a compound of ethal, (hydrated oxide of cetyle,) with ethalic or cetylic acid, (C32 H31 O3 HO). When melted or dissolved in hot alcohol it crystallizes beautifully ; when acted on by nitric acid, it yields first, pimelic acid, (C7 H6 O4); which is then oxidized into adipic acid, (C14 H12 O10); which is finally converted into succinic acid, (C4 H2 O3, HO=S, HO). Cetin or pure spermaceti consists of 81.66 per cent, of carbon, 12.86 hydrogen, and 5.48 oxygen.

Properties and Uses. — Demulcent, much used among children in domestic practice in coughs, colds, and catarrhal affections, combined with equal parts of loaf sugar, and in irritations of the intestinal mucous membranes. An emulsion may be made by first mixing it with half its weight of olive oil, then with powdered Gum Arabic, and lastly with water gradually added. Spermaceti forms a useful ingredient of several cerates and ointments. Spermaceti enters into the formation of a crayon which is of much value to chemists, druggists, and others, inasmuch as it enables them to write upon clean glass, the contents of bottles, etc., as labels or otherwise. It is made by fusing in a cup four drachms of spermaceti, (or stearine) three drachms of tallow, and two drachms of wax ; after which, six drachms of red-lead, and one drachm of potassa are !o be stirred into it, keeping the whole mass warm for half an hour, and then pour it into glass tubes the thickness of a lead-pencil. After rapid cooling, the mass may be screwed up and down in the tube, and cut to the finest point with a knife.

Off. Prep. — Ceratum Cetacei ; Unguentum Aquae Rosae ; Unguentum Cetacei.

The American Eclectic Dispensatory, 1854, was written by John King, M. D.