"A peculiar, concrete, fatty substance, obtained from Physeter macrocephalus, Linné.
Class: Mammalia. Order: Cetacea.
Source and Preparation.—Spermaceti is obtained from the cachalot, or sperm whale, the Physeter macrocephalus of naturalists, a species of the order Cetacea, and family Physeteridae. It is a gregarious animal, inhabiting the Pacific ocean, the Indian Archipelago, and the Chinese and Australian seas. It varies in size, being from 50 to 80 feet in length, with a huge, quadrangular head, from 20 to 30 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 40 to 60 hundred weight (one hundredweight (US) = 100 pounds), of this fluid maybe 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 lye of potassa, and finally by a third fusion at a gentle heat; after which it is solidified in tin molds.
Description, Chemical Composition, and Tests.—Spermaceti is a concrete, crystalline, foliaceous, pearly-white substance, without much taste or odor, easily indented or scraped by the nail, slightly greasy, pulverizable on the addition of a little alcohol, or almond oil, fusible and combustible. It is freely soluble in boiling alcohol, which deposits it on cooling; also in fused fats or resins. It is soluble in sulphuric acid, which decomposes it, but the other mineral acids do not influence it. It differs from ordinary fats in not yielding glycerin when saponified, but in furnishing in its stead a monobasic alcohol termed ethal, or cetyl alcohol (C16H33.OH). The U. S. P. describes spermaceti as in "white, somewhat translucent, slightly unctuous masses of a scaly-crystalline fracture and a pearly lustre; odorless, and having a bland, mild taste. It becomes yellowish and rancid by exposure to the air. Specific gravity, about 0.945 at 15° C. (59° F.). It melts near 50° C. (122° F.), and congeals near 45° C. (113° F.). Insoluble in water, and nearly so in cold alcohol; soluble in boiling alcohol; also in ether, chloroform, carbon disulphide, fixed and volatile oils; only slightly soluble in cold benzin. An alcoholic solution of spermaceti is neutral to litmus paper. If 1 Gm. of spermaceti be boiled with 1 Gm. of anhydrous sodium carbonate, and 50 Cc. of alcohol, and the mixture cooled and filtered, the filtrate, upon being super saturated with acetic acid, may become turbid, but should not afford a precipitate (absence of stearic acid)"—(U. S. P.). Exposed for a length of time to atmospheric influence, spermaceti becomes yellow and rancid, owing to a small port ion of oil (oil of spermaceti) contained in it, but may be purified by boiling in alcohol, which deposits the pure spermaceti as it cools. By this method, or when it is deprived of oil by means of an alkali, it becomes a nearly 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 49° C. (120.2° F.). It is then termed cetin (cetyl palmitate) (C16H33.C16H31O2), and is soluble in 40 parts of boiling alcohol of specific gravity 0.821. When boiled in a solution of caustic potash, cetin is partially saponified, forming a brittle soap composed chiefly of palmitate of potassium, oleate of potassium, and a crystalline principle called ethal (C16H34O) (cetyl alcohol, or cetyl hydrate), and which soap is not wholly soluble in water. When melted or dissolved in hot alcohol it crystallizes beautifully; when acted on by nitric acid, it yields first, pimelic acid, which is then oxidized into adipic acid, which is finally converted into succinic acid. Besides cetin, stearic, lauro-stearic, and myristic acids, as well as other and higher alcohols, besides ethal, are present in spermaceti.
Action, Medical Uses, and Dosage.—Demulcent and protective, combined with equal parts of loaf-sugar, once used among children in domestic practice in coughs, colds, and catarrhal affections, and in irritation of the intestinal mucous membranes. If to spermaceti be added half its weight of olive oil, and after mixing this, powdered gum Arabic be added, and, finally, some water be added by degrees, an emulsion may be formed, useful for children and infants. Hollandt states that spermaceti may be reduced to the most impalpable powder, by melting it over a gentle fire, and then stirring it in a previously-warmed mortar until cold.
Spermaceti forms a useful ingredient of several cerates and ointments. It 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. It is made by fusing in a cup 4 drachms of spermaceti (or stearin), 3 drachms of tallow and 2 drachms of wax; after which 6 drachms of red lead, and 1 drachm of potassa are to be stirred into it, keeping the whole mass warm for 1/2 hour, when it is poured into glass tubes the thickness of a lead-pencil.
Related Wax.—BLACK WAX. An animal product introduced into England from the Pacific Islands and India.
King's American Dispensatory, 1898, was written by Harvey Wickes Felter, M.D., and John Uri Lloyd, Phr. M., Ph. D.