This section is from the book "An Experimental History Of The Materia Medica", by William Lewis.
Succinum Pharm. Lond. & Edinb. Am-barum citrinum & electrum quibusdam. Amber: a solid, brittle, bituminous substance, dug out of the earth or found upon the sea shores, mod plentifully in Polish Prussia and Pomerania; of a white, yellow, or brown colour, sometimes opake, and sometimes very clear and transpa-rent; of very little taste; and scarcely any smell, unless heated or briskly rubbed, in which cir-cumstances it yields a pretty strong one, to most people agreeable.
Boiled in water, it neither softens, nor undergoes any sensible alteration. Digeisted in rectisied spirit, it imparts a yellowish or brownish colour, a fragrant smell, and a bitterish aromatic taste: by repetitions of the process with fresh quantities of spirit, a considerable part of the amber by degrees dissolves. The spirit, distilled off from the tinctures, is strongly impregnated with their smell; nevertheless the remaining balsam, or soft extract, is found to be very strong both in smell and taste.
By alkalies, fixt and volatile, the vegetable, nitrous, and marine acids, it is scarcely at all acted upon: the vitriolic acid dissolves it into a deep purple liquor, from which the amber is precipitated on the mixture of any other acid, or of water, or spirit of wine (a).
The spirituous tincture and balsam are medicines of great efficacy in hysterical disorders, cachexies, the fluor albus, some rheumatic pains, and in debilities and relaxations in general: in some cases of this kind they have taken place, after bark and other corroborants of the vegetable kingdom had been given with little effect. The spirit, which distils in concentrating the tincture, may be reserved for extracting a fresh tincture, either from another parcel of amber, or from that which remained after the former extraction. It is said that if a little vitriolic acid be previously combined with the spirit, it will dissolve more of the amber than pure vinous spirits. The amber is sometimes given also in substance, levigated into an impalpable powder, but does not appear to act with so much advantage in this form as in a dissolved state.
This concrete, exposed to the fire in open vessels, melts into a black mass, takes flame, emits a copious smoke, with a smell like that which arises from the finer kinds of pitcoal, and burns almost entirely away. Distilled in a retort, it yields first an acidulous phlegm intermingled with a thin limpid oil, which grows thicker and deeper coloured as the fire is in-creased: at length a brownish saline matter arises into the neck of the retort, succeeded by a grof-fer oil, and at last, in a great heat, by a black thick pitchy matter. About the time that the first oil begins to rise, the amber melts in the retort, and, unless the heat be cautiously regulated, is apt to boil over into the receiver: to prevent this accident, some previously mix with the amber an equal quantity of clean sand, which does not appear, however, to be of much use, for with due care the process succeeds equally without as with it.
(a) See Stockar's Specimen inaugurate de succino.
Succinum praeparatum Ph. Lond.
The salt is purified from its adhering oil, either by sublimation, or by repeated solution, filtration, and crystallization †. When perfectly pure, it is of a white colour, and of a penetrating gratefully acid subastringent taste. It dis-solves in rectified spirit sparingly by the assistance of heat, not at all in the cold. Of cold water, in the common temperate state of the atmosphere, it requires for its solution above twenty times its own weight; of boiling water, only about twice its weight: in flow cooling, it shoots into triangular prismatic crystals, with the points obliquely truncated. In the heat of boiling water, it does not exhale, or suffer any visible alteration: in a greater one, it first melts, then rises in white fumes, and concretes again in the upper part of the glass into fine white flakes; leaving behind a small quantity of a dark coaly matter. It effervesces with alkalies and absor-bent earths, and forms with them compound salts somewhat resembling those made with vegetable acids, its acid matter seeming to have a considerable analogy to the acids of the vegetable kingdom, and being essentially distinct: from the three called mineral acids (a): mixed with acids, it makes no sensible commotion. By these characters this salt may be distinguished from all the other matters that have been mixed with or vended for it. With regard to its virtues, it is accounted aperient, diuretic, and antihysteric: its great price has prevented its coming much into use, and probably its real virtues, though doubtless considerable, fall greatly short of the opinion that has been generally entertained of them.
(a) See Neumann's chemical works, p. 237, and Stockar's specimen.
† Sal succini purif. Ph. Lend. & Ed.
The oil† , distilled again by itself, is divided into a thinner oil which arises ‡, and a thicker part, which remains behind, called balsam of amber: some distil it from brine of sea salt, or from plain water ||, by which it becomes purer than when distilled without addition. This oil has a strong bituminous smell, and a hot pungent taste; and approaches more to the nature of the mineral petrolea than of the vegetable or animal distilled oils, being very difficultly if at all, dissoluble in vinous spirits. It is some-times given internally, in doses of ten or twelve drops, as an antihysteric and emmenagogue; and sometimes employed externally in antihysteric, paralytic, and rheumatic liniments or unguents.