By Edward Davies, F.C.S., F.I.C.

In treating this subject it is necessary to limit it within comparatively narrow bounds, for bodies of the turpentine class are exceedingly numerous and not well understood. In this definite class turpentine means the exudation from various trees of the natural order Coniferae, consisting of a hydrocarbon, CH, and a resin. The constitution of the hydrocarbons in turpentine from different sources, though identical chemically, varies physically, the boiling point ranging from 156° C. to 163° C., the density from 0.855 to 0.880, and the action on polarized light from -40.3 to +21.5. They are very unstable bodies in their molecular constitution, heat, sulphuric acid, and other reagents modifying their properties. The resins are also very variable bodies formed probably by oxidation of the hydrocarbons, and as this oxidation is more or less complete, mixtures are formed very difficult to separate and study.

Turpentine as met with in commerce is mainly derived from Pinus maritima, yielding French turpentine, and Pinus australis, furnishing most of the American turpentine. The latter is obtained from North and South Carolina, Georgia and Alabama. In Hanbury and Fluckiger's Pharmacographia there is a full description of the manner in which the trees are wounded to obtain the turpentine. Besides these there are Venice turpentine from the larch, Pinus Larix, Strassburg turpentine from Abies pectinata, and Canada balsam from Pinus balsamea.

The crude American turpentine is a viscid liquid of about the consistence of honey, but varying to a soft solid, known as gum, thus, according to the amount of exposure which it has undergone, it contains about 10 to 25 per cent. of "spirits," to which the name of turpentine is commonly given, the rest being resin, or as it is usually called, rosin.

In Liverpool almost all the spirits of turpentine comes from America, so that it is almost impossible to get a sample of French.

The terpene from American turpentine is called austraterebenthene. It possesses dextro-rotatory polarization of +21.5. Its density is 0.864. Boiling point 156° C.

In taking the boiling point of a commercial sample of spirits it is necessary to wait until the thermometer becomes steady. Not more than 5 per cent. should pass over before this takes place, and then there is not more than two or three degrees of rise until almost all is distilled over.

The liquids of lower boiling point do not appear to have been much studied. In French spirits they seem to be of the same composition as the main product, but with more action on polarized light.

French spirits of turpentine is mainly composed of terebenthene. The boiling point and sp. gr. are the same as those of the austraterebenthene, but the polarization is left handed and amounts to -40.5.

Isomeric modifications. Heated to 300° C. in a sealed tube for two hours, it becomes an isomeric compound, boiling at 175° C., while the density is lowered, being only 0.8586 at 0° C. The rotatory power is only -9°. It oxidizes much more rapidly. It is called isoterebenthene and has a smell of essential oil of lemons.

By the action of a small quantity of sulphuric acid, among other products terebene is formed. It has the same boiling point and sp. gr. as terebenthene, but is without action on polarized light. Austraterebenthene forms similar if not identical bodies.

Polymers. One part of boron fluoride BF instantly converts 160 parts of terebenthene into polymers boiling above 300° C., and optically inactive. HSO does the same on heating and forms diterebene CH.

Terchloride of antimony does the same, and also produces tetraterebene CH, a solid brittle compound formed by the union of four molecules of CH. It does not boil below 350° C. and decomposes on heating.

Compound with HO. Terpin CH2HO is formed when 1 volume of spirits of turpentine is mixed with 6 of nitric acid and 1 of alcohol, and exposed to air for some weeks. Crystals are formed which are pressed, decolorized by animal charcoal, and recrystallized from boiling water.

Compounds with HCl. When a slow current of HCl is passed through cooled spirits of turpentine, two isomeric compounds are formed, one solid, and one liquid. The lower the temperature is kept, the more of the solid body is produced. To obtain the solid body pure it is pressed and recrystallized from ether or alcohol. It is volatile and has the odor of camphor. It is called artificial camphor, and has the composition CHHCl. There is also a compound with 2HCl.

Oxidation products. By passing air into spirits of turpentine oxygen is absorbed. It was thought at one time that ozone was produced, but Kingzett's view is that camphoric peroxide is formed CHO, and that in presence of water it decomposes into camphoric acid and HO. This liquid constitutes the disinfectant known as "sanitas," which possesses the advantages of a pleasant smell and non-poisonous properties. CHO may be obtained by exposing spirits of turpentine in a flask full of oxygen with a little water.

Camphor CHO has been made in small quantity by oxidizing spirits of turpentine. Terebenthene belongs to the benzene or aromatic series, which can be shown from its connection with cymene. Cymene is methylpropyl-benzene, and can be made from terpenes by removing two atoms of H. It has not yet been converted again into terpene, but the connection is sufficiently proved. The presence of CH in terpenes is shown by their yielding chloroform when distilled with bleaching powder and water. The resin is imperfectly known. It was supposed to consist of picric and sylvic acids. It is also stated to contain abietic anhydride CHO, but it is difficult to understand how a compound containing C can be produced from CH. The most probable view is that it is the anhydride of sylvic acid, which is probably CHO.

The dark colored resin which is obtained when the turpentine is distilled without water can be converted into a transparent slightly yellow body by distillation with superheated steam. A small portion is decomposed, but the greater part distills unchanged. It is used in making soap which will lather with sea water.

When distilled alone, various hydrocarbons, resin oil and resin pitch, are obtained.

I find that commercial spirits of turpentine varies in sp. gr. from 0.865 to 0.869 at 15° C. The higher sp. gr. appears to be connected with the presence of resinous bodies, the result of oxidation. The boiling point is very uniform, ranging from 155° C. to 157° C. at 760 mm. Taking these two points together, it is hardly possible to adulterate spirits of turpentine without detection. I give the figures for a few imitations or adulterations:

Sp. gr.B.P.
No. 10.821137° C.
No. 20.884165° C.
No. 30.815150° C.
No. 40.895156° C.

There is a considerable difference in the flashing point, no doubt due to the longer or shorter exposure of the crude turpentine, by which more or less of the volatile portion escapes.


Read at a meeting of the Liverpool Chemists' Association.