Source, Etc

Musk is the dried secretion from the preputial follicles of the musk deer, Moschus moschiferus, Linne (Phylum Chordata, Class Mammalia, Order Ungulata),

The musk deer is a small, graceful animal about the size of the roebuck, and inhabits a large area in Central Asia, extending from the Caspian Sea to the eastern boundaries of the Chinese Empire. The male animal, which alone produces the musk, bears on its belly, a short distance behind the navel and just in front of the preputial orifice, a small sac produced by an infolding of the skin. This sac is the musk sac or musk pod, and it contains a treacly or soft, unctuous, brownish substance, musk, which is remarkable for its intense, penetrating, and persistent odour. The musk is formed in alveoli produced on the inner lining of the sac and is discharged into the cavity. The outer surface of the pod is covered with hairs and is provided with a small canal, serving for the discharge of the secretion, debouching close to the preputial orifice. Very young animals do not secrete musk and old animals but little.

Fig. 247.   Musk caddy.

Fig. 247. - Musk caddy.

The animals are snared or shot, and the musk pods cut out trimmed and dried; they are then wrapped singly in paper and packed in a small rectangular box covered with silk. This box is known as a 'caddy' and contains a 'catty' (21 2/3 ounces) of musk pods (about 22). Of late musk pods have been packed in flat tins each containing two catties.

Most of the musk of European commerce is obtained from Tibet or from the Chinese province of Szechuen (Tonquin musk); it is conveyed down the Yangtse-Kiang river to Shanghai, whence it is exported. Smaller quantities are obtained from the southern Chinese province of Yunan (Yunan musk), and some finds its way via Nepaul or Assam to Calcutta (Nepaul musk, Assam musk).

The musk pods are examined in China and classified into three qualities, or 'piles' as they are termed. In London they are again examined, probed with a knife, etc, and again classified into piles, pile 1 consisting of genuine pods, whilst those of pile 3 are obviously sophisticated.


The best variety of the drug is that known as Tonquin. This is imported in pods packed in ' caddies ' or latterly in larger tins. The pods are nearly circular or sometimes distinctly oval in outline and lenticular in shape; they resemble small dark flattened cakes about 5 to 7 cm. in diameter and 2 to 3 cm. thick. On one of the flattened surfaces (the lower surface of the pod as attached to the animal) is a circular or oval piece of brown skin about 4 cm. in diameter; this is part of the hide of the animal, and exhibits when closely examined a central or nearly central small orifice (the orifice of the pod), around which are arranged tangentially directed hairs. The latter vary from whitish to brown in colour; those near the orifice are naturally short, but those a little distance removed have been clipped and are stiff and bristly.

The remainder of the pod is covered with a very thin, soft, supple membrane, and appears dark brown in colour when the pod is filled with musk. It often exhibits a fine steel-blue iridescence, whence the term ' blue skin,' by which this variety of Tonquin pods is known. This thin blue skin is the inner skin of the pod, the outer skin, which is tough and fibrous, having been carefully stripped off with the exception of the circular piece surrounding the orifice. By this means the appearance of the pod is improved and its value enhanced. Good pods weigh about 30 to 40 grammes, and contain about half that weight of granular musk which fills them loosely.

The pods from which the outer skin has not been removed are also imported; these are known as 'natural skin' 'thick skin,' or 'old style' pods. They are usually convex on the lower surface, which is covered with the hide of the animal, but nearly flat on the upper surface, and there protected by a tough, fibrous but hairless skin.

The musk contained in the pods is always moist, and often has a strongly ammoniacal odour. It can be freed from moisture and ammonia by exposing it to the air, and then forms dark reddish brown unctuous grains ('grain musk') with which occasional short hairs are mixed; it possesses a strong characteristic odour and bitter taste.


Musk yields by distillation with steam and subsequent purification a small percentage of a viscid colourless oil with a very powerful and agreeable odour of musk; this oil appears to be a ketone and has been termed muskone. The drug contains moisture, fatty matter, resin, proteids, and inorganic substances. Water dissolves from 50 to 75 per cent. of it, but alcohol only 10 to 12 per cent. It should not contain more than 15 per cent. of moisture, or yield on incineration more than 8 per cent. of ash.


Musk is liable to gross adulterations, which is in some cases easy to detect, but in others exceedingly difficult. The sophistication of the drug is effected by the Chinese, and is practised to such an extent as to lead to the assertion that pure musk is scarcely procurable. The pods are skilfully opened, part of the musk is removed and replaced by some worthless substitute. Inorganic substances, such as small stones, leaden shot, etc, are comparatively easily detected, and so are such adulterations as scraps of leather or horn. Dried blood yields a red ash, whereas the ash of genuine musk is whitish. Resin and other substances soluble in spirit increase the alcoholic extract. Earthy matter raises the ash.

Fig. 248.   Musk pod and generative organs of the male Musk Deer. s, skin; p, penis; t, scrotum; g, gland of the penis; pr, preputial orifice; o, orifice of the musk sac; m, muscular coat of musk sac. (Moeller, after Brandt.)

Fig. 248. - Musk pod and generative organs of the male Musk Deer. s, skin; p, penis; t, scrotum; g, gland of the penis; pr, preputial orifice; o, orifice of the musk sac; m, muscular coat of musk sac. (Moeller, after Brandt).


Musk is occasionally used in medicine as a diffusible stimulant, but the bulk of the drug is employed in the manufacture of perfumes.


1. Yunan Musk

Yunan Musk. This variety is imported in the pods, which are easily distinguished from Tonquin pods by their more nearly spherical or even pyriform shape. The skin rises towards the orifice, which is situated in a little depression; near the margin of the pod are two small nipples which, with the depressed orifice, bear a fancied resemblance to a pig's eyes and snout, hence the common term ' pig-faced pods,' by which these are known. They are imported both in the natural pod and blue skin. The musk is nearly equal in value to Tonquin.

2. Assam And Nepaul Musk

Assam And Nepaul Musk. The pods are small, nearly spherical and about one-third of the weight of the Tonquin pods. The musk is dry and of a bright reddish brown colour (Nepaul musk) or nearly black (Assam musk). The two varieties are usually imported grained and may be distinguished by their odour; if pure they are of good quality.

3. Gabardine Musk is mostly exported from the northern Chinese ports to Japan; the hairs are greyish-white and the musk more moist and less granular. A little musk of inferior quality is also brought to Nishni-novgorod, whence it finds its way to London.