The Tyrian Purple.

Scientific American 31, 20.4.1850

As the nymph Tyras was with the dog of her lover, Hercules, she perceived that the animal's mouth was stained a beautiful violet color from the fish of a shell which he had broken on the sea shore. And so beautiful did it appear to her, that she declared to Hercules he should see her no more until he had procured for her a suit dyed of that color. - Then Hercules, moved by love, collected an immense number of those hells, with which he dyed a robe for the nymph. Such is the legend (from the name of the nymph so evidently metaphorical) connected with the discovery f the celebrated Tyrian dye.

The character of the ancient Tyrian Purple is greatly magnified as we look it at through the long telescope of history. Almost the only accounts of the Tyrian purple are handed down to us by Aristotle and Pliny, especially the latter, in whose time this dye had attained to its greatest perfection. He describes it as having been obtained from two species of shell fish, the Bucinum and the Purpura. This dye was famous a thousand years before the Christian era. As many do not know that wool, silk and cotton will not erceive the same color from the same substances, we would state that the Tyrian purple was dyed in wool alone. It is stated by the historians named, that the shell fish were bruised, and the liquor obtained from them was left in salt water, in tin vessels, moderately hot, for ten days. Into this liquor the wool was kept for ive hours, then taken out and washed, and then immersed in the bath until all the color in the liquor was exhausted. To produce different shades of colors, Pliny says, nitre, wine, and a marine plant called Flucus, were occasionally added. One color was very dark, inclining to a violet with a reddish hue, and another was a crimson, but the shade most famous resembled coagulated blood, "laus ci summa in colore sanguinis concreti." There was another shade called, in Exodus, chap. xxv., "wool twice dyed." This was the deepest and richest color, produced by select fish, and without the employing any alkaline liquor to darken the shade. In the reign of Augustus, a pound of this color on fine wool cost about $180, but none were permitted to wear it in those glorious days of despotic power, upon the pain of death, except those of royal blood. The art of dyeing this color was lost to the world about the 12th centory, it expired with the last remnant of Tyre's existence. During a number of ages, this famous dye was lamented as an irrevocable loss.

In the early part of the 17th centiry, Mr. Cole, and English gentleman, discovered some shell fish on the coast of England, which produced a light purple color, and in 1709 the famous Reaumur, of France, discovered on the coast of that country various shell fish, which produced a fine purple color on linen. Fontenelle, in giving an account of Reaumur's discovery, said that it was a greater discovery than the ancient purple. But at the time of this re-discovery of the purple, America was beginning to send some of her famous colors into Europe. From the scarcity of the shell fish, and the trouble of forming the color, it never could be produced at the price below what Royalty alone could pay, but as in politics, so in art, the cochineal insect of America has given to the lowliest the privilege of wearing, at a moderate price, this once royal color. A most splendid scarlet is dyed on fine white wool by ground cochineal, at the folloring rates per lb: - 1½ oz. cochineal, 2 oz. cream of tartar, ½ wine glass full of the nitro muriate of tin. The wool is boiled in a clean vessel of copper of tin, in pure water, with the above ingredients, for one hour. The color can be blued, or made of a violet shade, by handling the wool, in warm alkaline water, for about half an hour. There can be no doubt but a portion of tin from the Tyrian baths was taken up by the hot salt water, and absorbed by the wool. This was the true basis or mordaunt of their celebrated color.

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