The elements of materia medica and therapeutics: Hydrargyri Sulphuretum. - Sulphuret of mercury.

The elements of materia medica and therapeutics
by Jonathan Pereira, M.D. F.R.S. & L.S.
Fourth Edition, enlarged and improved, including notices of themost of the medicinal substances in use in the civilized world, and forming an Encyclopædia of Materia Medica.
Vol. I.
London: printed for Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans, Paternoster Row.


1 Jeremiah, xxii. 14; Ezekiel, xxiii. 14.

2 De Lapidibus, p. 399, ed. Heins. 1613; Hill's translation, 2d edit. p. 227, 1774.

3 Handb. d. Pharm. by Liebig.

4 Pliny, Hist. Nat. lib. xixiii. cap. 38, ed. Valp.
Formula HgS. Equivalent Weight 116.

Two forms of this compound are used in medicine, one crystallised or red, the other amorphous or black.

1. Hydrargyri Sulphuretum Crystallisatum vel Rubrum. — Crystallised or Red Sulphuret of Mercury.

History. — Crystallised or red sulphuret of mercury was known in the most ancient times. Vermilion is mentioned twice in the Old Testament;1 Theophrastus2 states that there are two kinds of cinnabar ([-], cinnabaris), one native, the other factitious: the first was sulphuret of mercury, the second, he says, was a scarlet sand.
Geiger3 found it in the colouring matter of the old Egyptian tombs. It was formerly called minium.4 It is sometimes termed bisulphuret of mercury (hydrargyri bisulphuretum, Ph. L.)

Natural History. — The principal repositories of native cinnabar (cinnabaris nativa) are Idria in Carniola, and Almaden in Spain. It occurs both massive and crystallised; the primary form of its crystals being the acute rhombohedron.

Preparation. — Two of the British Colleges give directions for the preparation of this compound.

The London College orders of Mercury, lb. ij.; Sulphur, ξv. Melt the sulphur, add the mercury, and continue the heat until the mixture begins to swell up. Then remove the vessel, and cover it closely to preveut the mixture taking fire. When the material is cold, reduce it [the mass] to powder, and sublime it.

The process of the Edinburgh College is similar.

The Dublin College gives no process.

3 Full details respecting the Dutch method of manufacturing cinnabar are given in the Ann. de. Chim. iv. 25; and in Aikin's Dict. of Chemistry, vol. ii. p. 87.In this process the heat enables the mercury and sulphur to combine and form black or amorphous sulphuret of mercury. When large quantities of sulphur and mercury are heated together, a slight explosion and flame are produced. By sublimation, the black sulphuret is converted into cinnabar, or the red or crystallised sulphuret.3

Properties. — Artificial cinnabar has, in the mass, a dark reddish-brown crystalline appearance; but, when reduced to a fine powder, is of a beautiful scarlet-red colour, and is then termed vermilion. It is tasteless, odourless, insoluble in water or alcohol, and unalterable in the air. It is fusible and volatile. It burns in the air with a blue flame, the sulphur uniting with oxygen to form sulphurous acid, while the mercury is dissipated in a vaporous form.

Characteristics. — Heated in a glass tube, with carbonate of soda, it evolves mercurial vapour, which condenses into liquid globules of this metal. The residue, which is sulphuret of sodium, gives out hydrosulphuric acid on the addition of hydrochloric acid. The colour of cinnabar deepens under the influence of heat.

Composition. — Its composition is as follows: — [---]

Purity. — Pure cinnabar is totally volatilised by heat, and is insoluble in nitric or hydrochloric acid. If minium, or red lead, be intermixed, we may recognise it by boiling in acetic acid, by which acetate of lead is procured in solution: this forms a black precipitate with hydrosulphuric acid, white with the sulphates, and yellow with iodide of potassium. Realgar, or sulpliuret of arsenicum, may be detected by boiling the suspected cinnabar in solution of caustic potash, supersaturating with nitric acid, and passing a current of hydrosulphuric acid through it, by which a yellow precipitate (AsS3) is obtained. Earthy impurities are not volatile.

Totally evaporated by heat; and on potash being added to it, runs into globules of mercury. — Ph. Lond.

"It is sublimed entirely by heat, and without any metallic globules being formed." — Ph. Ed.

1 Archiv. Gen. de Méd. xix. 330.

2 Christison, Treat. on Poisons, 3d edit. 395.
Physiological Effects. — According to Orfila1 pure cinnabar is inert; for he found no effects were produced on dogs by half an ounce when either applied to wounds or taken into the stomach. These results being opposed to those obtained by Smith2 it has been presumed that the latter must have employed an impure sulphuret.

3 Observ. L. vii.

4 Edinb. Med. Essays, iv.
The vapour obtained by heating cinnabar in the air is poisonous, but this is not in opposition to Orfila's experiments, since this vapour is not sulphuret of mercury, but a mixture of the vapour of mercury (either in the metallic or oxidised state) and of sulphurous acid gas. Schenkius3 has related the case of a young man who died from the use of this vapour, and Hill4 saw cough, violent salivation and diarrhtEa, produced by its inhalation.

Uses. — Cinnabar is used merely as a fumigating agent in venereal nicerations of the nose and throat. The method of using it is this: — About half a drachm is placed on a heated iron, and the fumes inhaled as they arise. In the shops, a copper apparatus, with iron heater, is sold for the purpose. In the absence of this, the sulphuret is to be placed on a hot iron shovel, and the vapour inhaled by the patient through a funnel. The irritating nature of the sulphurous vapour usually excites coughing, and is injurious in persons disposed to phthisis. Hence the oxide of mercury is to be preferred for fumigation.

Administration. — When employed internally, cinnabar has been sriven in doses of from ten grains to half a drachm. Pur the purpose of fumigation, half a drachm may be employed.

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