This singular substance is one among those derived from animal sources that are employed in the perfumer's art, and although its origin would seem to preclude its use by the fas-tidieus, the same objection would equally apply to musk, the product of the civet cat or musk deer, which if not an excretion is a secretion intended probably, as is the offensive liquid ejected by the skunk, as a means of defense. Ambergris, or " gray amber " as its name denotes, is simply and only a portion of the excreta of the sperm whale, Physeter macrocepha-lus, resulting from disease. It is considered generally to be a result of a morbid secretion of the whale'sliver, and is probably produced also by other oceanic mammalia. It is usually found floating on the surface of the sea in those parts of the ocean most frequented by the spermaceti whale ; a small barren island off the coast of Yucatan, having received its name of Ambergris from the quantity of that substance found on its shores. Whale fishers look for it in the intestines of the whale, and its value is so great that whalemen pursue with eagerness the sickly cetacese although they promise a scant return of oil. It is amorphous, or in roundish pieces, frequently formed in layers, of a grayish color whence its name with streaks of whitish yellow, brown, or black. It has a waxy texture and when warmed emits a pungent odor. It is for this quality it is so highly esteemed. It has been sold for its weight in gold. It is very scarce and seldom appears except as " essence of amber" or " extrait d'ambre," forms of perfumery having this material for their base and bearing a very high price. Its discovery is not at all new. It is pretty certain it was known as a rare perfume in the fifteenth century, for Sinbad, the sailor, being wrecked somewhere in the Indian Ocean says: " Here is also a fountain of pitch and bitumen- that runs into the sea, which the fishes swallow, and then vomit up again, turned into ambergris." Piesse in his "Art of Perfumery " does not rank the perfuming value of this substance highly ; for he says: " A modern compiler, speaking of ambergris, says ' it smells like dried cow dung.' Never having smelled this substance we cannot say whether the simile be correct; but we certainly consider that its perfume is most incredibly overrated ; nor can we forget that Homberg found that a vessel, in which he had made a long digestion of the human faeces, had acquired a very strong and perfect smell of ambergris, insomuch that anyone would have thought that a great quantity of essence of ambergris had been made in it. The odor was so strong that the vessel was obliged to be moved out of the laboratory." We cannot agree with Homberg, for when first, some twenty years ago (and recollections of scents are among the most tenacious), we tested some fragments just brought in by a whaling ship, we very much admired the aroma, but we are also partial to musk. It is generally found in small quantities of only a few pounds or perhaps ounces in weight, but large masses have been discovered, one weighing 174 lbs. having been purchased! in the East Indies by the Dutch, and a mass of 237 lbs. being obtained by the French East India Company. Lately, however we read that Captain Timothy C. Spaulding, of the bark Elizabeth of New Bedford, while coming southwest of Madagas car, struck a very large sperm whale. On opening the whale they had the good luck to discover 285 pounds of ambergris worth on the spot $20,000. Another New Bedford whale ship, the Herald, lately brought home 71 lbs. of this substance that sold for $97 per lb. ------:--------~+ 4 -------------- Floor Coverings. A covering for floors is now made in England, by gluing together a number of pieces of wood of different colors, and from this block thin veneers or slices are cut, which are then fixed by cement or glue to a woven cloth, or any other such material as may be preferred. Each veneer will have on it a pattern resulting from the arrangement of the pieces in the block from which it is cut, and by assembling a number of them together a complicated pattern is obtained ; or when it is desired to have a simple pattern, the slices or veneers may each be cut from a single block ; and it may be formed by arranging these pieces together. Various kinds of wood can be employed in this arrangement. A floor-cloth or covering thus prepared may be glued down to the floor which it is wished to cover, or, for temporary purposes, may be secured by nails. Also, this invention includes the use of veneer patterns nailed to any ordinary floor; such veneers of hard wood are reduced in thickness at their edges or corners, and are nailed to the floor beneath, the nails being covered by thin pieces of veneer, thinner than the others, and cut to a desired form, so that the whole makes an ornamental pattern. These pieces are, moreover, glued into their places, and the whole forms a flush and smooth surface. .-------------- * -------------- Copying Copper-plate Engravings on Stone. Lieutenant Hall of the Coast Survey states that coppeiplate engravings may be copied on stone ; specimens are to appear in the forthcoming report. To quote his description : " A copT perplate being duly engraved, it is inked, and an impression taken on transfer-paper. A good paper, which wetting does not expand, is needed, and a fatty coating is used in the prOr cess. The transfer-paper impression is laid on the smooth stone, and run through a press. It is then wetted, heated, and stripped off from the stone, leaving the ink and fat on its face, The heated fat is softly brushed away, leaving only the ink-lines. From this reversed impression on the stone, the printing is performed just as in ordinary lithography, A good transfer produces from 3,000 to 5,000 copies. Thus prints from aJ single copperplate can be infinitely multiplied, the printing being, moreover, much cheaper than copperplates. ,-------------------- B i--------------------, Laminated Wooden Pipes, We have lately examined at Mr. C. Lenzmann's office, No, 18 Dey street, New York, some specimens of Mayo's patent wooden pipes, having interior diameters of six inches and two feet. These pipes are composed of veneers, or thin sheets of wood, wound upon each other, Gemented with bitumen, and lined with hydraulic cement. The samples we examined were about an inch in thickness, and, we were informed, had been tested by hydraulic pressure up to 310 lbs, per square inch without sign of fracture. The improvement appears to be one of much value. The method of laying up the sheets in bitumen is calculated to render the material imperishable; and as the tubes can be made of any size, and furnished at much less rates than metal pipes, we see no reason why the invention should not come into extensive use for aqueducts, sewers, and other purposes. Messes. Walsh Watkins, have laid a 11-inch plate iron water-pipe, from a point on a mountain side in Tuolumne county, California, down the mountain, under a creek and up the ascent on the other side, in all 8,800 feet in length, and under a perpendicular pressure at the lowest point of 684 feet.
This article was originally published with the title "Ambergris" in Scientific American 20, 17, 259 (April 1869)