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Musk is the name originally given to a perfume obtained from the strong-smelling substance, secreted in a gland by musk deer, and hence applied to other animals, and also to plants, possessing a similar odor.

The variety which appears in commerce is a secretion of the musk deer; but the odor is also emitted by the musk ox and muskrat of India and Europe, by the Musk Duck (Biziura lobata) of southern Australia, the musk shrew, the musk beetle (Calichroma moschata), the alligator of Central America, and by several other animals.

In the vegetable kingdom it is present in the common musk (Mimulus inoschalus), the musk wood of the Guianas and West Indies, and in the seeds of Hibiscus Abelmoschus (musk seeds).

To obtain the perfume from the musk deer the animal is killed and the gland completely removed, and dried, either in the sun, on a hot stone, or by immersion in hot oil. It appears in commerce as "musk in pod" (i.e. the glands are entire) or as "musk in grain" (in which the perfume has been extracted from its receptacle).

Three kinds are recognized:

  1. Tong-king, Chinese or Tibetan, imported from China, the most valued
  2. Assam or Nepal, less valuable;
  3. Karbardin or Russian (Siberian), imported from Central Asia by way of Russia, the least valuable and hardly admitting of adulteration.

The Tong-king musk is exported in small, gaudily decorated caddies with tin or lead linings, wherein the perfume is sealed down; it is now usually transmitted direct by parcel post to the merchant.

Good musk is of a dark purplish color, dry, smooth and unctuous to the touch, and bitter in taste. It dissolves in boiling water to the extent of about one-half; alcohol takes up one-third of the substance, and ether and chloroform dissolve still less. The grain of musk will distinctly scent millions of cubic feet of air without any appreciable loss of weight, and its scent is not only more penetrating but more persistent than that of any other known substance. In addition to its odoriferous principle, it contains ammonia, cholesterin, fatty matter, a bitter resinous substance, and other animal principles. As a material in perfumery it is of the first importance, its powerful and enduring odor giving strength and permanency to the vegetable essences, so that it is an ingredient in many compounded perfumes.

Artificial musk is a synthetic product, having a similar odor to natural musk. It was obtained by Baur in 1888 by condensing toluene with isobutyl bromide in the presence of aluminium chloride, and nitrating the product. It is a symtrinitro-butyl (?) toluene. Many similar preparations have been made, and it appears that the odour depends upon the symmetry of the three nitro groups.

This entry was originally from the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.