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Alembic, used by Joseph Black

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possibly made at Leith

Postcard of Alembic, used by Joseph Black.
© National Museums Scotland

Alembic, used by Joseph Black

An alembic is a device used in chemical distillations. This glass example was used in classroom demonstrations or experiments by Professor Joseph Black (1728-99) at Edinburgh University. It was made in the late 18th century, possibly at Leith.

The bottom edge of the dark green alembic is turned inwards and upwards to form a gutter, to catch the distillate which runs off through the glass spout sloping away at an angle. A thick knob of glass attached to the summit of the dome acts as a handle.

With his separation and identification of the first gas distinct from air (carbon dioxide), Black may be considered the father of pneumatic chemistry. Other gases, notably oxygen and nitrogen, were discovered in quick succession by other scientists.

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Online ID: 000-100-044-143-C
Image Rights Holder: National Museums Scotland
Project: 0098: National Museums Scotland
Project description | View all records in project
Ref: National Museums Scotland  T.1858.275.42
Date: 1766 - 1799
Late 18th century
Material: Glass
What: Alembic top / alembic capital
Subject: 4. CHEMISTRY, Apparatus and instruments, general (Departmental Classification)
Who: Edinburgh University (Owner)
Joseph Black (Owner)
Where: Scotland, Midlothian, Edinburgh, Leith
Description: One of a collection of apparatus and instruments from Edinburgh University used by Professors Black, Hope and Gregory - the top or capital of an alembic used by Dr Joseph Black, 1766 - 1799
  • Anderson, R. G. W. & Simpson, A. D. C., Edinburgh and Medicine: A Commemorative Catalogue of the Exhibition held at the Royal Scottish Museum. Edinburgh: 1976, p 40, item 186 
  • Anderson, R. G. W., The Playfair Collection. Edinburgh: 1978, p 135,139, 142-7 
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