The Dry Distillation of Lead Acetate



From the Chemistry section of the Britannica of 1771

All photographs copyrighted to the Paracelsus College

The Matters


The source for lead is calcined Galena (lead sulfide) or if you have it Cerussite (lead carbonate) which dissolves more readily.

The menstruum is red wine vinegar (shiraz) rectified by freezing and distillation.
The lead can be digested for several years, (we have batches that are still digesting since 1988.) However after some digestion the menstruum needs to be replaced as vinegar/acetic acid is classed as a weak organic acid and will lose its strength as the process is a neutralisation reaction.
The excess water can be gently evaporated on a sand bath reducing the volume by one third. The solution if left alone will shoot crystals which will contain the water of crystallisation that becomes the phlegm during pyrolosis. If heat is applied the white acetate becomes red as the interior manifests. This needs to be carefully controlled during crystallisation.

Lead(II)Oxide from Galena plus rectified vinegar

PbO + 2CH3COOH -> (CH3COO)2Pb + H20 crystallising as the trihydrate (CH3COO)Pb.3H2O

Lead Carbonate from Cerussite plus rectified vinegar

PbCO3 + 2CH3COOH -> (CH3COO)2Pb + CO2 + H20 crystallising as the trihydrate (CH3COO)Pb.3H2O



Cerussite and vinegar.

The Means

The dried crystals are placed in a 1 litre B34 flask or larger and buried in a pot of sand.

The dry distillation train with its system of three receivers; one- ice cooled; two- the water trap; and three- charcoal filter were connected.

The Method

The dry distillation beginning just prior to the full moon.
Heat is raised incrementally to Hi (approx. 550C) over a five to seven hour cycle.
Bubbles through the water trap are a good indicator of proceedings.
The matter rises like dough and becomes liquid and releases the phlegm
When the phlegm ceases change the receiver.
The volatile white spirit or ghost arises and rolls down the condenser into the receiver.
The lighter oils are followed by a heavier red-brown oily tar like matter.
A colourful sublimate.
Distillate tinged orangey yellow.
Decrease heat incrementally over several hours to avoid thermal shock on flask.
When Off. First receiver disconnected to prevent vacuum forming and sucking up water trap.


The leavening of the bread of saturn.


The ghost or fog in the receiver with the excess gas bubbling through the water trap in the background.


The condensor


The classic colour scheme black, white, yellow and red.


The distillate with salts.


The distillate of Golden Water.


The distillate is gently redistilled becoming darker with heat and concentration. The first two or three rectifications may be coloured.


Opaque oil with some phlegm and the flask with clear spirit of Saturn.


The dregs or dragon.


The spontaneous calcination of the dragon in sunlight and oxygen. The heat generated scorched the grass. From a green appearance it went through the classic colour changes exhibiting black, white and red.


Fresh vinegar

The reprocessed dragon.


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