Sciencemadness Discussion Board

A history challenge

Arazmus - 28-6-2005 at 08:26

In of all things a roleplaying game set in the mid 17th century (7th Sea) I have found myself in a chemical quagmire. My character is a bit of an inventor and the game mechanics require proof that any invention COULD have been made with the knowledge and materials of the time. The invention I am working on is a pepper spray grenade that uses a propellent gas produced when 2 chemical (powdered or liquid) come into contact with each other. As the point is to produce a non-lethal device the gas produced must not be lethal and the reaction must not be energetic enough to turn it into a fragmentation grenade, but the reaction needs to produce enough gas in a sustained reaction to create a sufficient cloud. Can anyone help?

Edited to add:

It occured to me that some may not wish to research what chemical knowledge would have been available at the time, so here's a list of what my research has produced:

Alchemical substances

Cadmia, which was also called Tuttia or Tutty, was probably zinc carbonate.

Philosophers' Wool, or nix alba (white snow). Zinc oxide made by burning zinc in air. Called Zinc White and used as a pigment.

White vitriol. Zinc Sulphate. Described by Basil Valentine. Made by lixiviating roasted zinc blende (zinc sulphide).

Calamine. Zinc carbonate.

Corrosive sublimate. Mercuric chloride. first mentioned by Geber, who prepared it by subliming mercury, calcined green vitriol, common salt and nitre.

Calomel. Mercurous chloride. Purgative, made by subliming a mixture of mercuric chloride and metallic mercury, triturated in a mortar. This was heated in a iron pot and the crust of calomel formed on the lid was ground to powder and boiled with water to remove the very poisonous mercuric chloride.

Cinnabar. Mercuric sulphide.

Turpeth mineral. A hydrolysed form of mercuric sulphate. Yellow crystalline powder, described by Basil Valentine.

Mercurius praecipitatus. Red mercuric oxide. Described by Geber.

Cinnabar or Vermillion. Mercuric sulphide.

Mosaic gold. Golden-yellow glistening scales of crystalline stannic sulphide, made by heating a mixture of tin filings, sulphur and salammoniac.

Tin salt. Hydrated stannous chloride.

Spiritus fumans. Stannic chloride, discovered by Libavius in 1605, through distilling tin with corrosive sublimate.

Butter of tin. Hydrated stannic chloride.

Galena. Plumbic sulphide. Chief ore of lead.

Lead fume. Lead oxide obtained from the flues at lead smelters.

Massicot. Yellow powder form of lead monoxide.

Litharge. Reddish-yellow crystalline form of lead monoxide, formed by fusing and powdering massicot.

Minium or Red Lead. Triplumbic tetroxide. Formed by roasting litharge in air. Scarlet crystalline powder.

Naples yellow, or Cassel yellow. An oxychloride of lead, made by heating litharge with sal ammoniac.

Chrome yellow. Lead chromate.

Sugar of Lead. Lead acetate, Made by dissolving lead oxide in vinegar.

White lead. Basic carbonate of lead. Used as a pigment.

Venetian White. Mixture of equal parts of white lead and barium sulphate.

Dutch White. Mixture of one part of white lead to three of barium sulphate.

Antimony. From latin 'antimonium' used by Constantinius Africanus (c. 1050) to refer to Stibnite.

Glass of Antimony. Impure antimony tetroxide, obtained by roasting stibnite. Used as a yellow pigment for glass and porcelain.

Butter of Antimony. White crystalline antimony trichloride. Made by Basil Valentine by distilling roasted stibnite with corrosive sublimate. Glauber later prepared it by dissolving stibnite in hot concentrated hydrochloric acid and distilling.

Powder of Algaroth. A white powder of antimonious oxychloride, made by by precipitation when a solution of butter of antimony in spirit of salt is poured into water.

Stibnite. Antimony trisulphide. Grey mineral ore of antimony.

Wismuth. Bismuth.

Pearl white. Basic nitrate of bismuth, used by Lemery as a cosmetic.

Chrome green. Chromic oxide.

Chrome yellow. Lead chromate.

Chrome red. Basic lead chromate.

Chrome orange. Mixture of chrome yellow and chrome red.

Green Vitriol. Ferrous sulphate.

Rouge, Crocus, Colcothar. Red varieties of ferric oxide are formed by burning green vitriol in air.

Marcasite. Mineral form of Iron disulphide. Oxidises in moist air to green vitriol.

Pyrites. Mineral form of iron disulphide. Stable in air.

Cobalt. Named by the copper miners of the Hartz Mountains after the evil spirits the 'kobolds' which gave a false copper ore.

Zaffre. Impure cobalt arsenate, left after roasting cobalt ore.

Nickel. Named by the copper miners of Westphalia the 'kupfer-nickel' or false copper.

Copper glance. Cuprous sulphide ore.

Aes cyprium. Cyprian brass or copper.

Cuprite. Red cuprous oxide ore.

Blue vitriol or bluestone. Cupric sulphate.

Verdigris. The green substance formed by the atmospheric weathering of copper. This is a complex basic carbonate of copper. In more recent times the term 'verdigris' is more correctly applied to copper acetate, made by the action of vinegar on copper.

Resin of copper. Cuprous chloride. Made by Robert Boyle in 1664 by heating copper with corrosive sublimate.

Lunar caustic, lapis infernalis. Silver nitrate.

Fulminating silver. Silver nitride, very explosive when dry. Made by dissolving silver oxide in ammonia.

Horn silver, argentum cornu. A glass like ore of silver chloride.

Luna cornea. The soft colourless tough mass of silver chloride, made by heating horn silver till it forms a dark yellow liquid and then cooling. Described by Oswald Croll in 1608.

Purple of Cassius. Made by Andreas Cassius in 1685 by precipitating a mixture of gold, stannous and stannic chlorides, with alkali. Used for colouring glass.

Fulminating gold. Made by adding ammonia to the auric hydroxide formed by precipitation by potash from metallic gold dissolved in aqua regis. Highly explosive when dry.

Quicklime. Calcium oxide.

Slaked lime. Calcium hydroxide.

Chalk. Calcium carbonate.

Gypsum. Calcium sulphate.

Natron. Native sodium carbonate.

Soda ash. Sodium carbonate formed by burning plants growing on the sea shore.

Caustic marine alkali. Caustic soda. Sodium hydroxide. Made by adding lime to natron.

Common salt. Sodium chloride.

Glauber's Salt. Sodium sulphate.

Wood-ash or potash. Potassium carbonate made from the ashes of burnt wood.

Caustic wood alkali. Caustic potash.

Potassium hydroxide. Made by adding lime to potash.

Liver of sulphur. Complex of polysulphides of potassium, made by fusing potash and sulphur.

Sal Ammoniac. Ammonium Chloride. Described by Geber.

Sal volatile, Spirit of Hartshorn. Volatile alkali. Ammonium carbonate made from distilling bones, horns, etc.

Caustic volatile alkali. Ammonium hydroxide.

Nitrum flammans. Ammonium nitrate made by Glauber.

Brimstone (from German Brennstein 'burning stone';). Sulphur.

Flowers of sulphur. light yellow crystalline powder, made by distilling sulphur.
Thion hudor (Zosimus refers to this as the 'divine water' or 'the bile of the serpent';). A deep reddish-yellow liquid made by boiling flowers of sulphur with slaked lime.

Milk of sulphur (lac sulphuris). White colloidal sulphur. Geber made this by adding an acid to thion hudor.

Oil of Vitriol. Sulphuric acid made by distilling green vitriol.

Realgar. red ore of arsenic. Arsenic disulphide.

Orpiment. Auri-pigmentum. Yellow ore of arsenic. Arsenic trisulphide.

White arsenic. Arsenious oxide. Made from arsenical soot from the roasting ovens, purified by sublimation.

Aqua tofani. Arsenious oxide. Extremely poisonous. Used by Paracelsus.

King's Yellow. A mixture of orpiment with white arsenic.

[Edited on 28-6-2005 by Arazmus]

Edited to merge two posts.

[Edited on 28-6-2005 by I am a fish]

12AX7 - 28-6-2005 at 11:40

The question is, why the heck would anyone want a pepper grenade? Build a breechloading pistol for pete's sake! :D

A small BP charge (say, you didn't mention KNO3 or NaNO3?) inside a spherical layer of dried, ground habeneros (wherever you get those from where you are) ought to do it. Getting a spherical burst could be hard though.


IrC - 28-6-2005 at 12:20

This site may have information you can use.

Blind Angel - 28-6-2005 at 16:20

No saltpeter? Too far from china it seem

Maybe try Coal (Not in the list but pretty sure that it exist) + Brimstone + Nitrum flammans it might give out some hard to ignite black powder.

12AX7 - 28-6-2005 at 18:34

Originally posted by Blind Angel
No saltpeter? Too far from china it seem

Bah, at this time people were making it from organic matter I bet. You know, for military and whatnot :)


Twospoons - 28-6-2005 at 18:54

You want gas pressure? Then use limestone and vinegar! They've been available for centuries!


Arazmus - 28-6-2005 at 21:08

Limestone and vinegar....god I could kick myself.

As to high explosives I was surprised they used fulminating gold a lot in 1726, despite its high cost. Had no idea it was that volitile. Thanks for the input all!

[Edited on 29-6-2005 by Arazmus]

Arazmus - 28-6-2005 at 21:18

Originally posted by IrC

This site may have information you can use.

Actually I visited that site during my initial research on this topic. While it did present a lot of good information I was unable to find a specific answer to the question of which chemicals could produce the reaction that would have been available in the 1760's. Thanks again for the suggestion!

IrC - 28-6-2005 at 21:33

I notice you omitted the entire realm of plantlife from your considerations. Many years ago back in Kansas I remember a plant that was used to make some form of tear gas. I know it was not cayenne pepper, it was some kind of weed that grew everywhere around creeks. Whatever the name of it was, it was used to make spray that was vastly superior to any kind of pepper spray. If I remember correctly it was used to make CN tear gas. Maybe you could do a search on that, and others have mentioned easy gas production methods circa the 1760's. I have no doubt that if that weed was so prevalent all over the midwest it can be found on the European continent, and was likely known about. Today most people have little knowledge of plants and their uses but this was not so in the 1760's.

PS: it may have been CS instead of CN but don't quote me on it. It was not a pepper related plant, I remember there was a plant near Galena, Ks. that processed it, and the product was for military grade stuff.

[Edited on 29-6-2005 by IrC]

unionised - 29-6-2005 at 08:52

Yeast and grape juice would, given time, be a workable propellant.
There's a plant called the squirting cucumber that might be an interesting thing to crossbreed with a pepper. Unfortunately, they are too botanically distinct to have offspring together.

Archimede - 29-6-2005 at 12:53

I can only see in a roleplay game someone throwing a grenade made with limestone/vinegar that spray a cloud of black pepper and jalapeno powder.

Blind Angel - 29-6-2005 at 14:09

Actually I was kicking out opponent using Papaver Somniferum extract, refined with vinegar. And I'm pretty sure that i could also have made them crazy for 48 hours using Taberna Iboga extract (let says in a imaginary world where you can travel a lot :P)

sparkgap - 30-6-2005 at 02:45

Not to be picky, Blind Angel, but it's Tabernathe iboga. :)

So you're going to be giving them a "trip" of sorts after spraying 'em with it? :P

sparky (~_~)