Chemical Amusements and Legerdemain


Some time ago I acquired a small , ancient volume , “The Boy's Own Book, which caught my attention because it had a chapter , “Chemical Amusements, about chemistry experiments that might interest and entertain (and possibly also educate , to a certain extent) younger and teenage boys . Although undated , its frontspiece has a pencilled inscription , “Christmas 1885, so I have a good idea of its publication date .

The book is in reasonably good condition – for its age , now about 125 years old ! – but its paper is of a very inferior , cheap quality . The pages are somewhat stiff and brittle , and are an orange-tan color from aging (obviously , the paper is of the older acid-sized variety which ages poorly) . The book must be handled carefully ; even so , small chips of the friable paper inadverdently crumble off the pages .The type is tiny and of rather poor composition , with many only partially formed and occasional missing characters . There are smudges and imperfections on the paper .

Despite these deficiencies , I thought it might be a worthwhile project to scan the chemistry section of “The Boy's Own Book and offer the resulting composition as a PDF file , available by download from Chemexplore . People who enjoy reading about chemistry experiments as I do will will now be able to peruse these somewhat old-fashioned descriptions of chemical manipulations , which were in vogue in Victorian times before the introduction in the twentieth century of the educational style of chemistry sets that many young aspiring scientists have in their earlier years . The reader will have to puzzle out the nineteenth century names for common chemicals used in the Amusements ; for example , “muriate of potash is potassium chloride . “Sal ammoniac is ammonium chloride , and so on . The following experiment from the Amusements describes the growth of silver crystals in aqueous silver nitrate , from the redox exchange of Ag1+ and Hg0 :

I've also included an extra section from the book , from the “Legerdemain [magic tricks] chapter , in which a few more interesting chemistry experiments are described .

I don't expect the readers will actually try any of these experiments ; some would be extremely hazardous to attempt ! For example , there are several demonstrations involving white phosphorus , which is a very toxic , hazardous material that can cause severe burns and injuries . Similarly , the highly reactive alkali metals (eg. potassium) are found in several of the experiments , and a number of them require mercury , whose vapor is quite toxic (mercury is surprisingly volatile , even at room temperature) . And while spectacular , the demonstrations of explosive mixtures , eg. involving potassium chlorate , should never be carried out in actual practice (except maybe as supervised by an expert chemist , and with all the appropriate safety measures observed) . For me – and I hope for all the readers – the Amusements and Legerdemain are just that : entertaining and maybe even somewhat educational chemistry , but only for reading about , NOT for doing !

That said , please download and enjoy !


[download the file (PDF format , 1935 KB , or 1.88 MB] [see the Notes for saving PDF files]

[go to the Chemexplore Index page] [Contact me by email]