The history and chemistry of the Murexide dye

after 1865


There was much enthusiasm for purple dyed material especially in France. Partly, perhaps, because of the perceived connection with the Tyrian purple of antiquity which was derived from molluscs. Some considered murexide to be identical to Tyrian purple, and the differing properties were explained by suggesting that the correct method of application had not yet been discovered. Although murexide dyes were quite light-stable, there were problems with the sulphureous atmosphere of cities at the time: the dye was rapidly bleached. And if washed in very hot water, the colour was also destroyed, in contrast to the stable Tyrian purple. These factors, combined with the declining quality of guano, the discovery and rapid exploitation of aniline-derived dyes, and a change in the fashion led to the rapid demise of murexide as a dye. Charles O'Neill in his Record of the International Exhibition, 1862 described it as 'Another splendid failure, the whole history of which is included between the two Exhibitions of 1851 and 1862 ...', but in the same year A W Hofmann wrote 'Although the manufacture of murexide had dwindled to a mere shadow of what it was a few years since, its early career will always be remembered as one of the most interesting and instructive episodes in the chemical history of colouring matters.'
  More detail can be found in Artificial dyes in John Lightfoot's Broad Oak Laboratory
by Anthony S Travis, Ambix, 1995, 42(1), 10-27 and
Synthetic dyes before 1860 by W V Farrar, Endeavour, 1974, 33, 149-154.

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