A substance used in perfumes, a secretion of certain species of cat. A male cat produces about 3 grams of civet a week (The cats are farmed, not wild, and are not killed. Most civet now comes from Ethiopia.) Civet is sold both as a paste and dissolved in alcohol.
This substance approaches in smell to musk and ambergris; it has a pale yellow colour, a somewhat acrid taste, a consistence like that of honey, and a very strong aromatic odour. It is the product of two small quadrupeds of the genus viverra (v. zibetha and v. civetta), of which the one inhabits Africa, the other Asia. They are reared with tenderness, especially in Abyssinia. The civet is contained in a sac, situated between the anus and the parts of generation, in either sex. The animal frees itself from an excess of this secretion by a contractile movement which it exercises upon the sac, when the civet issues in a vermicular form, and is carefully collected. The negroes are accustomed to increase the secretion by irritating the animal; and likewise introduce a little butter, or other grease, by the natural slit in the bag, which mixes with the odoriferous substance, and increases its weight. It is employed only in perfumery.
According to M. Boutron-Chalard, it contains a volatile oil, to which it owes its smell, some free ammonia, resin, fat, an extractiform matter, and mucus. It affords, by calcination, an ash, in which there are some carbonate and sulphate of potash, phosphate of lime, and oxide of iron.
A Dictionary of Arts, Manufactures and Mines...
London: Longman, Orme, Brown, Green & Longmans, 1839.
An entertaining description of the product by a present-day dealer: http://giovannisammarco.ch/product/civet-paste-10-gr/
Civet.—This substance is soft, unctuous, and odoriferous, nearly the consistence of butter, produced by an animal called the Civet Cat. They are confined in cages, and when irritated, throw out the civet, which is carefully scraped off. It is brought from the Brazils, Guinea, and the interior of Africa; it is of a dark brown colour, unctuous, somewhat resembling Labdanum, of a very powerful smell, far from fragrant or agreeable. Its principal use is as a perfume, and when genuine, is worth from 80s. to 40s. per ounce. The best is said to come from the Brazils, of a lively whitish colour, which becomes dark by keeping. If paper is rubbed with civet, and it will bear writing on afterwards, it is considered genuine.
Revised by Thomas Thornton.
Oriental Commerce, or the East India Trader's Complete Guide; …
London: Printed for Kingsbury, Parbury, and Allen, 1825.
Karl H. Dannenfeldt.
Europe discovers civet cats and civet.
Journal of the History of Biology, vol. 18, no. 3 (Fall 1985
Copyright © 2012-2014 Sizes, Inc. All rights reserved.
Last revised: 27 October 2014.