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From Alchemist to Metallurgist

One of the many trades that drew on alchemy was metalworking. The scene below shows what a two-man copper "factory" looked like in 16th Century Europe. Closely resembling an alchemy laboratory, it actually used equipment and techniques perfected by alchemists. A is a small smelting oven where copper ore was tested. B is the furnace door. C is the crushed ore. D is another testing oven. E is a bellows. F is a spherical water tank. G is a pot for melting copper with other metals to make alloys, and H is a testing crucible.

the tools of the smelter

The alchemical equipment below was used by early metallurgists to find the gold content of silver: A is an assay oven, B an iron tray, C a facial protector for looking into the oven, D a flask, and E shows the metallurgist assaying silver.

the gold amid the silver

Metallurgy bequeathed to alchemy a variety of black quartz popularly called a "touchstone." Rubbing the quartz with a sample of gold produces a yellow streak whose color and consistency reveal the impurities in the gold.

the test of the touchstone

All of the drawings on this page, are from Lazarus Ercker's book on metallurgy published in Prague in 1574, a definitive work in its field for 200 years.

Ralph E. Lapp Life Science Library: Matter New York:Time Incorporated, 1965

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This page was last updated on 10/28/2017.