Leyden Papyrus X
This practical work written in Greek in the third century A.D.deals primarily with recipes for making alloys and tinging metals so that they would appear to be gold. Below a translation of some sections from this document.
There are a few words that need some explanation.
Asem - probably an alloy of gold and silver. Misy - probably iron or copper pyrites or the oxidised products of these. Chrysocolla - a gold alloy for soldering gold. Aphronitron - a natural alkali, possibly sodium carbonate. Sinopian red - red ochre, ferric oxide. Cadmia - soot condensed in copper and brass smelting furnaces, usually containing zinc oxides.
1. Purification and hardening of lead.
Melt it, spread on the surface lamellose alum and copperas reduced to a fine powder and mixed, and it will be hardened.
3. Purification of tin that is put into the alloy of asem.
Take tin purified of any other substance, melt it, let it cool; after having covered it with oil, melt it again; then having crushed together some oil, some bitumen and some salt, rub it on the metal and melt a third time; after fusion, put aside the tin after having purified it by washing; for it will be like hard silver. Then if you wish to employ it in the manufacture of silver objects, of such a kind that they cannot be found out and which have the hardness of silver, blend 4 parts of silver and 3 parts of tin and the product will become as a silver object.
5. Manufacture of asem.
Tin, 12 drachmas; mercury, 4 drachmas; earth of Chios, 2 drachmas. To the melted tin, add the crushed earth, then the mercury, stir with an iron, and put [the product] in use.
6. Doubling of asem.
One takes: refined copper, 40 drachmas; asem, 8 drachmas; tin in buttons, 40 drachmas; one first melts the copper and after two heatings, the tin; then the asem. When all are softened, remelt several times and cool by means of the preceding composition. After having augmented metal by these proceedings, clean it with talc. The tripling is effected by the same procedure, the weights being proportioned in conformity with what has been stated above.
11. Manufacture of asem.
Purify lead carefully with pitch and bitumen, or tin as well; and mix cadmia and litharge in equal parts with the lead, and stir until the alloy is completed and solidifies. It can be used like natural asem.
14. Manufacture of an alloy for a preparation.
Copper, 1 mina, melt and throw on it 2 minas of tin in buttons and work it thus.
15. The colouration of gold.
To colour gold to render it fit for use. Misy, salt, and vinegar accruing from the purification of gold; mix it all and throw into the vessel [which contains] the aforementioned gold; let it remain some time, and then having drawn [the gold] from the vessel, heat it upon the coals; then again throw it in the vessel which contains the above-mentioned preparation; do this several times until it becomes fit for use.
16. Augmentation of gold.
To augment gold, take cadmia of Thrace, make the mixture with cadmia in crusts, or that from Galacia.
17. Falsification of gold.
Misy and Sinopian red, equal parts to one part of gold. After the gold has been thrown in the furnace and has become of good colour throw upon it these two ingredients, and removing [the gold] let it cool, and the gold is doubled.
19. [Manufacture of asem.]
Copper of Cyprus, 4 staters; earth of Samos, 4 staters; lamellose alum, 4 staters; common salt, 2 staters; blackened asem, 2 staters, or if you desire to make it more beautiful, 4 staters. Having melted the copper, spread the earth of Chios and the lamellose alum crushed together, stir until they are mixed; and having melted this asem, pour. Having mixed that which has just been melted with some [wood of] juniper, remove it; before so doing, however, burn it, and extinguish the product in lamellose alum and salt taken in equal parts, with some slimy water slightly thick; and if you wish to finish the work immerse again in the above-mentioned; heat so that [the metal] becomes white. Take care to employ refined copper beforehand, having heated it at the beginning and submitted it to the action of the bellows, until it has rejected its scale and become pure; and then use it as has just been stated.
21. Treatment of hard asem.
A procedure to change black and hard asem into white and soft. Taking some leaves of the castor-oil plant infuse them a day in water; then soak [the metal] in the water before melting and melt twice and sprinkle with aphronitron. And throw alum on the casting; put into use. It possesses quality for it is beautiful.
24. Hardening of tin.
For hardening tin, spread separately [on its surface] lamellose alum and copperas; if, moreover, you have purified the tin as is necessary and have employed the materials previously named, in such a way that they did not escape by flowing away during the heating, you will have Egyptian asem for the manufacture of objects [of jewellery].
25. Gold polish.
For treating gold, in other words for purifying gold and rendering it brilliant: misy, 4 parts; alum, 4 parts; salt, 4 parts. Pulverise with water.
And having coated the gold [with it], place it in an earthenware vessel deposited in a furnace and luted with clay, [and heat] until the above-named substances have become molten; then withdraw it and scour carefully.
26. Purification of silver.
How silver is purified and made brilliant. Take a part of silver and an equal weight of lead; place in a furnace, and keep up the melting until the lead has just been consumed; repeat the operation several times until it becomes brilliant.
27. Colouring in silver.
For silvering objects of copper: tin in sticks, 2 drachmas; mercury, 4 drachmas; earth of Chios, 2 drachmas. Melt the tin, throw on the crushed earth, then the mercury, and stir with an iron and fashion into globules.
28. Manufacture of copper similar to gold.
Crush some cumin; pour on it some water, dilute, and let it stand for three days. On the fourth day shake, and if you wish to use it as a coating mix chrysocolla with it; and the gold will appear.
31. Preparation of chrysocolla.
Solder for gold is prepared thus: copper of Cyprus, 4 parts; asem, 2 parts; gold, 1 part. The copper is first melted, then the asem and finally the gold.
32. To recognise the purity of tin.
After having melted, place some papyrus below it and pour; if the papyrus burns, the tin contains some lead .
34. A procedure for writing in letters of gold.
To write in letters of gold, take some mercury, pour into a clean vessel and add to it some gold in leaves; when the gold appears dissolved in the mercury, agitate sharply; add a little gum, 1 grain for example, and after letting stand, write in the letters of gold.
36. Manufacture of asem that is black like obsidian.
Asem, 2 parts; lead, 4 parts. Place in an earthen vessel, throw on it a triple weight of unburnt sulphur, and having placed it in the furnace, melt. And having withdrawn it from the furnace, beat, and make what you wish. If you wish to make figured objects in beaten or cast metal, then polish and cut. It will not rust.
38. To give objects of copper the appearance of gold.
And neither touch nor rubbing against the touchstone will detect them, but they can serve especially for [the manufacture of] a ring... Here is the preparation for this. Gold and lead are ground to a fine powder like flour, 2 parts of lead for 1 of gold; then when mixed, they are incorporated with gum. After that one coats the ring [with this mixture]; then it is heated. One repeats this several times until the object has taken the colour. It is difficult to detect [the fraud], because rubbing gives the mark of a gold object, and the heat consumes the lead but not the gold.
43. Testing of gold.
If you wish to test the purity of gold, remelt it and heat it: if it is pure it will keep its colour after heating and remain like a piece of money. If it becomes white, it contains silver; if it becomes rougher and harder some copper and tin; if it blackens and softens, lead.
44. Testing of silver.
Heat the silver or melt it, as with gold; and if it remains white and brilliant, it is pure and not false; if it appears black, it contains some lead; if it appears hard and yellow, it contains some copper.
57. [Gilding of silver.]
To gild silver in a durable fashion. Take some mercury and some leaves of gold, and make up into the consistency of wax; taking the vessel of silver, clean it with alum, and taking a little of the waxy material, lay it on with the polisher and let the material fasten itself on. Do this five times. Hold the vessel with a fine linen cloth in order not to soil it. Then taking some embers, prepare some ashes [and with them] smooth the vessel with the polisher, and use it as a genuine tested [gold] vessel.