The collapse of the Argentaurum Syndicate.


Feb 5, 2021
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This text is basically a revised and expanded article from «Tekhnika Molodezhi» magazine #10 for 1973.


At the beginning of 1897, the Russian "Journal of Recent Discoveries and Inventions" informed its readers of surprising news. "Some months ago," it wrote, "sensational news came from America of a society formed there for "turning silver into gold." Several scientists and capitalists established a syndicate in the United States called "The Argentaurum Syndicate"... The soul of the enterprise was a certain Emmens, who claims to have discovered the great secret of turning silver into gold in a special way that has so far been kept secret.

Three years before that, Cary Lee, an American, had prepared a yellow metal from silver whose physical properties were very similar to those of gold, but whose chemical properties remained the same as those of silver. Emmens confesses that he took advantage of the experiments of Cary Lee, who was able to prepare an aqueous solution of metallic silver, that is, to bring silver in a condition in which it was achieved complete separation of its molecular particles. By strengthening this division of the metallic silver molecules in a special way he invented, Emmens achieved that he produced a metal which he said was not silver, but a very different elementary substance which had all the physical properties of gold. This derivative metal Emmens called "silver-gold" – Argentaurum. Although the metal loses 25% in weight from such a transformation, nevertheless the transformation of silver into gold would be so profitable that it would justify the establishment of the syndicate...

Chemistry, – further the author of note wrote, – does not have at the disposal of any positive data, allowing to hope for possibility of realization of artificial preparation of gold, and in this respect the exact science hasn't moved forward a step of a question on which many generations of alchemists unsuccessfully worked...".

The theoretical, if I may say so, basis of alchemy is the teachings of Aristotle, who believed that the sources of our impressions are not the material bodies themselves, but their properties that act on our senses. By depriving bodies of some properties and imparting others to them, it is possible to carry out their inter-transformation. It was the separation of properties from substances by means of chemical operations accompanied by mystical incantations that the alchemists practiced.

That's not to say that the experiment doesn't support this wild-sounding theory for us. Here are examples: By alloying 9 parts of copper and 1 part of tin in a crucible, it is possible to obtain bronze, a metal with more valuable properties than the initial ones. After polishing, it is not difficult to make the bronze produce a lustre similar to that of gold. What is not a confirmation of the theory about separation and transfer of the properties of bodies! There have been cases even more striking. Alchemist took a piece of silver, unaware that it contained a rich admixture of gold. After numerous operations, this gold could sometimes be separated from the silver. Can we blame the illogicality of the alchemist who thought that some of the silver was turned into gold?

It turns out that alchemy was not as chimerical as it might seem at first glance. It turns out that alchemists cannot be denied logic, observation and ingenuity. It turns out that they were wrong mainly in the ultimate goal of their research – to find a way to artificially produce gold from other metals. But somehow or other the dream that for fourteen centuries worried alchemists, forced them to boil, alloy, distill thousands of different substances. For long one and a half thousand years of tireless work they enriched mankind with substances much more valuable than gold: sulfuric, hydrochloric and nitric acids, alum, nitrate, bicarbonate, copper and iron vitriol. It was them who invented and developed the main processes of chemical technology – distillation, sublimation, precipitation, filtration, crystallization. But in spite of all these achievements, they did not succeed in what they considered the main thing – in turning cheap metals into precious ones.

There is always a negative result of all attempts in this direction gradually argued in the minds of people educated people about the principled impossibility of such transformation. Back in the XV century, Leonardo da Vinci put the inventors of the eternal engine to one board with alchemists: "On the seekers of a constant movement, how many empty projects created in such searches! Away Go with gold seekers! " Gradually rooting, this thought eventually put the limit of alchemy, which died, defeated his mighty chemistry from the bowels. And although even in the middle of the XIX century there was no lack of companies, like "society for transformation by pair of lead in gold", none of the little-faded man in science did not perceive them seriously.


And suddenly, on the threshold of the 20th century, a non-chant report on the implementation of the "great case" (so alchemists called the transformation of other metals in gold) is made by an educated society with full confidence! How could this happen? What aberration of thought led to such an unexpected result?

So, in 1890, the German chemist Hayman, splaveing relatively cheap reagents, artificially produced the precious blue dye indigo. A year later, the Dutchman Kammerling-Hell received liquid air in such quantities that it was possible to make it splashing like water. A year later, the German Münster calculated that in each ton of ordinary seawater contained about 5 milligrams of gold. In 1893, the French chemist Moissan stated that he managed to get diamonds from the simple cast iron. Two years later, the German Röntgen opened the mysterious X-rays: not differing from its nature from ordinary light, they fluently permeate many opaque bodies, allowed to see the contents of locked suitcases and cabinets. In 1898, the Englishman Stern received an artificial silk from the wood. And after another two years, French chemists Victor and Belier demonstrate precious rubies and sapphires, made in the laboratory of clay and chrome oxide ...

Is it surprising that the reading public, stunned by brilliant discoveries, did the message about the syndicate "Argentaurum" perceived without a special internal protest? Especially if you consider the art with which these messages were drawn up.

"The reverence of science is so great," said the famous English physicist Maxwell, spoke on one of his lectures in 1871 – that even the most absurd opinions are distributed, unless they are expressed by the language causing any well-known scientific phrases in memory. " Emmens, apparently, made a lot of effort to ensure that all messages about Argentaurum would cause as many scientific phrases as possible. Yes, and from the point of view of the external entourage, everything was furnished very solid, everything should have inspired confidence in Syndicate.

First of all, the confidence was to inspire the name of Dr. Emmens – the famous New York Chemist, a member of the American Chemical Society, the American Institute, Mountain Engineers and the International Electrician Society. Emmen's name was also known in the inventive circles of the North American United States: the author of many scientific works, he was the inventor of the processing method of sulfur-zinc ore and emmensite – an explosive adopted by the American government for the defense of the coast.

Then Emmens took care that his name in connection with Argentaurum was surrounded by the names of the most famous American scientists and inventors in those years. So, in all publications he was emphasized: Argentaurum did not appear suddenly. He is the natural completion of the work of Cary Lee for receiving colloidal silver; Edison's attempts and Tesla's get gold by irradiating silver x-rays emitted by an X-ray tube with gold electrodes; Experiments of the Baltic Professor Ira-Resensen, who tried to build a device for "molecular transformations of some metals to others." But the most hopeless proof that Emmens was launched in the fall of 1897, there was a report that the United States's Table Chamber began to buy gold produced by a silver syndicate ...
This message has caused a real excitement in print.

"I believe that in ordinary silver contains a grouping of particles that have different degrees of stability. Some groups are capable of disaggregation and the formation of a special, very fragile substance – Argentaurum. Magnificent influences, they or again go into silver, or approach the gold ... an accurate study of the physical and chemical properties of the substance received, I have not yet managed to accomplish, but I already consider myself to have the right to give the name – Argentaurum to be obtained by the metal.

These reasoning caused some response in scientific circles. The Emmens Argentaurum was spoken as a confirmation of the theory of the unity of matter. Apparently, these conversations assrated Emmens to the idea to reinforce their buildings by the authority of Dmitri Mendeleev, since one of the magazines of those years wrote: "Professor Mendeleev created the doctrine of the periodicity of the elements; Going out of these considerations, you can foresee the existence of simple, still unknown bodies, and on this basis of Mendeleev argued that there is a body that was really open ... it is called Gallium. Dr. Emmens – a supporter of this law of periodicity, and, in his opinion, his argentarum will take an empty place between silver and gold in the table compiled by this law. "

In all likelihood, it is these references to the periodic law overwhelmed the bowl of Mendeleev's patience and forced him to take a pen ...

Since the fall of 1886, Crookes read his famous lecture "On the origin of chemical elements" in Birmingham, the merits were disputes about the unity of matter flashed with a new force. The London Doctor of Rout, amateurly engaged in chemistry in 1815 and 1816, he published two articles in which it argued that the atomic weights of the elements should be in accuracy in the atomic weight of hydrogen; that no fractional atomic weight values can be, and if they are, it means that the measurements are not made enough exactly. What finally should exist "utilized" – a single primary matter, from which everything is consistent. The ideas of Prout divided chemists into two camps. Some supported the idea of the unity of matter, others denied it. Finally, in the 1860s, the Belgian Chemist of Stas puts a series of painstaking measurements, which must be directly experimental by installing: There are or no fractional atomic weights? The tableboard hundreds of times the rechecked digits compiled by Stas turned out to be meaningful for chemists of that time: the atomic weights of most elements were fractional ...
With irritation Mendeleev read letters from admirers of Emmens.

Dmitri Ivanovich Mendeleev, whose periodic law was referred to as evidence of the existence of Argentaurum, sharply opposed the deliberately unbearable reports of the American chemist. "It seems to me a very unlikely transition of silver in gold, – wrote Mendeleev in 1897, – if back, gold will not move in silver, because the atomic weight and density of gold almost twice more than silver ... "

Messages about Syndicate "Argentaurum" quickly disappeared from pages of newspapers and magazines.

Or maybe Mr. Emmens really managed to make the transformation of silver in gold?
No matter how paradoxically sounds such an assumption, there are similar examples in science history.

Thus, after the invention of X-ray analysis, all the crystals obtained by Moissan and those considered by artificial diamonds were inspected. It turned out that none of them was diamond. Then it was proclaimed that with the technical means that the XIX century had, diamond synthesis was impossible, and all previous Moissan attempts were declared unsuccessful. But when Bannister and Lonsdale's English physicists also took for the analysis of crystal's, 63 years already launched in the British Museum under the label "Artificial Diamonds Hanney", it turned out that these are truly diamonds. The secret of how in 1880 Hanney managed to synthesize diamonds, still remains undisclosed. How did he act than replaced the unique presses and electric furnaces, who gave the opportunity to scientists in the fulfillment of theory to synthesize diamonds in 1955?

G. Smirnov
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