despise not the truthful word of those who possessed the Stone before us
July 12, 2019 5:53 PM   Subscribe

Four hundred years ago, Basil Valentine created a cipher. He believed he was on the trail of the philosopher’s stone. He designed twelve keys describing the steps required to find it. His later keys were conjecture, but his early ones can be replicated. [WaPo]

Lawrence Principe is a historian of science who studies alchemy. [YT] Despite the baroque imagery and spirituality their grimroires invoke, the processes the alchemists described were made up of real laboratory steps, not just metaphors. [PDF]

In case you're curious (of course you are), Principe's interpretation of the first three keys are as follows: the first key describes a process of purifying gold using antimony ore; the second key describes a process of producing aqua regia from ammonium chloride and potassium nitrate; and the third key describes a process for sublimating gold (a process believed impossible until it was rediscovered in 1895). Subsequent keys elude decipherment.

Principe also has a great book on the history of alchemy.
posted by ragtag (4 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
The book is really good, everyone should read it. A fascinating fact:

Robert Boyle, of Boyle’s law, considered the founder of modern scientific chemistry, testified before parliament that he had personally seen an alchemist turn lead into gold.
posted by vogon_poet at 7:41 PM on July 12, 2019 [6 favorites]

I've always been fascinated by those pictorial keys, and have long wondered whether anyone had ever successfully interpreted any of them. I mean, obviously I didn't wonder hard enough to search the internet, but I'm really glad the story came my way.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 10:08 PM on July 12, 2019 [2 favorites]

Fascinating - many thanks for the post & the book recommendation!
posted by misteraitch at 12:45 AM on July 13, 2019

Bologna stones, previously.
posted by Joe in Australia at 6:57 AM on July 13, 2019

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