View Full Version : Alchemical fire in a flask

01-07-2009, 05:40 PM
This is a Phoenix-thread (http://forum.alchemyforums.com/showthread.php?t=7) from the old site (http://alchemy-forums.forumotion.com/forum.htm) created by Arcanium.

I found this today, I was just wondering if anybody knew anything about this. I'm interested in tryin this.

John French, The Art of Distillation, London 1651
To keep fire in a glasse, that whilest the glasse is shut will not burne, but as soone as it it opened will be inflamed.
First extract the burning spirit of the salt of tin in a glasse Retort well coated; when the Retort is cold, take it out and break it, and assoone as the matter in it, which remains in the bottome thereof after distillation, comes into the aire, it will presently be inflamed. Put this matter into a glasse viall, and keep it close stopt.
This fire will keep many thousand yeares and not burne unless the glasse be opened: but at what time soever that is opened it will burne.
It is conceived that such a kind of fire as this was found in vaults when they were opened, which many conceived to be a perpetuall burning Lamp, when as indeed it was inflamed at the opening of the vault, and the letting in aire thereby which before it lacked, and therefore could not burne. For it is to be conceived that there is no fire burnes longer than its matter endures, and there is no combustible matter can endure for ever.
There may be many uses of such a fire as this, for any man may carry it about with him and let it burne on a sudden when he hath any occasion for fire.

How interesting!

It seems to me that it is some kind of phosphor based material that's releasing the flame, but the text mentions the burning "spirit" of the salt of tin. Anyway, I'll let you know what I know about this phenomena, and unfortunately I only know of one element/substance that produces such phenomena (white phosphorus). When white phosphor comes in contact with the air, it immediately bursts into flames. I remember reading in some alchemy text about creating a cold, green "flame" (doesn't release heat or burn the flesh) by using gaseous (i think?) white phosphorus.

These are really cool, but white phosphorus is absolutely dangerous. It's perhaps the second most dangerous element in the periodic table (aside from cesium).
Haha, yeah, my chemistry teacher mentioned a few times about how dangerous white phosphorus is.
Often these perpetual burning lamps of the philosophers are equated with being essentially a phosphorous based agent. Although phosphorous can be made to glow in the dark, it is not of the same origin as the perpetual lamps spoken of. These lamps are historically written as being brought to life from the repeated multiplication of the red stone. The number of multiplications which brings this about is seven. After the seventh multiplication it is generally written as being unwise to take it any further. Fulcanelli, in the Dwellings of the Philosophers, gives a very detailed description and I'll quote from it:

However if the maximum number of multiplications is exceeded, it changes form and instead of resuming its solid crystalline state when cooling down, it remains fluid like quicksilver and definitely non-coagulable. It then shines in darkness, with a soft, red, phosphorescent light. The universal Medicine has become the inextinguishable Light; the light giving product of those perpetual lamps, which certain authors have mentioned as having been found in some ancient sepulchres.
Ah, I always thought that the multiplication of the stone would eventually give way to elemental phosphorus caught up in the matrix of the crystalline stone, and this was the source of the phosphorescence.

If it's not phosphorus, then what is it? Do you have any ideas? I doubt it's from radiation or anything like that. Sadly, I wish I knew more about this particular subject.

I believe the ancients possessed phosphorus or some glowing substance in order to use in caves and buildings to remove the problem of smoke inhalation and carbon monoxide. Atleast I remember hearing bits and pieces of this in various alternative history theories.
I'm unsure of the source and I only quote from memory but I believe it's a long decoction of something from the saline metallic and compounded variety. If my theory on the matter holds any weight I believe that the stone through the process of multiplication is made so subtle and volatile each progressive time making it obviously more penetrable and able to effect transmutations each time gaining in powers and mass by ten. In effect a 1:100 ratio at it's first appearance with 1:1000, 1:10000, 1:100000 etc... in each successive multiplication. This I feel has some effect on it's volatility to such a degree that when they mention to not go beyond seven times in multiplication, it is from the real fear that the whole mass would vanish into thin air rather quickly, or something worse. The reason why I don't feel it's phosphorous in nature (to some degree) is due to the fact that if you were to take what they say for fact, that the stone is made each time successively more potent with multiplications- then you equate that in terms of energy, at some point you would have something self illuminating. If you (the universal you, not you B.E. since I know you do)believe in transmutation then on some level you are suggesting a rather large energy transfer to bring about a transition from one inferior metal to a superior metal. And if each time around you make it more powerful in it's ability (which could be read as energy) then it says something about it's potential to become self illuminating. Again this is all just theory as of yet.

I believe the ancients possessed phosphorus or some glowing substance in order to use in caves and buildings to remove the problem of smoke inhalation and carbon monoxide. Atleast I remember hearing bits and pieces of this in various alternative history theories.
This is a quote I wanted to expound upon after acquiring some more knowledge. Various metallic sulfide salts do exhibit phosphorescent traits. Zinc is a good example. This zinc sulfide can then be doped/coated with copper, silver, etc to modify the color and glow.

These materials would need to be charged by the sun, but afterwards if the sulfide salt was well prepared, it may hold its glow throughout the night. To the ancients, this would indeed seem like absolute magic.

Pretty cool I think. This process can be carried out with sea shells even.

01-07-2009, 05:41 PM
So tonight I'm going to perform a few experiments related to phosphorescent sulfide salts.

I'll probably experiment with calcium sulfide first, and then maybe magnesium sulfide. The sulfide salt of calcium can be made by calcining calcium sulfate with two parts carbon. This produces calcium sulfide and carbon dioxide. Carrying out the process any further only produces calcium oxide and sulfur trioxide. I'm sure magnesium sulfate will react the same way.

I'll probably use copper as an activator, but I'm not too sure how I'll go about applying this to the sulfide salt. I'll probably have to calcine the sulfate salt with carbon first. Carbon shouldn't be left if the process is carried out to completion (it will bind with oxygen to become carbon dioxide). After all carbon has been removed, then I'll add the copper powder. This should give me a calcium sulfide + copper doped phosphorescent powder. I honestly don't know, but I will play with this process some to figure out the best way to dope the sulfide salt.

EDIT: My local department store didn't have any plaster of paris in stock (odd). So I purchased some epsom salt instead. I'll just make a solution of sea salt and epsom salt, this should precipitate out a "philosophical" calcium sulfate.

So it seems like my plan didn't work. I didn't get a calcium sulfate precipitate. I attribute this to one thing: the dead sea salt does not contain enough calcium chloride. Need to find some chalk or sea shells, bah!

My second plan failed also. I had some m-state precipitate from a solution of dead sea salt laying around. So I figured it should contain SOME calcium hydroxide. I added some spirit of salt (HCl) to obtain the soluble magnesium/calcium chlorides. This was then added to a solution of magnesium sulfate. If calcium were present, it should precipitate calcium sulfate, but yet again it ended in failure.

01-10-2009, 09:12 AM
Calcium sulfate has a solubility of 0.24 g/100 mL according to wikipedia. Probably you don't have enough calcium in the solution in order to overcome the limit and obtain a precipitate.

01-10-2009, 10:22 AM
You're absolutely right. The Dead Sea salt I used only contained trace amounts of calcium chloride. Any calcium sulfate that formed would not have precipitated due to its slight solubility.

I've quit working on sulfide salts for the meanwhile, but I will definitely come back to this topic in due time.

01-10-2009, 04:58 PM
One could try zinc sulfide instead of calcium. It is easier and safer to make. According to wikipedia,
It is easily produced by mixing an amount of zinc and sulfur and then igniting it. The result (after cooling) is zinc sulfide.
Its a nice coincidence that right now I'm reading a book called "Chemical Magic" by John Lippy and it has a whole chapter on Luminous paints based on sufides and other substances. There is also an interesting chapter with many recipies on how to start fire with water. An easy one includes mixing ammonium chloride, ammonium nitrate and zinc dust. Or in another, some potassium metal is put into ether and ignited when water is thrown in. (I think potassium could be made by electrolysis of molten KCl or K2CO3)

01-10-2009, 06:46 PM
One could try zinc sulfide instead of calcium. It is easier and safer to make. According to wikipedia,
I want to try this. It seems fairly straightforward. I have a pound of few pounds of pure zinc laying around, but I don't have any elemental sulfur. Haha, what kind of alchemist am I anyway? No sulfur! :(

Zinc, Cadmium, and Mercury are some of the more reactive metals.

An easy one includes mixing ammonium chloride, ammonium nitrate and zinc dust.
I learned about this trick a few weeks ago. Made a post in the "Survival Techniques of Alchemists" thread.

Here's what I said:

A simple fire starter can be made by using a mixture of ammonium nitrate (15g) + ammonium chloride (1.5g) + zinc dust (35g). These components are mixed thoroughly and kept in an airtight container. Once mixed it becomes highly sensitive to moisture, and if left out in the open it will ignite (the salts deliquesce). This mixture will ignite if a single drop of water is added to a small pile.

I wonder if it would work with copper dust instead of zinc. Copper is somewhat more easy to identify in the wild. Our ammonium nitrate / ammonium chloride can be had through a number of methods.