America’s Amazing Alchemist
by Vincent H. Gaddis
Did Dr. Stephen H. Emmens find the key to the dreams of the medieval alchemists, or was he a clever imposter? The question remains unanswered. But there is no doubt that he did produce gold from some source which he sold to the United States Mint. Moreover, another scientist, by following his instructions, attained partial success. Dr. Emmens, however, like the fabulous sorcerers of legend, carried to the grave his fundamental secrets.
If Dr. Emmens was truly a modern Rosicrucian, the re-discovery of his methods may threaten the gold standards of world markets. On the other hand, if he was a fraud, his scheme of disposing of gold was probably the most ingenious ever devised. The facts in the story, however, indicate that Emmens did find a way for artificially increasing the gold content of coined silver.
First, Emmens was a scientist whose discoveries cannot be lightly dismissed. His name ranks high in the development of explosives; and he invented “Emmensite,” a high-explosive officially accepted by the U.S. government. He was a member of the U.S. Board of Ordnance, the American Chemical Society, the American Institute of Mining Engineers, the U.S. Naval Institute, and the U.S. Military Service Institute. His reputation as a chemist was international in the scientific world. He was the author of a number of books on a wide variety of topics.
Second, when the famous English physicist, Sir William Crookes, duplicated the Emmens experiment, he succeeded in gaining a gold content in silver amounting to almost 27 percent.
Dr. Emmens, a large, well-built man with a walrus mustache, started his experiments about the year 1895. While making some geological studies, he noticed a curious fact — that gold is found in greenstone that has made its way from the interior of the earth under conditions permitting very slow cooling. He also observed that gold is not found in ordinary lava flows where the heat has been quickly dissipated. Since lava and greenstone are composed of similar elements, he decided that “a non-auriferous limestone, subjected to the same natural laboratory treatment as an auriferous greenstone, is capable of producing gold by the transmutation of some of its own constituent particles.”
Likewise, Dr. Emmens believed that a relationship existed between gold and silver, since both were geologically associated with each other. He suggested that in the course of natural chemical evolution silver becomes transmuted into gold, or gold into silver, “or that some third substance exists which changes partly into gold and partly into silver.” This third immediate substance he called “argentaurum.”
Experiments were started in his New York laboratory. Several years later Dr. Emmens claimed to have produced argentaurum by a method which he kept secret, although he revealed the general principles involved in the process. He used as his material Mexican silver dollars, certified by the U.S. Mint as containing less than one part in ten thousand of gold. First, there was a mechanical treatment. The silver was subjected to continuous hammering at very low temperatures in a special cylinder. He called the apparatus a “force=engine,” and it seems to have a combination riveter and hydraulic press. A special arrangement rapidly carried away the heat generated by the hammering.
Next, there was a process of fluxing and granulation. This action, Dr. Emmens wrote, rendered the “molecular aggregates susceptible of displacement and rearrangement.” The mechanical treatment was again applied to the silver, followed by a chemical process in which modified nitric acid was used. The final step was refining. It was necessary that the silver contain at least a trace of gold, and the Emmens process served to increase this gold content.
In 1897 Dr. Emmens started selling his gold to the U.S. Mint. Official figures for the amounts of “argentaurum gold” purchased by the assay office in 1897 reveal a fineness of gold ranging from .305 to .751. A year later the content varied from .313 to .997 — the latter being almost pure gold. It is obvious that the results of the process were not consistent. The ingots contained an alloy of silver and gold, with occasional traces of other metals.
Public knowledge of this modern alchemy did not come until early in 1899 when the New York Herald printed a feature article on the Emmens discovery. A storm of discussion and controversy immediately followed. James Gordon Bennett, the publisher, issued a challenge to Emmens to present a demonstration of his process before a committee of scientists.The inventor immediately accepted. However, the famous publisher found it impossible to form a committee. He invited a number of scientific experts, including Nikola Tesla, to witness a demonstration, but they all refused. Again, it was found that the cost of the demonstration would be no small matter. The expense of equipping a new laboratory was estimated at $10,000. On the other hand, if the experiment was made in the inventor’s own laboratory, the cost would be even greater. Emmens pointed out that the fraud-suspecting committee would demand that one floor be torn up and all his other equipment dismantled.As a result the New York Herald withdrew its challenge, claiming that the conditions for a demonstration could not be arranged. Meanwhile, Emmens quietly continued his work of apparently manufacturing gold and selling it to the Mint. During one nine-months period his sales of gold to the government amounted to $8,000.
Rumors of Dr. Emmens alchemy had circulated throughout the scientific world before it reached the public. In May, 1897, Sir William Crookes wrote to Emmens from England inquiring about his experiments, and their correspondence continued for about a year. Almost from the beginning, however, the personalities of the two men came into conflict, and their relationship ended in bitterness and controversy.
Sir William was a scientist — placing the acquisition of knowledge above all other considerations. But Dr. Emmens was first an inventor, and he demanded that his work bring a financial return. In one letter he wrote: “The gold-producing work in our Argentaurum laboratory is a case of pure Mammon-seeking. It is not being carried on for the sake of science or in a proselytizing spirit. No disciples are desired, and no believers are asked for.”
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