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Chemistry Index

Chemical Element Identification Timeline
History of Phosphorus : Introduction and Timeline

History of Science and Technology Index

Characters involved in the Phosphorus Story

Hennig Brand (1630 - c. 1710)
Johann Kunckel (1630 - 1703)
Johann Daniel Krafft (1624 - 1697) and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646 - 1716)
Johann Joachim Becher (1635 - c. 1682)
Robert Boyle (1627 - 1691) and his Assistants

Transcripts of Publications (1677 - 1853)

Aerial Noctiluca : Robert Boyle 1680

Icy Noctiluca : Robert Boyle 1682

An Account of four sorts of factitious
Shining Substances : Robert Boyle 1677

A Paper of the Honourable Robert Boyle's,
Opened Since His Death (1692)

Some Observations made upon an Artificial
Shining Substance : Robert Boyle 1677

Extracts from John Evelyn's Diary 1681 and 1685

Experiments made with the liquid and of the solid
Phosphorus : Frederick Slare 1681

Extract from Experiments of the Luminous
Qualities of Amber : Samuel Wall 1708

On the Discovery of Phosphorus and a
Biography of Ambrose Godfrey
Hanckwitz : Joseph Ince 1853

Other Information

The Chemical Equations involved in the Luminescence of Phosphorus



1 soapy or soap-like paste

2 reverberatory furnace = a furnace in which the roof and walls are heated by flames and radiate heat on to material in the center of the furnace.

3 old term for nitric acid

4 encheiresis = from Greek encheirisis meaning 'hand' - in this case 'handmade' by the operator

5 by art or by skill

6 fatty, smooth and greasy in texture

7 cleansed or purified

8 smelling extremely unpleasant

9 consisting of talc - a white, grey, or pale green soft mineral with a greasy feel

10 alkaline

11Edmund Dickinson or Dickenson
(1624 - 1707)

12 human excrement

13 a metallic form of a substance,
obtained by smelting or reduction

14Martin Lister (1639 - 1712)

15Herman Boerhaave (1668 - 1738)

16Johann Joachim Becher (1635 - c. 1682)




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An Extract from "An Account of some Experiments upon the Phosphorus Uriæ, which may serve as an explanation to those shown to the Royal Society by Dr. Frobenius, on Nov. 18, 1731, together with several Observations, tending to explain the nature of that wonderful production" by Ambrose Godfrey Hanckwitz, Chemist, F.R.S.

(Last section only)

Reflections on these Experiments


As for the preparation of this wonderful production, it is done by distilling the Saponaceous Magma1 in a closed vessel, with a reverberate fire2, much stronger than that used for the distillation of aquae fortis3, or the other mineral acid spirits; the rest of the proper encheiresis4 belongs only to the operator to manage secundum artem5. When this operation succeeds rightly, there comes forth first, a thick unctuous6 oil. Secondly, a more subtile oil, resembling the oleum philosophorum, which is olive oil distilled from brick-dust. Thirdly, the fixed acid enclosed in a very subtile acid. Near the end of the distillation comes over that depurated7 oil which constitutes the inflammable part of the phosphorus, which is not raised up until the last, and that by the continuance of a very strong reverberatory fire.

But an operator that is well exercised in the degrees of fire, and doth know how and when to take away the oils apart, will have nothing but a volatile salt, a fetid8 oil, and get at last only a little unctuous opaque phosphorus; such as the famous Kunckel, Dr. Craft, and Brand did, as they acknowledge in their writings; but not our hard transparent Glacial Phosphorus. Since Kunckel therefore, and his followers, were never able to make the true Glacial Phosphorus, it was absurd for him to write, that he could make it even out of crude indigested things, in their natural state; for either this famous man spoke too much at large, and had never tried the experiments, or else he must design to impose upon the world: For I can boldly contradict him in this point from the several experiments I have made, but never found any true phosphorus except in such things as had undergone digestion in animals. And I know myself to have been these forty or fifty years, that is, ever since I left the laboratory of my master the Honourable Mr. Boyle, the only person in Europe able to produce in any quantity the true solid phosphorus.

I did not content myself to work upon the Urinous Sapo of man only, but examined likewise the excrements of other animals; as for example, of horses, cows, sheep etc. and got phosphorus, but not in so great quantities as from man; probably because they feed on nothing but vegetables. I then examined the dens of lions, tygers, and bears, making experiments on their excrements, and likewise those of cats and dogs, which being carnivorous animals, I obtained more phosphorus thence than from the other creatures: My curiosity led me likewise to rats nests and mouse holes, and I had phosphorus thence. I then addressed myself to the feathered tribe, visiting the hen roosts, and pigeon houses, and got some small matters thence also: I emptied the guts of fish in order to get their excrements, and had a little phosphorus from these, but none from the fishes by themselves.

I was next induced by Kunckel's assertion to try what I could obtain out of crude vegetables, viz. corn and other fruit: I thought that putrefaction would bring them the highest to an ammoniac and urinous state, because of the heat that is produced in them by it; but my labour was all in vain. After these experiments, I took in hand fossils and minerals: I began with the common fossil coal, thinking that the phlogiston in this bituminous substance might have been to my purpose; but I found noting therein like phosphorus, there coming over only a bituminous oil, and at last by increasing the fire to the highest degree, there sublimed some white talckly9 flowers, which were neither sulphureous, nor acid, nor alcalick10 , but insipid like talck; so I gave up all further experiments upon other minerals.

I have wished for a sufficient quantity of the flies which shine in the dark, whereof there are great numbers in Italy, especially in Tuscany; or of our common glow worms, which seem to have phosphorous lodged in their bodies.

Our phosphorus is a subject that occupies the thoughts and fancies of some alchymists, who work on microcosmical substances; and out of it they promise themselves golden mountains. Of this number was the famous Dr. Dickinson11, physician to King Charles II: He toiled and laboured many years in experiments upon the stercus humanum12; and hath several times with the greatest pleasure showed me metallic reguluses13, he had extracted from it. This is what I have often done myself, and no wonder! For we take in daily with our food, and sometimes medicines, both mineral and metallic substances, besides what metallic vessels, kettles, pots and dishes furnish: We see a solution of the metal upon a knife after cutting any acid fruit, by the black spots it hath upon it, and the metallic taste it communicates to the thing it cuts.

Dr. Lister14 hath shown, that stones out of the human bladder being calcined, iron my be extracted from them by loadstone. And the great Boerhaave15 hath made it evident, by various experiments, that there is scarce any terrestrial substance, either in men, brutes or plants, which after ustion doth not exhibit some metallic particles. Dr. Becher16 saith, that out of brick-earth mixed with any fat or oil, and calcined in the fire, he hath produced iron: For it is only the iron that causes the redness of the bricks, and can be extracted from them again. Moreover, metals are dissolved by the salts and moisture in the earth, and so mix with the nutritious juices of vegetables; hence it may, in some respect, be said, that we eat metals with the greatest part of our food.


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