In 1845, a young chemistry assistant at the Ecole professionnelle de Nantes, Theodore Tiffereau, aged twenty-eight, is on a study trip to Mexico.  In preparation for a work that he wants to write when he returns to France, he travels to the mineral deposits, makes sketches, collects samples and interviews miners.  Any kind of metal interests him, and he enters into contact with some gold diggers, whose life he shares for weeks on end, camping with them along rivers where sometimes the flash of a grain of gold dust, or even a nugget, shines…

One day, Theodore Tiffereau met some gold diggers in Mexico.

Then, one day, Theodore Tiffereau hears one of these gold diggers say to his colleagues, while showing them a little piece of gold that he had just taken from the water:

“Ah!  Look!  This one is nice and ripe!

The young man approaches and asks him what he means.  The digger then explains that nuggets that have not yet changed into gold don’t interest them.  Theodore Tiffereau objects that gold is always gold.  The Mexican bursts out laughing:

“Not at all!  It has to ripen!  When we find gold that isn’t yet ripe, we throw it back into the river for it has no value…”

The young chemistry assistant has never heard anything like this.  None of his teachers has ever mentioned anything about the “ripening” of gold.  He snickers:

“The day that you find an unripe nugget, show it to me.  I would be curious to see that!”

The digger agrees, saying that they are probably rare, there where they are, because it’s a good spot.

Tiffereau says nothing more.  The Mexican’s serious tone has troubled him.  To the point that, in the following days, he starts an investigation and questions other gold diggers.  They all say the same thing:  to be good, a nugget must be ripe…

The young chemist ends up thinking that minerals are perhaps, like all other created things, subject to transformations – an extraordinary hypothesis for the epoch.  But he would like to have proof.  He would like to be shown some “unripe” gold.

So, for weeks, he continues to observe the gold diggers.  And when one of them is lucky enough to discover something shiny in his sieve, Tiffereau rushes over to ask what the gold dust is like.  Invariably, the digger replies that it is ripe.

In the end, a perfectly understandable doubt takes hold of the young man.  He thinks that the whole story is some sort of joke that the Mexicans play on credulous tourists like himself…

A bit miffed, he leaves the gold diggers and continues his trip.

A few weeks later, while he is visiting the silver mines of Gonzales, near Cozalo, next to hot sulphurous springs, he notices that certain fragments of mineral show traces of rust in places.  A rapid examination allows him to see that this appearance does not come from oxidation, but from a real transformation of the metal.  He asks himself if they are not in the process of “ripening”.

Intrigued, he returns to his hotel, where he has installed a little laboratory for making a few analyses, and decides to try to artificially produce the bizarreness that he noticed in the deposit.

The operation is simple.  He places ten grammes of fine silver and copper powder in a little bottle, pours sulphuric acid over these metal shavings and exposes the whole to the sun, on his window ledge.

Immediately, a strong reaction takes place:  sulphuric gases are abundantly released and a black deposit forms at the bottom of the bottle.  A deposit on which there is no stain.

Tiffereau then does his experiment differently.  He mixes the copper and silver shavings with distilled water and places the bottle on a little stove until it boils.  As soon as the water has evaporated, he pours boiling sulphuric acid onto it.  Gases form, then dissipate and the young chemist again discovers a black, dull matter at the bottom of the bottle.  Disappointed, he leaves his experiment there, and goes back to his peregrinations in the deposits.  When he comes back, two weeks later, the bottle that he had left on the stove, near the window, is still there with its dull residue.  For a moment, Tiffereau thinks he’ll throw it all out;  but, patient like most chemists, he decides to wait a little longer.  Two days later, glancing as usual at his bottle, he feels a little thrill:  on the black matter, a green stain has appeared.  After a few days, the residue is completely greenish.  And then, in the space of twenty-four hours, it becomes firstly dark yellow, then light yellow, and finishes golden yellow.

Tiffereau is astounded, but still incredulous.  Has he operated the transmutation like the alchemists of the Middle Ages?  Have the copper and silver shavings changed into gold dust?

That same evening, he submits the result of his experiment to some goldsmiths.  They are unanimous:  it really is gold, absolutely pure gold.

A few weeks later, Theodore Tiffereau returns to France, carrying in his baggage the ten grammes of gold that he has made.

Delirious with joy during the whole voyage, he imagines his future:  he is going to become rich, immensely rich, the richest man in France, in Europe, in the world, since his fortune will be inexhaustible.

He has hardly debarked, when he rushes to his home in Nantes, buys copper and silver shavings, sulphuric acid, and begins his operations again, in his little personal laboratory.

All of the first phenomena are exactly reproduced and, on the seventeenth day, the residue becomes greenish, then dark yellow.  But, to Tiffereau’s great disappointment, it doesn’t continue to change colour.  The young chemist waits one hour, two hours…  In vain.  Finally, he analyses the bottle’s content:  it is copper.

Thinking that he perhaps made a mistake in his dosages, he starts his experiment again;  but on the seventeenth day, the transformation stops again at “dark yellow”.  Then, ten times, twenty times, one hundred times, he re-does the operations.  One hundred times he obtains copper.

To be continued.

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