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Saturday, 12 July 2014

More modern gold makers

This follows on from Gold for free, and it may help to start there,

Over time, the gold makers found safer ways to operate. In the 1880s, an American named Wise ran a scam in Paris. In the Wise process, an ounce of gold, a little silver and some base metal was added to a crucible. Vile-smelling chemicals were placed in there, but these were so vile, that everybody was forced out of the room. On their return, the crucible contained one and a half ounces of gold, and some silver and other metals. In short, there appeared to be a 50% profit.

Two French aristocrats, Prince Benjamin de Rohan and the Comte de Sparre, provided 10,000 francs for working gold, and Wise pocketed this and returned to America, a rich man. He would not have worried about the sentence of two years' imprisonment recorded against him in his absence.

If the mysterious Mr. Wise was not either an admirer of, or even one and the same as Edward Pinter who faced the Old Bailey in July, 1891, I will transmute my hat into gold. Pinter entered a plea of guilty to a charge of unlawfully attempting to obtain £40,000 from Edwin William Streeter, a Bond Street jeweller, by false pretences with intention to defraud, and was imprisoned for three months.

It seems that Pinter had been pulling a similar fraud in Paris in 1888, going on what appears in Science, August 28, 1891, 114. In this case, the promised gold return was three-fold, but the process took three weeks. The furnace was left operating in a locked room, with $90,000 in gold in the furnace. When the "alchemist" was nowhere to be found, the room was opened, and the gold was found to have been transmuted to stones and scrap iron.

How might it be done? After his retirement as head of Scotland Yard's CID, Sir Robert Anderson reminisced on a case where the swindler insisted that he be thoroughly searched as he left the room, and that nobody else was to enter. He was searched, and none of the 20,000 sovereigns were found on him, yet they all "walked". Anderson claimed that the man's gold-headed cane, one each occasion, was packed with sovereigns.

Two German did well out of gold-making in the 1930s, but lacked the sense to quit while they were ahead. Perhaps a psychologist somewhere can explain this in terms of the rise of the Nazis, the trauma of losing the Great War and the massive inflation that followed, but clearly things were different in Germany.

One of them, Heinrich Kurschildgen, otherwise "the gold maker of Hilden," even put a scare into the world's economists briefly, when he claimed to be able to make enough gold from sand to settle Germany's reparations bill, the damages that Germany was forced to pay for starting the Great War. He must have been convincing, because financiers and even academics fell for his clever talk, but in late 1930, he was sentenced to serve 18 months in gaol after being found guilty on 15 counts of fraud.

A month later, "Baron" Charles Tausend, a former plumber (or tinsmith: reports vary on this) who had been held for 20 months, went on trial on a similar charge. Tausend had apparently netted £125,000 from assorted wealthy Germans, including aristocrats and General Ludendorff. He had magnificent cars, a castle in the Tyrol and funded a "Hitlerite" (as it was called back then) newspaper.

He had come undone when the authorities forced him to repeat his successful "experiments" under the close scrutiny of analytical chemists. He was caught out, dropping a cigarette end into his "gold making machine", and when this was retrieved and examined, it had a small piece of gold in it. He got 44 months, and his laboratory and gold were confiscated.

Just a year later, and as if to prove that Germans weren't the only gullible nation, Professor John Dunikowski was on trial in Paris. A Pole, Dunikowski claimed to use radio-activity to release the gold trapped in ordinary soil. His backers, a group of English bankers, pointed out that they were too bright to fall for "gold making", but this chap seemed to be on to something.

The bankers even had an unnamed "famous scientist" who had studied Dunikowski's operations and could not fault them. Perhaps if they had employed a competent stage magician, they might have obtained better advice. Magicians know that the stirring rod, introduced into a crucible, is likely to have gold attached to it, covered in black wax that melts and burns away, leaving the gold behind.

During the 1940s, as science learned more about nuclear reactions, a number of scientists were quizzed about the possibility of "making gold", but their answer was always the same. For example, Columbia's Harold C. Urey said it was " … possible, but not commercially practical, to change platinum into gold."

Two of his colleagues explained that the tiny yield could only be detected by extremely sensitive apparatus.

In 1947, Walter Zinn, director of the US Argonne national laboratory explained that, while gold might be made artificially, doing so would cost more than digging it out of the ground. In 1948, a member of the American Atomic Energy Commission explained that they could make mercury from gold, or gold from platinum, but stressed that it would be unprofitable.

It didn't matter. If people can make gold, no matter how much it costs, a part of that message can be used to make, if not gold, at least a healthy profit. In late 1949, there was a panic on the Paris stock exchange when the same old news about gold by nuclear science was trotted out as "new".

There was a thriving black market in gold at that time, and in countries where gold was hoarded, the price of gold plummeted with the news that anybody could make gold. The damage ran on to New York, London, Mexico, Cairo, Athens, Tangier and Beirut.

These days, we may be too sophisticated to fall for that sort of "scare", but some people might still be caught. In October 2011, A 30-year-old Belfast man, Paul Moran, was gaoled for three months for arson and endangering the lives of others, after he placed his faeces on an electric heater, in an attempt to make gold. *

There's one born every minute, and for each one, there is a queue of villains waiting to (golden) fleece them. I will come back to a bit of that in the next entry.

See also: an earlier entry, Gold for Free and the next one: Jernegan'swheeze.

* It would be tempting to compare this with the Australian notion of a "shicer", probably an anglicised form of a German word, but I would never stoop so low, outside of a footnote, because nobody reads those.

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