Brand’s Distilled Urine

It was a little late to search for the philosophers’ stone in 1669, yet it was in such a search that phosphorus was discovered. Wilhelm Homberg (1652-1715) described it in the following manner: Brand, “a man little known, of low birth, with a bizarre and mysterious nature in all he did, found this luminous matter while searching for something else. He was a glassmaker by profession, but he had abandoned it in order to be free for the pursuit of the philosophical stone with which he was engrossed. Having put it into his mind that the secret of the philosophical stone consisted in the preparation of urine, this man worked in all kinds of manners and for a very long time without finding anything. Finally, in the year 1669, after a strong distillation of urine, he found in the recipient a luminant matter that has since been called phosphorus. He showed it to some of his friends, among them Mister Kunkel.”…

To obtain phosphorus, a good proportion of coal (regarded as a type of phlogiston) was added to urine, previously thickened by evaporation and preferably after putrefaction, and the mixture was heated to the highest attainable temperature. It was obvious that phlogiston entered into the composition of the distillation product. The question remained whether this product was generated de novo. In his research of 1743 to 1746, Andreas Sigismund Marggraf (1709-1782) provided the answer. He found the new substance in edible plant seeds, and he concluded that it enters the human system through the plant food, to be excreted later in the urine. He did not convince all the chemists with his reasoning. In 1789, Macquer wrote: “There are some who, even at this time, hold that the phosphorical (‘phosphorische’) acid generates itself in the animals and who consider this to be the ‘animalistic acid.’“

Although Marggraf was more advanced in his arguments than these chemists, yet he was a child of his time. The luminescent and combustible, almost wax-like substance impressed him greatly. “My thoughts about the unexpected generation of light and fire out of water, fine earth, and phlogiston I reserve to describe at a later time.” These thoughts went so far as to connect the new marvel with alchemical wonder tales. When Marggraf used the “essential salt of urine,” also called sal microcosmicum, and admixed silver chloride (“horny silver”) to it for the distillation of phosphorus, he expected “a partial conversion of silver by phlogiston and the added fine vitrifiable earth, but no trace of a more noble metal appeared.”

from Eduard Farber, History Of Phosphorus (1965)

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