Information sources essential for my subjects

I have not provided internet links to any of these source.  Anyone sufficiently interested can find them within seconds online in libraries and from well known suppliers of new and second hand books.  Url’s are not always permanent and cannot be relied upon.   Consider it the first challenge to be overcome in learning about these topics, that will therefore prove your worth for them.


Alchemy as a topic suffers from containing so much variety under one small word that all secondary sources have their flaws, often just that they do not have sufficient space to put everything in, and the author has to pick and choose what topics to cover, leading to variations in opinion and different angles of approach.  There have been several readable popular books specifically on the topic over the last 50 years, but they are only starting points.  “The Alchemists” by F Sherwood Taylor, “Alchemy” by E. J. Holmyard and “The heavenly choir” by P. G. Maxwell Stuart.  The latter book is the most modern, and usefully pulls together more recent research in a concise format (The previous two having been published in the 1950’s).  Personally though I find it irritating since it imposes the authors preferred structure upon alchemy and fails to carry out proper quality control, with some information in it being wrong.  As a general book covering the entire 2,000 year period of alchemy it necessarily but irritatingly abridges topics.  Nevertheless it is the most useful single book for an interested beginner in the topic to purchase and provides references for anyone interested in pursuing things further.  Also “The Origins of Chemistry” by R. P. Multhauf is a handy survey albeit dated.

The monumental “History of Magic and Experimental Science” by Lynn Thorndike is essential to cover the sweep of cultural history of most of the last 2,000 years, covering topics from astrology to medicine as well as alchemy.  The three topics were heavily interrelated from shortly after alchemy’s origin and all the way through the medieval and post-medieval periods.

The journal’s Ambix and Isis have many useful and interesting papers, access to Ambix coming through membership of the Society for the History of Alchemy and Chemistry. 

Many books about and translations of some texts have been printed over the years, and other which are relevant are not only about alchemy, for example Chaucer’s Canterbury tales has a chapter called “The Canons yeoman's tale”.  Other books I have found useful are:

“Alchemy, child of Greek philosophy”, by A. J. Hopkins.

“The origins of Alchemy in Graeco-Roman Egypt” by Jack Lindsay

“Thomas Norton’s Ordinal”, edited by John Ready, published by the Early English text society, no. 272.

“The book of Quintessence” edited by F. J. Furnivall, Early English text society Original series no. 16.

“Les Alchimistes Grecs – Zosimos de Panopolis – Memoires Authentiques” by Michele Mertens.



On copper alloy and pewter, artefacts and technical information:

“The Pirotechnia”, by Vannochio Biringuccio, translated by C. S. Smith and M. T. Gnudi.  The first useful treatise on both mining, refining and use of metals, including furnaces, casting and moulds, written by a practicing bronze caster.

“De Re Metallica”, by Georgius Agricola, translated by H. C. Hoover and L. H. Hoover.  The best and broadest early treatise on mineralogy, mining and smelting of metals, written by a doctor who lived in mining areas.

“On Divers Arts”, by Theophilus, translated by J. G. Hawthorne and C. S. Smith.  The most useful earliest little treatise, dating from the 12th century.  It covers glassmaking, silver and bronze casting, brass manufacture and many other useful things.  It was written by a Benedictine in Germany, perhaps Roger of Helmershausen, but using a pseudonym.

“Lazarus Ercker’s treatise on Ores and Assaying” translated by A. G. Sisco and C. S. Smith. 

The Historical Metallurgy Society publishes a journal twice a year which has too many relevant articles in it to list here.

Important sources of material evidence are excavation reports, such as those of London, York, Worcester, Exeter and others too numerous to mention.

The Museum of London series of books on medieval finds in London from 1150 to 1450 is invaluable.  Titles include “The medieval household” by Geoff Egan, “Dress Accessories” by Geoff Egan and Frances Pritchard, “Shoes and pattens” by Francis Grew and Margrethe de Neergaard.

“English Medieval Industries” edited by John Blair and Nigel Ramsay.  An overview of many medieval industries, including textiles, brick, and of course copper alloy and lead and pewter.  I think it might be time for an updated edition, since it is now twenty years old and some of the details are bound to be out of date.