Stamp mill

Stamping-Works 831

In order to separate metallic ores from the barren rock or stones with which they occur, and to promote their fusion, it is necessary that the pieces of rock or stone should be reduced to small fragments by stamping them. For those ores which occur in a sandy form, this is unnecessary; and in regard to rich silver ore, which contains very little or no lead and other metals, this process might be hurtful; for with dry stamping a great deal would fly off in dust, and with wet stamping a considerable part would be washed away by the water.

However imperfect the knowledge of the ancients may have been in regard to the fusion of ores, they were acquainted with the benefit of stamping; but the means they employed for that purpose were the most inconvenient and expensive. They reduced the ore to coarse powder, by pounding it in mortars, and then ground it in hand-mills, like those used for corn, till it acquired such a degree of fineness that it could be easily washed. This is proved by the scanty information which we find in Diodorus Siculus 832  and Agatharcides 833 , in regard to the gold mines of the Egyptians; in Hippocrates, respecting the smelting-works of the Greeks 834 , and in Pliny in regard to the metallurgy of the Romans 835. Remains of such mortars and mills as were used by the ancients have been found in places where they carried on metallurgic operations; for instance, in Transylvania and the Pyrenees. The hand-mills had a resemblance to our mustard-mills 836 ; and for washing the mud they employed a sieve, but in washing auriferous sand they made use of a raw hide. From the latter, Count von Veltheim has explained, in a very ingenious manner, the fable of the ancients concerning the ants which dug up gold 837.

Our works for pounding ore, at present, are stamping-mills, which consist of heavy stampers shod with iron. These stampers are put in motion by a cylinder furnished with cogs, which is driven by a water-wheel, and pound the ore in troughs lined with iron. When the ore subjected to this operation is poor, water is introduced into the troughs, which running through grates in the bottoms of them, carries with it the pounded matter into a gutter, where it becomes purified, and deposits the mud mixed with sand.

One might conjecture that this apparatus was invented soon after the invention of cylinders with cogs; but this was not the case, though I am not able to determine the antiquity of these cylinders. At any rate, it is certain that mortars and sieves were used in Germany throughout the whole of the fifteenth century; and in France, to which the art of mining was conveyed in general from that country at a late period, they were still employed about the year 1579 838. In the oldest times men were not acquainted with the art of employing water at mines in so advantageous a manner as at present. The bellows were worked by men; and those aqueducts raised on posts, by which distant water may be made to act on machines, was not yet invented. On this account, remains of ore are found in places where the moderns, in consequence of that indispensable article water, would not be able to maintain metallurgic works 839. According to the researches which I have hitherto had an opportunity to make, our stamping-mills were invented about the beginning of the sixteenth century, and, as appears, in Germany; but I cannot determine with certainty either the name of the inventor or his country. Those who established or introduced the first stamping-works in Saxony and the Harz are only mentioned; and these, as usual, have been considered as the inventors.

In the year 1519 the processes of sifting and wet-stamping were established in Joachimsthal by Paul Grommestetter, a native of Schwarz, named on that account the Schwarzer, whom Melzer praises as an ingenious and active washer; and we are told that he had before introduced the same improvements at Schneeberg. Soon after, that is in 1521, a large stamping-work was erected at Joachimsthal, and the process of washing was begun. A considerable saving was thus made, as a great many metallic particles were before left in the washed sand, which was either thrown away or used as mortar for building. In the year 1525 Hans Pörtner employed at Schlackenwalde the wet method of stamping, whereas before that period the ore there was ground.

In the Harz this invention was introduced at Wildenmann by Peter Philip, who was assay-master there, soon after the works at the Upper Harz were resumed by Duke Henry the younger about the year 1524. This we learn from the papers of Herdan Hacke or Hæcke, who was preacher at Wildenmann in 1572. As far as can be concluded from his imperfect information, the first stamping-work there consisted only of a stamper raised by means of two levers fixed to the axis of a wheel. The pounded ore was then thrown into a sieve, called in German the sachs 840 , and freed from the coarser parts. But as this stamping was performed in the dry manner, it produced so much dust that the labourers were impeded by it, and the ore on that account could not be properly smelted. The business however was not given up; new improvements were made, and soon after Simon Krug and Nicholas Klerer introduced the wet method, and fortunately brought it to perfection 841.

It is said in several modern works that wet stamping was invented in 1505, by a Saxon nobleman named von Maltitz. This assertion has been so often repeated, that it was known to Gobet 842 , who adopted it as truth. I have not however been able to find the historian on whose testimony it is founded; but it appears by Gauhen's Dictionary of Nobility that Sigismund Maltitz was chief surveyor of forests at the Erzgebürge, to the electorate of Saxony in the sixteenth century.


831  I shall refer those desirous of being acquainted with the nature of this labour, to Gatterer's Anleitung den Harz zu bereisen. Göttingen, 1785, 8vo. i. p. 101. [Figures of the stamping-works may be seen in Ure's Dictionary of Arts and Manufactures, pp. 818 and 1119.]

832  Diodor. iii. 13, p. 182.

833  Photii Bibl. p. 1342.

834  Hippocrates de Victus Rat. lib. i. sect. 4.

835  Plin. xxxiii. 4, sect. 21.

836  Gensane Traité de la Fonte des Mines. Par. 1770, i. p. 14.

837  Von d. goldgrabenden Ameisen u. Greiffen der Alten. Helmst. 1799. This dissertation may be found also in a valuable collection of different pieces by the same author, printed at Helmstadt, 1800.

838  See François Garrault, Des Mines d'Argent trouvées en France, Paris 1579, where mention is made only of mortars, mills and sieves. This Garrault is the first French writer on mining. His work, which is scarce, was printed by Gobet in the first part of the Anciens Minéralogistes de France, Paris 1779, 8vo.

839  At the Nertschinsk works in Siberia, the machinery must be still driven by men or cattle, because all the dams and sluices are destroyed by the frost, and the water converted into ice. Some of the works there however have machinery driven by water during the few summer months.

840  Sachs  or sæx  in old times denoted a cutting or stabbing instrument, such for example as schaar-sachs, a razor;schreib-sachs, a penknife. See Fritsch's Wörterbuch, who derives sachs  from secare. May not the word σάλαξ, which in Pollux means the sieve used at smelting-works, be of the same origin? I conjecture also that the coulter of the plough, which cuts the earth in a perpendicular direction, had the name of sech, and that the words säge  and sichel  have an affinity to it. If this derivation be right, the High but not the Low German must have of sachs  made sech. The latter would have said sas  or ses, as it says instead of sechsses ; instead of wachswas ; instead of flachsflas ; and instead of fuchsfosSech  is named also kolter, as in the Netherlands kouter, which words have arisen no doubt from culter.

841  Calvör Maschinenwesen, ii. p. 74.

842  Anciens Minéral., i. p. 225.