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I heard a story that goes as follows:

A prospector struck gold and didn't want to share. So this man was trying to hide his gold from all of his other partners. The story says that he melted the gold and mixed the gold with black ink and wrote in his journal about his adventures.

By the end of the book he ran out of things to write so he started writing randomly, and people interpreted this as a sign that he was going crazy. Does anyone know if this is a true story and if so, can you provide me with the source?

  • This is the plot of an episode of Monk (season 2, episode 15 “Mr. Monk Gets Married”) – Joe Dec 21 '17 at 8:15
  • If he did that, how would he 'release' the gold again so he could sell it? – Ne Mo Dec 21 '17 at 10:54
  • @Ne Mo: Releasing the gold would be trivial, simply burn the book. The problem is that you'd be hard pressed to get more than $100 (current value) worth of gold in the book, making it a lot of work for trivial return. Also, you wouldn't melt the gold, you'd reduce to a powder: gold ink is used in medieval illuminated manuscripts, and (surprisingly to me) calligraphy today: thepostmansknock.com/… – jamesqf Dec 21 '17 at 19:21
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    As fine gold dust, wouldn't it just go up in smoke? – Ne Mo Dec 22 '17 at 12:41
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This is very implausible, as related. Gold has a melting point of about 1065 degrees Celsius, so melting gold while out prospecting would be extremely difficult. Mixing something that hot with ink is just going to ruin the ink.

Looking at how inks were made before the modern chemical industry, the usual ways were to mix a very fine powder of pigment (fine soot, or iron sulphate and tannin) with a binder, such as hide glue, or gum arabic. Golden ink, as used in Tibet (thanks for those links) would have been made with very finely powdered gold.

Obviously, this prospector would not want to write in visibly golden ink, but mixing very fine gold powder with ordinary black ink would probably work. The difficulty would be creating that fine powder, with particles of about 0.001mm (about 1/20000th of an inch) in size, from a pretty ductile material, under field conditions.

The final problem is that the amount of gold you can hide this way is pretty small, but quite heavy. If you used up a bottle of ink, holding a fluid ounce, you could hide maybe 5-6 ounces of gold.

So, melting is thoroughly implausible, powdering and mixing with ink is more plausible, but quite unlikely.

  • Instead of melting, it is conceivable that the gold was dissolved in something like aqua regia then mixed with ink. Not sure I'd want to write with it though nor would it do the paper much good. – Alex Nov 24 '16 at 15:40
  • That would be a good starting point for making very fine gold particles, since it forms Chloroauric acid. But I'm very doubtful that an 18th-19th century prospector would have the materials and skills to do this. Mixing ink with gold and aqua regia is not going to give you anything useful. – John Dallman Nov 24 '16 at 17:02
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At first, I tried to check the legitimacy of actually writing a book with golden ink, it seems there are numerous sources citing books that are actually written like this:

These books mention the use of golden ink inside other people's writings, and given how they were written already raises huge questions whether the scenario you sketched can actually be used to write an entire book in golden ink.

The main argument against it, it would weigh a lot.

Reading all the comments, I'd say this story is most likely implausable

  • The gold would weigh a lot and make the book extremely heavy.
  • Writing a book with it would mixing up actual ink and gold, the process of creating this would most certainly draw attention.
  • There are several other great alternatives to hide gold, so why make it harder for yourself to write it down when you can easily hide it in a cave? This way you can use it faster in case you'll have to ever trade it for food etc.
  • Extensive searching online hasn't brought up any reference to this.

I'd say this story is a fairytale.

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    The book wouldn't weigh a lot, since you don't need, and as a practical matter can't use, much gold (or conventional ink pigments) to write. A quick search suggests pigment layers can be anywhere from 35 nanometers (pencil) to 10,000 nm (laser printer), a nanometer being a billionth of a meter. – jamesqf Nov 24 '16 at 18:16
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    Can you make 35 nm pigments with the kind of equipment you'd find at a mining encampment? – Mark C. Wallace Nov 24 '16 at 19:47
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    @Mark C. Wallace: I don't know offhand: the 35 nm figure is just a lower limit on range. But consider that gold leaf (which has been used for decoration in e.g. illuminated manuscripts) runs around 100 nm (hypertextbook.com/facts/1999/JeniferVilfranc.shtml ), and can be produced by very low-tech processes. To get a book with enough gold to be valuable, it'd have to be something like Joseph Smith's golden plates. – jamesqf Nov 25 '16 at 5:04

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