The E-Sylum:  Volume 9, Number 32, August 6, 2006, Article 14


Last week I asked about uses of cyanide in numismatics other than
the printing plate creation process.  I had one particular use in
mind, but our readers have identified three.

Bob Evans writes: "I have recently taken the plunge and joined the
E-Sylum madness.  Anyway, I'd like to offer the following response
to your quiz about another numismatic use of cyanide.  It's not
exactly money or numismatics, but it's certainly related.

Cyanide is of course an important reagent in the extractive metallurgy
of gold, being used to "win" it from various ores in a process usually
called leaching. This is done in vats or heaps. In this process the ore
is arranged in a vat or in piles or heaps, and an aqueous cyanide
solution is sprayed or delivered through the ore. This dissolves the
gold creating "pregnant" solutions, whereupon it is collected from
the bottom of the system and processed to produce the gold."

Peter Gaspar writes: "There is a tragic story regarding the use of
cyanide to clean coins.  Sanford Saltus, a prominent American
numismatist, was using a glass of cyanide solution to remove corrosion
products from coins while relaxing in his London hotel suite sometime
in the early 1920's on the night before he was to assume the presidency
of the British Numismatic Society.  He was the first and only American
to be accorded that honor.  Unfortunately Saltus had a glass of
sparkling water next to the glass of cyanide and mistakenly drank
from the wrong glass, ending his life."

[Peter hit on the use I was thinking of - we discussed the Saltus
incident in the December 16, 2003 issue of The E-Sylum.  Alan V.
Weinberg also answered this correctly, as did Dick Johnson.  Here
is a link to the original E-Sylum item, followed by a note from Dick
Johnson identifying a third additional numismatic use for cyanide.


Dick Johnson writes: "There is more than one answer to your question
in last week's E-Sylum on the numismatic uses of cyanide -- a deadly

Cyanide is most effective in cleaning gold and other coins. Another
little known use of cyanide is in the electrolyte solution in making
coin and medal patterns -- galvanos -- these are oversize patterns
made from sculptors models intended to be reduced on a die-engraving
pantograph (as a Janvier) to cut a die or hub of appropriate size.

Cyanide is ideal component in the electroforming baths for making
such copper galvanos. Such technology was developed by the French in
the Paris Mint and copied by other mints. I have yet to learn how
early it was in use in America (any E-Sylum reader know for certain?).
But it was well intrenched by 1920 for de Francisci's Peace dollar and
in use at the Philadelphia Mint for the next 40 years. [Copper galvanos
were ultimately replaced by an epoxy casting method that reduced the
time to make these patterns from days to hours.]

The copper galvano technology was used extensively by private medal
makers. At Medallic Art Company in New York City and Danbury this was
accomplished in the finishing department. Tanks for making galvanos
were similar to tanks for plating medals (silver and gold). Thus the
foreman of the finishing department was in charge of all these. That
foreman was Hugo Greco.

Hugo Greco now has his own sparkling new plant in Connecticut and
celebrated his fiftieth year in the industry last October. He still
uses cyanide in his daily activities in producing electroforms for a
variety of clients. On several occasions he has told me he has built
up immunity to cyanide since he has been exposed to it for all these
years. He claims he could take a swig of the poison and not be harmed!

But be warned! Workers around such electrolyte tanks must be careful
not to scratch or cut themselves, else the exposure to cyanide (or
even its fumes) could cause a severe reaction to the human body.
Caution: don't play around with this stuff, it is a deadly poison!"

[With generations passed since the tragic event, I'm surprised some
wag with a macabre sense of humor hasn't begun serving glasses of
ginger ale labeled as "Saltus Cocktails" at numismatic conventions.

  Wayne Homren, Editor

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