A brilliant white metal of a laminated or striated texture. It is very brittle, and cannot be rolled into sheets, or drawn into wire. The spec. grav. of the metal, is 6.712; it melts at 810°, and crystallizes in pyramids when cooling. At an intense heat it is volatilized. The ores of antimony are chiefly found in the north of Europe. There are several varieties, but the sulphuric or grey antimony is the most abundant, and yields the metal of commerce. It is reduced to powder, and heated in a reverberatory furnace; the melted sulphuret then flows from the infusible stony or earthy matter, and is then smelted and purified. The metal is used in the manufacture of printers' types, music plates, specula for telescopes, and is a component of several useful alloys. See Alloy. A difference of opinion exists among chemists respecting the number of oxides of antimony, some being of opinion that there are only two; others, among whom is Berzelius, that there are four. We shall only describe here the two which appear indisputable.
To obtain the protoxide, dissolve the metal in muriatic acid, and pour it into a large quantity of distilled water; this separates the protoxide as a white precipitate, which must be washed with a weak solution of carbonate of potash, to remove any muriatic acid it may contain. This is the basis of all the useful antimonial medicines. The peroxide may be obtained by digesting antimony in nitric acid, and drying the white powder which results at a moderate heat. Antimony is soluble in most of the acids, and combines also with chlorine, iodine, phosphorus, and sulphur. If filings of the metal are thrown info a vessel containing chlorine gas, they burn vividly. Basil Valentine first introduced this substance into medicine, and is said to have performed many extraordinary cures by it. Its virtues he discovered accidentally. Having thrown a preparation of it into a hog-trough, the hogs were violently purged by it, but afterwards fattened with surprising rapidity. Seeing this effect, it is said he administered it to his brother monks in such quantities that they all died: the medicine was therefore called anti-moine, or anti-monk.
By more cautious and skilful use, he obtained for it a great reputation; but in 1566 its employment in medicine was prohibited in Paris by an edict of the parliament. The sulphuret of antimony was employed in very early times by the eastern females, and even occasionally by men, for the purpose of staining the eye-brow and lashes, and even the lids, to make the eye appear larger. This practice is frequently alluded to in the Scriptures. There are many valuable medical preparations of antimony, the most important of which, perhaps, is the medicine called Dr. James's Powder. This is a compound of protoxide of antimony, and phosphate of lime. The precise mode of preparing it is not known to chemists; the pulvis antimonialis of the shops is, in composition, similar to James's powder, but its effects as a medicine are not so certain nor so powerful. Tartar emetic, or tartarized antimony, is a triple salt, composed of tartaric acid, potash, and antimony. Powder of algaroth is the protoxide of antimony precipitated from the muriate by water. Kerme's mineral is a hydro-sulphuret of the metal.
Antimony is much valued as a medicine for cattle.