This section is from the book "An Experimental History Of The Materia Medica", by William Lewis.
Antimonium Pharm. Lond. Antimonium, stibium, Pharm. Edinb. Antimony: a ponderous brittle mineral, composed of long shining streaks like needles, intermingled with a dark leaden coloured substance; of no manifest taste or smell. It is usually brought into the shops in the form of conical loaves.
There are several mines of antimony in Germany, Hungary, and France, and some like-wife in England. It is sometimes found tolerably pure, but more commonly blended with a hard stone or spar, from which the antimony is separated by eliquation. The mineral being broken in pieces, put into earthen pots whose bottoms are perforated with small holes, and a moderate fire applied round the vessels, the antimony melts out, and is received in conical moulds placed underneath. In these, the lighter and more drossy matter rises to the surface, while the purer and more ponderous subsides to the bottom: hence the upper broad part of the loaves is considerably less pure than the lower. The antimony, thus purified, is called crude, in distinction from its officinal preparations.
(a) J. Bauhin. hist. plant. p. 94. L'Obel, adv. p. 301. Hoffman, de medicament, insecur. § 30.
In some places the native mineral has been employed without purification. The masses which have suffered fusion may be readily dis-tinguished, by the form which they receive from that operation; by their being free from any visible stony matter, pieces of which are generally found adhering to the unwrought ore; and by their striae being larger. The English antimony appears to be, of all the sorts, the moft unfit for medicinal use, as having some-times an admixture of particles of lead ore, of which I have seen specimens.
Antimony was employed by the antients in collyria against inflammations of the eyes, and for staining the eye-brows black. Its internal use does not seem to have been established till towards the end of the fifteenth century, and even then it was by many looked upon as poisonous. Experience has now fully evinced, that in its crude state, or when duly prepared, it is a medicine of sufficient safety, and of great efficacy in sundry obstinate disorders, and that though some of its preparations are most violently cathartic and emetic, yet even these, by a slight alteration or addition, lose their virulence and become mild.
Antimonial medicines are principally made use of, as alterants, deobstruents, or gentle eva-cuants; in cutaneous foulnesses not scorbutic; in rheumatic pains and contractions of the limbs (a); in leucophlegmatic, cachectic, and catarrhous disorders; in intermittent fevers from obstructions of the viscera, as obsftinate quartans; and sometimes in continual fevers, and for promoting expectoration in peripneumonic and asthmatic cases: they generally have better effects in cold serous habits, than in hot bilious dispositions. The more active preparations are employed as emetics in apoplectic and maniacal disorders. It is observable, that even the strongest antimonials, the caustic solutions in mineral acids excepted, are given to horses in large quantity, some ounces a day, without any ill effect: in these animals, both crude antimony and its preparations seem to operate by promoting perspiration.
The virulent effects, which antimony produces in certain circumstances, have been as-cribed by many to its participating of an arse-nical substance (b). But the chemical properties of antimony, alledged in proof of this supposition, are by no means characteristic of that poisonous mineral; and its operation in the human body is extremely different. The most violent antimonials are rendered inactive by means which do not lessen the deleterious quality of arsenic; and some act with violence in far less doses than pure arsenic itself.
(a) Two remarkable cases of the efficacy of antimony in pains and in inveterate contractions of the limbs, are related by Kunckel in his laboratorium chymicum, 3 theil, 32 capit.
(b) Neumann, chym. med. dogmat. experimental. ii. 339. Hoffman, metallurg. morbif. § 21. Stahl, mens. Decemb. cap. 3. opusc. p. 486. 491.
Crude antimony is properly an ore, or a combination of a particular metal with common sulphur. The metallic part, like that of other sulphureous ores, is separated in its proper form, by roasting the powdered mineral over a gentle fire till the sulphureous fumes cease, and then melting the remaining grey calx with inflammable fluxes. The flux commonly used for these purposes by the chemists, called from its colour black flux, is composed of two parts of crude tartar and one of nitre, ground together, set on fire, and burnt in a covered vessel to a blackish alkaline coal. - The sulphur also may be obtained in its pure state, by di-gesting the powdered mineral in aqua regis, which dissolves the metallic part, leaving the sulphur in form of a greenish yellow substance: this, purified by sublimation, appears, on all trials, the same with common brimstone. The proportions of sulphur and metal vary in different antimonies; some sorts seem to hold about two parts of metal to one of sulphur, and others nearly equal parts of each.
The pure metal, called regulus of antimony, is of a bright white colour, a plated or leafy texture, very brittle, nearly seven times speci-fically heavier than water. It melts in a low white heat, and if continued in fusion, in an open vessel, gradually exhales in thick whitish. fumes, which condense, on the bodies adjacent, into white flowers. Melted with common brimstone, it becomes similar, both in appearance and quality, to crude antimony. Crude antimony, like most other sulphureous ores, is easier of fusion than its pure metal: it melts before Regulus an-timonii.
Sulphur an-timonii ve-rum.
before it grows red-hot, though not before the vessel is considerably so.
It is in this metallic part of antimony, that its proper medicinal powers reside. The pure metal is a medicine of extreme activity: a quantity too minute to be sensible on the tendered balance, is capable of producing violent effects if given dissolved or in a soluble state. Acid wines take up so little of it, that the metal, after a number of infusions, seems to have loft nothing of its weight: these tinctures, nevertheless, prove, in moderate doses, strongly emetic or cathartic; and in very small ones, for the most part diaphoretic. It has been cast into the form of small pills, which acted as violent cathartics, and after their passage through the body have operated in the same manner again, and this repeatedly for a great number of times.
The activity of this metal is abated by calcination, or by the expulsion of the inflammable principle, which makes a constituent part of this as of other metallic bodies: when thoroughly calcined, it appears entirely inert. Thus, if ground with twice or thrice its weight of nitre, and thrown by little and little into a red-hot crucible, it (lightly deflagrates, and being now freed from the saline matter by ablution with water, is found changed into a perfect white calx, which though taken in doses of a dram or two, is said to have no senfible operation. In this deflagration, a part of the nitre is alkalized, and a portion of the calx dissolves in the water along with the alkali, as generally happens in the calcination of other metallic bodies with nitre: acids, added to this solution, precipitate the dissolved calx in form of a subtile white powder, which is equally inactive with the undissolved part. These perfect calces, of themselves fixt and unfusible in the fire, melt with saline additions, as fixt alkaline salt and borax, into a pale yellowish glass, inert (a) as the calces at first.