Few elements on the periodic table boast a history as rich and diverse as antimony, despite its relative obscurity. The narrative surrounding Element 51 encompasses a fascinating blend of money, madness, poison, linguistics, and charlatanism—essentially encapsulating every theme that courses through the periodic table.

What is Antimony

Antimony is a metallic chemical element belonging to the nitrogen group. It has the atomic number 51 and is a lustrous silvery-grey, semi-metal with a flaky texture, but unlike typical metals, antimony is not malleable, but hard and brittle and can be crushed to a powder. A unique property of antimony is that it expands as it freezes (like water) because its solid form is less dense than its liquid form.
Antimony is named from Greek anti plus monos meaning ‘a metal not found alone’ – and can be found in over 100 different minerals.  It has the chemical symbol Sb, which comes from the element’s historical, latin name – Stibium.


Antimony became widely used in Medieval times, mainly to harden lead for type and by the middle of the 16th century, antimony was used as the reflecting surface in mirrors and was added to bell metal to impart a more pleasing tone to the cast bells. Additionally, its compounds were used in medication for ulcers and as yellow pigments for ceramics and glass.

More recently, about half of all antimony is used to make antimony trioxide for flame proofing.

Most uses for antimony actually use the antimony alloys or compounds – it hardens lead and is used in lead-acid batteries, the pipes of pipe organs, and lead ammunition for small fire-arms. Pewter contains antimony, as well as some lead-free solder.

Pure antimony is used in the production of glass, serving to remove microscopic bubbles. This helps achieve a perfect, bubble-free TV screen, for example.

China has over 80% of the world’s antimony resources and is also the largest antimony producer, however, there hasn’t been a new source discovered in over ten years, so it is thought that its supply may be being rapidly depleted.

Newton’s Antimony Obsession

Newton, who built furnaces with his own hands for his alchemical laboratory in Trinity College, yet did not publish one word on alchemy, was thought to be obsessed with antimony.

Newton’s lifelong work actually focused on antimony.  In alchemy, antimony is nicknamed the “Black Dragon.” When sufficiently purified antimony ore is heated to high temperatures, it forms long and slender crystals that then shape triangular branches around a central point that resembles a star when cooling. This crystalline star shape is called the regulus of antimony by alchemists, after the brilliant double star in the Leo constellation also named Regulus. The regulus of antimony combines readily with gold and Newton was absolutely fascinated with it.

Perpetual Pills

Antimony found various applications throughout history, extending beyond alchemical pursuits. Egyptian women utilised stibium, a form of antimony, as eyeliner.

In the 1700s, antimony pills gained popularity as a potent laxative, with some individuals even retrieving and reusing them from their excrement. It was so effective because it’s a poison, and the body needs to flush it out asap, however, the afflicted  would root through their excrement to retrieve the pill and reuse it at a later point. Some of these laxatives were even passed down through family generations.

While effective as a purgative, antimony’s toxicity became evident. In the past, the medical approach was to combat ailments with equally forceful remedies. There’s even speculation that Mozart succumbed to an overdose of antimony “medicine.” By the 20th century, medical professionals recognised antimony as dangerous, yet a province in China, Guizhou, attempted to mint coins from antimony in 1931, resulting in brittle, toxic currency that now fetches high prices among numismatists.


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