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Northern Utah Prospector's Association
Quicksilver
(Good Guy or Bad Metal) 
By: N. Scott Driscoll

       When you hear the word quicksilver, many might think about the movie with Kevin Bacon, or the clothing line with the same name, but some might think of their favorite magazine where they can get the latest celebrity news, not here !!!!!. Quicksilver or Mercury (Hg) is one of the prospectors little known tools, partly because of the bad rap Mercury has, and most recreational prospectors dont have the expertise to use it safely. I have been using Mercury for most of the time that I have been in the prospecting game, and have done my share of putting my nose in books to find out how to keep myself safe, and to get the most out of that metal called quicksilver.

       Various theories of how Mercury was formed are out there, I for one like to take the one that it was in the group of metals to be formed last.(and gold would also be in that group too). When the world was formed in one period of time when many of the rocks had already become solidified, the ions of Mercury were too large to permit them to fit in the lattices of the rock. As the result, the Mercury was laid down only in cracks and fissures in the older formation. Now if you havent been put to sleep yet, those cracks and old formations are also the ones that carried gold, this means one more trail for you " the prospector " to follow.

       Gold will unite with Mercury to form an amalgam or solid solution. It is like a teenager at the diner table, it will consume it all real fast !!! The fine particles of gold will become amalgamated when brought in contact with the Mercury, this is one of the fastest way to get the fine gold out of your pan after you have gotten it down to the black sands. Amalgamation is a process of alloying certain metals with mercury. Gold , silver, copper, and zinc are easily amalgamated, but iron and other impurities in the concentrates will not alloy with the mercury. Mercury is the only elemental metal that is a liquid at normal temperatures and evaporates at about 83 degrees F. Water is the key to keep the mercury safe, when you store mercury keep 1 inch of water on the mercury that way it cant vaporize in the heat of the day.

Some of the ways I use mercury in my panning operation is:

1. If I have a lot of black sand that I know to have fine gold in it; one of the ways is to use a copper pan, I coat the bottom of the pan with a small amount of mercury, and when I pan the black sand concentrates, the fine gold will be picked up in the mercury to be recovered later.

2. When I'm out in the wilds doing the prospecting thing, I like to go real light, so carrying all the black sand is out, when I have the concentrates down to a small amount, I use a small amount of mercury which can be placed in your sucker bottle; just be sure to keep water in the bottle. Place the mercury in your pan and shake it well and the mercury will do its job, then, using the sucker bottle gather up the mercury and head for the next spot.

The way to get that gold out of the amalgamation is by using a retort. A retort is like the old time whiskey still, which for those who know me, my Pepsi doesnt always just have Pepsi in it ; ) Getting back to it , the mercury is placed in a steel pot in which the lid is machined to fit tightly, A metal pipe extends out of the retort lid, bent, and then extending down at an angle. This pipe is in a water jacket with ice cold water being used. The mercury is then heated to 675 degrees which turns the mercury to a vapor, since the gold is too heavy to go with the mercury vapor it stays in the steel pot, the vapor is cooled in the water jacket turning it back into a liquid and will drip out into a container filled with water. The same mercury can be used over and over and over, you get the point, I have used the same mercury for over 20 years, and for those who know me it isnt the mercury that makes me act the way I do. There are many good books to keep you well informed, be safe and I hope your pan has gold in the bottom

This article was written by N. Scott Driscoll, a member of N.U.P.A.