Credit: ©The Royal Society
    Image number: RS.14922

    Obserservations on cinnabar and gunpowder

    22 January 1686
    Unknown, Artist
    Object type
    Archive reference number
    Manuscript page number
    vol11i p19
    height (page): 303mm
    width (page): 182mm
    This is a copy of LBO/11i/017, where the original drawings in red had been cut out and inserted. Here they form part of the page, and the original colour of the drawing has been preserved.

    English translation of the letter, originally in Dutch, sent by Antoni van Leeuwenhoek to the Royal Society.

    Three sections with several microscopic observations.

    Fig. A: small particles of cinnabar after being put in fire, observed with a microscope.
    Fig. B: more or less the size of a grain of sand, but in this case they have the shape of a triangle with the corners taken off.
    Fig. CD: Cinnabar that had been next to the fire.
    Figs E and F: six-sided particles which consisted of several parts themselves.
    Fig. GH: also like in this figure, with a triangle on another figure.

    Leeuwenhoek put some rain water on the particles of cinnabar to observe salt crystals.
    Fig. I: small crystals with very sharp points
    Figs K and LL: after having made the cinnabar smaller he observed the forms like in these figures. The smallest ones (the second Fig. L) were of unspecified shape.

    Leeuwenhoek is experimenting with gunpowder, heating it in a glass tube until the sulphur and saltpetre divide. In the white smoke of saltpetre, Leeuwenhoek observed many very small and round particles. Once the saltpetre particles were starting to fall down, he made sure to have the tube rested on its side so that the saltpetre particles wouldn't mix with the sulphur and charcoal. He then observed that all the saltpetre particles had taken up shapes of six-sided figures again, some regular (M), others irregular (N and O).
    Object history
    At the meeting of the Royal Society on 31 March 1686, ‘Part of a letter of Mr. Leewenhoeck was read, containing several curious observations on cinnabar and gunpowder’ (Birch 4:470).

    Printed in:
    A. Leeuwenhoek, ‘Several observations on cinnabar and gunpowder’, Phil. Trans. vol. 17, no. 200 (May 1693), pp. 754-60.

    Antoni van Leeuwenhoek, Ontledingen en ontdekkingen. Van de cinnaber naturalis, en bus-poeder; van het maaksel van been en huyd; van de galnoot, kastanie en okkernoot; van de voortteelinge van eenige zaden, vergeleken by de Voortteelinge van Garnaad, krabbe, en kreeft; waar in de deugdsaamheid van het eyken-hout bestaat, en hoe het te kennen is (Leiden: Cornelis Boutesteyn, 1686), pp. 3-24.

    Antoni van Leeuwenhoek, Anatomia Seu interiora Rerum, Cum Animatarum tum Inanimatarum, Ope & beneficio [sic] exquisitissimorum Microscopiorum Detecta, variisque experimentis demonstrata [etc.] (Leiden: C. Boutesteyn, 1687), pp. 178-94.
    Related fellows
    Antoni van Leeuwenhoek (1632 - 1723, Dutch) , Naturalist
    Associated place
    <The World>
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          > Netherlands
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