Posted by: Jack Henry | November 12, 2020

Editor’s Corner: Cobalt

Today’s Editor’s Corner is dedicated to my good friend Edith, who I miss horribly even though she just lives about ½ mile from us. Get away ye evil COVID! We miss our friends!

I have, again, another excerpt from Even-Steven and Fair and Square: More Stories Behind the Words by Morton S. Freeman. Today’s passage is about cobalt.

Cobalt is a hard, brittle metallic element resembling nickel and iron in appearance. In German, the name Kobolt meant an underground goblin, “a silver stealer,” whose habitat was the veins in silver ore.

Scientists in the Middle Ages determined that arsenic found in cobalt-containing ores could cause ulceration of the feet and hands of miners. The unlearned people of that time went a step further. They contended that the gnome Kobalt (a variant spelling) was found in cobalt and that its proximity to silver ores harmed them. How wrong that folk belief was! Today cobalt appears in the Periodic Table of the Elements—atomic number 27—a noninjurious element that happily has proved useful to mankind in many ways.

The five-cent coin, commonly called a nickel and made of nickel and copper alloy, also was named after a goblin, the German Nickel from Nicolaus, similar to the English Old Nick for “Devil.” The Germans called the copper-colored nickel Kupfernickel, meaning “fool’s copper,” a metal much less valuable than copper. The substitution of the cheap metal for the valuable copper in the ore was attributed to the demonic maliciousness of sprites. Apparently, minerology is just a stone’s throw from German mythology.

Cobalt, the element

But why do we refer to the brilliant blue hue as cobalt blue, if the element is silver? This is not part of the story of mythology, but I had to find the answer. The color of cobalt blue is made from mixing a version of the element with alumina and roasted at a high temperature. The result is a beautiful blue, used in painting, ceramics, frescoes, and other art. (For the short story on cobalt blue, read here.)

Cobalt blue

Kara Church

Pronouns: she/her/hers

Technical Editor, Advisory

Editor’s Corner Archives:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: