1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Malachite

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MALACHITE, a copper-ore of fine green colour, sometimes polished as an ornamental stone. The name is derived from Gr. μαλάχη, the mallow, in allusion to the colour of the mineral being rather like that of the mallow-leaf. Malachite was perhaps one of the green minerals described by Theophrastus under the general name of σμάραγδος; and according to the late Rev. C. W. King it was probably the smaragdus medicus of Pliny, whilst his molochites seems to have been a different stone from our malachite and may have been a green jasper. It is suggested by J. L. Myres (Ency. Bib.) that malachite may have been the Heb. soham, of the high priest’s breastplate.

Malachite is a basic cupric carbonate, represented by the formula CuCO3Cu(HO)2, and has usually been formed by the action of meteoric agencies on other copper-minerals; hence it is found in the upper part of ore-deposits, often as an incrustation, and occasionally as a pseudomorph after cuprite, chalcocite, &c. When formed, as commonly happens, by the alteration of copper-pyrites the iron of this mineral usually takes the form of limonite, which may remain associated with the malachite. Occasionally, though but rarely, malachite occurs in small dark-green prismatic crystals of the monoclinic system. Its usual mode of occurrence is in nodular or stalagmitic forms, with a mammillated, reniform or botryoidal surface, whilst in other cases it forms fibrous, compact or even earthy masses. The nodules, though commonly dull on the outside, may display on fracture a beautiful zonary structure, the successive layers often succeeding each other as curved deposits of light and dark tints. The colours include various shades of apple-green, grass-green, emerald-green and verdigris-green. Certain varieties exhibit a finely fibrous structure, producing on the fractured surface a soft silky sheen.

Whilst malachite is found in greater or less quantity in most copper-mines, the finer varieties useful for ornamental purposes are of very limited occurrence, and the lapidary has generally drawn his supply from Russia and Australia. The principal source in recent years has been the Medno-Rudiansk mine near Nizhne Tagilsk, on the Siberian side of the Urals, but it was formerly obtained from mines near Bogoslovsk to the north and Gumishev to the south of this locality. A mass from Gumishev, preserved in the museum of the Mining Institute of St Petersburg weighs 3240 ℔, and still larger masses have been found near Nizhne Tagilsk. The mineral is prized in Russia for use in mosaic-work, and for the manufacture of vases, snuff-boxes and various ornamental objects. Even folding doors, mantelpieces, table-tops and other articles of furniture have been executed in malachite, the objects being veneered with thin slabs cleverly fitted together so as to preserve the pattern, and having the interspaces filled up with fragments and powder of malachite applied with a cement. The malachite is sawn into slabs, ground with emery and polished with tripoli. Its hardness is less than 4, but it takes a good polish like marble: it is rather denser than marble, having a specific gravity of 3.7 to 4, but it is more difficult to work, in consequence of a tendency to break along the curved planes of deposition. Exceptionally fine examples of the application of malachite are seen in some of the columns of St Isaac’s Cathedral in St Petersburg, which are hollow iron columns encrusted with malachite. Large masses of ornamental malachite have been found in Australia, especially at the old Burra Burra copper-mine in South Australia. The Copper Queen and other mines in Arizona have yielded fine specimens of malachite associated with azurite, and polished slabs of the mixed minerals sometimes show the vivid green and the deep blue carbonate in very striking contrast. This natural association, cut as an ornamental stone, has been named, by Dr G. F. Kunz, azurmalachite. Malachite is occasionally used for cameo-work, and some fine antique examples are known. It was formerly worn as an amulet to preserve the wearer from lightning, contagion and witchcraft.

The mineral, when ground, has been used as a pigment under the name of “mountain green.” The coarser masses are extensively used, with other minerals, as ores of copper, malachite containing about 57% of metal. “Blue malachite” is a name sometimes given to azurite (q.v.), whilst “siliceous malachite” is a term inappropriately applied to chrysocolla (q.v.).  (F. W. R.*)