This prompt immediately brought to mind the time when I discovered a tin of heavy metallic blobs among the assorted possessions of my deceased Uncle Norman.
Uncle Norman was great to have as an uncle. He had no kids of his own and only a few nieces and nephews who lived a hundred or more kilometres away, as did I. When I went to visit him on his little farm near Armidale in the Northern Tablelands he let me join in and do things I could never do at home.
Firstly, he had some cows and sheep and some farm dogs to work with the stock. I would go out into the fields with him to fetch the cows up to the home paddock in the evening. The milking cow (or two) would know when it was time to go to the dairy each morning just on sunrise and Uncle Norman or Auntie Molly would let me have a go at milking. I was fairly hopeless as I didn’t want to hurt the cows! Besides, my hands were so tiny that I couldn’t get a good grip around the udder above the nipples – that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it.
During the day with the animals happily taking care of themselves my uncle sometimes took me rock-hunting. He had a huge collection of rock specimens from all over the world, though he had only collected Australian rocks himself. He used to trade rocks with other people to get the overseas ones but the vast majority he found on the East coast of Australia. Around Armidale you could find many different minerals and gemstones, the best known of which are sapphires.
We would regularly go to spots along local rivers and pan for sapphires and we found many, some of good gem quality. These were either nice deep blue transparent stones or star sapphires.
The best sapphire he found he made into a ring for Auntie Molly and today I have this ring. An expert gem cutter shaped the stone for him but he actually forged the metal part of the ring himself using gold and a little silver he had scrounged himself. I was quite impressed that he was able to make the ring as he was an electrician by trade and usually did wood-turning as a hobby, not metal forging. The ring is quite simple, just a few claws to hold the stone and a plain band. However, that leads me to the prompt, the Assay.
When I found the heavy tin of metal blobs I thought they might be leftover material from forging the metal from that ring. I knew that an assay was a method of measuring the metal content of a mixture of geological materials but had no idea who could do it. Secretly I was hoping there might be a little more gold in the mix that could be made into a few more rings or something. So I looked up metallurgical companies in the Yellow Pages and found one close by that was prepared to analyse my little sample.
A week later I was quite excited when I went in to find out the results. It was just a tin of slag! They thought it was probably left over from various attempts to produce a jeweller’s metal and contained no more precious metal that could be re-used. Oh well, it was interesting finding out!