Earlier discovery of Aluminium, and medieval applications?

Discussion in 'Research' started by SMAndy85, Mar 6, 2018.

  1. SMAndy85

    SMAndy85 Master

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    So my basic question is this:
    Would it be possible that Aluminium could have been discovered earlier than it was (that is, the purer aluminium discovered in the 1800s)?

    What other technologies would enable such a thing to occur?


    My theory is, that given use of Magic in fantasy worlds, would someone be able to use lightning magic to perform the electrolytic part of aluminium creation?


    I am aware that Aluminium itself doesn't have as many applications in a medieval technology era, because it's not as hard or as strong as steel, but it is really light, and shiny, and the oxide layer that appears in contact with air would protect it. My theory is this: Would the earlier discovery of such a metal make it suitable for use in currency?

    When Aluminium was first discovered, I understand that it was used for decorative pieces, since it was lightweight, and shiny.

    You could coat heavier metals in a layer of aluminium to make coins of different values. The heavier the coin, the more its worth. Limited availability of lightning magic,coupled with the required knowledge to perform the task would make it easy to control the amount of it in the system.

    Can anyone think of any problems with this?
     
  2. CupofJoe

    CupofJoe Valar Lord

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    Anything rare could have a perceived as well as actual value.
    I have a nagging memory from a Metallurgy class 30 years ago that it is very hard to plate Aluminium.
    Because it is soft as you say so can be bent out of shape but also because of something electron based... probably the same thing that makes it easy to anodise...
    I don't think I've ever seen shiny aluminium only the pale grey stuff [like the DeLorean that used to come in to Work's car-park... but no-one admitted to owning].
     
  3. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    Aluminum is a good metal and adding it early on is a great way to make the setting just a little bit quirky. I'm not sure I see what you would gain from using alumimum coins, however. Aluminum is lightweight and not very strong, not properties you would look for in a coin. Coins should be shiny, sure, but heaviness suggests value, and you wouldn't want coins to wear out as quickly as aluminum ones would.

    But aluminum can add two big things to a setting: A metal to use in vehicles without adding weight, and cans that can preserve food. Both of these can be a huge benefit on the logistical side of a setting.
     
  4. pmmg

    pmmg Dark Lord

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    Well, cant say as I know a lot about aluminum prior to looking things up to see what this question really entailed. But that is the beauty of staying connected, just means I get to learn something new.

    Given a world with magic, I can see the discovery of aluminum as a by product of magic, causing its discovery earlier. If say, every time I blasted an enemy with an arcane bolt, a strange metal residue was left in the smoking ruin, and that turned out to be aluminum, then there it is. I can also see an earlier discovery for a whole host of other reasons that would relate to the pace of development in a different world, but I think it is fair to assume it would probably require similar circumstances to discover as has historically occurred, else it would equally go unnoticed.

    If Aluminum was discovered earlier, I am sure uses would have been 'discovered' with it. I mean, once there is a supply of something, the wheels start spinning. I could see aluminum maybe having a use in magic, perhaps it conducts arcane power better than your conventional wood and phoenix feather wand. I could also see an aluminum shield to help with the heat of dragon fire. And perhaps in the way that silver is bad for lycanthropes, and Iron is bad for Faeries, maybe aluminum is bad for some type of fantastical creature.

    A light weight metal that resists heat would be good for lanterns and braziers, and might bring along the gas light world a bit faster.

    Though, I must admit, I don't see much reason they would try to coat coins with it. Seems like a lot of work when an uncoated coin would spend the same.
     
    Last edited: Mar 6, 2018
  5. SMAndy85

    SMAndy85 Master

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    My theory was that If it is a metal that only certain people know how to make, it would be easier to control. Anyone can make a mold and melt gold, and thereby counterfeit large sums of money.
     
  6. pmmg

    pmmg Dark Lord

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    Well....no.....

    Cause if I melt gold to make a counterfeit gold coin, I still have a gold coin. I might make a coin of lead and plate it with gold. The value of a gold coin is the gold, not the image on the front. In fact, the term 'making money hand over fist' comes from people making their own coins with the raw materials of silver (usually), and gold. You would melt your own silver, put it in a mold and press on it with your hand. This is also why people used to bite on coins, to see if they were in fact gold (silver) all the way through.

    Anyway...currencies that would need to avoid being counterfeited would be those whose values were backed by the government, and not by the intrinsic value of the material itself. An aluminum coin might actually make the coins less valuable.
     
  7. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    A sturdy aluminum alloy could give you a currency that can be used to begin replicating modern economic systems. I can see how there would be a lot of potential in that. Currency, stocks, bonds - everything could be done with aluminum instead of hard-to-counterfeit paper to prevent forgeries and safeguard the system. There could be a good story in that.

    Aluminum was hard to discover because it mostly exists in compounds that have to be broken down with the right chemical reactions to leave just aluminum. There's no "aluminum ore." But you'll find something like aluminum phosphate, and you have to find a chemical that will get rid of the phosphate. It's not hard to think that magic could facilitate that process, that the process would be a national secret (like making silk), or that the resulting aluminum would be seen as precious.

    If all you want is a sentence explaining that your currencies are aluminum instead of gold, though, I think that might be shortchanging what you can do with something like this. If you really run with all the things aluminum can do for a setting, I think you'll come up with a pretty nifty and unique world.
     
  8. Horus

    Horus Journeyman

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    I don't see the harm in the idea itself, since there are many reasons why aluminum could be used as a coin. I don't find it to be the best suited for currency, but that's because it doesn't really suit "earth". Now, if we are talking another world, we are talking about a whole new ball game. We think in terms of what elements and rules have shaped the development/technologies of our planet, but on another world you'd be playing about a different set of rules. Aluminum could be a very common material and have little value, maybe making it about as useful as copper/nickel coins. Or it could be linked to some cultural/social status (similar to diamonds), making it valuable by way of cultural/trade significance. Things can gain or lose market value in a variety of ways.

    Either way, Aluminum on earth is difficult to introduce early because, while it is one of the most common metals on earth, it is also almost unheard of to find it in a pure form. It has many uses, and if your civilization can make it into alloys, it is actually pretty strong.
     
  9. Dark Squiggle

    Dark Squiggle Lore Master

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    I believe the Delorean had Stainless Steel body panels, not aluminum.
    My understanding is that aluminum is hard to work, which is part of the reason it wasn't used. You'd probably need magic not just to extract it, but also to form into any useful shape.
    A coin that cannot be copied like a gold one can be very useful to a government with a good grasp of economics. Currency with intrinsic worth is very hard to manipulate, as any serious inflation/deflation that you create will be balanced out be people either stamping their own coins or melting yours down, depending on whether your coinage is worth more or less then the metal it is made of. If there are less Syrian Dinars, people will just use more Italian ones, and there will be no deflation. If you suddenly release 100,000 Dinars to try to create inflation, people will just melt them down and sell them to jewelers, and the amount of coins in circulation will drop until they will once again be worth what they were before. This, I believe, is the reason why the US left the gold/silver standard, and stopped stamping gold, silver and copper coins. This is still a problem with US Nickels (5ยข coins), whenever the dollar gets weak, people start melting them down and selling them for scrap. Fiat currency (money that is only worth something because of the government/army that backs it) is much more easily manipulated, as long as it can't be easily counterfeited in large amounts.
    On another note, aluminum would make for really good spearshafts, chariots, arrowshafts and allow for very elaborate helms and massive swords, like you see in videogames, but only if you understood the principles behind trusses and took into account aluminum's tendency for metal fatigue. (Metal fatigue is still an issue today, and the reason why most cars and trucks are made of steel.)
    If these magicians can work metals so well, are there bicycles in your world? They are a major gamechanger.
     
  10. CupofJoe

    CupofJoe Valar Lord

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    Yeah, you're right. A few sports cars have used Aluminium alloys to make their inner shells, the old Land Rovers had Aluminium body panels. Maybe that was what I was thinking of. I like the idea of magical formed Bicycles.
     

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