Alchemical language is famous for its obscurity, using symbols, cover names, and elaborate allegories to disguise chemical processes and ingredients. This secrecy has been contrasted with the “openness” of modern science, yet alchemists often had good reason not to publish their knowledge – including the need to maintain their own reputations and secure funding. Yet, then as now, alchemical secrecy raised serious problems for replication, as medieval and early-modern practitioners sought to decipher one another’s recipes in order to reproduce the (claimed) results of earlier adepts. In my talk, I shall investigate how early-modern experimenters dealt with the problem of reproducibility, using examples from my own attempts to reconstruct alchemical recipes in a modern laboratory setting.

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