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British Industrial History

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Charles Askin

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A veterinary surgeon who was greatly interested in chemistry and metals

He was a friend of Brooke Evans.

While staying in Warsaw, Askin discovered that a white metal called argentan contained nickel; he and Evans experimented with methods of refining nickel from speiss (an impure mixture of cobalt, nickel, and other metals), a residuel product left after the preparation of cobalt blue for painting pottery. They were successful, and Askin went into partnership with Messrs H. and T. Merry to manufacture German silver, an alloy of nickel, copper, and zinc.

One source states that in 1824 Askins embarked on a European tour, visiting the mining districts of Germany. He also included a trip to Warsaw, where three sons of his neighbour, Brooke Evans, were established as merchants and ironfounders. In Warsaw he bought some specimens of cutlery made from a German alloy known as Argentan. One item broke when dropped, and this inspired Askin to seek to produce an improved version of the alloy on his return to Birmingham. He eventually produced an alloy of nickel, copper and zinc. He showed an ingot to a friend, Henry Merry, who recommended him to have it rolled at a Mr Phipson's rolling mill. This was successful, a bright ribbon of rolled material being produced.[1]

Askin gained £1500 from the venture, and subsequently went into partnership with Evans as Evans and Askin.

1835 they built works in Birmingham, where they successfully produced refined nickel from nickel-speiss. The demand for Evans and Askin's refined nickel and German silver increased rapidly, because it was durable, attractive, and able to be stamped, spun, cast, and wrought.

The speiss produced by the cobalt blue manufacturers was quite insufficient for their requirements, however, and Evans explored Europe for new sources of ores containing nickel. He heard of its existence at the mines of Dobschan in Hungary, visited the place, and bought all the ore he could afford, although the ore contained half as much cobalt as nickel. As cobalt was detrimental to the German silver, and as Askin could not by his mode of refining separate these metals, new techniques had to be developed.

The demand for nickel was meanwhile steadily increasing, especially from the Birmingham electroplating business of Elkingtons; Evans and Askin discovered a process by which they could obtain refined nickel in large quantities.

1847 To meet the demand Askin visited some nickel mines near Geisdal in Norway, where he died suddenly on 25 August. He was taken home and buried at Edgbaston.

1848 Askin's seven bedroom house advertised for sale. 'recently built, without regard to expense'. Located at the corner of Harborne Road and Highfield Road, Edgbaston [2]

See Also

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Sources of Information

  1. 'Nickel - an Historical Review' by F. B. Howard-White, Methuen, 1963
  2. Aris's Birmingham Gazette - Monday 28 August 1848
  • Biography of Brooke Evans, ODNB