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CategoryOxide minerals
(repeating unit)
IMA symbolLit[1]
Strunz classification4.AC.20
Crystal systemTetragonal
Crystal classDitetragonal dipyramidal (4/mmm)
H-M symbol: (4/m 2/m 2/m)
Space groupP4/nmm
CleavageDistinct/Good. On {110}
Mohs scale hardness2
Lustergreasy, dull

Litharge (from Greek lithargyros, lithos (stone) + argyros (silver) λιθάργυρος) is one of the natural mineral forms of lead(II) oxide, PbO. Litharge is a secondary mineral which forms from the oxidation of galena ores. It forms as coatings and encrustations with internal tetragonal crystal structure. It is dimorphous with the yellow orthorhombic form massicot. It forms soft (Mohs hardness of 2), red, greasy-appearing crusts with a very high specific gravity of 9.14–9.35. PbO may be prepared by heating lead metal in air at approximately 600 °C (lead melts at only 300 °C). At this temperature it is also the end product of heating of other lead oxides in air.[5] This is often done with a set of bellows pumping air over molten lead and causing the oxidized product to slip or fall off the top into a receptacle, where it quickly solidifies in minute scales.[6]

PbO2 –(293 °C)→ Pb12O19 –(351 °C)→ Pb12O17 –(375 °C)→ Pb3O4 –(605 °C)→ PbO

Historical terminology[edit]

Historically, the term "litharge" has been combined to refer to other similar substances. For example, litharge of gold is litharge mixed with red lead, giving it a red color; litharge of bismuth is a similar result of the oxidation of bismuth; litharge of silver is litharge that comes as a by-product of separating silver from lead, in fact litharge originally meant the mineral residue from silver refining. The term has also been used as a synonym for white lead or red lead.[7]

Litharge smelting[edit]

According to Probert, "silver ore, litharge (crude lead oxide) flux and charcoal were mixed and smelted in very small clay and stone furnaces. Resulting silver-bearing lead bullion was later refined in a second furnace which yielded fine silver, and litharge skimmings which were used again."[8]


  1. ^ Warr, L.N. (2021). "IMA–CNMNC approved mineral symbols". Mineralogical Magazine. 85 (3): 291–320. Bibcode:2021MinM...85..291W. doi:10.1180/mgm.2021.43. S2CID 235729616.
  2. ^ Mineralienatlas
  3. ^ Mindat
  4. ^ Webmineral data
  5. ^ N.N. Greenwood, A. Earnshaw, "Chemistry of Elements", 2nd edition, Butterworth-Heinemann, 1997.
  6. ^ "VI. Semivitrified Oxide of Lead - Oxide of Lead. - Plumbi Oxidum. Us. - Litiiargyrum. Br. - Litharge".
  7. ^ "litharge". Oxford English Dictionary (Online ed.). Oxford University Press. (Subscription or participating institution membership required.)
  8. ^ Alan Probert, "Bartolomé de Medina: The Patio Process and the Sixteenth Century Silver Crisis" in Bakewell, Peter, ed. Mines of Silver and Gold in the Americas. Variorum: Brookfield, 1997, pp. 96, ISBN 0860785130.

Further reading[edit]

  • Anthony, John W.; Bideaux, Richard A.; Bladh, Kenneth W.; Nichols, Monte C. (2005). "Litharge". Handbook of Mineralogy. Mineral Data Publishing. Retrieved 14 March 2022.
  • Klein, Cornelis; Hurlbut, Cornelius S. Jr. (1993). Manual of mineralogy: (after James D. Dana) (21st ed.). New York: Wiley. ISBN 047157452X.