Starting with the basic elements of air, earth, fire and water, Alchemical symbols were used to indicate elements and compounds until the 18th century. The art of alchemy was handed down over the centuries from Egypt and Arabia to Greece and Rome, and finally to Western and Central Europe. The word is derived from the Arabian phrase al-kimia, which refers to the preparation of the stone or elixir by the Egyptians. The Arabic root kimia comes from the Coptic khem that alluded to the fertile black soil of the Nile delta.
The introduction of alchemical symbols to modern logo design is not new, but they certainly seem modern. I found these in a little booklet titled Alchistische Symbole by the Hungarian scholar Walter Endrei (1983). They have a sublime elegance. However, I’m having trouble translating them. If any of you have exact translations for these please correct me and send your thoughts to Accurate Interpretation Department at The Daily Heller.
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About Steven HellerSteven Heller is the co-chair of the SVA MFA Designer /Designer as Author + Entrepreneur program, writes frequently for Wired and Design Observer. He is also the author of over 170 books on design and visual culture. He received the 1999 AIGA Medal and is the 2011 recipient of the Smithsonian National Design Award.View all posts by Steven Heller →