Campanology Word of the Day: Ingot

An ingot is a mass of metal cast into an easily transportable or storable shape, like a gold bar, aluminum sheet, or copper brick. Ingots are very useful to a metalworker, not only to quickly and conveniently access semi-finished or finished metals, but also to mix metals in exacting proportions. Often, ingots are standardized in size and stamped with their weight and purity.

Ingots are as handy and relevant today as they have been for centuries. From Mesopotamia and the Mediterranean to the Indus Valley, ingots played a vital role in the movement of wealth – influencing the rise and fall of empires and the course of history itself by facilitating economic and cultural exchange between early civilizations. 

If an Indian merchant wanted to purchase a Persian camel, an ingot of gold or silver could be easily valued and traded. Ancient coins were minted for just this reason: to have smaller values of ingots easily at hand, stamped by the issuer to offer a guarantee of quality.

Gold ingots from the Austrian Mint

Image: Gold ingots from the Austrian Mint (Münze Österreich), stamped with their weight and purity, are shown in Vienna, Austria, on February 16, 2022.

The etymological root of the word ‘ingot’ is uncertain. It could be that ingot comes to us from the Old English ingyte (“a pouring in, infusion, inspiration”) through to the late Middle English in (“enclosed” or “surrounded by”) + goten, past participle of geotan, which meant to pour or cast. Still others suggest this came to English in the 14th century from the Middle French lingot, meaning a piece of metal, incorrectly phoneticized as l'ingot, or “the ingot.”

However we got it, it stuck, and today the word ingot is still used in commerce and metallurgy, especially bell making. For instance, the bronze of bell metal is generally a 4:1 ratio of copper to tin (80% copper, 20% tin). If the bellmaker has ingots of both metals nearby, he or she might easily drop the ingots into the crucible and continue with the business at hand, without needing to additionally weigh, purify, or process the raw metals. 

The word ingot can also mean the mold in which metal is cast, but it has broadened beyond metallurgy to denote a nugget or amount of anything, as in, an ingot of truth. So whether it’s gold, silver, copper, tin, aluminum, or even truth, if someone offers you an ingot, it might be worth taking.

Cover image: Ingots of tin are gathered at the Rincker Bell & Art Foundry in Sinn, Germany, on December 9, 2016, to be used in the casting of two new bells.