Bismuth has been known to mankind for centuries but for a long time it was confused with antimony, lead and tin. Paracelsus, for instance, said that there were two varieties of antimony–a black one used for the purification of gold and very similar to lead, and a white one named bismuth and very similar to lead, and a white one named bismuth and resembling tin; a mixture of these two varieties resembles silver. Form the chemical standpoint this confusion can easily be explained. Antimony and bismuth are analogues of each other and have common features with lead and tin, the elements of the previous group.
Agricola, unlike Paracelsus, gave a rather detailed description of bismuth and of the process of its extraction from ores mined in Saxony. Miners thought that bismuth, as well as tin, was a variety of lead and that bismuth could be transformed into silver.
In Central Russia bismuth has been known since the 15th century. With the development of book-printing bismuth, along with antimony, began to be used for casting typographical types. In literature few elements have such a great number of names as bismuth. E. von Lippmann in his book History of Bismuth from 1480 to 1800 gives twenty one names of this metal used in Europe. A sufficiently clear idea of bismuth as an independent metal was formed only in the 18th century.