LOOKING for some extra cash before Christmas? The answer might be found in a new exhibition dedicated to a quest that captivated ancient thinkers and fuelled fiction – how to turn lead into gold.

Secrets of the Philosopher’s Stone, which features rare and antique materials, opens to the public at The Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh on Monday.

The capital show is hundreds of years in the making and includes little-seen items that helped create a new literary legend after featuring in the Harry Potter series.

Focused on the ancient tradition of alchemy, which combined science and spiritualism, the practice included a drive to develop a substance capable of transforming base metals into precious elements.

The sought-after stone would also reputedly have the power to unlock powers of rejuvenation and immortality.

In ancient Greek writings, it was the subject of experimentation spanning thousands of years, and has captivated writers and artists – including Frankenstein creator Mary Shelley, fantasy author Terry Pratchett and horror writer HP Lovecraft.

It also includes JK Rowling, whose first instalment of the blockbuster boy wizard series, penned in an Edinburgh cafe, incorporated the marvel.

The 5.5-metre Ripley Scroll, an alchemical manuscript from the 1500s which describes how to make the Philosopher’s Stone and featured in Harry Potter, is among the items set to go on show.

The work of a canon of Bridlington in Yorkshire, fewer than 25 of the documents survive, and there are no others in the country.

It opens with an illustration of a bearded figure holding an egg shaped vase, thought to be legendary alchemy founder Hermes Trismegistus, who is associated with Thoth, the Egyptian god of healing.

Other pieces include a first edition of the Splendor Splendoris.

Described by the college as “one of the most beautiful of all alchemical manuscripts” the 1598 work contains 22 colour illustrations showing alchemical processes.

Other pieces come from the collection of Fife aristocrat Sir George Erskine, who bought up a cache of arcane material more than 370 years ago.

The free exhibition is held in the institution’s new exhibition centre, which was created as part of a £3.5 million redevelopment, and will run until the summer.

Iain Milne, head of heritage at the college, said: “We are thrilled to have a new exhibition space here in Queen Street that allows visitors of all ages to see the College’s historic collections.

“This is the first time in 337 years that our fascinating collection of alchemical books and manuscripts has been put on public exhibition.

“The display will include the College’s Ripley Scroll – one of only 23 surviving copies anywhere in the world, and the only one in Scotland.

“The scroll uses symbols and illustrations to reveal the steps needed to create the Philosophers’ Stone.”

He added: “I expect Harry Potter readers to find many of the images and the terminology very familiar.”