Sunday, November 28, 2010

Wilhelm Haidinger's Other Job

The Austrian scientist Wilhelm Haidinger (1795-1871) is often referred to as the curator of the Vienna meteorite collection during the late 1850s and early 1860s.  However, Haidinger was actually the first head of the Imperial Geological Survey of Austria, a position he assumed in 1849 and held until he retired in 1866.  It was Moritz Hörnes (1815-1858) who was the “official” curator of the mineral cabinet, assuming the title in 1856 when Paul Partsch died (1791-1856), and holding it until 1868.  But in practice, Hörnes and Haidinger were essentially joint curators of the meteorite collection.

Wilhelm Haidinger (Source: Wikipedia)

Haidinger became interested in meteorites after a sample of the Braunau iron was acquired by the Vienna cabinet, and it was the subject of his first meteorite paper, published in 1847.  As head of the Geological Survey, he had considerable influence, and was able to obtain numerous meteorite samples for the collection, such as the Kakowa stone which fell in Romania in 1858.  The Romanian authorities sent it to Haidinger and the Geological Survey, not to the mineral cabinet.

I recently acquired two documents, one from 1853 and the other from 1855, signed by Haidinger with some short notes, written as head of the Imperial Geological Survey.  The images are listed below (single click for a larger image and single click again on the larger image to magnify further).  Both are receipts, one addressed to Director Karl Karmarsch, for the published communications of the Hannover trade association.  For more information on Karmarsch, who was an officer of the Hannover trade association as well as a noted technological educator, see:

Karl Karmarsch (Source: Wikipedia)

Both documents clearly show that Haidinger had other, more mundane, items to attend to besides acquiring meteorites.  Alas, don’t we all!

Copyright © Mark I. Grossman
Receipt signed by Haidinger in 1855 as
Director of the Imperial Geological Survey.
Addressed to Karl Karmarsch.

 Copyright © Mark I. Grossman
Receipt signed by Haidinger in 1853 as
Director of the Imperial Geological Survey


J. G. Burke, ‘Curators and Collectors’, in Cosmic debris, meteorites in history, pp. 174-212 (University of California Press, Berkeley, 1986). 

F. Brandstätter, ‘History of the meteorite collection of the Natural History Museum of Vienna’, in The history of meteoritics and key meteorite collections:  fireballs, falls and finds (Geological Society of London Special Publication no. 256), (ed. G. J. H. McCall, A. J. Bowden and R. J. Howarth), pp. 123-133 (Geological Society London, 2006).

Saturday, November 20, 2010

What is Chladni's "Catalogue" of Meteorites - Part II

As noted in the last post, Chladni published a catalogue of his own personal meteorite collection in 1825 in Kastner’s Archiv fuer die gesamte Naturlehre  However, a year later, a listing of meteorite falls — not specimens — was issued in Annales de Chimie, the scientific journal started by Antoine Laurent Lavoisier, the father of modern chemistry.  The complete reference is:

E. F. F. Chladni, ‘Nouveau catalogue des chutes de pierres ou de fer; de poussières ou de substances molles, sèches ou humides, suivant l’ordre chronologique’, Annales de Chimie et de Physique 31, 253-270 (1826).

The Annales catalogue is available online at Google books:

But similar to Kastner, the Annales de Chimie listing is not a stand-alone work.  Some of the references to the literature on the falls are abbreviated, and unless one is familiar with Chladni’s previous reports on meteorite falls and his book, E. F. F. Chladni,  Über feuer-meteore, und über die mit denselben herabgefallenen massen, (Vienna, J.G. Heubner, 1819), critical information might be missed, and at least one researcher in the nineteenth century was led astray in this manner, and perhaps a few more.

So when one sees a citation to Chladni’s “catalogue” in a historical paper dated after 1827 with no other details provided, more than likely it’s a reference to the Annales paper and not the Kastner work.  This conclusion is based on two considerations.  First, the Annales work has the word “catalogue” in the title unlike the Kastner paper.  And second, in the early part of the nineteenth century, German works were not widely distributed in England and Ireland, and they became known after they were translated into French publications.  It is likely that Kastner did not enjoy the widespread distribution in England and Ireland that Annales did.


Monday, November 15, 2010

What is Chladni's "Catalogue" of Meteorites?

There are really two answers to this question, which became apparent after I had the opportunity to exchange emails with a few people following my November 1 comment on the Lucas meteorite catalogue.

As noted by Dr. Svend Buhl, E. F. F. Chladni prepared a catalogue of his own personal meteorite collection in 1825.  The catalogue appeared in Kastner's Archiv fuer die gesamte Naturlehre IV (1825), 200-240, and has the title 'Chladni's Beschreibung seiner Sammlung von Himmel herabgefallener Massen', which is translated as 'Chladni's description of his collection of masses fallen from the sky'.  According to Dr. Buhl, Chladni went beyond issuing a basic catalogue, which contains sample names and weights, by comparing his personal samples to specimens he observed in other collections. 
Dr. Renaud Mathieu pointed out some references to Chladni’s meteorite collection.  Marvin stated that it included 31 stones, 9 irons and 2 stony irons.  See U. B. Marvin,  ‘Ernst florens Friedrich Chladni (1756-1827) and the origins of modern meteorite research’, Meteoritics 31, (1996), 545-588 (585).  According to Burke, 31 stones and 10 irons were obtained by the Berlin collection when Chladni died in 1827.  The acquisition  represented 18 new localities for Berlin, and according to Dr. Mathieu, 34 samples are still extant.  See J. G. Burke, Cosmic debris: Meteorites in history (1986), 184 and the link to the collection of the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin 

But there is one caveat that I noted.  The 1825 catalogue is not a stand-alone work.  I have researched the Mooresfort and Limerick falls quite extensively, and Sir Charles Giesecke gave Chladni samples of each, yet the Kastner version does not mention the source of these samples.  One has to refer to E. F. F. Chladni,  Über feuer-meteore, und über die mit denselben herabgefallenen massen, (Vienna, J.G. Heubner, 1819) to determine where Chladni obtained his samples.  Chaldni does, however, reference his previous works in the Kastner catalogue. 

So if one wants a fuller picture of Chladn’s collection, his previous work must be consulted.

The link to the Chladni’s catalogue in Kastner is available on Google Books at the following link:

And the second answer to the question “what is Chaldni’s meteorite catalogue”?  Be sure to check the next post!


Thursday, November 4, 2010

Recently Discovered Letter Sheds Light on 1858 Ausson Meteorite Fall

The 2000 edition of the Catalogue of Meteorites mentions the following about the Ausson meteorite fall, which occurred on December 9, 1858:

Two stones, weighing about 9 kg and 41 kg, respectively, fell, the first near Ausson and the other near Clarac, about 3 miles distant.    

The same information is included in the 1985 fourth edition of the Catalogue, and both editions cite F. Petit’s communication that was published in Comptes Rendus 47 (1858), 1053-1055, as the source of the information. 

However, if you check the original paper, Petit said the exact opposite — the larger stone fell at Ausson —  not Clarac. 

His report mentions that M. Fourment, a professor at the Petit Séminaire de Polignan, helped remove the Ausson stone from the ground, which weighed about 40 to 45 kilograms. According to Petit, M. Fourment told him that the stone which fell at Clarac weighed about 8 to 10 kilograms.

I sent an inquiry to the Academy of Sciences in Paris to see if they had a letter from M. Fourment describing the fall. The Academy often has the original manuscript material mentioned in Comptes Rendus, but although there are two letters from M. Petit in the archives, there is no letter from M. Fourment.

At the present time, there seems to be only one letter from M. Fourment in existence anywhere in the world discussing the Ausson fall   —  it is in my autograph collection, the gem of the lot.

The 3-page letter was found in a folder containing other documents addressed to Emilien Dumas, the French geologist and paleontologist, and is dated February 14, 1859, about two months after the fall.  Fourment sent his correspondent, presumably Dumas, samples of Ausson, but the latter wanted samples of the Clarac stone as well. 

Unfortunately, M. Fourment indicated these was nearly impossible to get — the Ausson stone was larger, weighing about 4 to 5 times more, so there were very few samples of Clarac available.  He told his correspondent that based on the appearance of the Ausson stone, the Clarac stone seems to have separated from it, and other than having a darker crust, appears to have been essentially the same.

Thus the letter supports M. Petit’s report that the larger stone fell at Ausson.

Apparently Dumas was quite a collector, and his geological collection ended up at the Natural History Museum in Nîmes. I sent an inquiry to the Museum about the collection the other day, and I am still awaiting a response. If anyone knows the curator, please contact me. It is quite possible that the Museum archives might have other correspondence between Dumas and Fourment.

Below are a few images from the letter, which I hope you enjoy.


Figure 1:  Letter dated February 14, 1859, about 2 months after the fall (Copyright © M. I. Grossman).

Figure 2:  Mention that meteorite found in surroundings of Polignan weighed 4 to 5 times more than Clarac stone, which appeared to have separated from the Ausson stone (Copyright © M. I. Grossman).

Figure 3:  M. Fourment’s signature on the letter, which may be his only correspondence in existence about the fall (Copyright © M. I. Grossman).