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).

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