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Franz Stefan von Lothringen (1708-1765).

The head of the Royal Family in Vienna was Franz Stefan, son of Leopold, Duke of Lorraine (Lothringen). He succeeded to the duchy in 1729, but ceded it to the King of Poland in 1737. The year before he had wed Maria Theresa of Austria and ruled Austria with her as co-regent from 1740 to 1745, when he was chosen as Holy Roman Emperor. He did not concern himself much with the wars that were going on, but preferred to indulge in his favorite pastime: collecting minerals and other naturalia.

In 1748 Franz (now Francis I) purchased the enormous natural history collection of a Florentine scientist, Ritter (Sir) Johann von Baillou (1679-1758). This collection, over 30,000 minerals, rocks and shells, was at that time one of the world's largest private collections of such objects. Franz had it brought to Vienna and installed it in the Hofburg palace as the Imperial private collection; von Baillou was retained as curator.

Franz was an amateur scientist at heart, with a partiality for medicine and chemistry, and a fondness for physical and mechanical scientific instruments and models. He even pioneered in the manufacture of some of his own instruments, including a large concave mirror with which he and the Jesuit Father Joseph Franz succeeded in demonstrating the combustibility of diamond in 1751.

In 1755 Franz commissioned the botanist Baron von Jacquin to undertake a collecting expedition to the Antilles, Venezuela and Colombia. The trip, which lasted four years, was the first officially sponsored overseas expedition on behalf of the Imperial Cabinet. Fifty large crates were shipped back to Vienna; included were zoological specimens, plant specimens, ethnographic items, and many valuable minerals.

To Franz, however, all of his collecting was for the purpose of his personal enjoyment only, an attitude not shared by his wife. It was not until Franz's death in 1765 that she was able to share his magnificent collection with a wider audience.

Maria Theresa, Archduchess of Austria and Queen of Hungary and Bohemia, was the daughter of Charles VI (1711-1740), Holy Roman Emperor, King of Hungary and last of the male line of the Hapsburgs. Maria Theresa apparently took some interest in Franz's collecting activities. Unlike her late husband, however, she did not regard the collections as personal playthings but as national treasures of some potential use in educating and elevating the public. Therefore she formally presented his collections to the Austrian state and established for them a public museum (among the first in history) known as the Imperial Naturalienkammer.

It was also her motive that, in addition to providing pleasure to the public, the exhibits should help people gain a more widespread knowledge of the appearance of economically valuable minerals, facilitating new discoveries. She later called the famous mineralogist Ignaz von Born to Vienna to curate the natural history collection, and charged him with organizing it according to the latest scientific knowledge, and seeing that all Imperial mining properties contributed representative specimens.

The Imperial collection grew rapidly through donations and purchases from private collectors, including Bergrat Leithner in Idria, professor Anton Ruprecht (1748-1814) at the Schemnitz Mining Academy, Baron Franz Muller von Reichenstein (1740-1825; discoverer of tellurium) who was the director of all mines in Transylvania, Bergrat Karl von Ployer (1739-1812) in Carinthia, and the famous mineral collector Johann Fichtel (1732-1795) among many others.

Today Franz Stefan's minerals and all that was later added to his collection are still preserved in the Vienna Museum of Natural History.
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Title Annotation:The History of Mineralogy: 1530-1799
Author:Wilson, Wendell E.
Publication:The Mineralogical Record
Article Type:Biography
Date:Nov 1, 1994
Words:578
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