Born, Ignaz Edler von

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Born, Ignaz Edler von

(b. Karlsburg, Transylvania [now Alba Iulia, Rumania], 26 December 1742; d. Vienna, Austria, 24 July 1791)


Born was descended from a noble German family. At the age of thirteen he began his studies in Vienna with the Jesuits, who induced him to join their order; he remained a member for only about sixteen months, however. Leaving Vienna and the Jesuits behind, Born went to Prague to study jurisprudence. After completing his education there, he traveled in Germany, the Low Countries, and France. Upon his return to Prague, he took up the study of natural history and mining, and in 1770 he joined the department of mines and the mint. In the same year Born visited the principal mines of Hungary and Transylvania. His account of this expedition is preserved in a series of lively and interesting letters addressed to the mineralogist J. J. Ferber. In 1774 Ferber published these letters in a work that later appeared in English, French, and Italian editions. During his visit to a mine at Felso-Banya, Born suffered an accident that nearly cost him his life. He descended into the mine too soon after the fires used to detach the ore had been extinguished, and inhaled a dangerously large quantity of arsenical vapours. This unfortunate occurrence seriously affected Born’s health and may well have shortened his life. Upon returning to Prague, he was appointed counselor of mines.

In 1772 Born published Lithophylacium Bornianum, a description of his own collection. This work attracted the favorable attention of mineralogists, and Born was soon admitted to various learned societies throughout Europe. In 1776 Empress Maria Theresa, having heard of his reputation, called him to Vienna to arrange and describe the imperial collection. He completed a portion of this task, but after the empress’ death in 1780 it was discontinued. In 1779 Born was raised to the office of counselor of the court chamber in the department of mines and the mint.

Born’s interests and activities extended into fields other than mineralogy and mining. While in Prague, he had helped to found a literary and philosophical society that was the forerunner of the Bohemian Scientific Society. In Vienna, Born was active in the secret fraternity of Freemasons. After Joseph II’s accession to the throne, this brotherhood was allowed to pursue its anticlerical activities with greater freedom. In 1783 Born published Specimen monachologiae, a vicious satire against monks in which the various ordres were classified according to a system modeled after Linnaeus.’.

Besides preparing catalogs of fossil and mineral collections, works of classification, and descriptions of mines and mining equipment, Born invented an amalgamation process for removing gold and silver from various ores. Since the process did not require the usual melting of the ore, its use effected a considerable saving of fuel. A trial of the process in the presence of observers was made at Selmeczbánya (German, Schemnitz), Hungary (now Banská Štiavnica, Czechoslovakia). In 1786 Born published his description of it. The process was adopted in copper mines throughout Hungary, and Born was given a share of the savings occasioned by its use.


I. Original Works. Born’s writings include Briefe über mineralogische Gegenstände, auf seiner Reise durch das Temeswarer Bannat, Siebenbürgen, Ober- und Nieder-Hungarn, an den Herausgeber derselben geschreiben, J.J. Ferber, ed. (Frankfurt-Leipzig, 1774), trans, by R.E. Raspe as Travels Through the Bannat of Temeswar, Transylvania, and Hungary in the Year 1770, etc. (London, 1777); Lithophylacium Bornianum, 2 vols. (Prague, 1772–1775); Effigies virorum eruditorum atque artificum Bohemiae et Moraviae, etc., 2 vols. (Prague, 1773–1775); Index rerum naturalium Musei Caesarei Vindobonensis (Vienna, 1778); Ueber dasAnquicken der gold- und silberhältigen Erze, Rohsteine, Schwarzupfer und Hüttenspeise (Vienna, 1786), trans, by R. E. Raspe as Baron Inigo Born’s New Process of Amalgamation of Gold and Silver Ores, and Other Metallic Mixtures (London, 1791); and Bergbaukunde, 2 vols. (Leipzig, 1789–1790), written with F.W.H. von Trebra. Born edited the Abhandlungen einer Privatgesellschaft in Böhmen, ) 6 vols. (Prague, 1775–1784). He publsihed in L. Crell’s Chemische Annalen some reports of Matteo Tondi’s alleged reduction of the alkaline earths (1790), pt. 2, no. 12, 483–485; (1791), pt. 1, no. 1, 3–10; no. 2, 99–100; no. 5, 387–389.

II. Secondary Literature. An excellent biography with numerous and useful citations is Baur’ article on Born in Allgemeine Encyclopädie der Wissenschaften und Künste, J.G. Ersch and J. G. Gruber, eds., XII (Leipzig, 1824), 38–40. The datailed English biography in Alexander Chalmers’ Biographical Dictionary, VI (1812), 123–127, is based on an account given in Robert Townson’s Travels in Hungary (London, 1797). For further biographical sources, see the list in Paul Mayer’s article in Born in Neue deutsche Biographie, II (1953). In addition, see Robert Keil, Wiener Freunde, 1784–1808, Beitraege zur Jugendgeschichte der deutsch-oesterreichischen Literatur (Vienna, 1883), pp. 33–36, which contains three of Born’s letters.

J. B. Gough