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Kunckel, Johann

1. Dates
Born: Hütten, Schleswig-Helstein, Germany, 1630/1638
Died: Stockholm, Sweden, 20 Mar 1703
Dateinfo: Birth Uncertain
Lifespan: 73
2. Father
Occupation: Artisan
His father was a master glassmaker (as the family had been for a couple of centuries) and some kind of chemical analyst and alchemist in the service of duke Friederich of Holstein.
No information on financial status.
3. Nationality
Birth: Hütten [or somewhere in the district of Wittenberg. bei Ploen], Schleswig-Holstein, Germany.
Career: Germany, Sweden
Death: apparently in Stockholm [or nearby], Sweden
4. Education
Schooling: No University
He had no university education. He was taught glassmaking and the chemistry of glassmaking by his father and other glassworkers.
He learned the 'apothecary's art' in Rendsburg, and some more advanced chemistry of glass maunfacturing later in Dresden.
5. Religion
Affiliation: Lutheran (Lutheran, assumed)
6. Scientific Disciplines
Primary: Chemistry, Alchemy
Kunckel was deeply involved in alchemy. As a chemist he had something to do with phosphorus, and he contributed to the chemistry concerned with glass. In 1679 he published a translation of Neri's Ars vitraria, augmented by himself.
7. Means of Support
Primary: Merchant, Patronage
Secondary: Apothecary, Schoolmastering
1655/1656-after 1660, he was in the service of Dukes Franz Karl and Julius Heinrich of Sachsen-Lauenberg as chamberlain and apothecary. He was court and personal apothecary at the castle at Neuhaus/Elbe.
Around 1663, he had a drug and medicament trade in Eckernforde. Thereafter, he wandered for a few years.
ca. 1667- ca. 1677, he was "gentleman of the bedchamber" (geheim Kammerdiener) and chemist of the private chemical laboratory to Johann Georg II, Elector of Saxony, at Dresden. Here he appears to have been working essentially at alchemy.
ca. 1677, he taught chemistry at Wittenberg. (I understand this to have been a practical chemistry course, and not to have been an official university position.)
1679-1688, after advising the Elector against an alchemical proceduree being offered to him, Kunckel became a geheim Kammerdiener to Frederick William, Elector of Brandenburg (at a salary of 500 talern). He was also in charge of a chemical laboratory at Berlin and later of a glassworks. This was the most prosperous period of his life, and no small part of this was due to his patronage relationship with the Elector. After receiving the crystal privilege (1678), he was in charge of the glassworks near Potsdam. In 1679, another glassworks was erected to his plan (the lease on this was renewed in 1690). In 1685, the Elector gave him the "Gut und Schulzengericht" of Kladow, near Potsdam, and two islands in the river where he erected (1686-1688) a laboratory specifically for producing colored glass. He was bound to offer his glass first to the court and the "Guineishen Handelsgesellschaft" (founded 1682).
After the death of his patron, the new Elector Friedrich III did not grant him the previous privileges, but instead offered them for 12500 taler, and even demanded to be paid back 8000 taler. Apparenntly Kunckel had enemies at court, though no details about them are offered. Although he was leasee and director of the glassworks for life, these new costs, competition, and the closure of one of his plants due to fire forced Kunckel to give up. He sold his home in Berlin and his share of a Bismuth and Cobalt mine in Wernigerode and moved to the estate at Kladow. In 1691, he took out a loan to purchase and develop an estate at Prenden. He then (1694) traded his holdings (the islands of Pfaueninsel and Sandwerder, and the Kladow estate) for an estate of Dreissighufen, near Prenden.
1689, Charles XI of Sweden hired him as councilor of mines (Bergrat), but he evidently continued to live in Prussia. In 1693 he was called by Charles to Sweden. He received permission and travelled there (1693), where he was enobled as Baron Kunckel von Löwenstern. In 1694, he returned to Prussia.
1695/96, he travelled to Sweden, where he signed a consulting contract with the Kupferbergwerkgesellschaft at Falun. It appears that in Sweden he also engaged in alchemical pursuits. Despite the continuing connections with Sweden he appears to have maintained his residence in Prussia.
8. Patronage
Types: Aristrocrat, Court Official, Government Official, Eccesiastic Official
Dukes of Sachsen-Lauenberg (see above).
The Elector of Saxony (see above). He owed his appointment to Dr. Langelott and councilor Vogt. He lost this position because of court intrigue.
Georg Caspar Kirchmeier (1635-1700), professor of rhetoric in Wittenberg, provided Kunckel with the laboratory in which he taught practical chemistry (see above). Because of lack of space I am not listing this one.
1677, through the mediation of the Elector's personal physician, Chr. Mentzel (also not listed) Kunckel was asked to advise Frederich William, Elector of Brandenburg, on the activity of a goldmaker (alchemist), and thus won the Elector's trust. The Elector gave him a job and acted as his patron until his death in 1688 (see above). The Elector also gave him a gift of 1500 talern in 1681 to buy a house. Kunckel gave his first vessel of red glass to the Great Elector, and received one hundred ducats.
For a chalice of the glass that weighed twenty-four pounds he later received 800 taler from the Elector of Cologne (an Archbishop) who had requested that Kunckel make it.
King Charles XI of Sweden (see above). The king ennobled Kunckel to Baron von Loewenstein (1693).
9. Technological Involvement
Types: Chemistry, Pharmacology, Instruments
Kunckel experimented with chemistry to produce valuable colored glass. His ruby glass, which was produced by introducing gold, was his greatest achievement, though he produced others as well. He also published a practical text on glass making in 1679.
Kunckel improved upon the furnace used in glassmaking.
10. Scientific Societies
Memberships: Academia Leopoldina, Académie Royal des Sciences
1693, member of the Academia Caesarea Leopoldina, taking the name "Hermes."
1699, member of the Académie royale.
  1. Ulrich Troitzch, Neue deutsche Biographie 13, 287a-98b.
  2. Partington, 2, 361-77.
  3. Hermann Peters, "Kunckels Verdienste um die Chemie," Archiv für die Geschichte der Naturwissenschaften und der Technik, 4 (1912), 178-214. Peters takes a fairly negative view of the Kunckel legend.
  4. H. Maurach, "Johann Kunckel: 1630-1703," Deutsches Museum Abhandlungen und Berichte, 5, no. 2 (1933), 31-64.
Not Available and Not Consulted
  1. Axel Helne, "Johann Kunckel von Lowenstein (1630-1702)," [in Danish] Tidsskrift vor Industri (1912). Johannes Kunckel, Ars vitraria experimentalis, vorwort von Günther Stein, (Hildesheim, 1972).
  2. _____, Collegium physico-chemicum experimentale, (Hildesheim, 1975).
Compiled by:
Richard S. Westfall
Department of History and Philosophy of Science
Indiana University

Note: the creators of the Galileo Project and this catalogue cannot answer email on geneological questions.

©1995 Al Van Helden
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