Goldsmiths and Chymists

Goldsmiths and Chymists: The Activity of Artisans within Alchemical Circles

Lawrence M. Principe

Alchemy was a diverse and widespread endeavor in early modern Europe. It included not only a diversity of goals (e.g., metallic transmutation, pharmaceuticals, commercial productions) but also a diversity of practitioners drawn from every social and educational level. This Working Group project explored in particular the activity of gold- and silversmiths in alchemy, focussing on how alchemical goals and projects fit into their broader activities and their interactions with more bookish and better-known alchemical practitioners and authors. An important mid seventeenth-century network of alchemical correspondents and collaborators that stretched across the political, confessional, and linguistic boundaries of England, the Low Countries, and France provided the locus for this study. The silversmiths of the Grill family emerged as important and skilled alchemical practitioners within this network, especially Anthonie Grill whose alchemical expertise eventually enabled him to become a Royal Mintmaster in Sweden. Grill, as well as less prominent goldsmiths in Paris, interacted with the written traditions of alchemy and with living collaborators and authors of more elite status, while continuing their artisanal trades. Their work helped to reveal and define the place and contributions of practicing artisans within seventeenth-century alchemy.