How did an Alchemist turn silver into gold?
And how did he do it in front of a crowd that included Austria’s Emperor Leopold?
In centuries past, if a king wanted his face on a gold coin, he had to have some gold in his treasury.
In 1677, Emperor Leopold’s gold ran out. He had nothing to pay the troops who were struggling to defend his empire against the Turks.
Then, on a day in November, a stranger arrived with an offer to solve the king’s money problems. He said he would turn silver into gold, and then tell the Emperor the secret, for a price.
The cash-strapped Emperor agreed.
The stranger arranged to perform the demonstration on the steps on the palace. According to all accounts, there was no sleight of hand. The stranger held up an ornately embossed silver medallion for the Emperor to see. He dipped it into a cauldron. And then the medallion changed from silver to gold… as if by magic.
You might think this story can’t be true.
But in the coin gallery of the Kunsthishistoriches Museum that same gold medallion is on display. And though curators can’t discern the purity of the gold without destroying the medallion, a non-invasive X-Ray proves that gold is definitely present.
So how did the Alchemist do it?
In our broadcast episode, we travel to a modern chemistry lab to duplicate the Alchemist’s method.
This might be our most valuable Museum Secret ever!
All will be revealed in Museum Secrets: Inside the Kunsthistorisches Museum.