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They conceive mischief, and bring forth vanity, and their belly prepareth deceit. (OldT:Job 15:35)

A Very Elaborate Scheme

Duke Cosimo I was the victim of a swindle carefully prepared by a false alchemist who called himself Daniel von Siebenburgen.

This Daniel von Siebenburgen went to work on a long view, and himself sunk four thousand ducats in his fraudulent enterprise. Out of the four thousand ducats he had prepared a powder which nobody could easily recognize as gold and which he called the Usufur powder.

With this he began the first preparatory part of his fraud. He had so to introduce and popularize the powder that every apothecary knew about it and regarded it as well-known and not excessively dear medicament.

To this end Daniel von Siebenburgen travelled through the Italian towns and sold Usufur with other preparations to the pharmacists, as a medicament. Then he set up as a physician, and made his patients themselves fetch Usufur from the pharmacists for him to incorporate in the medicines he prepared for them. In this way he got his gold back and at the same time quietly pushed his powder into notice.

In 1555, when he felt the time was ripe, Daniel went to Florence and secured an audience from Duke Cosimo. The alchemist showed plenty of self-assurance. He said he could offer a recipe for making gold that contained only a few simple chemicals and required no long period or difficult manipulations for production. The duke could himself have the materials brought from any apothecary in the city. The duke saw on the list a Usufur powder that was unfamiliar to him. But he found that the apothecaries all knew it. The first test went smoothly and with perfect success. The metal refiners declared the product to be pure gold. The duke himself made another test privily for his own satisfaction, with no worse result. No wonder Duke Cosimo hasten to purchase the recipe from the alchemist. A formal agreement was drawn up under which Daniel von Seibenburgen bound himself to make the new process known to no other person, and in return was to receive from the duke an indemnity of twenty thousand ducats.

So Daniel von Siebenburgen was relieved for the time from all anxiety as to his means of subsistence. But, as the duke could understand, the learned Daniel was a very busy man. Many people must need his scientific counsel in these matters. So it was not surprising that the great alchemist was soon summoned urgently to France for a consultation.

The Duke of Florence had no fear for his gold production. Without the alchemist having anything to do with the work, the duke had himself sent again and again to the apothecaries for the materials for the gold mixture, including the Usufur powder, and he had thus already made gold to the value of a couple of thousand ducats. But, quite apart from that, the duke had a great regard for the learned Daniel von Siebenburgen, and did not want to lose him from his court at Florence. So Daniel had to promise the duke that he would soon return. On the day of his departure a ducal barge conveyed him across the sea.

But Daniel did not return to Florence. Instead there came an impudent letter for the duke in which the alchemist mentioned the limited world stocks of Usufur and intimated that he was the only manufacturer of it.

[From The Goldmakers, by K. K. Doberer; pages 109 to 110.]

Other swindlers repeated Daniel von Siebenburgen's trick on a smaller scale. Some would sell an already well-known medication mixed with gold to the city's apothecaries. One man used gold mixed with charcoal in his experiment. Another man's recipe called for a special spice which was sold to the victim by an accomplice.

Some frauds were alloys of gold and some other metal, or bronze- and brass-like alloys. Sometimes the swindler would forge a nail with one half solid gold and the other half iron. Then they would paint the gold half black and then dip it in a liquid that would remove the paint. To the spectator, it would appear as if the nail was half transmuted into gold. If the nail was taken to a refiner for testing, the refiner would verify that the gold half was truly gold and the other half was definitely iron.

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