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Ernst Zschau

Ernst Fürchtegott Zschau, German mineralogist and mineral dealer, was born in the village of Zschoppau, north of Leisnig, on November 8, 1823, the son of ______ Kallunsky and ______ Zschau, a gardener. He attended the local school for a few years but the quality of education there was insufficient and so, when he was nine years old, he was sent to live with his grandfather, the parish priest of Colm, for private study. He was an eager student, and at age 14 he moved to the city of Dresden to pursue higher learning at the technical college there. He attended the lectures and exercises of his teachers, including August Seebeck, about whom he was always enthusiastic, and the then-youthful Hanns Bruno Geinitz, to whom he was faithfully committed until his death. With the encouragement of his teachers he decided upon a career as a teacher himself.

After completion of his studies, he gave lectures on mineralogy in a number of institutions, such as the Freemason Institute for Boys, and the Dzondi Educational and Training Center, among others. In 1857 he received a permanent appointment as chief instructor at the Public Commercial College of the Dresdner Kaufmannschaft, a position he retained until his retirement in 1891, upon which he was awarded the title of "Professor.”

In his free time Zschau devoted himself to his favorite science, mineralogy. He made his first collecting studies along the Weisseritz River, but soon his attention was drawn to the quarries of the Plauen Basin, on which he became an expert. He established a vigorous mineral dealership in specimens from all the countries of the world. During the holidays he traveled through the various parts of the Erzgebirge every year, meeting with the mine managers and miners there and acquiring the best specimens they found.

Zschau was especially attracted to Norway, and in 1851 he made his first collecting trip there. Six others trips there followed in the course of time, one in the company of Professor Scheerer in Freiberg. He brought back a wealth of treasures for himself and for others, including for the University of Strassburg collection (under Professor Groth), and another time for the University of Munich, which honored him with a medal. He also visited Tyrol and Salzburg to acquire specimens, always presenting the best of the best to the Natural Science Society ISIS in Dresden (Naturwissenschaftlichen Gesellschaft Isis in Dresden), which he had joined as a member in 1849. For many years (1851 to 1885) he and Geinitz were in charge of the ISIS Department of Mineralogy and Geology. The Society recognized his contributions by making him an Honorary Member in 1908, after having been a regular member for 59 years.

Zschau published notes on monazite from Norway (1857), aventurine from Norway (1869), the minerals of Lake Superior (1866), inclusions in mica from Connecticut (1866), analyses of natrolite from Plauen in 1893, and numerous other works as late as 1897, indicating a career spanning over 40 years. Ernst Zschau was among the first to describe epitaxy, which he called a form of twinning between two different species: in 1855 he published “On a twin composition between malacone [zircon] and xenotime, apatite or monazite” (American Journal of Science, facilitated by his friend at Yale, George J. Brush), illustrating an epitactic pair (zircon and xenotime).

Ernst Zschau died on April 29, 1909, at the age of 87. His collection of the minerals of the Plauen Basin were donated to the Mineralogical Museum of ISIS.


OBITUARY (ENGELHARDT, H. (1909) Ernst Fürchtegott Zschau. Sitzungsberichte und Abhandlungen der Naturwissenschaftlichen Gesellschaft ISIS in Dresden, Dresden, p. XV-XIX)
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WILSON, Wendell E. (2019)
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The Mineralogical Record - Ernst Zschau Handwritten label from Ernst Zschau for a specimen acquired by the Yale Peabody Museum in 1855
The Mineralogical Record - Ernst Zschau Yale collection
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