The late Brad Steiger had a specific interest in the issue of alchemy. He wrote the following: “Helvetius, the grandfather of the celebrated philosopher of the same name, was an alchemist who labored ceaselessly to fathom the mystery of the ‘philosopher’s stone,’ the legendary catalyst that would transmute base metals into gold. One day in 1666 when he was working in his laboratory at the Hague, a stranger attired all in black, as befitted a respectable burgher of North Holland, appeared and informed him that he would remove all the alchemist’s doubts about the existence of the philosopher’s stone, for he himself possessed such an object.”
In 1852, Charles Mackay said of this that the mysterious man “…asked Helvetius if he thought he should know that rare gem if he saw it. To which Helvetius replied, that he certainly should not. The burgher immediately drew from his pocket a small ivory box, containing three pieces of metal, of the color of brimstone, and extremely heavy; and assured Helvetius, that of them he could make as much as twenty tons of gold. Helvetius informs us, that he examined them very attentively; and seeing that they were very brittle, he took the opportunity to scrape off a small portion with his thumb-nail. He then returned to the stranger, with an entreaty that he would perform the process of transmutation before him. The stranger replied, that he was not allowed to do so, and went away.”
Mackay continued that several weeks later the mysterious character was back. Helvetius implored the man to share with him the secrets of alchemy, which, apparently, he did: “Helvetius repeated the experiment alone, and converted six ounces of lead into very pure gold.” Such was the fame that surrounded this event, said Mackay, “all of the notable persons of the town flocked to the study of Helvetius to convince themselves of the fact. Helvetius performed the experiment again, in the presence of the Prince of Orange, and several times afterwards, until he exhausted the whole of the powder he had received from the stranger, from whom it is necessary to state, he never received another visit; nor did he ever discover his name or condition.”
In 1677, Leopold I, the Holy Roman Emperor and King of Austria, suffered something terrible: his precious supply of gold finally became exhausted. This was utterly disastrous, as it was gold, specifically, that Leopold relied upon to pay his troops, as they sought to keep at bay the marauding attacks of the Turks. Help, however, was soon at hand, and in a decidedly curious fashion. Late one night, in November 1672, Leopold was visited by a monk of the Order of St. Augustine, one Johann Wenzel Seiler. Interestingly, it has been suggested that “Johann Wenzel Seiler” was actually a pseudonym that the dark-garbed, cloaked, and hooded character had adopted. Whatever the truth, Seiler confidently said he could banish all of the king’s problems in an instant. The king, who already had an interest in all things alchemical, listened carefully to what Seiler had to say.
The monk motioned Leopold to follow him to the steps of the palace, which he did. It was on the steps that Seiler did something remarkable. He took a silver medallion, placed into a cauldron of magical liquid, and then extracted it. Lo and behold, it had been transformed into gold. The king was delighted, Austria’s gold problem (or, rather, the sudden lack of it) was solved. In 1880, Dr. Franz Hartmann, who carefully and deeply studied the controversy surrounding alchemy, said: “…it is stated that this medal, consisting originally of silver, has been partly transformed into gold, by alchemical means, by the same Wenzel Seiler who was afterwards made a knight by the Emperor Leopold I. and given the title Wenzeslaus Ritter von Reinburg.”
Interestingly, Hartmann pointed out that many came to believe Seiler was not who he claimed to be, and was soon “regarded as an impostor.” Specifically, this was with regard to claims that Seiler had merely coated the medallion with a gold-colored substance, rather than having literally transformed it into gold. Nevertheless, and despite exiling Seiler shortly afterwards, Leopold – seemingly entranced by Seiler – continued to eagerly employ the skills of this mysterious character, time and again.