Chapter 10: Johann Haselberg's "Berckrecht"

Johann Haselberg: Der Vrsprung gemeynner Berckrecht, wie die lange Zeit von den alten erhalten worde[n], darauß die Künigklichen vn[d] Fürstlichen bergks ordnungen vber alle Bergrecht geflossen [...]. (Strassburg 1535).

published February 2017

The favorite book of Franziska Neumann

Franziska Neumann was our scholar-in-residence in June 2016. She had the opportunity to engage in intensive research in the Iron Library's excellent collection of early modern books on mining. As her favorite book she chose an edition of legal texts on mining that the early modern jack-of-all-trades Johann Haselberg compiled in the 1530s and which was sold in large numbers.

The reader

Franziska Neumann


... is a PhD candidate at the Technical University Dresden. Her research focuses on the development of the mining administration in Saxony in the 16th century.  In June 2015, Franziska had the privilege and pleasure to explore the splendid collection of early modern prints on mining at the Iron Library.


I would like to play a role in this book:
Evelyn Waugh: Brideshead revisited : the sacred and profane memories of Captain Charles Ryder

This book needs a sequel:
George Orwell: Nineteen Eighty-Four

The book on my nightstand:
Irving L. Finkel/Jonathan Taylor: Cuneiform

The book

Johann Haselberg: Der Vrsprung gemeynner Berckrecht, wie die lange Zeit von den alten erhalten worde[n], darauß die Künigklichen vn[d] Fürstlichen bergks ordnungen vber alle Bergrecht geflossen. [...]. (Strassburg 1535).

Choosing a favorite book from the Iron Library's holdings is no easy task. The choice is difficult because the Library has such an impressive collection in terms of content and visually. Where do you start? With one of the many beautiful printed works from the 16th and 17th centuries – first and foremost of course the illustrated De Re Metallica editions of Georg Agricola? Or with one of the books with such intriguing titles as "Electricity, its generation and its use in trade and industry" from 1883?

In the end the decision is clearly for a book that is little known but none the less interesting: "Der Ursprung gemeynner Berckrecht" by Johann Haselberg, which in all likelihood was printed between 1535 and 1538. The book is a compilation of mining texts from the 13th to the 16th centuries, which includes among other works Ulrich Rülein von der Calw's Bergbüchlein and the Freiberger Bergrecht B, a glossary of mining terms, as well as the famous Annaberger Bergordnung (mining law regulations) of 1509 with its additions up to 1536.

We don't know very much about Haselberg himself. He presumably hailed from the Catholic southwest of the Empire and he probably also studied at the University, but precise information about him is sparse. One thing is certain: he was an early modern jack-of-all-trades: a traveling scholar, translator, author and publisher who wrote and edited some 36 books between 1515 and 1539 on historical, literary and Biblical topics, including a novel with the splendid title Wie die Ritterbrüder des Purpelschen ordens mit grossen Schlachten und stürmen ir Ritterschafft erhaltent from 1533 and Der Ursprung gemeynner Berckrecht, the first edition of texts on mining law.

Unlike authors such as Ulrich Rülein von der Calw or Georg Agricola, Haselberg was interested in mining not so much from his own experience as for economic reasons. Small books such as Der Ursprung gemeynner Berckrecht, which comprised 44 leaves, were inexpensive and available in the handy quarto format. Unfortunately, we know very little about the number of copies printed or the book's price. David Conolly, who probably knows more about the book than anyone else, starts from the assumption that "best sellers" in the 16th century had a print run of between 1000 and 1500 copies and reckons that the print run for Haselberg's book was probably in the upper range. Conolly counted 16 copies of the book that have survived, though he overlooked the copy in the Iron Library. That's one of the reasons for declaring this volume as a "favorite book".

But what about the readership? The timing of publication in the late 1530s could not have been more propitious. The major mining areas in the Harz or the Erzgebirge had certainly passed their peak, but wealthy investors and adventure-seeking prospectors could still hope for rich pickings and large yields. So there was a lively interest in mining publications and books on mining law, of which Haselberg's was the first.

The owner of the Iron Library's copy made extensive use of the book, covering almost every page with hand-written references, notes and remarks. The small volume in the Iron Library thus reflects a phenomenon that is not always apparent – how were such books used at the time? The Ursprung gemeynner Berckrecht is a compilation of texts from different periods and was not meant to be read from cover to cover. The reader would have used it as a reference work for study. And that's exactly what the unknown owner of our volume did in the 16th century: He cross-referenced various legal provisions in the mining codes, added some of his own entries to the index of mining terms and noted additional legal statutes for various areas of the mining industry.

Of course, we can't draw any conclusions from this about the general practice of reading such books for utilitarian purposes, but this small volume with its notes and remarks makes it clear how important knowledge was in the early modern age of mining.

Whereas the magnificent and correspondingly expensive folio editions of De Re Metallica with their beautiful illustrations were intended for an exclusive audience that was not necessarily involved in mining and were collected for their intrinsic value, popular publications such as Der Ursprung gemeynner Berckrecht were aimed at a broader audience probably active in the mining industry and were of a more practical nature, though their use and in particular their audience remain unknown as a rule. Thanks to the copy preserved in the Iron Library we can at least gain an impression, as hazy as it may be, of how such books were received and used by their contemporary readership. There could be no better reason for choosing a favorite book!