Y on trade and commerce Austrian cameralism helped to transfer attention to the troubles of the monarchy’s urban economies. Before his death Ferdinand II had already taken some corrective steps by attempting to ease the debts of the Bohemian towns and to put limits on some of the land-holding nobility’s commercial rights. Even though preceding Habsburgs had held the guilds responsible for their restrictiveness, wastefulness, and the poor value of the merchandise they created, Ferdinand II ramped up the pressure by extending rights to private artisans who usually then earned the fortification of powerful local leaders such as seigneurs, military commanders, churches, and universities. An edict by Leopold I in 1689 had granted the government the right to monitor and control the number of masters and cut down on the monopoly effect of guild operations. Even previous to this, Becher, who was against all forms ofmonopoly, surmised that a third of the Austrian lands’ 150,000 artisans were "Schwarzarbeiter" who were not in a guild.
Immediately after the Thirty Years’ War the Bohemian towns had petitioned Ferdinand to refine its own raw materials into more finished goods for export. Becher became the leading force in attempting this conversion. By 1666 he had inspired the creation of a Commerce Commission (Kommerzkollegium) in Vienna, as well as the reestablishment of the first postwar silk plantation on the Lower Austrian estates of Hofkammer President Sinzendorf. Becher then subsequently helped create a Kunst- und Werkhaus in which foreign masters trained non-guild artisans in the production of finished goods. By 1672 he had promoted the construction of a wool factory in Linz. Four years later he established a textile workhouse for vagabonds in the Boemian town of Tabor that eventually employed 186 spinners under his own directorship.
Some of Becher’s projects met with limited success. In time Linz’s new wool factory even became on of the largest and most important in Europe. Yet most of the government initiatives ended in failure. The Commerce Commission was doomed by Sinzendorf’s corruption and indifference. The Tabor workhouse nearly collapsed after just five years owing to the lack of government funding, and was then destroyed two years later during the Turkish invasion. The Oriental Company was fatally handicapped by a combination of poor management, government export prohibitions against Turkey, the opposition of Ottoman (principally Greek) merchants, and ultimately by the outbreak of war. The Kunst- und Werkhaus also folded during the 1680s, partly because of the regime’s unwillingness to import a significant number of foreign, Protestant teachers and skilled workers.
Bill Bryson, in his A Short History of Nearly Everything, notes:
Chemistry as an earnest and respectable science is often said to date from 1661, when Robert Boyle of Oxford published The Sceptical Chymist — the first work to distinguish between chemists and alchemists — but it was a slow and often erratic transition. Into the eighteenth century scholars could feel oddly comfortable in both camps — like the German Johann Becher, who produced sober and unexceptionable work on mineralogy called Physica Subterranea, but who also was