Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Leesite: Another New Species Discovered by Patrick Haynes


Patrick Haynes
In  1989, Patrick Haynes collected what 27 years later would become the new uranyl oxide micromineral leesite. Its locality is the Jomac Mine in White Canyon, San Juan County, Utah.  It is the locality, where at about the same time, Haynes  discovered two similarly rare and microscopic uranium bearing species, blatonite and oswaldpeetersite.   The name leesite is eponymous with Brian Lees, the legendary owner of Collector’s Edge.

Soon after collecting it, Haynes examined material under the microscope and assumed that it should be an identifiable species. The orange color led him to suspect it to be fourmarierite or curite. He submitted it to Dr. Michel Deliens at the Royal Belgian Department of Natural History in Brussels, Belgium along with other material, which the International Mineralogical Association (IMA) would later approve as blatonite and oswaldpeetersite.  The verdict on the future leesite suggested that it was a combination of species.

Ten to fifteen years later, Haynes learned about success at identifying difficult new species by  Dr. Frank Hawthorne, Professor of Mineralogy and Crystallography at the University of Manitoba.  He sent a sample of the orange unknown material to Dr. Hawthorne to examine. Like the scientists in Brussels, Dr. Hawthorne believed it could be a mixture, but this time of a different combination of minerals.   

Haynes  explained:

Leesite is very fine-grained, and it is commonly associated with another orange potassium uranium oxide called compreignacite, which can make sample preparation very difficult. With the few "coarser" crystals one can generally make a visual determination, but that is unusual.

A few years later Pat became aware that Travis Olds and Tony Kampf had been “working up these ridiculously tiny minerals from Utah.”   Around that time, Haynes encountered Dr. Peter Burns from University of Notre Dame, under whom Olds had studied when earning his PhD. He sent samples of the questionable material to Dr. Burns and PhD students to study. Dr. Olds, now a post-doctorate researcher at the University of Washington and his associates produced a successful and convincing analysis. Then Tony Kampf and several other mineralogists provided further input. The result was the submission of an abstract to the IMA for approval  of a new species, to be named leesite. The approval came in 2016.

IMA rules stipulate that approval of a new species becomes official only after the authors of the abstract seeking that approval have published a synopsis. That happened in January, 2018, when the American Mineralogist published a synopsis of leesite by Olds, Kampf, et al. Patrick Haynes believes that only 130 samples of leesite are known to exist.  All of them, were collected at the Jomac Mine, which was reclaimed in 1992, and leesite has been reported from no other locality on earth.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Alfredo Petrov and an Opal Sulfur Dilemma

Something is different  in Tucson this year. Alfredo Petrov and his inventory of  mostly unusual specimens with precise handwritten labels are  nowhere to be found at the Inn Suites. Nor will he be doing the big show. Instead,  he is among a small group of  wholesale and retail dealers with interesting minerals in the JTI tent at La Fuente de Piedras, 1535 North Oracle.

Here as at the Inn Suites, Alfredo holds forth about minerals with  a diverse stream of connoisseurs, cognoscenti, and the simply curious. More often than not, the topic relates to specimens he is selling. It seemed odd when he picked up from amongst those specimens a small cabinet specimen of native sulfur crystals. Their locality was the El Desierto Mine in southwestern Bolivia. These crystals seemed at first an unlikely pick for Alfredo, a dealer of minerals that are less common.  Nearby, a Jewel Tunnel Imports table was completely covered with similar pieces.

Alfredo acknowledged that that it was the bright yellow color of these and all native sulfur crystals that attracted most collectors. Except for certain uranium bearing minerals, not many easily acquired species  can compete with them in terms of brilliance. He recalls when his mentor, the late mineralogical icon Rock Currier instructed him: "Alfredo, I'm going to teach you the three secrets to success at selling minerals. They are #1 color; #2 color; #3 color." Interestingly, Currier was the first  to bring  El Desierto Mine sulfur crystals to the US. He imported about 15 tons of them.  Over the last decade, other dealers have imported another five or so tons. The market for these beautiful crystals is endless.

Alfredo's interest, however, goes beyond the color. He points to the white transparent material atop some of the crystals. It is hyalite opal. Viewed from a distance, its presence makes the crystals  seem less distinct, even less brilliant. Alfredo explains:
"What's important is that the sulfur forms from volcanic fumarole fumes. The sulfur is in the gas, and the crystals grow out of the gas. There is no liquid involved as there is when most minerals form. If the hyalite opal formed volcanic gases, where could the silica be in that gas? Opal is derived from quartz, which doesn't evaporate, so you don't get siliceous gas. 
He continues:
"The melting point of sulfur is 108°C. The presence of the hyalite proves that the temperature of opal deposition. was 108°C or less. If the opal had ever reached that temperature, the sulfur crystals would have been melted. "
 Alfredo then points to a larger specimen where a small amount of the sulfur is black in color. He notes that analysis has shown the black material to be covellite, a copper sulfide. This occurrence raises a similar question. The type locality for covellite is Mount Vesuvius, which demonstrates its potential for volcanic origin.

Metallic sulfides formed  as volcanic sublimates are rare albeit explainable. But how does one explain the  presence of silica in any any kind of volcanic sublimate? Despite his legendary knowledge of minerals, Alfredo does not have a sure answer.

"There is a well-known theory among volcanologist," he notes, "that silica is trasported by HF (hydrofluoric acid), a very, very, very nasty gas, which transports silicon as SiF4 (silicon tetrafluoride)."

Alfredo spends considerable time field collecting in volcanic regions, especially in Japan. And then:

"If this is true, then spending much time breathing around  volcanic fumaroles would be a very unhealthy experience, and I'm going to die a nasty death."

Let's hope it isn't true, and there's a different chemical mechanism we don't know about yet.


Sunday, November 26, 2017

A Wonderful Display of Japanese Mineral Specimens

The mineral room at Japan's National Museum of Nature and Science at Ueno Park in Tokyo offers a different kind of experience than most other museums where minerals are on display.

Its focus is less about "eye candy" and more about   hundreds of  different mineral species showcased by  a thoughtfully designed lighting system. Most are medium sized cabinet specimens supported by brackets.
To foreign visitors unaware of what to expect, the exhibit should appear to be a very diverse collection of species. Thankfully, the labels name them in English as well as Japanese. Other pertinent information, including localities, are in Japanese. 

The collection leans heavily toward uncommon minerals and rarities. Mineral names like ohotskite, yoshimuraite, and tsugaruite bespeak the emphasis on species first identified in Japan. Mindat reveals many are found exclusively in Japan. A museum website  in English shows a catalog for an enormous inventory naming species, catalog number, country, and prefecture. It makes clear that the collection is all about the minerals of Japan. 

 One exclusively Japanese species that has gained stature among collectors  is henmilite.  This gorgeous  deep blue colored borate typically occurs in association with calcite and olshanskyite. It is found nowhere else in the world except the Fuka Mine on Honshu Island. The specimen pictured at left is on display immediately outside the mineral room. It  is world-class if not best of species. The close-up shot at right of a tiny piece illustrates henmilite's aesthetic appeal at closer range.   

Overall, the minerals here are not likely to generate as many "ooh's and ahh's"  as do selections at most other serious mineral exhibits around the world; however, viewers with a special interest in Japanese minerals or rare species are likely to be enthralled. Because many such specimens fall into the category of microminerals or are known to exist in very small quantities, a microscope is often necessary to properly view them. Even with deliberate lighting and occasional use of of arrow stickers pointing to their presence in larger rocks, to truly appreciate them visually can be a stretch if not impossible.                  

Because  such specimens are likely to interest but a small segment of  the population, some may question the purpose of including them for the masses to see in such a major public exhibit. Others, especially those interested in viewing the minerals of a country at its national museum, are likely to have special appreciation for the decision to acknowledge and make such an effort to display so many.  

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Amazing Hematite Find in Baltimore County, Maryland

This 8 x 7 x 3.5 inch specimen 9 poun specimenfeaturing bladed hematite crystals on chlorite schist from Baltimore County could well be the most intriguing Maryland-collected mineral to show up in the last decade. During the recent Gemcutters Guild of Baltimore's Atlantic Coast Gem, Mineral, and Jewelry show at the Howard County Fairgrounds, it was on display for all to see in a cabinet of about a dozen other specimens that Gemcutters long time member and show-organizer Bernie Emery had self-collected. Notwithstanding, it seemed that but a few of the numerous local mineral aficionados who were there manged to combine the levels of  detailed attention and specialized knowledge to realize the significance of what they were seeing.

It's a find that's almost impossible to believe as well as to refute. Though hematite is the world's primary ore for producing iron and is common in Maryland, it accounted for very little of  the production that thrived here into the early part of the last century. Instead, goethite, magnetite, and siderite  were the principal ores, except on the Coastal Plain where "bog ore" was prevalent.  Maryland's hematite occurs in either rough grainy dark red/black masses or as specular hematite, known also as"specularite." The latter appears as silvery flakes and/or microscopic tabular crystals. Hematite with the appearance of Bernie's recent find is all but unknown in Maryland. After 10 years writing and photographing Maryland-collected minerals and assuming sole responsibility for the Maryland Minerals website, this writer has never seen or heard of another such specimen.

The specific Baltimore County location where Bernie Emery found the specimen is especially curious. He surface-collected it at one of several pits worked for iron over a century ago. They all are a short distance from the NCR Trail near the former Blue Mount Station in Baltimore County. Records show the  ore source to have been exclusively magnetite.  Various publications that describe the mineralogy of the immediate area as well as its specific iron pits and prospects name a variety of minerals. They include tourmaline, apatite, garnet, actinolite, and hornblende. There is no mention of hematite or any other species worthy of mining. The country rock varies from serpentinite to chlorite schist.

Few if any collectors in the region could be more deserving of such a find than Bernie. Over more than three decades, he has been one of its most prolific and best known field collectors. Along with his wife Lynne, he has continuously held major leadership roles at all three of the area's pertinent organizations: Baltimore Mineral Society;  Chesapeake Gem and Mineral Society; and  Gemcutters Guild of Baltimore. His renown is enhanced by a penchant for collecting large sized specimens. That practice has prompted many friends and colleagues to refer to such specimens as "Bernie sized." Retirement from his day job several years ago has brought additional time to enjoy his hobbies. More than ever now, he has taken to perusing old maps and literature in a quest to find new spots to look for rocks.  He likes geological maps that hint where mineralization could be likely, and very old ones that mark the locations of   former and usually long forgotten (and all too often reclaimed or built over) mines and quarries.

After explaining the nature of his research, Bernie explains how the find happened:
I was walking up what appeared to be a  dump pile leading to a small pit that was full of water. On the pile, all the rocks were a rough chlorite schist  with a few small garnets. I noticed this one boulder that was covered with dirt and was curious what was inside it. I tapped off a piece with my hammer. The chlorite schist  was highly metamorphosed  with microscopic magnetitie crystals. I dismissed it and kept walking. 
Except for curiosity, Bernie offered no explanation as to why he returned a few seconds later.
I went back, turned it over. and saw pods filled with the dirt  this boulder had been in for 150 years. The pods appeared to be some other kind of material. There were no blade shapes  (as would suggest hematite). I used a stick to remove some of the dirt and got the impression it was some kind of honeycomb quartz or chalcedony. Further cleaning, I realized they were actually hematite blades that were completely rusted. I showed it to Bob Eberle who offered to clean it further. 
Eberle whose prowess at field collecting is legendary,  had  access to a glass head sand blaster. He took the specimen home and cleaned it up to reveal what he refrred to as "this amazing surprise."

And the question remains. How could such a specimen be here?  According to Bernie:
There's no way of knowing, but my guess is that it came from deep down in the pit and that it was put on a cart or a wagon and fell off. There's no way anyone would have left it there. 
He has since returned to the site and searched extensively.  No trace of hematite or any other specimen of interest  turned up.  Bernie's theory makes sense, but it is unlikely that anyone will ever  know for sure.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Viewing Minerals at Yale University: 2015 and 2017

A lot has changed. At left are pictured  cabinets with most of the minerals on public display at Yale University prior to the  October, 2016, Grand Opening of the new David Friend Mineral Hall at Yale's Peabody Museum of Natural History at 170 Whitney Avenue in New Haven.

Despite being a rock rather than a mineral specimen or gem, the orgasmic sandstone concretion at right from Fontainbleu France is but one example of what is in the Museum's new home for visually and aesthetically over the top specimens. Quite appropriately, it is from the collection of David Friend,  mineral aficionado  and 1965 Yale graduate (BS in Engineering).  Mr. Friend's leadership, guidance, and philanthropy paved the way to establish the museum's grand new addition.

 Many of the largest and most eye-catching specimens here are  on loan from prominent collectors such as Dr. Rob Lavinsky, Jim and Gail Spann, or Gene and Rosalind Meiran.  Among them are pieces that could be the best of  their genre known to exist. It is only natural that those who visit will be interested in viewing such  "eye candy,"

The David Friend Hall is on the 3rd floor of the Peabody Museum in a renovated space that an auditorium once filled. To the right of the hallway leading to it are the foot by 18 inches pink calcite twin from Scott City Missouri  at left amd the.300 pound baryte specimen pictured directly beneath it from nearby Branchville, Connecticut. Yale owns both of these specimens.

In a room to the left of this hallway is the Treasures of the Mineral World  room.  Most if not all of the rocks and minerals therein along with some jewelry have been selected from Yale's collection of more than 40,000 specimens. The displays are didvided  into categories such as mineral specimens placed according to their nature of origin and locality, minerals that fluoresce, radioactive minerals, some jewelry, and a cabinet with large examples of of well known rocks. Of particular interest is an exhibit of minerals collected in Connecticut.  Almost for sure, it is the "best" Connecticut suite in existence. Quite remarkable is the magnificent sillimanite shown at left. Sillimanite is eponymous with Benjamin Silliman, the Yale Professor who in 1802 began assembling and for more than 50 years curated Yale's  mineral collection.

Regardless of  knowledge about or interest in minerals,  however, upon reaching  the David Friend Hall of Minerals, visitors are in for an experience that should blow their minds.  The theme is world class specimens enhanced by world class lighting. In number, there are more than enough to appreciate, but not so many as to overwhelm. Pictured below are just a few images of what is there.

                               Malachite, Azurite                                    
Liufengshan, Guichi District  
Anhui Province, China

Wuning Mne
Jiangxi Province, China

Yaoganxian Mine
Hunan Province, China

Fluorite, Baryte
La Cabana
Asturias, Spain
Yunnan Province




Sunday, July 16, 2017

Rusty James on Purple Chalcedony, and Indonesian Relationships

Having been following his worldwide travels on Facebook, we asked Rusty James to be guest author for this post.  Rusty is a gem and mineral hunter who travels to the far reaches of the world to source quality mineral specimens and lapidary rough to cater to worldwide market demands.  He has been at it for 16 years, and operates under the business name Throwin’ Stones.  He sells in Tucson and Denver at various locations, does 4 shows a year in Japan, and exhibits at various other popular gem and mineral shows in the USA and abroad.  With a focus on ethics, fair trade and, sustainability for his suppliers and customers, he has developed strong relationships, partnerships, and supply lines on every continent.  Assisted by his wife Nicole and son Jasper,along with a passionate team of staff, he has built a robust online presence, and is currently in the process of launching a  wholesale company to offer his findings to re-sellers around the globe.  In  his very limited spare time, Rusty likes to share stories of his unique adventures and passion for sourcing gems and minerals.  

by Rusty James

Today I got to play celebrity (again).  I always forget how rare white people are in remote areas of Indonesia, and it takes a few moments of adjustment to put on my white guy fame hat.  A recent stop was particularly special.

We landed in a small village in central Sumatra where wild coffee, rubber trees, and chalcedony mining are essentially the only sustenance.  From there we hiked for about thirty minutes through the jungle to the back side of a nearby mountain where the villagers were mining. chalcedony.  There were many test holes in the area. We approached one that was being worked. A small fire was burning to keep the bees away and to boil "jungle coffee" as needed. 

Two miners were hard at work on a hole that was at least 5 meters deep (15 feet), which they had dug over a three day time span.  The dirt  was a red mud, soft and easy to work, but prone to collapse. I once saw this happen where a worker barely had time to jump out. There's a make shift pulley system crafted from rubber and a few buckets. A small man works down in the hole while another guy pulls the dirt up from the hole and dumps it on down the side of the mountain. Check out the video  of how this works. We watch the men work  for a while and ask lots of questions.  They haven't hit a good hole of AAA colored chalcedony in quite some time.  They tell us that this current hole produced about 15 kilograms of medium and low quality rock,  and I wonder whether it's really even worth their effort.  When they are hired to dig, they work for about $8/day.  Lately, they have been digging  for themselves, gambling with their lives in hopes of hitting the clear purple honey.

It's nearly impossible to determine the quality of the stone as its mined. It is always caked in dirt and mud. The miners. break a small chip off  the side with a machete looking for color.  If it appears to have potential, they schlep it down the mountain for further cleaning.  

After going through today’s pile back at the village, it became yet more evident how difficult the rough is to clean and evaluate.  Chalcedony is a tricky lapidary rough.  Even if a piece looks great on the surface or when backlit, a final determination can be evasive until the stone is cut.  

When  I questioned the  efforts they had just gone through, they showed me some photos of  top grade stuff  the site  had produced in the past.  Holy crap! Though one of  numerous purple chalcedony deposits in Indonesia, this mountain had produced some of the finest purple rock I've ever seen, very possibly the best on earth. I now understood why they carry on despite the low percentage of high grade material. Several years have passed  since they uncovered the good stuff. Back then, as many as 200 people would go out every day working holes. It blew my mind that single cabs of top grade purple had sold for thousands of dollars in Indonesian markets where prices rarely achieve four figures for a single gem.  My understanding of the hunt, the risk, and the amount of effort involved,  became clearer.

There was more than just purple chalcedony that enriched this adventure.  First we endured six hours  pothole-mania and bobblehead bouncing on the grueling roads. Then I had thought we would simply go on a hike, check out some holes, meet a group of nice people, and maybe have another chance to buy some rock. But upon returning from the digs to the village, we began to have glimpses as to how special this trip really was. The miners told us that afternoon  that we were the first "tourists" to ever come to this 100 year old  village and the first white faces 99% of the villagers had ever seen. Knowing this led to a deep feeling of  gratitude and inspiration.

When the family we were staying with learned we would be leaving soon, all three generations dressed in their good clothes for a photo without telling us. They  showed us the place on the wall of their home where it would go next to images of the mine owner at an earlier Indonesian gem exhibition where  he had sold some of  best purple chalcedony cabs known to exist. There was also a proud photo of the miners standing with famous military generals they had met.

Neighbors started coming over.  One of the older men took the ring off his finger and gave it to me. I humbly attempted to decline. Ultimately I put it on to keep, responding with many bows and thank yous. Having recently been in Japan, I had started started bowing to just about everyone of late.

The photos were plentiful: first with the kids, then with the main family of the house where we stayed, and then with three generations. They were all dressed in their best clothes..This visit was clearly a great honor to them as it was to me. I'm still in awe of how special the moment was.

Tears were shed when it was time to depart.  Love was expressed in English, even though it was not the language of anyone in the family.  It tore me up, All we had really done was make the trip. We didn't spend much money, as there wasn't much good rock to buy.  But to these people, making the effort to come and visit them meant everything in the world.  They waved until we were out of sight. The children screamed goodbye until we couldn't hear anymore. 

For me, moments like this are a reminder.  I consider the rocks, the exhibitions, the physical labor, the struggle to sustain self-employment in times when markets are down, the haggling, the hellish drives, long flights, jet lag,  challenges of eating strange food,  sleeping in noisy environments where families stay up late for a second meal during a month of  Ramadan fasting, the bugs, the sweat, and unexpected risks inherent in bringing colorful stones to market: None one of it means as much as some of the relationships formed and time shared. The money, the flashy gems, the  notoriety for introducing  cool stones to places in the world that haven't seen them,  and  numerous passport stamps: It’s all secondary to the kind of  the relationships that that often go with it. 

Even if only for one day, I have found that  showing up with a smile on my face, eager to share time and experience across language barriers with those who cross my path  can mean so much to to so many people.  The choice to be happy can change lives and bring joy to places where hope is meager and survival paramount. Experiencing this means more to me even than the success I’ve been so fortunate to enjoy.

It's easy to forget that it could all be gone in an instant.  I drove away from the village knowing that I will probably never go back and that another 100 years could pass before another white face shows up in  that village. Despite the 6 hours of hell on wheels to get there, only to turn around 20 hours later and return through that same hell before starting that next part of this journey, I can safely say that the experience was entirely worth it.  It changed me. 

The various enterprises operated by Rusty  are at the following sites:
@throwin.stones  (instagram for product announcements) 
@throwin.stones.sales (instagram direct sales) (coming soon)

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Lawrence Davis: Self-Collector

Lawrence Davis, 36,  moved to Baltimore in 2006 from the mineralogy hub of Asheville, North Carolina. An accomplished collector since his early 20's, he soon found himself prospecting in the company of such prominent Maryland collectors as Fred Parker and Jeff Nagy.

Lawrence's collecting style  is unique to the point that he eschews  the label of "field collector"in favor of "self collector." Much of the mineral bounty he has accumulated is still packed away in boxes within the recently purchased historic yellow farmhouse on Falls Road near Shawan where he lives with his wife and young daughter. For our recent visit he had laid out a few recently collected  large specimens on the back porch.  Inside, he had put aside a few smaller specimens. Quoting Fred Parker, he said: "It doesn't matter how large or small. It's  how perfect they are."

In truth, significance or distinction could be just as important to  Lawrence Davis. Proudly, he picks up a rather large chunk of trap rock with a  nondescript  looking vug. Difficult to distinguish therein is a dull cream colored apatite crystal that to classify as perfect would be an extreme stretch. He shows it because he believes it to be the largest known apatite crystal to have been collected at the popular Vulcan Quarry at Havre de Grace in Harford County.

He is particularly keen on unusual combinations. The tiny specimen at right features crystals of tourmaline (var.) schorl on a matrix of iridescent ilmenite. It is the kind of oddity that few would notice when prospecting. Lawrence picked it from a beach in Howard County.

One of the larger rocks on the porch is the  goethite specimen pictured at right. He collected it in 2009 at Maryland's Point of Rocks Goethite Locality, once known as the Washington Junction Ore Banks. Over the past three decades the site has eroded and become overgrown to the point that collectors have written it off as extinct. Since Lawrence was there,  a nature path has been constructed through the area, and collecting forbidden.   Lawrence is comfortable speculating that it could be the largest Point of Rocks  goethite specimen known to exist. Should there be any any that are larger, it is most  likely they were collected many decades ago and just as likely have become lost.

At left is a crystal of beryl (var.) aquamarine that revealed itself with the strike of a crack hammer to the face of a cliff near Henryton in Carroll County. It shows amazing clarity as well as color for a Maryland-collected piece and provided the faceted gem pictured below it. Unfazed by minor biotite mica inclusions, Lawrence takes great pride in having collected the crystal and now owning the first and only (known)  aquamarine gemstone cut from Maryland material.

When questioned regarding collecting technique, Lawrence simply advises: "Always keep your eyes on the ground."  An environmental consultant by profession, he spends a significant amount of time outdoors, having plenty of opportunity to do so.

A recent find  was the discovery of  a remarkable pegmatitic quartz crystal deposit. Most of the crystals from this find are considerably larger than the specimen pictured at right, which.uniquely features an unusual combination of clear quartz crystals growing on feldspar.

 Even when pressed repeatedly, Lawrence will not reveal where he found the  crystals except  "somewhere in the Marriottsville area." Though an avowed "self-collector,"he is not selfish. His reasoning relates to principal and preservation. Such previously unknown localities are fun to discover, but typically offer limited bounty that may soon disappear when word gets out.