Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Scoring East Coast Mineral Specimens at the East Coast Show

For serious aficionados in the eastern and northeastern United States, the annual East Coast Gem, Mineral, and Fossil show in West Springfield, Massachusetts, each year on the second weekend of August, is a summer highlight.   It happens Friday through Sunday and fills the Better Living Center at West Springfield's Eastern States Exposition. The focus of this post limits itself to finding dealers  at this show with significant quantities of East Coast-collected specimens available for purchase. These specimens, most  collected in the northeastern United States, show up almost exclusively amongst the retail dealers in the Better Living Center as opposed to those in the adjacent building, where the merchandise is devoted to wholesale trade.

This  largest gem, mineral, and fossil show to happen in the Eastern United States is much the same every year. A special and impressive mineral exhibit from a well-known collection always adorns an entrance  area leading  to the wider space where lines of merchandise fill a dozen aisles of tables and shelves manned by about 150 dealers. A few of these dealers sell significant quantities of East Coast-collected mineral specimens. In nearly all cases, the prices are fair, sometimes bargain level.  With few exceptions, dealers return each year to the same spot they occupied the previous year. In that regard, this post could be helpful to collectors of East Coast minerals here in future years.

In 2019, however, some of  the best East Coast  bargains were offered by a first time vendor at an easy to miss table in the farthest corner from the show's entrance point. There, Bob Batic of Mountville, New Jersey traded as Bob's 2nd Act Collectibles. His  personal collection was among those featured in the 2016 Mineralogical Record Supplement  Mineral Collections in the American Northeast.  For years, Bob's collection has evolved from worldwide with an East Coast emphasis to specializing in vintage East Coast specimens collected between 1875 and World War II.  The transition produced plenty of notable specimens to sell, especially from older East Coast finds. Collectors found many of the prices to be irresistible.

Two rows past Mr. Batic, our visit to the busy Adironcack Fine Minerals table was too short.  At least there was time to photograph part of the wide selection of East Coast Minerals to use as the title image for this post. The merchandise was attractive and reasonably priced Adirondack Fine Minerals  also had a massive selection of large Herkimer Diamonds.

Three tables away on the same side of the aisle,  Robert Rosenblatt traded as Rocko Minerals. A fixture at numerous  East Coast events, his true-to-form  selection of minerals was abundant in rare, and/or unusual, and ultimately collectable East Coast specimens at reasonable prices. Three such pieces proved irresistible to the personal mineralogical sensibilities of this writer:  brazilianite crystals measuring to 2 cm. from Newport, New Hampshire;  a gahnite floater to 3 cm. from Mount Apatite, Maine; and a  beautiful thumbnail with a 1.1 cm. zircon crystal on matrix from Blackberry, New Hampshire atop a cluster of smaller  zircon crystals.

Across the aisle between Adirondack Fine Minerals and Rocko, Geologic Desires has long been a major attraction not only at this East Coast Show, but  at other venues extending to larger ones in Denver and ultimately Tucson.  Owner Michael Walter has always made a point of featuring specimens that he and his associates have mined  in St. Lawrence County, New York, which is the convenient location of his home and business. Often working in partnership with property owners, Walter uncovered  and mined prospects that already have a reputation for being classic East Coast localities. Every year, Michael comes to the East Coast Show with new finds.   An important find this year was a combination of calcite, quartz, and hematite  from "the Dafoe Property" in St. Lawrence County. He uncovered these specimens there after several years of marketing and mining  tourmaline crystals with visual similarities to the already classic dravite genre he previously  brought to market from the nearby Powers Farm.

Two aisles beyond, Jason Baskin's Jay's Minerals of Flemington, New Jersey, continues to be a must stop for East Coast material . As always, large quantities of just a few East Coast genres define the pickings. This year, one such genre was an extensive array of orange stilbite crystals from Moore's Station in Mercer County, New Jersey. Jay's  Minerals is best known for its seemingly endless supply of now classic almandine garnets in graphite from the Red Embers Mine in Ervine,Massachussetts, where Baskin has an exclusive lease. The mine's name refers to the exquisite red hue these garnets display when light is placed beneath them.  They may well have been the most popular single item in the show every year since first appearing here in 2014. Thereafter, especially since launching here in 2015  his serious find of amethyst crystals from Moosup, Connecticut, Jay's Minerals, like Geologic Desires, has attracted buyers eager to be in on what is new. This year he offered recently uncovered  chrysocolla specimens  from Bound Brook, New Jersey in an assortment that included some polished slabs

Two aisles past Jay's Minerals, Mark Gottlieb, of North Granby, Connecticut had some interesting East Coast specimens,  many that he personally collected, at very reasonable prices. Included were some very intriguing  cabinet sized clusters of milky quartz crystals from Moosup Connecticut. For this writer, a Marylander with ties to collectors and clubs that enjoy collecting  at the National Limesone Quarry in Mt. Pleasant Mills, Pennsylvania, the huge selection of strontianite from that locality was notable

Across the isle,  the Yankee Mineral and Gem company of East Hampton, Connecticut offered an interesting selection of East Coast minerals.  Particularly intriguing this year  was a stock of wolframite pseudomorph  after scheelite specimens from Old Mine Park in Trumball, Connecticut. Most  were in the $50 range. However, one particularly nice example of the genre was priced at $650. And having previously been skunked after hiking up a mountain to collect at the Lord Hill Mine in Oxford County, Maine, seeing a sizable box of Lord Hill blue beryl crystals, most selling for about $5, once again struck a personal chord.

Collection Arkane, a prominent Canadian dealership from Mt. St. Hilaire, Quebec, had many fine  minerals from localities in eastern Canada that were  no further away from West Springield than many localities in the northeastern United States.The wares included attractive, diverse, and fairly priced suites  from Mt. St. Hilaire, Francon Quarry, and the Jeffrey Quarry in Quebec. From more distant spots, but worth mentioning, was a large group of  specimens from the ever popular Rapid Creek locality in the Yukon Territory.

In the next aisle,  Nature's Choice from Newington, Connectictut, despite a worldwide focus, had plenty of  East Coast specimens, enough to be worthy of  a stop for collectors seeking them. Most were priced  in the $10 to $25 range and from Massachusetts or Connecticut.

As our one day at the show, which was intended only for buying, neared an end , the decision was made to put  together a post about its availability of East Coast minerals. This entailed once again seeking out all the dealers we had observed with conspicuous quantities of them available. Very likely, a few of the finest specimens in the show could have been offered by some of the show's prominent  high end dealers who are widely known far beyond the Eastern United States. Our assumption is that the  relatively few collectors in attendance who were looking to buy such specimens would know where to find them. We extend our apologies to any dealers with significant quantities of East Coast specimens whom we failed to cover.

Saturday, August 3, 2019

The Garnets of Stony Run in Baltimore City

A new garnet locality has emerged in Wyman Park along Stony Run. It has produced crystals that visually resemble those pictured above. They were collected about a third of a mile upstream at the historic long closed and built over Wright Quarry.  The new spot  is along a short stretch of Stony Run between the Wyman Park Drive Bridge and where it enters a tunnel before flowing into  Jones Falls en route to Baltimore Harbor.  

Mineral Bliss  was here before in conjunction with a 2014 post.  Its subject was a piece of quartz we found in the stream that hosted several white concentric circles, which rendered us "stumped." We now suspect these circles were once a contact point for small stalactites or stalagmites that had  long ago originated within a cavity in rock somewhere upstream.

On a recent steamy July Sunday,  local aficionado and collector of regional minerals Stuart Herring directed our second visit. We came to look for garnets, and we succeeded in finding them.  

Jones Falls Schist and hornblende rich Baltimore Gneiss share the country rock everywhere that Stony Run flows through Wyman Park. Intruding the schist and gneiss are at least three separate pegmatite dikes. They differ according to  varying proportions, hues, and varieties of quartz, mica, and feldspar minerals. Interestingly and importantly, all three pegmatites have yielded similar gemmy red almandine garnet crystals. 
Heading downhill  through overgrown brush to reach the stream  from the west side of Remington Avenue below Wyman Park Drive was easier than it was 5 years ago. Since then, a diagonal swath extending about halfway to the stream was created to allow heavy equipment to descend, then dig and blast as  necessary to replace a decaying sewer line. The blasting dislodged a significant amount of pegmatite rock from beneath the soil. Some of the pieces made their way further downhill toward and into the stream. 

Directly across the stream from where we approached is a much steeper embankment that exposes a contact point between the Jones Falls schist and a pegmatite dike. The recent blasting suggests that very likely this same pegmatite once extended to our side of the stream. Comprising it are differing amounts of microcline, albite, and plagioclase feldspar along with quartz and mica. 

The garnet crystals within rarely measure more than 1/2 inch. Mostly they reveal themselves inside the pegmatite rock when it is broken, which unfortunately is likely to damage many of the crystals. We obtained our garnets, such as pictured at right, by hammering away at a few  rocks and cobbles plucked from along the stream bank and in the stream. 

After a little more than an hour, we headed upstream to the area where Stony Run flows past the former Wright Quarry site.  Our approach was longer than the previously mentioned 1/3 mile and roundabout to avoid impenetrable  vegetation. Along the way, Stuart pointed through a wooded  area where several years ago, the City had blasted into a different pegmatite  where a tannish microcline was dominant. Once again, the City's  purpose had been to replace a portion of aging sewer line,  The blasting produced and revealed numerous garnet bearing pegmatite boulders. They remained at the site long enough for Stuart to accumulate an attractive selection of specimens  bearing attractive almandine crystals resembling those we'd just collected. Ultimately the material was  hauled away with no trace remaining. 

The former Wright Quarry site was more approachable. A pegmatite consisting primarily of white albite once intruded through its walls.   In earlier times, reports show this pegmatite yielded not only garnets, but beryl, zoisite (var.) thulite, fluorapatite, and autunite.  Long after the Wright Quarry closed and even as the Johns Hopkins University campus extended into and over its site,  a few garnet yielding  pegmatitic rocks from the old Wright Quarry dumps remained above and along the stream banks. 

They disappeared in recent years during a Baltimore City Department of Public  Works project that reinforced the stream bank to slow erosion. When the work was complete, the few rocks and boulders once part of the Wright Quarry dump were nowhere to be seen. Sometime thereafter Stuart noticed a few pieces of material that looked like Wright Quarry albite in the stream near its now reinforced bank. He suspected that some of the Wright Quarry rocks and boulders  could have  ended up beneath the recently reinforced stream bank from which storm currents could have dislodged them. 

We pulled two such rocks out of the stream, each weighing several pounds  When cracked open, portions of both rocks revealed hundreds of  tiny, mostly broken gemmy red garnet crystals measuring from one to two millimeters. Such ubiquitous small garnet crystals have long been considered definitive of Wright Quarry pegmatite and never known to be present in other  nearby pegmatites. Pictured at right is is a large fragment from one of the rocks we collected. It is  reasonable to believe that it could be one of the last examples of Wright Quarry garnet to be found. 

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Pink Quartz, not Rose Quartz in Harford County, Maryland

The question is whether the above pictured image is actually rose quartz. This writer collected it in Southeastern Harford County, Maryland. Rose quartz has never  been officially identified and verified as occurring in Maryland. 

Numerous well-versed regional authorities who viewed this specimen have given different reasons why they believe it is not rose quartz. While most of them were credible, none were scientific. “You could call it rose quartz" was as close as any response came to a confirmation of rose quartz. However, it went on to note: "It's just not quite the right color.” 

The genuine rose quartz specimen  at left was placed amidst a varied  assortment of quartz cobbles and pebbles that members of a family collected in the woods behind their house. On a recent visit, the specimen in our title picture turned up after we had spent about 15 minutes turning over rocks in their woods. It visually resembled the uncontested rose quartz specimen as much as any of the previously collected pieces shown at right. 

The locality is a wooded area to the southwest of Rt. 152 about 2 1/2 miles northwest of I-95. It is at a point where Maryland's Coastal Plain intersects with its Piedmont. Small cobbles of quartz and quartzite  along with a few less distinctive metamorphic rocks are ubiquitous underfoot. Nearly all of the quartz and quartzite show color: red, yellow orange, brown, and ---yes pink. These colors result from a presence of iron oxide, typically hematite, that has stained the quartz and has often become included within as the quartz formed millions of years ago from a complex sequence of geological events. 

By the standard definition, rose quartz owes its color to inclusions of crystals of one, possibly other minerals within the quartz. Staining is never a factor. The inclusions are separate, miniscule and all but impossible to separate so that  analysis of them by x-ray diffraction is rarely possible.

Mindat cites two studies stating that massive rose quartz always has a "hazy to translucent character due to microscopic fibrous inclusions of a pink borosilicate mineral related to dumortierite." The likelihood is all but nil that inclusions of such a species, which is not known to occur in Maryland, would show up within quartz pebbles exclusively in an area where most of the quartz shows iron oxide staining and/or inclusions. Without analysis or a nearby presence of verified rose quartz, a better option is to call the material “pink quartz.” 

It takes a good polish, has more variants, and can be just as pretty.

Thursday, July 19, 2018


Pictured above is a specimen of serpentine collected circa 1940 at the chromite bearing serpentine barrens of Bare Hills in Baltimore County, Maryland. It is one of several such specimens The Natural History Society of Maryland owns. Very likely Charles Ostrander and/or Walter Price, the Society's  prominent curators at the time, collected them. The NHSM labels identified the specimens as  "baltimorite". Minerals of Maryland, the NSHM publication that these two curators co-authored in 1940, may have been the last regional publication to suggest that "baltimorite" was  a species or variety of a species.

 Mindat describes  baltimorite as a "synonym for antigorite." along with 11 other names including "gymnite" and "porcellophite." Interestingly, Minerals of Maryland refers to "gymnite" and "porcellophite" as separate minerals that also occur,  along with "baltimorite," at Bare Hills.  The three names  have since all but disappeared from mineralogical parlance, although  Bernard and Hyrsl's Minerals and Their Localities refers to gymnite as a synonym for deweylite,  which is typically identified as a mixture of several varying different species that can occur  together at some of central Maryland's serpentine outcrops.

In addition to naming twelve antigorite synonyms, Mindat also names eight varieties of antigorite. Two of them, williamsite and chrome antigorite,  are known to those who collect in the serpentinized areas of Central Maryland and Southern Pennsylvania. Highly valued  in lapidary circles, williamsite is  best described as a  solid and translucent apple-green antigorite included with specks of black chromite. Chrome antigorite displays varying amounts of reddish purple coloring attributed to the presence of chromium. It is usually columnar or fibrous and known to occur primarily at the now off-limits Woods Chrome Pits in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania  just a few miles north of the Mayland state line.   

Antigorite, lizardite, and chrystotile are the best known of 13 species in the serpentine subgroup. In addition to these 13 species, the serpentine subgroup as an entity boasts eight varieties, none of them approved as species in their own right.

 One such serpentine subgroup varietiy is picrolite. Mindat defines picrolite primarily by habit  as "a columnar or coarsely fibrous (non - asbestiform) variety of serpentine commonly referred to as a variety of antigorite, but may be other species." The most common of these "other"  species are the serpentine subgroup mineral species lizardite and chrystotile. Picrolite is ubiquitous at nearly all the serpentine exposures in central Maryland and southern Pennsylvania. Note the label on the NHSM specimen at right : "Serpentine, var. baltimorite (Picrolite). It makes sense. Here it can be assumed that the term picrolite was used to to refer to the columnar habit of the sample.  The original material that was given the name baltimorite in 1843  and  wherever else the name was used thereafter matched the Mindat description of picrolite. Typically the color of picrolite is green as shown in the image at left. Interestingly the color of  the several "baltimorite" specimens at NHSM---which are the only specimens anywhere so labeled that we are aware of--- is  brown.  Would it be unreasonable to colloquially refer to picrolite of brown color as "baltimorite?" An interesting aside is that the approved species known as "chrome antigorite," like picrolite, is almost always columnar.

It was Thomas Thomson, a British mineralogist, who came up with the name baltimorite in 1843 (Phil.Mag.22, 1911). He had recently received a specimen from the well-known American scholar and collector Francis Alger. Collected at Bare Hills in Baltimore County, the specimen was opaque with a silky luster and consisted of longitudinal fibers that adhered to each other. Alger had referred to the material as "asbestos and chrome."Thomson studied the specimen. After ruling out the presence of asbestos as well as chromium, he named it baltimorite for the locality.

Two  years later, citing Peggendorff's Annals, Vol. lxii, p. 137, The Edinburgh New Philospophical Journal, Volume 39 published in an article that the German mineralogist Karl Friedrich August Rammelsberg had found that Thomson's "baltimorite" was identical  to other material that had  become known as chrysotile by Kobel.  Franz Kobel  was another German mineralogist, who had originally called the material Schiller asbestos. The conclusion: "As the latter (baltimorite) was described subsequently to the former, the name of baltimorite must be given up."

However, the baltimorite handle endured, only to receive an additional blow in 1855 by a supplement to Dana's The System of Mineralogy. Therein it was noted that two years earlier,  the German mineralogist C. von Hauer had published a new analysis of purported baltimorite in which the chemical composition varied from the original composition given by Thomson. The Dana supplement concluded: 
We have a new analysis of a stone which somebody has labeled baltimorite. It is very wide from the original baltimorite of Thomson (from Bare Hills, Maryland) and is no better entitled to the name than many other fibrous stones that could be gathered from our serpentine regions.
 Eighty one years later in 1936, the American Mineralogical Association placed the final nail in "baltimorite's" coffin. The American Mineralogist in an abstract of a paper by George C. Selfridge, Jr.  of Columbia University entitled "An X-ray and Optical Investigation of the Serpentine Minerals" proclaimed on page 463:
Based on the results of the x-ray and optical studies and the chemical discussion---to drop the names picrosmine, picrolite, williamsite, bowenite, porcellophite, and baltimorite  for the term antigorite. The term serpentinite is suggested for rocks composed of serpentine or antigorite or a mixture of both. 
The recommendation came at about the same time as the mineral aficionados at NHSM were collecting and labeling "baltimorite" specimens from either Bare Hills or the geologically similar Soldiers Delight serpentine outcrops, also in Baltimore County. Interestingly, the NHSM labeled as "picrolite" numerous specimens from serpentine outcrops in Maryland's  Harford County that appeared to differ from those labeled "baltimorite" only by their green color.

Then in 1956, in Vol. 41 of  The American Mineralogist,  a 21 page paper by George T. Faust and Bartholomew Nagy outlined studies showing "that minerals classified as serpentines are either chrysotile,  antigorite, or natural mixtures of these two minerals--- It is suggested that serpentines should be redefined in terms of the relative proportions of antigorite and chrysotile"

Notwithstanding, the endless questions, answers, and names involving  various species and varieties in the Serpentine Subgroup have continued---and undoubtedly will continue--- to evolve without reference to baltimorite  For now, here is the best definition for baltimorite we've been able to come up with:  an obsolete and antiquated synonym for picrolite, a serpentine group variety, which depending upon composition may actually be antigorite, lizardite, chrystotile, or a combination of them.

We are grateful to John S. White, Past Curator in Charge of the Mineral and Gem collection at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History for suggesting this story, turning us on to some of the referenced sources, and proofreading it. 

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.