Sunday, April 2, 2017

Jim Wilkinson: Columbia Maryland's Premier Stream Bed Collector

Jim Wilkinson of Columbia, Maryland, is a special breed of mineral collector. Most of his collecting is within an hour's drive of his house. He lives in a vast and heavily suburbanized area between Baltimore and Washington, D.C.  Sprawl, no trespassing signs, and strictly enforced laws against collecting in state parks rule out the vast majority of known localities in the region.  As a  retired natural resources planner for the Maryland Department of the Environment, Jim is keenly aware of these obstacles. Notwithstanding, he finds productive places to collect at will. His niche is stream beds. Access to them is easier and more available.

Several years ago, Mineral Bliss featured some of the amazing finds by Alana Benkowski in Baltimore City's Herring Run. Identifying them was often difficult. It was obvious that many of the specimens did  not flow directly from any logical point of origin in the Piedmont to her collecting mecca. She favored the alluvial deposits where Maryland's Coastal Plain begins at the eastern fringe of Baltimore City. The streams that Jim Wilkinson works are farther west in Baltimore, Howard, Carroll, Montgomery, and Frederick Counties. These streams have accumulated far less extraneous material. They flow directly through Piedmont areas where the mineralogy is specific.What he finds is easier to predict and identify. 

He photographs the specimens he collects  and posts their images to his home page on Mindat. The page currently boasts 121 photos. While few of them portray "eye-candy," they document species and locality pursuant to the town, village, or hamlet closest to the stream where he found them. Mining sites, quarries,and other more specifically placed localities within these jurisdictions appear separately as "sub-localities," naming the species attributed to them. Exclusive of the sub-localities and species, Jim is the sole source for Atholton, Simpsoniville, Scaggsville, Henryton, and Daniels.  

The 11.5 cm. x 5.5 cm. stream worn quartz (var.) rock crystal pictured at right is one of his more remarkable finds. He collected it along the Patuxent River in the heart of Columbia. With over 100,000 inhabitants, including himself, Columbia is larger than a village, town, or hamlet.  Mindat names the closest town of Simpsonville as the locality for this crystal. Even though "Columbia Area" is named as a locality, it only receives credit for species collected "from construction and excavations in the area." This makes sense. The geology of this region suggests that wherever it originated, such a crystal could just have likely found its way in the Patuxent to Columbia as to Scaggsville. Naming the heart of the neatly planned city of Columbia as an active collecting locality would be a stretch.  

Though he focuses on streams, Jim is keenly aware of and interested in looking for  species  reported from nearby quarries, mining sites, or other localities.  Though so many such spots are posted, built over,  cleaned out, or otherwise inaccessible, it is logical that some of the species they produced could show up in rocks in nearby streams. Beryl was once somewhat common in many of the numerous mostly off-limits pegmatites gracing the Patapsco and Patuxent River valleys. Jim collected the  7 centimeter beryl crystal at left in a stream near Marriottsville. It could be worthy of consideration as one of the more extraordinary finds of beryl in recent years anywhere in Maryland.

Jim drove to Frederick County after reading  our post about the magnificent suite of minerals that Dr. Jim Cordua collected in the 1960's at the Farmers Cooperative Limestone Quarry.  Although we had emphasized the no trespassing signs, the prohibitive overgrowth and no evidence of dumps, Jim found a small stream not far away that was accessible. The sphalerite he retrieved  hardly matched the glorious crystals that Dr. Cordua collected  half a century ago shortly after workers informed him of recent blasts. But one can feel assured that to find sphalerite or any other notable species from this locality today by any other means would be futile.

Monday, February 27, 2017

A 20 Pound Vivianite Concretion from Anne Arundel County, MD

It is certainly reasonable to assume that  nature offers few greater pleasures to mineral collectors living in temperate climates than those few unseasonably warm days that  occasionally come once or twice in late February and early March.  Aside from pleasant temperatures, the amount of live vegetation obscuring surface rocks is minimal, while the mosquitoes, ticks, and copperheads remain dormant. Such a day was February 24, 2017, at least in the vicinity of Baltimore, Maryland. 

So for this writer, it was off to search for vivianite in Maryland's Anne Arundel County  along the banks of Harman's Branch. By virtue of a find 77 years ago,  Mindat names the spot as Vivianite Concretion Locality, Riva, Anne Arundel County, Maryland, USA . The information provided, however, proved confusing for pinpointing the specific location. Credit Robert Beard for persistence in finding it to include on page 156 in his Falcon Guide Rockhounding Delaware, Maryland, and the Washington, DC Area © 2015, Rowman & Littlefield.

Notwithstanding,  Tarnan's Branch and its banks are all but devoid of rocks as this muddy rill heads upstream  from Rutland Road along the route taken by Beard. Otherwise, the surrounding wooded landscape lies under several inches of fallen leaves.  Only after about a quarter of a mile where Tarnan's Branch flows into a tunnel beneath a road does one encounter many rocks. Most of them are quartzite  with  no hints of  likely concretions in their midst.  My hour spent here could not have been more in vain. 

With head down, more in discouragement than with the expectation of  uncovering  the likes of a vivianite concretion, I trudged back toward my car parked along Rutland Road. Amidst the leaves, loam, and moss, nothing at my feet hinted at the likeness of  a concretion beyond an occasional dirty hickory shell. So it was until what first looked  like the nub from a tree root protruded from the soil. It was bigger than to be expected from the trees nearby, brown, muddy, and partially covered with dead moss. Upon tapping it with the chisel on my hammer, a half inch piece of shell broke off that appeared black but with a bluish cast. It had to be a concretion. Once unearthed, a hefty whack with my mini sledge halved it to reveal an interior of colors  ranging from  black and, gray, to a paler and more aesthetically pleasing blue. Clearly, this was the same kind of material as pictured on 156 and 157 in Beard's book, 

Never was my knapsack heavier than during that hundred or so yard walk back to the car. On the scale at home, the two halves along with a few loose chips weighed just over 20 pounds. This writer considers himself the beneficiary of sheer luck and has no plans to return to what was  a difficult to navigate locality. One twenty pound vivianite concretion is plenty for my Maryland suite where it will rest in a spot where light, which causes  vivianite to eventually turn black, is minimal. 

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

First Weekend at Tucson, 2017

The title picture shows Tucson City Center Hotel, often still referred to as the Inn Suites. The date is Friday, Jan. 27, 2017, one day before its scheduled opening. This is the prime destination of mineral aficionados for 12 days leading up to the big show at Tucson's Convention Center, Feb. 12-15. Although the event did not officially open until Saturday, Jan. 28, more than a third of  several hundred dealers were selling a day early, as more than another third were busy setting up, Only a few dealer suites had yet to be occupied. Postcard weather prevailed with 60ish temperatures and a steady breeze. As happens every year prices seemed a bit higher and were all over the map.  Specimens ranged in price from a couple dollars up to amounts approaching six figures. With the exception of the one day Westward Look Show taking place the following Saturday, Feb. 4, more world class specimens are at the Inn Suites than anywhere else in town until the Big Show.

A few blocks north on Oracle, the much smaller Mineral and Fossil Marketplace was also up and running by Friday. Particularly worthy of mention here is a tent with three dealers: Rock Deco, JaM Rocks, and Malcolm Alter. All three  specialize in specimens from such classic Arizona localities as  the Mammoth St Anthony Mine in Tiger, the Rowley Mine, and the 79 Mine. There were  even a lot of  red wulfenite specimens from the Red Cloud Mine.  Nowhere else in Tucson did we see anywhere near  as many affordable specimens available for sale from these  great localities.

Immediately south of Mineral and Fossil Marketplace, in the direction of Inn Suites, the Moroccan tents were in full swing. Prices  on ubiquitous vanadinites, red quartz crystals, azurites, and so forth were unmarked and left to the buyers' ability to negotiate. With no deceit intended--- dealers readily admitted when asked about crystals that were treated---the Moroccans were selling some very colorful geodes as pictured at left. Both halves of one geode could be had for as little as $10. Therein were originally whitish quartz crystals,varied in color, some mimicking the deepest magenta high end cobaltoan calcites of the region. A few years ago, Moroccan quartz geodes were circulating with galena crystals glued inside them. Best avoided here or elsewhere  are Moroccan geodes filled with anything other than plain quartz crystals.

Other venues offering some minerals were also in full operation by Friday. Along the I-10 East Freeway, the Pueblo Gem and Mineral Show at the Riverpark Inn was going strong. The usual Uruguayan Amethyst, pyrite from Peru, as well as typical Moroccan, Chinese, and quartz selections filled a big tent. Operating out of adjacent motel rooms in "The International Fine Mineral Building" were a couple dozen dealers, a few with unreasonably pricey collector mineral specimens. Heading down the Freeway from the Riverpark, the outdoor area at most  hotels consisted of shows that were  filled with tents and tables full of crystals, cabs, and rough material.
On the other side of the I-10 Freeway, the 22nd Street Show opened on Thursday, Jan. 26. Enclosed within a tent and easier to navigate than the Pueblo Show, it offered a mix of wares including some minerals. Most remarkable was a table offering native copper specimens, many with crystals, from Pine Mountain in Adams County, Pennsylvania. Hardly anywhere else in Tucson is one likely to encounter very many East Coast specimens. A better place to acquire them is the East Coast Gem Mineral, and Fossil Show at West Springfield, Massachusetts in August.

Several miles beyond the activity clustered along the Freeway, the Kino Gem and Mineral Show at Kino Sports Complex  was much like a combination of the aforementioned shows on steroids. Mostly jewelry and beads filled a huge tent. Outside were smaller tents, a few featuring minerals.  In addition to thousands---yes thousands---of tons of amethyst from Uruguay, Peruvian pyrite, the Moroccan tent, and an Indian tent was this show's  annual Geminex tent. Inside were thousands of mineral flats, all bearing low quality specimens at ridiculously high prices from the famous Ojuela Mine in Mapimi, Durango, Mexico.  Interestingly, and perhaps because the Big show in two weeks will feature minerals from the American Midwest, there was a dealer  whose entire stock was calcite crystals from the Elmwood Mine in Lincoln County, Tennessee. Such crystals seemed to be everywhere in Tucson this year, all priced about the same.

Not scheduled to start until Tuesday, Jan. 31, was a relatively small new show to feature mineral specimens mostly from Arizona dealers, at 1055 Grant Road.. We were sorry this was after we had to head back to Baltimore. Regretfully, we also missed a couple other  smaller shows  and managed to  briefly check out a couple that were marginally worthy of mention.

The scene in Tucson  is pretty much the same each year, always overwhelming.  For sale around town are millions of rocks, enough that it's difficult to imagine how more than a very meager fraction of a per cent could possibly sell. We question the economics of it,  but what fun.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Disappointment at the California Academy of Sciences

The Gems and Minerals Unearthed  exhibit at the California Academy of Sciences opened to the public on September 30, 2016. Just over six years earlier, we had quoted San Francisco's world class collector Jack Halpern when he lamented  that this renowned museum's wonderful mineral collection was not on display.  Upon questioning the museum by telephone, a spokesperson had informed me coldly that environmentally controlled cases would have to be constructed before any minerals were shown.  Having just viewed Jack's amazing collection, we predicted in our  post  of  Sept. 19, 2010, 
the likelihood that any future mineral display at this institution would prove to be anticlimactic. 

A recent visit on September 14, 2016, showed our prognostication from  six years ago to have been prophetic. We admit to having learned upon paying the $35.00 price of admission that for an extra $15, the museum sometimes offered a special behind the scenes tour providing an opportunity to see "some of the museum's most valuable minerals."  Despite a limited window of time during an all too quick trip west to visit family, we nevertheless expected this major public exhibit to feature a multitude of great mineral specimens.  

Gems and Minerals Unearthed consists of about a dozen cases of various minerals and some gems. They are at the end of a wide hallway on the museum's third floor. Each case has a given theme. One theme is to establish that certain mineral species are rare, and that others are common. The blue and white specimen shown at left features several balls of blue cavansite on white stilbite collected in India. Is this the best the museum could do to showcase as a rarity this wildly popular and showy combination of species?  And couldn't the curators have come up with a more attention-grabbing orthoclase specimen than the small crystal just below the cavansite to exemplify one of the more common species? The magnificent and enormous South African sugilite crystal to the left of the cavansite is more in line with what we had expected to see.  But why distract from its amazing purple color with that deep blue background?

The theme in one of the other cases related to colorful minerals displayed with numbers corresponding to written identifications explaining  their color. Once again, few of the specimens boasted the level of aesthetic qualities to be expected at a well-known museum like the California Academy of Sciences. In this case, we even noticed  two similar specimens of dull massive orpiment with identical explanations of "color due to energy gaps in
molecules."  How much thought went into this display?

While the mineral collections in other top tier museums aspire to dazzle the sensibilities of mineral aficionados, it is clear that most of the specimens in this exhibit bespeak no such intention. Clearly, the purpose is to educate the unknowing about a few very basic tenets of mineralogy.

Aside from teaching, the displays could surely do more to generate the interest of  the viewers they seek to educate. To the contrary, some themes seemingly sought  to discourage viewers from the most obvious means of putting their newly acquired knowledge to use. That means, of course, would be to take up collecting minerals as a hobby. The theme in one case deliberately points out the environmental hazards of mining. In another of the cases, it is noted how certain species that collectors prize, linarite for example, are actually poisonous.

Had timing allowed for a behind the scenes visit, the tone of this post almost certainly would be more positive.  Those who visit the California Academy of Sciences  for the primary purpose of seeing minerals will obviously wish to view  the best the museum has. In our opinion, they should be able to do so without having to pay an extra $15.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

The 2016 Desautels Micromount Symposium

On the weekend of October 14-16, 2016, the Baltimore Mineral Society celebrated the 60th Anniversary of its annual Desautels International Micromount Symposium. For the past several years, the event has occurred at Friends School on North Charles Street. The symposium derived its name to honor the  late Paul Desautels (1920-1991), who founded the Baltimore Mineral Society in 1951, and later in 1956, its micromount  symposium, the first of its kind in the world, Soon thereafter, he left  Baltimore to become Curator-in -Charge of of gems and minerals at the Smithsonian. The Desautels Symposium  has always attracted many of America's ---and some the world's---most knowledgeable, prolific, and best known micromounters. Enhancing the event's continuity  has been the induction each year of new members into the Micromounter's Hall of Fame, launched in 1981.

Mike Seeds,  a past president of the Baltimore Mineral Society, who lives in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, has chaired the event for a number of years.  Actively assisting him are Micromounter's Hall of Fame members Steve and Carolyn Weinberger, who last year were inducted as a couple.

This year's symposium featured two inductees. Pictured at left is new Hall of Famer Bob Rothenberg, seen at left with wife Monet holding his plaque. Over several decades, by virtue of  knowledge, skill, and service to the micromounting community, Bob has established himself as one of the world's great micromounters. The current focus of his work relates to the eastern part of North America. On Saturday afternoon, he gave a presentation about the discovery of an extensive array of rare microminerals recently identified in syenite along a small stream in Augusta County, Virginia.

Also elected, albeit post-mortem,  was the late Baltimore lawyer and philanthropist Randall Rothschild, who died at 93 in 2003. In addition to launching the International Directory of Micromounters,  Mr. Rothschild is remembered for having provided  much of the funding that enabled  John S. White, a Baltimore Mineral Society founding member (who succeeded Mr. Desautels as the Smithsonian's  Curator-in-Charge of Minerals) to found Mineralogical Record in 1970. Before ultimately donating his world class micromount collection to the Smithsonian, Mr. Rothschild circulated numerous mounts at the Desautels Symposium, where at least a couple turn up each year at auction. His mounts are much celebrated not only for their often surreal beauty, but for the unique and intricate skill with which Mr. Rothschild mounted them, as well as the intricate handwritten style he used to label them.

Needless to say, each year's symposium attracts its share of Micromounter's Hall of Famers. Pictured in the image at right  (l to r) are Steve Weinberger (inducted 2015); Carolyn Weinberger (inducted 2015); Lou D'Alonzo (inducted 2015; John Ebner (inducted 1997); new inductee Bob Rothenberg; and Col. Quintin Wight (inducted 1990). Col, White, of Ottawa, Ontario, is arguably the world's best known living micromounter and author of The Complete Book of Micromounting, He serves as master of ceremonies of each year's Micromounter's Hall of Fame induction.

In addition to the Hall of Fame inductions, the Desautels Symposium features speakers, dealers, plenty of trading, and a seemingly endless giveaway table. One of the highlights on this year's table was a small box of tiny white pebbles contributed by Col.  Wight, Gracing some of them were extremely unsual combinations of very dark green to black spinel morphing into corundum in association with the quite rare and complex species högbomite. They were from a find near Bathurst in Ottawa that Quintin described in the first presentation delivered at this year's event.

Among particularly intriguing  offerings from  the ever present dealers was a selection of several
dozen  mounts, each bearing numerous---in some instances scores---of submillimeter crystals mounted on 8 millimeter disks affixed to a cork pedestal.  Indeed various micromounters over the years have used such disks to display one or several crystals usually of particularly rare species. However, to see such a large number of crystals to appear so neatly and well-arranged on a disk this tiny was a mind-boggling experience for many who were present. The example pictured at left features minute yet well formed crystals of tourmaline (var.) dravite from the Coatesville Adit in Chester County, Pennsylvania. The Pennsylvania dealer Don Smoley was offering them. He noted that Joe Borowick was the name of the micromounter who created them.

A huge cake was served after lunch on Satruday to celebrate the event's 60th anniversary, Counting the number of symposia that have taken place, this was actually the 61st Desautels International Micromount Symposium. The 62nd will happen on a yet to be determined weekend toward the middle of October, 2017. Once again, one of the features will be the induction of two new Micromount Hall of Famers: Betsy Martin of Richmond, Virginia, and postmortem, the late Dr. Henry "Bumpi" Barwood, who passed away on September 9, 2016,

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Baltimore County's Historic Milford Trap Quarry

In northwestern Baltimore County, the  Milford Trap Quarry's historic legacy has continued to evolve for the better part of a century since the last of its mineralogical bouny was taken. Those familiar with the site along Milford Mill Road near the Baltimore City line will recall the fire that destroyed a mosque built there  two years after the site sold at auction in 2013. At times between 1950 and then, the old quarry was the focal point of a swimming club along with a teen center and bandstand. The Buddy Deane Show happened there at least once, and scenes from from John Waters' Crybaby and Barry Levinson's Liberty Heights were filmed there.  

Less remembered is the wide range of collectible minerals that the Milford Trap Quarry produced. The Natural History Society of Maryland's long out of print yet still penultimate  guide to Maryland minerals, Minerals of Maryland mentions  "minerals to be found" there in the present tense, suggesting that collecting was still taking place upon its publicaton in 1940. With the exception of Hunting Hill in Montgomery County, which had yet to be "discovered," few if any Maryland localities produced as many different species. Rarely do specimens from the Milford Trap Quarry grace collections or displays. 

The good news is that the Natural History Society of Maryland  has saved and thus preserved what surely must be the premier assortment of Milford specimens as described in Minerals of Maryland. Many appear to be original reference specimens upon which the publication depended.  Early in 2016, the Natural History Society allowed access to many of these long stored away specimens. Among them were many that were particularly notable. 


As ubiquitous as chlorite is at numerous Maryland localities, this one stands out in itsw habit.


This pyrrhotite specimen is notably rich compared to other specimens that have been uncovered in Maryland.  Most Maryland pyrrhotite occurs in a matrix of limestone. Here, it is seen gracing gabbro.


After it had been stored away for many decades, we uncovered this  specimen of the zeolite group mineral laumontite. It is paricularly important for having been the specimen photographed for the inside cover of Minerals of Maryland. 


At the time Minerals of Maryland was published, the Milford Quarry was the only locality in Maryland to have reported scoleite, another zeolite mineral, The species was later uncovered at Hunting Hill in Montgomery County, which is now off limits. The crystals from Hunting Hill, however, were smaller and less showy. We have every reason to believe that this is the finest scolecite specimen ever uncovered in Maryland.


Prehnite is no a zeolite mineral, but typically associated with zeolites and erroneously thought by many to be one. The Milford Quarry was prehnite's only known Maryland locality for nearly a half century. 


Though a common species found at numerous localities, the occurrence of this particularly rich specimen at the Milford Quarry is notable.


Minerals of Maryland notes sphene at the Milford Quarry in "green and brown crystals." Pictured above is a specimen of sphene in green and brown crystals in a matrix of feldspar and metagabbro. 


Clinozoisite as shown above was known to have been abundant at the Milford Quarry and thought to be zoisite. The visual distinction when in this habit is difficcult to make.   

Minerals of Maryland mentions other species known to have been collected  the Milford Trap Quarry  as follows:

Platy ilmenite; pyrite in masses and in crystals; stilbite, natrolite; calcite crystals and cleavages; flattened garnets; black tourmaline crystals; albite; quartz crystals up to five inches long; marcasite crystals and stalactic forms in cavitites; magnetite massive and in brilliant octahedral crystals 1/4 inch across; rutile crystals; horneblende crystals in quartz three inches long; chalcopyrite; radiated actinolite; pyroxene; prochlorite (chromian clinochlore); analcime crystals; laumontite pseudomorph after analcime; epidote in long bladed single crystals and crystalline masses; mizzonite (scapolite); molybdenite; andesine crystals; radiated phillipsite; talc pseudomorph after actinolite; and muscovite.

Friday, September 30, 2016

A New Updated Maryland Minerals Website

For the past month, much of our time has been devoted to working on the Maryland Minerals website, from which the all-important slide show went missing sometime in early September. 

The reason was that Google closed down its Picasa program, which the site had depended upon for our slide show of Maryland -collected minerals. We have since updated the site, replacing the previous Picasa slide show with a more user friendly slide show program that we know our viewers will prefer. 

No longer is the Maryland Minerals slideshow a separate journey through nearly 200 mineral specimens with their labels. That vast series of images now consists of links to separate smaller slide shows, each featuring minerals from different Maryland counties shown in alphabetical order.  The localities within each county also appear in alphabetical order, as well as the specimens that are pictured for each locality. The new slide show will enable viewers to access the images they seek more quickly and efficiently. 

In addition to the list of articles pertinent to Maryland minerals, we have inserted a separate menu that provides a link to the site of this our Mineral Bliss blog.  Other additions include a menu item listing shows in the general region where minerals are displayed and sold as well as a new template for users of the site to contact us. The next change will be to the header image shown at the top of this post, soon to be replaced with one where the rock hammer is surrounded with Maryland minerals. 

We hope you like the new site