Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Great Maryland Exhibits; Great Show

The Gem,Lapidary, and Mineral Society of Montgomery County's recent 51st annual show at the 4H building of the Montgomery County Fairgrounds in Gaithersburg raised what otherwise could be a tough question. Where else, and for that matter when, can one actually see first hand a wide range of different mineral species that were collected in Maryland?

The images above show a variety of Maryland species featured in an exhibit entitled Mines, Mineralogists, and Maryland. Each specimen is historically significant as determined by such criteria as locality, the person who collected it, and/or past ownership. Chris Luzier, the GLMSMC's president and enthusiastic curator of the display, has surrounded the specimens with images and memorabilia related to Maryland's mining history as well as to numerous renowned late mineralogists who collected, identified, and studied Maryland specimens.  The collection's previous owner was the prominent Maryland collector Fred Parker, who availed much of his Maryland collection  to GLMSMC before moving last year to New Mexico. Fred acquired the historic specimens from the well-known Collectors Edge mineral dealership, which in turn had acquired them when the Philadelphia Academy liquidated its hidden and neglected world-class mineral collection in 2007. Most of the specimens are from localities that no longer exist. It is unquestionably the ultimate historical display of Maryland Minerals

Pictured above is part of  an additional display of other Maryland collected minerals formerly part of the  Fred Parker Maryland collection. Therein are numerous species beyond those represented in the historic display. Many are from localities not included in the Mines, Mineralogists, and Maryland exhibit

At last year's show, a specimen of Harford County radiated actinolite in steatite prompted our March 24, 2014 post entitled "Historic Maryland Epiphany." This year a specimen appearing similar to an unidentified Hunting Hill serpentine rock in this writer's collection inspired a second, albeit less convincing, epiphany.  It interested me to note that Mindat refers to metaxite as a "synonym for chrisotile," A closer look could be in order. 
Pictured at left is another particularly eye-catching exhibit featuring specimens from the Fairfax Quarry in Centreville, Virginia. They are from the collection of GLMSMC member Jonathan Ertman. Referred to in our November 7, 2009 post as "Maryland's Mr. Hunting Hill Garnet," Jon has focused much of his attention in recent years on acquiring the no longer to be collected classic apophyllite/prehnite specimens for which Centreville is famous. It could be a reasonable conjecture that serious collectors from the Maryland/DC/Virginia area  crave this mineral specimen genre more than any other, possibly even those gemmy Hunting Hill grossulars,

Beyond the aforementioned and about 40 more exhibits on the first floor were numerous workshops, related to lapidary work as well a features to attract the interest of youngsters.  Dealers completely filled the second floor. The GLMSMC sets up the building this way each year, and it works great.

Most of the dealers are from or have strong ties in the region. The range of their offerings is sufficient to interest just about every kind of collector.  Their busiest time is  during the first several hours the first day of the show when aficionados eager for a grab at first pickings all but mob them. Notwithstanding, the pace remains busy, and the wide gamut of dealer offerings continues throughout the two days of this wonderful show. It's not to be missed.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Contributing to Mindat: A Pleasure and an Honor

It should be safe to say that the gentleman pictured above has done more to enhance the science and hobby of mineralogy than anyone else in history. If you have enough interest in minerals to be reading this, you know that he is Jolyon Ralph, who 14 years ago founded Mindat.org,  the world's largest and most complete public information database about minerals. The site makes it a no-brainer to access and cross-reference whatever you need to know about a  mineral species, from  pertinent facts to localities to hundreds of thousands of images.

 The majority of collectors, dealers, academics, and others with an interest in minerals could not do what they do as well---if at all---without Mindat.org. Most important, access is free to everyone and will continue to be so.

With volunteer input from some of the best mineralogical minds on the planet, Jolyon  created Mindat.org in his spare time as a hobby. Only in the last year did he quit his day job in London, England in order to fulfil the the demands on his time to run it.

As Mindat.org is based in Great Britain,  Jolyon is moving  forward to establish a nonprofit as a US-based 501(c)(3) organization that will make it feasible to secure funds to  continue growing while keeping its database and website  available at no cost.  Until recently, this money came from Jolyon's pocket. To see how Mindat.org will spend the $250,000  it is seeking, follow this link.

One should consider it an honor to contribute to Mindat.org. To encourage early contributions, sponsorships are available at $50 a page for the vast majority of the approximately 4600 mineral species known to exist. This writer, as a Marylander, is flattered to have his name pop up whenever anyone accesses the page for chromite  and williamsite. And for a donation of $1,000 or more you can become named as a Fellow of Mindat.org on the front page of the site.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

An Historic and Obscure Zeolite Occurrence at Monkton, Maryland

Pictured above is an historic specimen displaying numerous microscopic chabazite and heulandite crystals at a contact point on a slab of Baltimore gneiss. Pursuant to the labels, it was collected at Little Falls near Monkton in Baltimore County, Maryland. The orignial label is from from the collection--- or dealership--- of Germany's late Dr. August Krantz (1809-1872) and identifies the featured species to be haydenite and beaumontite, as chabazite and heulandite  respectively were referred to at the time. The specimen was later in the collection of Jeff Weissman, a renowned mineral photographer and rare species expert.
I acqurired it from John Betts with labels that go well beyond the call of duty to document the provenance. Though  not noted on the label, John also expressed a belief that the specimen could very likely have been collected from excavations near Monkton for the Northern Central Railroad line during the 1830's.

After ceasing operations in 1972, the former NCR rail line was converted into a popular rail/trail in 1984. It  is known today as the Torrey C. Brown Trail and crosses Little Falls about 1.7 miles north of Monkton just before it flows into the Gunpowder River  The Baltimore gneiss in which the chabazite and heulandite are present is indigenous to this specific area. It is more prevalent, however, farther south in Baltimore City and was quarried there extensively in the 19th century for building stone. Interestingly, the chabazite and heulandite appear on the gneiss in a manner that is visually similar to known historic specimens collected  at the Jones Falls Quarries. Some of these can be viewed on  Mindat.

Such historic specimens from Maryland localities of which no remnants still exist can be fascinating to those with interest in the regional mineralogy. For certain, we have much to learn from them. On the other hand, the localities attributed to them can become misleading when the names by which their localies were once known change and become forgotten or confused.

With this specimen, however, the documentation is sufficient to suggest that it is everything the labels claim. To the best of our knowledge, it could well be the only currently known occurrence of these two zeolite species to be reported from the Baltimore Gneiss in Baltimore County (as opposed to the City of Baltimore) or for that matter the only chabazite and/or heulandite specimens to be reported from anywhere in Baltimore County.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Unbelievable but True: The World Class Personal Collection of Peter Via

This post is about a world class mineral collection and its collector, Peter Via, of Roanoke, Virginia.. While passing through this increasingly vital city three years ago, I visited Mr. Via and viewed his assemblage of minerals, It was overwhelming to the point that the amount of time we had scheduled for me to view it was far from sufficient.

Three years later, the opportunity arose for me to visit again.  Due to unforeseen circumstances, limited time once again became an issue. With several hundred specimens on display, my mission was to photograph as many as possible and also try to learn what I could about Mr. Via's approach to putting together such a collection.

The minerals fill intricately crafted modern wooden cabinets in which custom halogen lighting showcases each one. Magnificent as they were to view, photographing them proved challenging enough  that only about twenty of approximately one hundred hurriedly shot images proved pleasing. Despite the superb lighting, good images of such specimens are best captured by removing each piece individually to a studio setting  in order to avoid reflections from nearby minerals as well as interference from the intersection of well-finished wood and the  thick glass upon which the specimens rest. An alternative technique of maneuvering  the camera within an open cabinet might produce a few more decent images, but could easily lead to the disaster of knocking over and damaging treasures of untold value.

Such risk is why, when asked to loan specimens for display at shows,  Mr. Via's  response  is a "blanket no," All the minerals from his collection that are available for the public to to view are those he has generously gifted to museums, primarily James Madison University Mineral Museum in Harrisonburg, Virginia.
Peter Via himself is no more likely to be present at shows than the minerals in his collection. "If I went,"he once told The Robb Report, "I'd come back with my entire net worth in the back of an 18-wheeler"The reality is that when Mr.Via acquires a mineral, the provider of it hand delivers the specimen to his home. He is willing to pay top dollar,  but notes:  "It's like the stock market. You've got to know what you're doing."  Unlike many high-end collectors, however, he does not view the minerals in his collection as investments.

Instead, Mr Via chooses his minerals pursuant to a personal sensibility cultivated by serious collecting over the better part of a century. He is well aware of how prices for the kind of minerals he slowly accumulates have consistently risen over time and believes with a sense of knowing that they will continue to do so.

When viewing these specimens, one is likely to wonder about the possibility that they could be the most desirable of their genre or "best of species" known to exist. When asked about this, he responds: " I can't say I know. No one ever knows what's out there sitting in someones closet."

Like all collectors, Mr. Via will occasionally sell a specimen or two. "Sometimes when they come here to sell me minerals," he explains, "I'll want to get something out for the sake of space. I'm happy to let it go for any reasonable amount I can get, but I'm not about to lose money." He has no intention of ever selling the collection itself,  Ultimately, he intends to bequeath it to the Tellus Science Museum in Cartersville, Georgia.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

A Privileged Visit to the Colorado School of Mines Geology Museum

 The shows that were happening in Denver over the weekend of September 12-14  at that city's Merchandise Mart, Ramada Plaza Hotel, and the Denver Coliseum  were great. The only regret I had was that my ten Colorado-booked days spanned the week following these shows rather than the previous week. As a result, I missed  the Colorado School of Mines Geology Museum's open house in nearby Golden on September 10.

 Headquartered in its present modern building at 1310 Maple Street since 2003, and featuring two floors of superb exhibits relating to Colorado's legendary mineral heritage, the museum was founded in 1874. Its star has been rising ever since---more than ever in recent years.

Having never had the opportunity for a visit,  I made a point of detouring to Golden after the Denver shows were over.  While the Museum's exhibits run  the  gamut of earth sciences, cabinets full of minerals predominate, especially on the main (top) floor. They are arranged mostly according to locality, with separate cabinets devoted to  minerals from Arizona, Mexico, Europe, China, South America, and various other locations. Minerals collected in Colorado fill the greatest amount of space, with separate exhibits devoted to counties and districts of Colorado's mineral belt. Included are the Aspen District, San Miguel, Ouray,  Boulder County, Gilpin County, the Leadville District, Clear Creek County, the Gilman District, the Creede District, Teller County and Cripple Creek. In addition to separate exhibits of  gemstones and pseudomorphs, I was delighted to also find an exhibit proclaiming the pleasures and merits of micromounting.

After an hour or more of browsing and ogling, I recognized through an open office door Dr. Bruce Geller, who has been the museum's Director since 2007. My timing for looking in to introduce myself and say hello could not have been more auspicious. With two collection managers, 16 student aides,  75 volunteers, and three additional buildings to oversee, Dr. Geller is also  responsible for the coordination of nearly daily guided public tours, mostly for tourists and students. As luck would have it, the next guided tour was to be for Yours Truly alone.

"Twenty percent of everything  moves out  each year in order to make room for fresh displays," Dr. Geller informs me as we walk from his office into the main floor exhibit hall. One such new display is the case to which he points in the image at left. It features gold from Central City, which is where the Colorado Gold Rush began in 1859.  Included in this case are magnificent native gold specimens believed to be the earliest known to exist from the region. Also in the case were two gold coins minted with Central City Gold in 1860 and 1861 by the privately owned mint and banking company Gruber and Clark. "We always try to do Colorado," he says. "That's our mission."

We next enter a side room that Martin Zinn  recently donated to honor his mother. Mr. Zinn is well known for his role as   manager of extravaganzas that include the Arizona Mineral and Fossil Show each February in Tucson, the recent Colorado Mineral and Fossil show, the East Coast Gem  Mineral and Fossil Show, and two major West Coast shows. The room features cabinets housing numerous specimens from the Zinn family mineral collection, as well as a cabinet of specimens provided by the  renowned mineral dealer David Bunk.
Pictured above and particularly impressive is a cabinet  filled with an extensive, diverse, and downright amazing rhodochrosite suite on loan from Dennis Streetman.

      Dr. Geller's enthusiasm continues as we walk around the larger hall, where he points out specimens he believes worthy of being considered "best of species". The pyragryite piece from the Parano mine at Fresnillo in Zacatecas, Mexico, pictured at left, speaks for one such specimen. Another, shown at right, features an enormous columbite crystal in albite from  Minas Gerais, Brazil, Viewed live, its grandeur appears all but unbelievable. To the best of Dr. Geller's knowledge, it is "the biggest columbite crystal in the world." Both specimens, as well as numerous others that are clearly world class were donated  by Oreck Corporation founder David Oreck and his son Bruce.

 Taking  a phone call, Dr. Geller refers me to Richard Parsons, one of the 75 volunteers active with the Museum.Mr. Parsons, like Dr. Geller, is an avid micromounter. Within a minute, Mr. Parsons is leading me down a flight of stairs. The room to which they lead houses  the Museum's primary earth science exhibits relating to paleontology, meteorites, and mining, Colorado's premier display of fluorescent minerals, and the gift shop, Through an inconspicuous door, we pass into a large area used by the museum for storage and study. At the forefront, are numerous cabinets such as the one next to which Mr Parsons is pictured at right. They house the world class micromount collections assembled by the late and famous mineralogist Lazard Cahn, as well as those assembled by Arnold Hampson and Dorothy Atlee. In all, these three collections include more than 15,000 micromounts.

As we  return upstairs, Dr. Geller is once again available and proceeds to further enhance my awareness of  what the Museum is about. He begins by pointing out its most recent coup. It is a mural consisting of six paintings showcasing the history of mining from Paleolithic times through the 1930's. The paintings  extend a short distance out from the west wall  about two feet below the ceiling. Irwin Hoffman painted them for the 1939 Golden Gate Exposition in San Francisco. Thereafter they graced Colorado School of Mines Berhoud Hall and later the National Mining Hall of Fame before being transferred here when the Geology Museum  moved into its present quarters. Damaged by water that seeped in during a severe 2013 rain storm, Dr. Geller employed the services of restorers, framers and other artisans to have the mural up in time for the Museum's  September 10  open house.

Later he mentions that  the Museum maintains four warehouses. One is the large storage and study area adjoining the first floor where Richard Parsons showed me the micromounts. The other three have separate locations. They include a second warehouse filled with rocks and minerals. A third warehouse is for fossils, The fourth warehouse holds radioactive material and is "so hot," he says, "I've only been in there twice."

As the afternoon winds toward an end, Dr. Geller speaks of a practice that differentiates the Colorado School of Mines Geology Museum from many other museums. It does not allow all the material that goes into its warehouses become lost or forgotten.

Dr. Geller explains:
On Average, we receive roughly one worthy donation per day, which creates a challenge for our Collections Managers, who must discriminate what is essential from what is superfluous. We are fortunate for the donations of earth science materials and rarely turn them down. We have several options for the overflow: our Gift Shop, our campus labs/classrooms, our give away box at the museum entrance, and one or two annual Garage Sales of generally low-end unlabeled material.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

STUMPED! on a Rock from Baltimore's Stony Run

Many of us  collectors have rocks lying around  that we are unable to identify even when we know their locality. Ultimately, if determined enough, we figure it out. Often we find someone who can tell us, or we encounter a similar rock that's been identified. To date, no such answer has surfaced regarding the most definitive aspect of the rock pictured above.  Baltimore artist Rick Shelley---I was collecting with him at the time---pulled it  from the stream bed of Stony Run a short distance south of the Remington Avenue Bridge.

This is a section of the stream where mica schist, quartzite and quartz account for most of what is around. The latter two often bear stains of iron oxide. A few cobbles, when cracked open, show vugs bearing weathered hematite and/or goethite.  Less frequently, one might find a rock similar to this one where the quartzite bears a coating of drusy quartz that's become variably smoothed since entering the stream, The drusy quartz may or may not be botryoidal, as it is with this specimen

What everyone who  has seen this rock finds to be curious are the concentric circles. A likely conclusion could be that they are fossils, or fossil imprints. Although it's possible, even with with a matrix of quartz or quartzite, such an occurrence would seem highly unlikely at this location in the eastern section of Maryland's Piedmont.

Much if not most of the approximately one square mile of land surrounding where Mr. Shelley found this rock was once the site of various  filled in and built over gneiss quarries that yielded a diversity of interesting mineral species. These quarries and their minerals were the subject of numerous classical mineralogical reports. We are not aware of any literature noting the existence of  fossils in the area.
Very recently, we showed this rock to my friend John S. White, who having been Curato-in Charge of the Smithsonian's Division of Mineralogy for nearly eight years, could be the source of a credible opinion. After checking it out under the scope, he was as mystified as everyone else who has seen the specimen regarding its circles. His one firm opinion was to rule out the likelihood of a fossil.  His reasoning was as follows:
  • I didn't see any organic looking surfaces.
  • While there are a couple of prominent concentric circles, there are plenty of circles  that are quite irregular.
  • There does  not appear to be any evidence of a sedimentary environment. 
What, then, expllains these circles?  We're hoping that someone will submit an answer about which he/she feels confident. 

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The Mineralogical Legacy of Baltimorean Robert Gilmor

The important collection described below is the subject of a document excerpt  recently transmitted to me by John S. White, past Curator-in Charge of   the Smithsonian's Division of Mineralogy. He received it from Dr. Johan Kjellman, curator of the mineral collection at Uppsala University, Sweden. Dr. Kjellman had been researching crystal models and was interested in those that Albert Hauy had originally intended  for presentation to the Emperor of Austria. The excerpt below is  from The American Journal of Science and Arts, Second Series, Volume 6, November, 1848. In the note to which it was attached, Mr. White stated:  "Turns out that the old gentleman was Robert Gilmor (1774-1848) who, interestingly enough, was a Baltimorean. "

It did not take long for me to determine that in 1814, Mr. Gilmor published "A descriptive catalog of minerals occurring in the vicinity of Baltimore"  in  Bruce's American Mineralogical Journal, Vol.1, 1813, pp. 221-223. Therein he enumerated 43 different minerals found within a 14 mile radius of the city. Although Google had digitized this publication, the pertinent pages were missing from those that appeared on line. 

A Friday afternoon visit to Johns Hopkins University's Milton Eisenhower Library revealed that the publication we were seeking was available there on microfilm. The librarians were kind enough to locate it for me over the weekend, and by Monday copies were in my email. 

Here are some  items that proved to be of particular interest:
  • "Native Magnesia:" From Bare Hills, obviously this is magnesite. "Is it not a carbonate of lime combined with magnesia?" Mr. Gilmor pondered. Even today, massive magnesite is quite common throughout the Bare Hills serpentine barrens. However, for it to be in crystals "accuminating to a dihedral summit---insulated, pure white and (or) transparent,"  is unheard of. 
  • Corundum:  "An hexahedral crystal an inch in diameter was also found at Bare Hills, which in all its external characters corresponds with corundum, as described by Hauy; but the writer considers it doubtful"  Since then, corundum has been reported where pegmatite injects serpentine in other parts of Maryland. As a pegmatite dike adjoins the serpentine at the northern extreme of Bare Hills, the possibility of a corundum find seems realistic.
  • "Staruotide is found in hexiahedral prisms with dihedral summits on the Falls Turnpike, 7 1/2 miles from Baltimore." This could be the same material  as collected by Bob Simonoff and very kindly confirmed for us as staurolite by Professor Emeritus Peter Leavans at the University of Delaware. It was the subject of our July, 2011 post 
  • "Disthene:"--"or Cyanite, (lamellar) of a pale green (rarely blue) is found in a micaceous rock about 20 miles from town on the Falls turnpike, at Scotts Mill, 7 miles from the York Turnpike. The crystals are large and small, many of them 4 and 5 inches in length."
  • Galena: "Found in a small vein in quarries about the first Falls Turnpike gate on the west side of Jones' Falls, accompanied by black lead ore and blende of sulphuret of zinc.  It is also asserted to be lately found in a large vein within 7 miles of the city, but the direction is kept a secret. The specimen seen by the wriiter, and said to come from the spot, was a large mass of galena." 
We have posted the document on our Maryland Minerals web site .  

Meanwhile, we have just received word from John White that Wendell Wilson, Publisher and Editor in Chief of Mineralogical Record, (which Mr. White founded in 1970) is interested in putting together an article about Mr. Gilmor, especially if he can come up with at least a couple of photographs of minerals bearing his label. Mr. Wilson's research suggests a possibility that perhaps one or two significant specimens once owned by Mr. Gilmor that were not included in the collection being sold in 1848 could have remained in Maryland. We are currently investigating that possibility. While the likelihood of locating these specimens is remote, our efforts could open new windows on mineral specimens collected in and/or housed in Maryland.