Saturday, April 25, 2009

Photographing Fred Parker's Maryland Collection

Fred Parker was mentioned in last week's post as the "eminent Maryland field collector" and "valuable collaborator," who frequently accompanied Jeff Nagy to regional collecting sites. Within my personal mineralogical sphere, Fred is the final word on the subject of Maryland minerals. A mineralogist and second generation collector, he has authored numerous articles and papers including "The Minerals of the Hunting Hill Quarry, Rockville, Maryland," for Mineralogical Record, whose biographical archives feature him as well as his father prominently. Fred's collection of Maryland minerals is amazing. This week, he was kind enough to turn me loose with my camera and bare bones portable studio to photograph the most significant pieces in his Maryland suite for the Maryland Minerals website.

The barite crystal in calcite with dolomite from the Pinesburg Quarry near Williamsport, Maryland, is but one example. It was all but inconceivable to me that a such a specimen could ever have been collected anywhere in Maryland. My impression was similar regarding nearly every piece that I photographed from Fred's collection.

It's appropriate here to recall that in last week's post about Jeff Nagy's quest to revise and republish The Minerals of the Washington, D.C. Area, I promised word regarding a recently discovered galena deposit in Baltimore County. Along with some minor anglesite and cerussite, the find yielded the first pyromorphite ever to be reported in Maryland. This was an excursion that Jeff and Fred were in on together. At left is a photograph taken on the trunk of my car of a piece Jeff pulled from the back his truck last weekend during a Baltimore Mineral Society field trip to the Marriottsville Quarry. At right is the specimen that Fred held onto. The location of the deposit remains secret until it has been explored further.

At this moment, Fred is attending the Rochester Mineralogical Symposium, and I'm en route to New Orleans for its Jazz and Heritage Festival to indulge in another of my hobbies, namely wild music. Since collaboration on specifics could be difficult during the coming week and my Internet access could be limited, I've drafted a feature for Mineral Bliss about some of the particularly remarkable pieces from Fred's Maryland collection. By the time it's scheduled to post on May 2, Fred and I should have had an opportunity to catch up so that he can check the facts.

For my trip to New Orleans, a recently ordered book, Rock, Gem, and Mineral Collecting Sites in Western North Carolina by Richard James Jacquot, Jr., has just arrived in the mail. Hopefully, it will lead me to an interesting locality or two on the drive down or more likely as I'm returning during the first week of May. Word about anything this leads should be posted here on Sunday May 10.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Classic D.C. Collecting Guide Awaits Update

For several years, Jeff Nagy’s preferred mineralogical activity has been to visit as many mineral collecting sites as possible that are a reasonably short drive from his home in Damascus, Maryland, or his office, which is in Washington, DC. For such pursuits, his Bible has been the book Minerals of the Washington, D.C. Area, authored in 1980 by Lawrence Bernstein and published by the Maryland Geological Survey.

The book is a great source of information, covering the area's pertinent geology and in particular just about every mineral occurrence ever reported therein. The localities range from well known to quite vague (ie "Cubic pseudomorphs of limonite after pyrite are abundant in the soil around Glenelg.")

Over the last two years, it’s fair to say that Nagy has lived and breathed The Minerals of the Washington, D.C. Area. Guided by the book’s content as well as additional information from sources listed in its bibliography, he's visited over 100 pertinent localities. His experiences have led him to the following three conclusions: Many localities mentioned in the book have completely disappeared; new ones have been discovered; construction renders many localities to be transitory; and recent thinking has changed regarding some of the geology related to different rock deposits.

In short, Nagy has determined that The Minerals of the Washington, D.C. Area is due for an updated revision, and he is on a mission to make that happen. Thus far, he’s rewritten more than 70 pages, begun work on the photography (which will be in color this time), and enlisted the cooperation of the book’s original author, Lawrence Bernstein, to edit his work. Nagy hopes that the State of Maryland will provide funding to publish their final version. If not, he’s got alternative sources in mind and hasn’t ruled out the possibility of self-publishing. Interestingly, the original work bears no copyright.

The quest has led Nagy not only to collecting sites that haven’t been visited in years, but to new ones he's discovered. Eminent Maryland field collector Fred Parker has often accompanied him in many instances and has proven to be a valuable collaborator. Some of the most intriguing spots have been in or near Patapsco State Park in the vicinity of Ellicott City. Of particular interest is a galena deposit that Nagy and Parker "stumbled upon" by accident. In addition to galena they also encountered micro crystals of cerussite and anglesite as well as the first pyromorphite ever to be reported in Maryland. Stay tuned to Mineral Bliss for an upcoming post featuring photographs and more information about this find.

Nagy’s research has also led to a credible report that many years ago, a quartz crystal twenty inches long, seven inches across, and weighing forty pounds, was collected not far from Ellicott City. No quartz crystal anywhere near this size had otherwise ever been known to occur in Maryland. Thus far, Nagy has tracked down the descendants of the person who collected it and has been in touch with the museum in Minnesota to which his collection was willed. Convinced this crystal is in existence and probably in someone’s possession, his efforts to track it down continue.

Of tremendous significance to Nagy’s work is the logic that similar geological relationships and deposits are likely to produce similar minerals. Quite often, sought after conditions become accessible in the course of construction work where new collecting sites are uncovered. When it's houses or other buildings going up, the opportunities to collect are temporary. Spoils from other construction related localities, roadcuts for instance, occasionally remain accessible.

Of all the territory included in The Minerals of the Washington, D.C. Area, Northern Virginia was once the most prolific. For Nagy, it’s proven to be the most disappointing area "Everything’s been built over," he laments.

There’s plenty more to cover. The most recent dig was in the vicinity the old Patapsco Copper Mine in Carroll County, Maryland. Shortly before that, after obtaining special permission, he was able to access and explore the Liberty Copper mine dumps in Frederick County, Maryland. Only a few days ago, he got hold of some old maps that he believes will lead him to a long forgotten lead prospect in Frederick County. He figures "another year or two " before his new The Minerals of the Washington, D.C. Area is ready for publication, and the serious quest for a publisher has yet to commence.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Stalking Those Pennsylvania Minerals

The six inch long Pennsylvania opal that's pictured above is from the Dyer Quarry in Berks County, Pennsylvania. It was one of my purchases this past Saturday, April 4, at the Franklin County Rock and Mineral Club's annual show at the Shalom Christian Academy in Chambersburg, PA. From the same show, I also picked up the piece in the photograph at left (field of view 7 mm.) of cerussite needles in front of galena appearing to be altering to anglesite. That specimen is from the New Southwest Chester Mine dumps in Phoenixville. These beauties were but a couple of the several dozen minerals I purchased at this show. All were collected in Pennsylvania, and all were fairly priced.

The Franklin County Rock and Mineral Club's show was a true pleasure to attend. It happened as the Philadelphia Mineralogical Society's annual extravaganza was taking place just two hours away. Somehow, word only reached me a week before when mentioned by a collector at the Atlantic Micromount Conference in Elkdridge, MD. Word that Joe and Jeanne Dague would be selling was all I needed to hear.

To me, their presence means a diverse selection of Pennsylvania minerals and the opportunity to peruse, learn about, and purchase them at prices I'm happy to pay. Among the new species that transferred from the Dague's to my Pennsylvania suite last Saturday were lazulite from Peach Bottom in Lancaster County, tennantite from the Billmeyer Quarry also in Lancaster County, variscite from Flint Valley in Snyder County, anatase with brookite in Hopkins phyllite from Kline's Quarry in Hellam, York County; uranophane from the C.K Williams Quarry in Northampton County; and the most exquisite miniature cabinet cluster of hydromagnesite crystals I've ever seen. They are from the Cedar Hill Quarry in Lancaster County and pictured at right.

As the Dagues carefully wrapped all of them and more, I wondered across the aisle to Kerry Matt's table, only to be overwhelmed by even more fantastic Pennsylvania minerals. The opal pictured atop this feature and the cerussite needles below it were two of my purchases from Kerry, along with at least a dozen other specimens. One of those was a second Dyer Quarry Opal that ranked a glossy half page in Pennsylvania's Rainbow Underground, of which he is author, photographer, and publisher. About half of its 442 pages are on heavy glossy paper, the other half on an accompanying compact disk. All told, I would estimate the number of vivid and colorful images of minerals (and microcrystals) collected in Pennsylvania to be well over 2,000. I purchased my copy of Pennsylvania's Rainbow Underground from Kerry shortly after he published it in 2007 and continue to be dazzled and amazed every time I pick it up. You can purchase one as well by contacting him via Email ( At $75, this book is not just a serious bargain, but an obvious and absolute must have for anyone with interest in Pennsylvania's remarkable wealth of collectable minerals.

After filling a flat with Kerry's minerals until the last dollar in my wallet had disappeared, it was back to the Dague's table to write a check. While settling up with Jeanne, I observed a gentleman at the other end of the table showing an album of mineral photographs to Joe. Within moments, the Dagues had introduced me to collector and serious mineral photographer John Passaneau. His remarkable work speaks for itself.

Two hours at this show provided me with nearly as many minerals as purchased over the course of two weeks in Tucson. It also awakened me to possibilities for additional Mineral Bliss features for down the road. Hopefully the Dagues, Kerry Matt, and John Passaneau will help me put some of them together.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Dennis Coskren and the Rarest of the Rare Earths

The 2 millimeter field of view microphotograph at left is of coskrenite. It was discovered by and is named after the mineralogist pictured above it, Dennis Coskren. At the Baltimore Mineral Society's 2006 Desautels Micromount Symposium, I obtained the piece in a trade with Dr. Coskren in exchange for a bjarebyite micromount that I'd just purchased from a dealer there.

This was my introduction to micromounting. I didn't even own a microscope yet and had shown up at the conference to observe what was going on and make a determination as to whether micromounting was a hobby that would be to my liking. An explanation of how a greener than bjarebyite novice got so quickly into wheeling and dealing with minerals of such complexity will be saved for a later post.

Coskrenite is a rare earth sulfate containing cerium, neodymium, and lanthanum. It is one of the first three naturally occurring rare-earth sulfates or oxalates known to sicence, a distinction it shares with levinsonite and zugshunstite. The type locality for all three of these minerals happens to be one of the best known and most popular hiking destinations in Tennessee's Great Smoky Mountain National Park, namely Alum Cave Bluff. It hardly matters that collecting here---or for that matter anywhere in the park---is forbidden. For one thing, crystals of the pertinent rare earth minerals are much too miniscule to observe with the naked eye, or even through a loupe. Probably less than a cumulative gram's worth of all three species is known to have been collected at Alum Cave Bluff or anywhere else. Even so, the three minerals are products of a geochemical process that actively occurs at a number of other spots in addition to Alum Cave Bluff. This suggests not only a reasonable possibility that they exist elsewhere, but also that they could renew themselves within a relatively short time frame.

Dr. Coskren has spent more than a dozen years studying every aspect of the mineralogy of Alum Cave Bluff. The fruits of his labors are encapsulated in the article "The Minerals of Alum Cave Bluff," which appeared in The Mineralogical Record, Volumne 31, March-April, 2000. This precisely documented treatise makes for a most interesting read about a fascinating mineralogical realm.

Aside from being rare and and interesting, many of the rare earth minerals occuring at Alum Cave Bluff make beautiful micromounts. To say they're difficult to come by is understatement. I'm aware of only two such pieces that have ever sold, both of them on eBay. The first was a micro-speck of levinsonite for which someone in Russia paid more than $500 at auction . The other was a coskrenite micromount that was purchased from an an eBay store by scientist on behalf of a university in Australia.

This all goes to say that however dear that bjarebyite mount, I couldn't be happier about this trade that turned me into a micromount enthusiast three years ago. The bounty it reaped bore in addition to coskrenite the levinsonite crystal pictured at right---all in the same piece. I keep looking and looking and looking through my scope. Then I refer to Mindat and can't keep myself from wondering whether one of those little pink crystals near the coskrenite couldn't possibly be zugshunstite.