Saturday, June 27, 2009

Regional Minerals at the Smithsonian

Early this past week while in Washington , DC, I learned that my key interviewee for this week's scheduled post would not be available. With the Smithsonian's Museum of Natural History and its mineral collection close at hand, I knew where to look for something else to cover.

With a time frame restricted because of other business to but an hour, I would seek out minerals on display from localities within a couple hundred miles radius of the DC area. The Montgomery County gold in quartz pictured above has long been one of my Smithsonian favorites. I've also similarly admired the Lynch Station Virginia turquoise crystals on quartz pictured at left as well as the pyromorphite shown below at right from the Wheatley Mine near Phoenixville, PA. All three are classics and the best specimens of their kind that I've seen or known about.

From the Hope Diamond right on down, classics are ubiquitous in the Museum of Natural History's gem and mineral rooms. Other specimens, if not classics, were presumably curated by virtue of how appropriately they serve to educate or otherwise capture the interest of viewers.

Very much on my mind was a specimen of apophyllite on prehnite that one of my older mineral friends and two buddies had collected at the Centreville Quarry in Virginia during the early 1950's. For one "study piece" each from the "Roebling collection," they had traded it to the Smithsonian, where it soon became prominently displayed near the entrance of what was at the time its mineral room. In more recent years, my friend learned from a credible source with close ties to the Smithsonian that in today's market this apophyllite on prehnite specimen could be priced as high as $250,000.00.

Any possible chance it could still be on display after all those years? Except for the possibility of oversight, my assumption is that it's packed away with the more than 350,000 mineral specimens comprising the Museum of Natural History's collection. Just about all have been catalogued and can be referenced by name, catalog number, country of origin and mine or quarry (if there was one) at the Museum's web site. Listed there are 1,063 specimens bearing apophyllite and 1,911 minerals with prehnite. Images of many of them, unfortunately, were absent.

The biggest nod I observed to regional bounty was a model re-creating a section of the Morefield Mine in Amelia County, Virginia. It featured a tunnel with pegmatite walls featuring enormous cleavages of turquoise hued amazonite microcline. Interestingly, the real Morefield Mine is accessible at specified times for a reasonable fee to collectors and by prescheduled appointment to clubs and school groups.

Otherwise, I managed to locate and photograph three additional specimens other than the three pictured above. Two were from Virginia. They were the columbite from Powhattan and the tantalite from Amelia, both pictured at left. The other was the brucite from Cedar Hill Quarry in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania near the Maryland State Line. It is pictured below at right. No doubt, there could have been other pieces from the general area that I missed.

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