Saturday, June 13, 2009

Uncovering Ruizite at Cornwall

Of all the reported finds in the Eastern United States during recent years, the occurrence in Cornwall, PA, of ruizite inside a boulder weighing approximately a half ton is surely among the most intriguing. Mineral News, in its Jan. 2008 edition, announced the discovery in a front page article about two months after it happened. The story behind that discovery was recently shared with me first hand by James "Skip" Colflesh, a prominent Hershey, PA jeweler and avid weekend field collector.

It all began at 9 a.m. on a late October morning in 2007, when Skip (right) received a phone call from his friend Bob Buckmoyer(left). At the time Bob was the foreman for Haines and Kibblehouse at Cornwall Materials in Cornwall, PA, where dumps from the earlier mining operation were being worked for crushed stone. He had become interested in minerals after observing that the rocks at Cornwall were quite different from those at the limestone quarries where he'd previously worked. One day Skip had showed up at Cornwall and approached Bob for permission to collect. The two men struck an arrangement where Bob would allow Skip to have special access if Skip would teach Bob about minerals and how to collect them. They became close friends.

Bob called because he had observed "something unusual" inside an 800 pound zoned boulder that his equipment had recently broken. He noticed a presence of apophyllite in the center of the boulder that appeared to be quite different from what Skip had taught him to recognize. Skip headed right over and determined that regardless of anything else, the apophyllite was worth chiseling out and that some of the other material associated with it looked interesting. He figured that a lot of tiny red crystals encrusting etched quartz amidst the apophyllite were probably hematite, and he was curious about an ubiquitously associated white fibrous mineral that resembled pectolite.

The plot thickened when Skip arrived home and had a look under his scope. No way those red crystals could possibly be hematite or any other mineral he could identify. He sent a couple samples to Lance and Cynthia Kearns at the Department of Geology and Environmental Science at James Madison University. Within weeks, their analyses determined the red crystals to be the second known occurrence of ruizite in North America, the first having been at the Christmas Mine in Gila County, Arizona. Otherwise, the only other known finds of this rare sorosilicate in the world were at two mines near Cape Province, South Africa.

Although most of the ruizite bearing material had been extracted on the day of that initial phone call, enough material remained in the boulder for the two collectors to invite a group of regional members from Friends of Mineralogy to visit Cornwall and chisel away. Among them was New Jersey collector and International Micromount Hall of Famer John Ebner, who sent another sample to a lab in Canada where he had connections. The Canadian lab reached the same conclusion as the Kearns.

More work is still required to identify the white fibrous material, a clinopyroxene that could prove to be a new mineral. Meanwhile, enough ruizite from this same boulder is in private hands that some has hit the market. A piece with a display face of approximately 4 cm. x 3.5 cm. was recently sold at auction on eBay by "MINERALMAN999" for $75.25.

My advice to collectors would be to try to get some of this Cornwall ruizite while it's still around. Haines and Kibblehouse is no longer working the dumps. They have removed the equipment necessary to break boulders of which the exterior surfaces bear no hints of what could be inside, and the dumps are now "off limits."

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