Saturday, July 25, 2009

Coming Your Way: The Mineral Bliss Podcast

Within a week, we're anticipating that an icon in the top right hand corner of each blog post at Mineral Bliss will invite you to click and subscribe to the new Mineral Bliss podcast.

Also, you should be able to access our new podcast directly from iTunes . If you have iTunes, click "iTunes Store" at the left of the iTunes main screen. When the iTunes Store screen comes up, click "podcast" at the left of that screen. When the podcast screen is up, click "browse" or "power search" at the right of the podcast screen. In the next screen to come up, type in"Mineral Bliss" for title or Jake Slagle as author, and hopefully you'll be there.

Sometimes we'll name the topics in the current issue of Rocks and Minerals or Mineralogical Record. Other podcasts will herald events of mineralogical interest within a 100 mile radius of Baltimore Maryland. Very likely, we'll also be doing podcasts that feature pronunciation and vocabulary pertinent to mineralogy and related earth sciences.

This past week, after preparing for the launch of our new podcast, I split for Asheville, North Carolina to catch the earth sciences exhibit at Colburn Museum before it closes for
Bele Chere. Soon thereafter, we'll be visiting the three extravaganzas associated with the annual Franklin, NC, Gemboree. Next week's post will share the highlights of that trip.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Fred Parker: A Maryland Mineral Perspective

Fred J. Parker grew up in New Jersey, where he became renowned as a second generation collector, dealer and expert specializing in Franklin/Sterling Hill material. His focus expanded to Maryland mineralogy after he moved here in 1983. With an eye to history as well as to the present and the future, Fred shared his Maryland perspective with the Baltimore Mineral Society at its July 15, 2009 meeting.

Upon arriving in Maryland, he was told that our state had little to offer in the way of minerals and that that all the action happened in Pennsylvania and Virginia. Within weeks, he joined several mineral societies and met a few key "local characters" with different ideas and more extensive knowledge. He soon accompanied some of them on a visit to the LeFarge (Redland-Genstar) Quarry in Medford. Access was wide open at the time, and great calcite crystals were everywhere.

Even so, Fred Parker didn't become completely "hooked" on Maryland minerals until 1987. That happened when he and Maryland's "Mr. Garnet," John Ertman, uncovered a major pocket of gem quality grossular at Hunting Hill in Montgomery County. Twenty two years later, Fred still likes to refer to this locality as "my baby." In 2005, when The Mineralogical Record published the definitive Fred J. Parker piece, "The Minerals of Hunting Hill Quarry, Rockville, Maryland," the mineralogy of the Free State received a level of recognition not seen in decades

This article, of course, figured prominently into an arena long a Parker passion, namely the history of mineralogy in Maryland. In his personal collection, historical Maryland mineral specimens are understandably ubiquitous. They include pieces that once belonged to such noted collectors as Don Fish, Mike Elwood, and Dick Grier. His biggest recent score was the Maryland suite from the Philadelphia Academy of Sciences Collection after its sale in 2006 for millions of dollars to two mega-mineral dealers. Thereafter, following lengthy but quiet negotiations with Collectors Edge, the suite became part of the Parker collection.

When addressing the Baltimore Mineral Society, Fred described history as where "the real adventures begin." He mentioned two long out of print books as especially relevant: They were Minerals of Maryland, by Ostrander and Price, published in 1940 by The Natural History Society of Maryland and Minerals of the Washington, DC Area by Lawrence R. Bernstein, published in 1980 by the Maryland Geological Survey.

Numerous sites mentioned in these books now lie beneath shopping centers or apartment complexes, but a few remain accessible. More important: Who's to say what's under the ground where "progress" has yet to claim accessibility? To find out, knowledge of Maryland geology could obviously be helpful, but isn't entirely necessary. Another approach that Fred has also embraced is visiting and questioning the locals in areas near where great specimens were collected in the past. Most important, he says: "Check every road cut, excavation, and blast along the way!"

To share the anecdotes that made his point would extend beyond the allocated space for this post. Just about every story deserves its own post. For example:

  • The road cut near Columbia where autunite and torbernite ! covered the pegmatite.

  • Rediscovering a long forgotten smoky quartz occurrence (check out our title picture) near Clarksville in excavations making way for future McMansions.
  • The amazing amethysts near Laurel that the workmen threw into the pit to permanent burial.

  • The man who took home a quartz boulder laden with gold from the Cabin John Bridge excavation and used it as a door stop.

  • Buck Keller's major gypsum find in 2007 amidst excavations for the Woodrow Wilson Bridge.

  • The presence of quartz crystals in soil beginning just south of Thurmont and extending almost to Harpers Ferry.

These stories are history now. But others are in the works. And there should be plenty more before too long.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Metaphysical at the Beach

Somewhat oddly and with good humour, while on vacation last week at the beach, I found myself with The Book of Stones: Who They are and What They Teach by Robert Simmons and Naisha Ahsian. Its thesis is that quite a variety of different rocks, minerals, crystals, and gems, are "a catalyst for inner healing, self-discovery, and/or a deeper connection with Spirit."

In the introduction, co-author Robert Simmons explains the rationale as follows:

When we bring a crystal or stone into our electromagnetic field, two things occur. First the electromagnetic frequencies carried by that stone will vibrate with related frequencies in our own energy field through the physical law of resonance, creating a third, larger field of vibration. Your nervous system is attuned to these shifts in energy and will transmit this information to your brain, where the frequencies stimulate biochemical shifts that affect the phusical body, trigger emotional experiences, and shift brain function to open you to spiritual experience.

The main body of the book relates to approximately 200 different stones arranged and discussed in alphabetical order. The first is adamite, described as a source of energy, sexuality, joy, child-like wisdom, and several other major virtues. The final stone in this alphabetical arrangement is zoisite , which is said to relieve not only a wide range of unpleasant mental and emotional states but to be "one of the foremost stones for healing in the experience of terminal disease and death." Photographic images by John Goodman, Jeff Scovil, or Rob Lavinsky accompany every stone mentioned in the book.

While extra-terrestial moldavite is the only species to be named the "Holy Grail," an even more glowing description is reserved for a stone known as Azeztulite. Through "manipulation and alteration," the authors claim that this particular brand of quartz is imbued to carry the energy of "The Nameless Light," which Simmons equates with "Divine Love."

At one point in the introduction, the authors raise the question: "What do I Do with My Stones?" Among the possibilities mentioned are holding and carrying; wearing stones in pouches and jewelry; meditation with stones; dreamwork; body layouts; grids; stone oracles; energy tools; even oils and essences. Conspicuously absent were buying, selling, trading, or pursuits related to any of the earth sciences.

Interestingly, with his wife Kathy, Simmons owns the mail order business Heaven and Earth. With a strong presence on the Internet as well as each February at Tucson, the enterprise offers to both individuals and other businesses a wide variety of stones ranging from rough material to rings, pendants, beads, sacred symbols, and polished shapes. In one form or another, Heaven and earth carries most of the stones covered in the Book of Stones, Azeztulite included.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

On The Price of Micromounts and Extremely Rare Minerals

The above pictured haynesite micromount measures but .8 millimeters across. Just last week, I paid $51 for it from one of my favorite dealers on eBay. Haynesite is a rare uranyl selenite, one of a very few minerals bearing the uncommon element selenium. As a selenite it's in no way to be confused with the ubiquitous crystallized gypsum variety also known as "selenite," which has nothing to do with selenium. Haynesite was discovered in 1991, by the eminent geologist and field collector Patrick Haynes at the Repete Mine in San Juan County, Utah. Now closed and sealed, the Repete Mine is both the type locality for haynesite and the only locality from which haynesite has ever been reported. A logical enough assumption would be that availability will dwindle and the price to acquire a specimen of haynesite will rise in the future. Interestingly, last night while while researching haynesite on the web, I found an excellent and much larger thumbnail sized piece being offered at another site for $10 and purchased it in a wink.

This all relates to the issue of how much any given mineral is worth. Though rarity, and especially beauty are usually big factors, major exceptions exist. Micromounts displaying magnificent views of an enormous variety of minerals, both rare and common, can often be had for just a few dollars because they're tiny and a microscope is necessary to appreciate them. Many other extremely rare minerals, regardless of size, occasionally go for less money if they are ugly or if the market for them is limited enough. In the March-April, 2009 edition of Mineralogical Record, Rock Currier described it this way:

If the mineral is so rare that only two or three specimens were ever produced, most collectors may never be aware of them, and thus a market value for them cannot establish itself. Rather than pay a high price, the average collector will be merely puzzled by the specimen and view it as a curiosity rather than a valuable rarity. After all, if this is a highly desirable specimen, why don't their friends or local museums have one and why haven't they seen one in pictures? An absence of knowledge discourages purchasing. They have no yardstick by which to measure the desirability of the specimen.

As one who loves, collects, and acquires both rare minerals and micromounts, I'm often elated with this state of affairs. When selling them, however, the going sometimes gets tough. On both ends, the bottom line is the price for which one is willing to part with a mineral and what an able, willing, and available buyer who wants it will pay. The number of both sellers and buyers for extremely rare minerals is relatively limited. Knowledge and experience in this niche are key.