Saturday, August 29, 2009

Maryland Minerals at the Harvard Museum

Never has a display of minerals rendered me so spellbound as the Harvard Mineralogical Museum in the Harvard Museum of Natural History at 24 Oxford Street, Cambridge. Some displays seek primarily to grab the attention and interest of the general public. Others seek mainly to educate. Many want to dazzle and amaze if they have the goods. Created from a frame of reference for education, research, and public display, the Harvard Mineralogical Museum does it all, albeit with but two specimens from Maryland.

The Harvard Collection is old school. Its main room consists of rows of ancient chest-high glass-topped wooden cases with the minerals displayed beneath them. The minerals, usually hand-sized, rest atop a rustic looking muslin fabric that's not always well-vacuumed. Upright glass cases with larger specimens hug the surrounding walls. The minerals are arranged systematically according to chemical composition.

My first Maryland observation was a small clear glass dish of octahedral chromite crystals from Bare Hills, where chromite was first discovered and recognized in the United States. The container of crystals was displayed amidst specimens of chromite with different morphology and habit from other localities. Once part of the L. Liebener collection, they were probably assembled in the first half of the 19th century. I would love to know how these crystals were collected. Did they occur as floaters in the soil or were they extracted from a (presumably serpentinite) matrix? Although massive chromite has always been ubiquitous at the Bare Hills serpentine barrens, crystals are most unexpected.

The other Maryland specimen that I observed was massive rockbridgeite within a concretion. It was collected at Greenbelt in Prince Georges County. This particular specimen fascinated me because my personal collection features a similar piece from this locality that I obtained a couple years ago through Fred Parker. Just like my specimen, it bears additional brownish phosphate minerals. They could include dufrenite, kidwellite and beraunite, a combination once known as laubmanite, a discredited mineral. Leaving such considerations to the Museum’s research and education components, the label heralded only the gray-black rockbridgeite, which like crystallized chromite, is not often contemplated as occurring in Maryland.

The Harvard Mineralogical Museum's web site notes that about 4,000 minerals are on display. This seemed like a lot unless I missed something, which I did, because the entire collection exceeds 50,000 specimens. Most are arranged paragenically instead of systematically and are housed in "readily accessible drawers." With over 4,000 specimens from the Franklin,New Jersey environs, and 7,000 New England pieces, it’s likely that Harvard has additional Maryland minerals. What a treat the prospect of snooping through those drawers. Next visit, additional time will be available, and I'll have researched the protocol.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

More on Manham

CERUSSITE CRYSTALS (MICRO) self collected at Manhan Lead mine dumps, Loudville, MA

Our immediate past post regarding my solitary hour long stop at the Manhan dumps attracted more readers than any previous Mineral Bliss post. Depending upon when read, its content varied. That's because we shortened the original post by cutting all photographic and editorial reference relating to two finds: One was a micro-glob I'd surmised was pink cerussite, the other possible anglesite.

An email from the Editorial Board at Mindat led to my decision regarding these cuts. They were in touch quite quickly to inform me: "Your photo may not be the mineral you said it was." Prompting that quick response, perhaps, was that I'd credited a visual resemblance to photos that were posted on Mindat as the primary source of my identification, noting as well (thankfully) that these identifications were tentative. Mindat's position regarding the "anglesite" was it looked "more like growth-inhibited quartz." Regarding the "cerussite," the editors stated: "It doesn't look like cerussite at all."

I returned to my microscope and box of Manhan rocks and very quickly determined that regardless of issues relating to my "anglesite" identification, Mindat was correct about the cerussite. Within minutes, it became obvious that despite the visual resemblance of my photo to the one that had been pictured at Mindat, the pink glob wasn't cerussite. When poked with a hardness pick, it quickly disintegrated into micro-particles that more suggested an organic substance.

But alas, within a few seconds, I spotted on the same rock a vug in which a sparkle demonstrated renewed promise. After placing the rock under my scope, nearly half an hour of moving and manipulating the rock as well as two fiber optic lights were necessary before the angle I was looking for could be captured. The resulting photo is beneath this post's title, and my confidence level is quite high that no one will question the cerussite identification. I feel just as confident that within a period of time I'll uncover from within my knapsack a rock bearing a no questions asked genre of anglesite as well.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Manhan Lead Mine Dumps: A Myopic Perspective

As an unseasoned and inexperienced field collector, the story here to unfold amazes me more than any other mineral collecting experience of my life. It's all about the booty I managed to uncover within the course of but an hour on August 6, 2009, by sifting through surface material at the Manhan Lead Mine Dumps near Loudville, Massachussets. Having forgotten my loupe and equipped with but with a small hammer, my odds of getting lucky were further restricted by having to collect on my knees in just a couple little spots thanks to a condition for which my right hip was totally replaced this past Tuesday. Furthermore, the entire space available for collecting covers no more than a few hundred square feet scattered with rocks tracing to a 17th Century operation. For decades, if not centuries, the gospel has emphasized how necessary it is for one to dig deep. As an aficionado of micro minerals, I beg to differ.

Photographed at about 30x, the image beneath our title is little more than a couple millimeters across the inside of a little quartz rock I split open with my hammer. The linarite, wulfenite, and pyromorphite should be obvious enough for all to observe. Look more closely or blow up the image further, and there's evidence of a light emerald green colored mineral and a hint of something the hue of turquoise. According to a 1983 article that was published in 1999 by the Triassic Valley Bulletin, I would speculate that the light green material is brochantite. "Anything the color of turquoise, I would guess is probably aurichalcite, although it's fun to stretch the old imagination a bit in the direction of caledonite or wroewolfeite, both of which the above referenced paper acknowledges to be present here. For that matter, Loudville is the type locality for wroewolfeite.

No farther-fetched would be my speculation that the image at left could be micro plumbogummite. The same article stated that this rare hydrous lead aluminum phosphate had been reported here in 1981. Its resemblance to a micro photograph by Peter Cristofono that appears on MINDAT of plumbogummite from Loudville is my frame of reference, albeit a long shot.

A more certain if less remarkable find yielded up by the dump surface were the white blocks of barite shown at right. Regarding a more confident identifcation, I'm once again indebted to Peter Cristofono for the photograph of Loudville barite he submitted to Mindat, which is shown at right.

I confess to reservations about tooting my horn over all this and am well aware that plenty of my speculation could be subject to question if not scoffed at. The rationale, instead, is to make a pitch on behalf of how much more fun the pursuit of microminerals can render the collecting game to be. For sure, I wouldn't dare to dream of coming up with a cabinet specimen at this spot beyond perhaps the likes of some mediocre massive galena and sphalerite or weathered pyromorphite. The pyromorphite was rather common, usually in the form of a dull light brownish green crust. Often it was associated with rocks with vuggy surfaces that I busted up and then placed the least boring looking chunks into my knapsack. I had little expectation that any of them would ultimately prove to be interesting.

What a wonderful surprise to get home and peer at just a few of these pieces under my scope. I collected about five pounds worth, of which thus far, I've checked out about a pound, so there's plenty left in my knapsack.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Recent Tips on New England Collecting

The above pictured site is NOT one of the localities that Nancy Millard mentioned during her talk on August 7, 2009, at the East Coast Gem and Mineral Show in West Springfield, MA. Rather it's the accessible dumps of the Manhan Lead Mines in Loudville, MA. The image is simply posted as an example of a New England locality. I had camera problems when Nancy was addressing us and couldn't photograph her or any of the samples she brought with her. It just so happened, however, that the day before her talk, I was on location here at the Manhan Dumps. When checking out my finds under the scope a few days later, a couple pieces amazed me. You'll have the opportunity to read that story and see some unbelievable related pictures in next week's Mineral Bliss post.

Nancy Millard is a former full time professional miner of Herkimer diamonds, seasoned collector, and proprietress of "Natures!" in Portsmouth, Rhode Island. Prior to her presentation, she handed out copies of a 1963 publication I'd never heard of that struck me as priceless. Mineral Guide to New England provides pertinent information and concise directions to just about all the great New England localities. What it doesn't tell us is which of these localities still exist nor any updated particulars as to where permission to collect is necessary. Trespassers subject themselves to danger, and their lack of protocol has predicated the closing of many wonderful collecting spots. They are considered pariahs within the mineral collecting community.

Here's a summary of the localities Nancy Millard mentioned:

  • The best means for visiting the greatest number of localities is to join whatever mineral societies sponsor field trips to them. That's the only way to visit the great Palermo Mine in North Groton, NH.

  • To collect at the Wise Mine in Westmoreland, NH, either contact and locate Bob Borosky to obtain permission or join the Keene (NH) Rock and Mineral Club, which sponsors field trips there. It's said that yttrium makes the fluorite from this famous locality green. Ms. Millard noted also that on "the other side of the mountain," the fluorite is blue and purple.

  • In Surry, NH, on Old Walpole Rd (Exit 12A off Rt. 10 going north from Keene), look for a tiny bridge. Cross the bridge and check out the botroydal hematite covering the stones over the embankment.


  • In Greenwood Maine, the tailings of Tamminen Mine continue to be rich in pegmatite minerals. (Mineral Guide to New England notes "cubic! quartz crystals," spodumene, amblygonite, and pollucite.) It directs collectors to the Tamminen residence 100 yards north of the mine to obtain permission. Presumably the Tamminen Mine is still on private property, and permission must be obtained.

  • Ms. Millard also recommended the Harvard Mine, also at Greenwood, and located at the top of a mountain reached by hiking a trail leaving the town road at a point a little above the Tamminen residence. The cut is on a face of the mountain from which the dump slides down the hill. Mineral Guide to New England described purple apatite , manganapatite in dull green rounded crystals, and bottle-green tourmaline as being common here.

  • She noted that the Deer Hill Mine in Stow, Maine, continues to be a great locality for amethyst. Based on the extensive information available by searching the Web, I would assume that the Deer Hill Mine is easy to find and readily accessible.


  • The great Eden Mills locality is now closed.

  • Ludlow, VT is great for gold panning. While Ms. Millard did not discuss the specifics, I determined with just a little bit of web searching that supplies (and presumably information) are readily available in downtown Ludlow. From the web site of a Bed and Breakfast that takes its guests gold panning, I learned that a good place to go was in Plymouth State Park in a stream called Gold Brook, about 3/4 miles upstream and uphill from where the road crosses it.
  • Here we all were in West Springfield, MA, so needless to say it was disconcerting to learn that the Lane Quarry in Springfield had closed. Other than that, Nancy had no word on any Massachussetts localities. Next week, check our upcoming post about the dumps from the Manhan Lead Mines in Loudville.


  • She rated Greens Garnet Farm in Roxbury, CT as "the number 1 place in Connecticut." It's all about almandine garnet. Everything you need to know is at John Betts' web site.
  • Nancy also highly recommended a great locality for quartz crystals and quartz after natrolite in Stafford Springs CT where a trail heads out from a "parking lot behind a school." Web research convinces me that this school and parking lot is on Highland Terrace, just past the Hyde Duck Pond. The trail heads uphill. Start climbing, go right, and after about 20 minutes, listen for water, and upon hearing it, you're there.


  • OK, New York's not in New England, but if you'd like the scoop from a former professional full time Herkimer diamond miner, here goes: Nancy noted that in the Herkimer, New York area, there were three mining locations, all of them open to the public for a fee. The one known as the Ace of Diamonds she said would definitely be the most appealing to any field collector.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

The Colburn Museum in Asheville, NC

Curious to see what I presumed to be the best of its "4,500 mineral specimens from around the world including examples of the more than 350 minerals found in North Carolina," I visited the great Colburn Earth Science Museum in Asheville prior to the excursion to Franklin, NC described in last week's post. It's important for me to have opined the adjective "great" before confessing to being somewhat underwhelmed by some---though not all---of what the museum had on display.

On the other hand, the Colburn offers more than a dozen earth science courses that fulfill the North Carolina Student Course of Study to kids from first to twelfth grades. It holds field trips for thousands of students. An after-school program, the Junior Rockhounds Club, is so popular that two separate sessions are necessary each month to accommodate all the students who sign up. The Colburn also has a week-long summer camp for kids in grades 1-4, the last day of which is spent collecting at a nearby quarry. And each year on Fathers Day weekend,the Colburn holds a three day gem and mineral fest.

Nearly half of the display area consists of cabinets of worldwide minerals categorized according to sulphides, carbonates, oxides, etc. In their place, I would have preferred to see more material from North Carolina, some of which was quite spectacular. The photograph beneath this post's title fails to do the 1445 carat "Star of the Carolina" star sapphire justice. I was also particularly impressed with the large specimen pictured above left of hyalite opal on feldspar from the Chalk Mountain Mine in Yancey County, NC and a similarly sized lazulite on pyrophyllite specimen shown at right from an undisclosed locality in Randolph County.

The Crystal Pocket, as the Colburn's gift shop is named, has a better though somewhat limited selection of minerals at more attractive prices than I'm accustomed to seeing at other museums. I consider my two purchases of herkimer diamonds in matrix and several Mexican topaz thumbnails to be real bargains. A volunteer shared with me that they "go to Tucson" every February. My hunch would be that they purchase by the flat and mark up their costs very little if at all.

The Colburn Gem and Mineral Museum is located in the lower level of the Pack Square Education, Arts and Science Center at 3 Pack Square in Asheville. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday, and 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday. Admission is $4 for adults and $3 for students and seniors.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Gemboree Time in Franklin, NC

On my previous visit to Franklin, North Carolina, in early May, while at the Franklin Gem and Mineral Museum, John and Mary convinced me to return the last weekend of July for the 43rd Annual Macon County Gemboree sponsored by the Franklin Gem and Mineral Society and the Franklin Chamber of Commerce. John had even mentioned the possibility of an excursion to a little known off the beaten track digging site, but I've since become resigned to the fact that my right hip will need to be replaced before attempting such activities. Regardless, my schedule permitted but one day in the Franklin area. I wasn't aware until arriving that the 43rd Annual Macon County Gemboree was just one of three shows happening simultaneously on the last weekend of July in Franklin. A bigger surprise was that two of the three shows featured gems, jewelry, beads, and lapidary to the point that minerals seemed little more than an afterthought.

Though billed as "one of the largest and oldest gem & mineral shows in the southeast," I spotted only one dealer selling mineral specimens at the Franklin Gem and Mineral Society event at the Macon County Community Building. My only recollection of them was that many of the labels pitched metaphysical properties. A much larger extravaganza was the Gem and Lapidary Wholesalers Show at the Watauga Festival Center. It featured approximately 175 wholesalers of gems, jewelry, beads, and lapidary in a large tent. Nearby in smaller individual tents, a couple dozen dealers were selling more diverse merchandise that included a lot of rough material.

The only one of these three shows with enough minerals sufficient to attract my interest was the Highlands Road Gem Show on the Highway 441 Bypass at Highlands Road. Here, at least several dozen dealers, some of them selling minerals, were set up in tents. Most of the minerals bore neither labels nor price tags. I observed a preponderance of Arkansas quartz crystals and quite a few individual specimens of Indian zeolites of the sort that go for $15 a flat in Tucson. Prices were all over the map. Only a couple of dealers had any of the kind of material that prompts Franklin, North Carolina to bill itself as "the gem mining capital of the world." From one of these dealers, I purchased the two corundum pieces pictured at left for $20. They were collected at the Proctor Farm in Lincoln County, North Carolina.

The highlight for me was a tent where several young Mexican men were selling minerals from the Ojuela Mine in Mapimi, Durango, Mexico. What most grabbed my attention were several flats of adamite, a few pieces of which showed a curious visual resemblance to legrandite. In fact, had they been so labeled and displayed elsewhere in the tent, I could easily have ended up paying handsomely. When I asked the sellers if any of this really could be legrandite, they insisted that if so, I could "get rich." My gamble on two pieces, one of them pictured at right, cost another $20. Later, on the way back to Asheville, I stopped at a rock shop displaying similar flats of Ojuela Mine adamite and spotted a couple of more pieces of the same genre. All the proprietor could tell me was that he'd purchased his material as adamite from an Arkansas dealer with whom he'd been doing business for 40 years. Under the circumstances, the odds would seem to suggest that that my Ojuela Mine suite now has two additional adamite specimens, but I'm not yet finished checking the two pieces out.