Friday, September 25, 2009

Coming Up: The 53 Annual Desautels Micromount Symposium

Micromount Hall of Fame Members, Pictured Left to Right:
Dick Thomssen, John Ebner, Sugar White, Phil Evanoff, Cynthia Payne, Dan Behnke, Neil Hubbard, Quintin Wight.

Most of the above Micromount Hall of Fame members and others, including two new inductees, are expected when the Baltimore Mineral Society holds its 53rd Annual Desautels Micromount Symposium on Oct. 2-4, 2009, at the MHA Pierson Conference Center, 6820 Deerpath Rd, Elkridge, Maryland 21075.

Here's what happens: Attendees register just inside the door at a table in a hallway where the walls are lined with dealers selling micromounts and micromounting paraphernalia. At the end of the hallway and to the left is the "giveaway room" where the contents of scores of open boxes full of typically vuggy material, all identified according to locality, are available for perusal and for the taking. To the right is the main conference room, which is lined with long tables and chairs where attendees select spots to set up their binocular or trinocular microscopes. Dinner is served on site Friday evening; lunch is served on Saturday and Sunday. Everyone goes out for dinner on their own Saturday evening. Otherwise, attendees share ideas and information, purchase and trade micromounts, and enjoy the slide shows and presentations.

The first of these events was held in 1957, at the behest of the Baltimore Mineral Society's late Founding President Paul Desautels after whom the Symposium is named. As such, Colonel Quintin Wight, author of The Complete Book of Micromounting notes that the Desautels Micromount Symposium "has served as a model for most of the rest" of the approximate score of other annual micromount symposia that now happen around the world. Col. Wight, who also writes an annual feature "The Year in Micromounting" for Rocks and Minerals, is always an active participant and serves as master of ceremonies for the induction of each year's new Micromount Hall of Famers.

Two new Hall of Fame members will be inducted this year: Marco Ciriotti and the late Vi Anderson. Marco Ciriotti is President of the Italian Mineralogical Association, and an author of the newly published book, Italian Type Minerals. Vi Anderson co-authored Monteregian Treasures: The Minerals of Mont Saint-Hilaire, Quebec and for many years was a well known proponent and contributor to the micromounting hobby.

Various slide shows are scheduled for Friday evening. On Saturday, at approximately 3:30 PM, after the Hall of Fame presentations, Marco Ciriotti will give a presentation entitled "Minerals of the Luserna Stone." At 5 PM, participants go out to dinner at nearby restaurants, returning by 7:00 for two more presentations. One will be by Quintin and Willow Wight on "Gems and Minerals of Russia." Mineral dealer, mineral cabinet maker, and former miner Keith Williams will follow the Wight's with a presentation on "Mining and Minerals of Bulgaria."

On Sunday, at 9 a.m., the Workshop reopens. At 10:30 a.m., Mike Skebo, President of the Canadian Micro Mineral Association, is scheduled to give a presentation entitled: "From Russia: With Memories and Minerals." Lunch will be served at 11:30 AM, and at 2 PM, the Symposium closes. As in recent past years, special recognition is due to Col. Wight, who regularly attends micromount symposia around the globe, and to BMS Officers and Executive Board Members Mike Seeds, Carolyn Weinberger, and Steve Weinberger and Al Pribula, who take on the work and planning that assures this event's continuous stature and success.
Walk-ins are welcome. Admission is $27 at the door. For more information, go to the Baltimore Mineral Society web site.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Mineralogist's Kitchen Counter Top

Cast concrete counter tops with various items embedded into them are becoming almost as popular as granite. We just had ours created. It features quartz crystals that I collected from tailings in Jessieville, Arkansas, a few relatively spectacular beach pebbles, and numerous water smoothed stones of banded trap rock. We're delighted with our new kitchen counter despite visual differences between the end result and our original vision. These discrepancies were not big surprises, much less disappointments. They resulted when the finished product was polished smooth. This removed approximately 1/16 inch of original counter top, eliminated striations and occasionally altered the outlines of some crystal faces. It also diversified the shapes of numerous trap rock pebbles

One quickly noticeable surprise was how shadows darken a clear embedded crystal even when touched ever so slightly by one's finger. By retaining their original shapes, the beach pebbles, all with diameters of less than an inch, attractively retained their shapes. The trap rock pebbles, on the other hand, which were always larger than the beach pebbles, tended toward a range of eclectic shapes with portions covered by concrete. These eclectic shapes, however, proved more pleasing than had their shapes remained as we had last seen them. They definitely proved an antidote to boredom.

In conclusion, we have a few tips that could prove pertinent helpful to anyone who undertakes a project similar to ours. Very important at the outset is that whatever minerals, crystals, gems, stones, or rocks are used, their hardness should equal seven or higher on the Moh's hardness scale. With respect to minerals, this could pretty much limit you to quartz, garnet, tourmaline, and corundum. Color scheming, which depends upon personal taste, also merits consideration. Early on, I was eager to to contribute about a dozen amethyst crystals and a limited amount of blue corundum sapphire, but Nina nixed it. Instead our quartz crystals were transparent or milky with the exception of a small number of dark grey-yellow citrine crystals. If we'd had some on hand some loose smoky quartz crystals, however, they also would have worked great.

While the trap rock pieces ran a gray scale, The beach pebbles, all translucent quartz, came in hues that ranged from yellowish to brownish, a few with a reddish cast. As effectively as everything worked together, our only regret was not having more of them. And now that the project is complete, I agree with Nina that including any blue, green or purple crystals would have distracted from from our desired level of cohesiveness.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Carrollite and the Cobalt Sulphides of Carroll County, Maryland

Pictured from left to right: Carrollite from the Patapsco Mines near Finksburg, siegenite-carrollite from the Mineral Hill Mine in Louisville, and linnaeite from the dumps of the Springfield Mine near Sykesville. So state the labels in my personal collection. While the information to back up these identifications have sustenance, only the Mineral Hill siegenite-carrollite identification bears total certainty. For that matter, identification uncertainties plague even the origninal carrollite that derived its name from Carroll County, Maryland, where the Patapsco Mines receive credit as the type locality.

Carrollite, siegenite, and linnaeite belong to the linnaeite mineral group---or series. They occur along with the the more prevalent copper and iron minerals in veins throughout the shists, gneiss, and ultramafic rocks that geologists refer to as the Sykesville Formation. Described in Bulletin #28 of the Maryland Geological Survey, the Sykesville Formation extends "from the Baltimore-Carroll County Line about 2 1/2 miles south of Finksburg southwestward through Sykesville and thence across Howard County."

Carrollite is the most renowned mineral in the linnaeite series. Collectors everywhere treasure the magnificent octahedral crystals from Katanga in the Congo. Maryland Carrollite, though nowhere near so visibly spectacular, is difficult to come by on the market and likely to command top dollar wherever and whenever it appears. Any remote chances of field-collecting carrrollite at its type locality were removed by the folks who fenced off, posted, and then buried the last remaining dump from the Patapsco Mines beneath tons of heavy trash.

Questions have arisen over many years regarding whether the mineral discovered at the Patapsco Mines that became known as carrollite was not in fact linnaeite with copper impurities contributed by grains of associated chalcopyrite, chalcocite, and bornite unwittingly included in the grainy mix being tested. Johnny Johnsson's feature about the history of the Patapsco Mines and the discovery of carrollite, published during the summer of 1998 in the late Jay Lininger's Matrix Journal, states that "significant doubts linger as to whether carrollite actually exists in the Patapsco Mines where it was initially 'discovered." More than a century’s worth of testing Maryland's carrollite, siegenite, and linnaeite have demonstated extensive gradations in chemical composition amongst all three minerals, particularly with respect to copper content.

Let's return now to the specimens pictured above and the cases for their identification.

  • Carrollite from the Patapsco Mines: Once part of the Neil Wintringham collection, I purchased this specimen for $77 at auction on eBay. The label naming Sykesville as the locality was probably a generalization. The presence in the rock of malachite (possibly brochantite) and chalcocite was typical at and probably unique to the Patapsco Mines (Finksburg, Wildesen, or Orchard). The grayish black chalcocite, in fact, would seem to have replaced much of what may once have been bright shiny silvery colored carrollite.
  • Carrollite-siegenite from Mineral Hill Mine: The Mineral Hill Mine is the only locality where the composition of "carrollite" was ever found to include nickel along with cobalt and sulphur. I obtained the specimen from Fred Parker, a stickler about accurate identification, which he personally verifies based on x-ray diffraction and microanalysis. Interestingly, Joseph Vadjke once showed Parker an end-member Mineral Hill Mine carrollite specimen that had been analyzed in Czechoslovakia.
  • Linnaeite from the Springfield Mine: I found this when breaking up a rock from a small rock pile adjacent to the foundation sitting uphill from the main Springfield dump. My confidence was boosted upon reading in Lawrence R. Bernstein's Minerals of the Washington D.C. Area of "cuprian" linnaeite in"silvery to pinkish-gray metallic masses" as the only cobalt bearing mineral named from the Springfield Mine. Upon showing the piece to Fred Parker a couple weeks later and being told: "Yes, that’s linnaeite," I became convinced.

Finally, we have not mentioned a fourth cobalt bearing mineral known to have occurred at these localities, namely cobaltiferous gahnite. Mineral Bliss has that story on the backburner.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

What is this?

Zoom in and the trays reveal crystals featured in Mineral Bliss's second post ever from Feb. 15, 2009, about collecting quartz crystals at the Ron Coleman Mine in Jessieville, Arkansas. Accompanying the crystals are various other rocks, pebbles, and crystals that I, and occasionally my wife Nina, have brought home in recent years. Bringing too much stuff like this into the house and having it usurp space where it's unappreciated is a collector's curse.

Look closely and observe that regardless of colour, every piece bears a dark spot. That's glue resembling tar with which the display! sides of the stones have been attached to the bottom of the tray. The next step will cover them with cast concrete that wont stick to the trays with any more strength than the black glue. When the cast concrete settles and dries, the trays are overturned, their content emptied. The stones imbedded in cast concrete at the bottom of the tray now become the surface of the countertops for our newly remodeled kitchen.

Within the context of Nina's and my standard of living and especially considering the awful present economy, this project is high-end out of all proportion. That's probably because it is one of the few ideas for a "major undertaking" that we both embraced from the git-go with equal levels of enthusiasm.

Though Nina and I credit ourselves with the vision for this countertop, we've entrusted the end-product's creation to Lukeworks, a Baltimore-based design-build manufacturer of products for contemporary spaces. It is a shop where the craftspeople and even the workmen hold arts and artisan degrees that relate directly to what they assemble and create.

Neither Nina nor I---nor for that matter anyone at Lukeworks---has ever seen a countertop quite like we anticipate will be dominating our kitchen in just a couple of weeks. We've seen cast concrete countertops with other kinds of items imbedded, but never crystals or rocks. Expecting soon to have the penultimate mineralogist's kitchen countertop, we'll post pictures when it's installed.