Saturday, November 14, 2009

University of Delaware Mineralogical Museum: A Private Visit

As Delaware Mineralogical Museum Curator Sharon Fitzgerald removed the glass encasing this Jeffrey Mine vesuvianite for the photograph, it appeared to me to be as close to perfect as any mineral I ever encountered. Vesuvianite was the topic of Dr. Fitzgerald's doctoral thesis in mineralogy, and she was raving about it. This one room museum in Penny Hall on the University of Delaware campus displays a lot more priceless world class specimens than its small square footage would suggest. Although I typically could overlook a genre so common as dolomite, the specimen pictured at right from Navarre, Spain impressed me almost as much as the vesuvianite. Same for dozens of other pieces here, especially as Dr. Fitzgerald encouraged me to pause and contemplate them. She also noted that the serandite with analcime from Mt. Saint Hilaire, Quebec (top left) and the wire sliver piece shown below it from Zacatecas, Mexico, have graced cover pages of Mineralogical Record.

This personal tour followed an email I received from Dr. Fitzgerald responding to our June 6 Mineral Bliss post heralding the museum's reopening after a long period of closure for renovations. Inviting me to return, she spoke of the "amazing collection that is here and the possibilities that surround it." Since my earlier post was based on an all too quick walk-through, I enthusiastically accepted the offer.

The University of Delaware owns over 15 thousand specimens, about four thousand of which have yet to be catalogued. Its mission is to "display the best" and maintain ample material for study. Since twelve years have passed since the Museum's last targeted acquisitions, Dr. Fitzgerald is on the lookout for material from major recent finds, especially in China. She also plans to de-access hundreds of pieces the Museum doesn't need.

Among other plans is to assemble a display of regional minerals. Presently, about a dozen such specimens from neighboring states grace different cabinets as part of other suites or categories. Most are from Pennsylvania. I suspect that the French Creek chalcopyrite shown at top left and also the Woods Mine Brucite at top right are superior to any other of their genres these classic localities ever produced. The Cornwall andradite garnet at bottom right , which is in a visiting case provided courtesy of David Biers, is also amazing. I've deliberately refrained from mentioning one Pennsylvania specimen in particular to share its story as the sole topic of a future Mineral Bliss post. Of two Maryland specimens, the spessartite garnet on schorl tourmaline pictured beneath the chalcopyrite all but blew away this publisher of the Maryland Minerals website. Dr. Fitzgeralds's husband, Dr. Peter Leavens, who curated the Museum for a 25 year period beginning in the 1970's, collected it in a Cecil County roadcut near Elkton.

So what about Delaware minerals? Though Delaware is hardly a mineral collectors' haven, a few choice specimens including schorl tourmaline, spessartine garnet, and beryl are in a display cabinet next door at the Delaware Geological Survey, 257 Academy St. A wider selection of remarkable Delaware minerals is under lock and key in the basement of Penny Hall beneath the Musuem. I managed to photograph the best from both caches. You can see pictures and read about them in an upcoming post entitled The Minerals of Delaware.

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