Monday, September 27, 2010

The Franklin-Sterling Hill Gem and Mineral Show

The 53rd Annual Franklin-Sterling Gem and Mineral Show, at least during my four mid-day hours there on Saturday, Sept. 25, drew serious mineral aficionados from far and wide. The most extensive action was out-of-doors. Ambiance was friendly, almost festive.

My only previous visit to the Franklin, Sterling Hill, Ogdensburg area in New Jersey was three years ago while heading home after squeezing as many different New England pleasures as possible into a week. All too briefly, I had toured the great Franklin Mineral Museum with its 5,000 minerals, then hammered away at a few rocks on the dumps below. Two years later, I became more intrigued with Franklin/Sterling Hill after inexpensively acquiring the micromounts pictured in the photomicrographs at left. Note that the accompanying contents of their labels declare combinations of such incredibly rare Franklin treasures as jarosewichite, flinkite, sclarite, and gageite. Do NOT hold me accountable for these identifications. I'm hoping that knowledgeable attendees at the 54th Desautels Micromount Symposium next weekend (Oct. 2, and 3) will share their thoughts. Meanwhile, input from readers relating to accuracies/inaccuracies are welcomed and solicited.

Before heading to Milford, PA, to spend Friday night, I first detoured through the Franklin, Sterling Hill, Ogdensburg area to gain bearings. At Franklin School, the show's site, a few vehicles were parked in a closed off parking lot. One was a van with its open rear hatch encircled by hunched over men, most likely dealers. In less than an hour, you could have found me hunched over the Bar Louis beneath the Hotel Fauchere in Milford, sipping a cocktail made with rye, stone pine liqueur, apricot cordial, pine buds, and lemon oil while waiting for my dinner of codfish stew and watercress/duck salad to arrive.

Saturday morning, dealer tables lined the paved area behind the school and extended well into the field adjacent to it. Nothing fancy, but reasonable prices and plenty of Franklin and Sterling Hill material for those passionate collectors who specialize in this niche---and plenty else of course. Indoors, the dealers were equally busy and would probably have been busier except for the unseasonably summery weather outside.

There was additional action at the Sterling Hill Mining Museum: it's garage sale with areas of $3 tables, $5 tables, and $10 tables. Most of the specimens laid out on these tables in old boxes and dusty plastic cases appeared to have long been in storage. Many were sans labels. Amidst a lot of junk were numerous true bargains awaiting collectors and low end dealers aware of what to look for.

Dinner with an auction was slated for Saturday night with the show resuming on Sunday. I missed all of that. So did Fred Parker, the only other Baltimore mineral person I encountered. He had set up shop with other dealers along the paved area behind the school. Later in the afternoon, he planned to leave in order to work a table closer to home the next next day at the Gemcutters Guild of Baltimore's 46 Annual Atlantic Coast Gem and Mineral Expo at the Howard County, Maryland Fairgrounds,

That's where I was at some point this final weekend of September the last two years and would have been again on Sunday morning except for not wanting to share a cold that came on overnight. On Sunday afternoons, however, I'm refusing to allow minerals to usurp whatever the Baltimore Ravens are up to, at least for the time being.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Unique Collector: Amazing Breathtaking Collection

Words fail me in describing this recent interlude from a family visit to San Francisco. It all started back in Baltimore when my friend Harold Levey played for me a DVD commemorating Jack Halpern's 90th birthday. Loaned to Harold by our mutual friend John S. White, it was about a man proud of his "addiction to beauty." In addition to an endless variety of roses and orchids gracing not only the entire back yard of his West Portal home, but that of a next door neighbor, is his mineral collection. To simply say that it's "world class" is an understatement.

The sole premise of this extensive collection is beauty on a level exceeding that of any other assemblage of minerals I've enjoyed the privilege of viewing. Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, you say? This collection clearly goes far beyond any such cliche. Aesthetically, Jack Halpern's collection is mind-boggling. If the tanzanite that graces the cover of the September-October, 2009 Mineralogical Record and the California gold next to it speak for the high end, nearly all the myriad specimens (catalog numbers approaching 4,000) are comparably breathtaking in different ways. I didn't observe a single piece that failed to impress.

Despite appearances of extravagance, this isn't a collection that was driven simply by money. Over lunch in a nearby restaurant to which we drove in Jack's aging Buick, he even shared that his income was "not much." He credits the financial acumen of his late wife, Leslie, in managing what spare cash they accumulated over the years for his ability to purchase such minerals. Like the $15,000 home now worth nearly a million dollars that they purchased together over a half century ago, the blue chip stocks into which that money went fared just as well.

None of the specimens in this amazing collection are labeled. Labels would usurp additional display space and distract from the beauty of the minerals. Instead, all are marked with numbers pursuant to which they're catalogued in files bearing current as well as any previous labels that previously accompanied them. In glassine pouches with these labels are the names and contact information of potential future owners who one day will be given the first opportunity to buy specimens in which they have expressed interest,

Over the years, Jack has donated many fine minerals to the much renowned California Academy of Sciences, from which he laments that many of the best have been pilfered. He also laments that this museum's wonderful mineral collection is neither on display nor are photographs available for viewing. "I've written to the chairman of their board about this," Jack informed me, "but nothing has happened." During this recent trip, I had planned to contact the California Academy of Sciences with hopes of devoting an upcoming Mineral Bliss post to the Academy's collection only to be informed that "environmentally controlled cases must be constructed" before the minerals could be shown.

Perhaps I could have persisted and showed up at the California Academy of Sciences to inquire in person. However, after after seeing Jack Halpern's collection, I suspect the fruits of such an effort would at the very best have proven anti climatic.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Minerals at Roanoke, Virginia Farmers Market

In just about any city or town, I tend to link the presence of a downtown farmers market to all that's positive regarding its vibes, heartbeat, and bounty. My first impression, while typically paramount, was particularly so on a recent Saturday morning in Roanoke, Virginia. Located front center at the intersection of Campbell and Market Streets and visible from more angles than any other location in the Roanoke Farmers Market was Ben Crooks and his Hanging Rock Mineral and Fossil Company. That’s Ben wearing the blue T shirt in our title picture. Both visually and verbally, he presents a colorful persona, but requested not to be photographed at closer range.

If the weather is good, you can count on seeing Ben for sure on Fridays and Saturdays, and often on Thursdays when the crowd size picks up in October. He’s been at it for 14 years, having previously been “a geologist working as a mining inspector at quarries, coal mines---if you put a hole in the side of a hill, I was there.” His selection of worldwide minerals and fossils, mostly in
flats, includes its share of specimens collected by Crooks himself in Virginia and North Carolina. He sells them at bargain prices.

The hitch is that not a single specimen is accompanied by a label. "We did that one year," he tells me, "and it just got expensive." Somewhat more to his credit, he added: "We try to price a lot of stuff so kids can buy it. Kids are 75 per cent of my business. A lot of what's here goes for 50 cents and on up from there." For sure he's doing more than most of us mineral people to lure youngsters into a constructive hobby that we all wish would engage them in greater numbers.

Despite no labels, Ben's prices were too reasonable for me to resist making a few purchases, while taking notes on his verbal information regarding their localities. You may have noticed how more time than usual has elapsed since the last Mineral Bliss post. That's because I've been trying to reach Ben by telephone---he doesn't do computers or email---to confirm the contents of my notes. As best I can decipher from them, the two pieces at left, running top to bottom were given as peridot and dog tooth calcite, both collected near the village of Copper Hill in Floyd County, Virginia. Though not yet tested, the latter piece looks to me more like sphene or axinite/ferro-axinite. Neither R.V. Dietrich's Minerals of Virginia nor MINDAT notes a presence of any of the aforementioned minerals in Floyd County. Thus it would seem that either I misread the notes scrawled into my pocket sized day-timer---something that happens all too often---or that Ben is in on a very significant Virginia find.

No less fascinating to me were the two slabs of fluorite pictured below at right. As Ben tells it, while driving through Cherokee, North Carolina a few years ago, he found himself behind a truck that was dispersing road ballast. Amidst the rocks being scattered were chunks fluorite of which these were pieces. Ben does not know where it was quarried. With a wink, he confesses: "I stole about 200 pounds of it."

Ben also had several boxes of doubly terminated Virginia quartz crystals resembling Herkimer diamonds such as shown at left. Most were quite large for the genre with a few scepters thrown in. He claims to have collected them from the wash in a gully near Bath County, Virginia. Of less eye candy appeal, but great for lapidary enthusiasts were extensive quantities of massive Virginia blue quartz being sold at giveaway prices. "It's all over the place around Boone's Mill in Franklin County, Virginia," Ben told me, and I feel confident that my notes recorded this bit of information correctly.