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.