Saturday, December 24, 2011

John S. White Compares Munich to Tucson

A May-June, 2009 article about John S. White by publisher Thomas P. Moore of Mineralogical Record (which John founded in 1970), mentioned how "some less than reverent visitors used to ask permission to dig in the hypothetical pile of discarded matrixes in John's back yard." Though more reverent than that, I had little compunction about eyeing the pebbles in his driveway as we walked out from his home in Stewartstown, PA for lunch at a restaurant in nearby Shrewsbury. The calcite and epidote in our title picture were the bounty.

John had recently returned from the annual late autumn Mineralientage München (Munich) show. Though my visit was primarily social, I was interested in learning as much as possible from John about how this event differed from the extravaganza that transpires from the end of January through the second week of February each year in Tucson.

Most significant, John noted, is that Munich has no fringe shows and no hotel selling. The event is open to the public for two days only and takes place at a single location, namely the four huge halls of Neuen Messe München. Each of these four halls is larger than the Tucson Convention Center.

Partial compensation for the lack of fringe shows and hotel selling is a policy at Munich that allows admission to certain high-end dealers and well-connected advanced collectors during set-up period, which begins on Wednesday and continues through the following day. Doors open for collectors on Friday. The general public gains admission only on Saturday and Sunday.

Mineralientage München consists of four "worlds:" Mineralworld, Gemworld, Fossilworld, and Stoneworld. While the titles tell the story, it's notable that Gemworld has a few gem minerals and that the wares in Stoneworld not only run a new-age gamut, but can include everything from interior acoutrements to hot stone massages.

My conversation with John focused mostly on Mineralworld. Along with world class exhibits---2011's Show featured European Classics---Mineralworld is divided into sections, halls unto themselves. The "super-premium dealers," as John descried them, operate from the most elaborate stalls in a walled in section. With dealers of all stripes in between, Mineralworld also accommodates dealers small enough to be clustered where each could have as little as a meter of space.

Scattered throughout are Chinese, Afghan, Pakistani, and Indian dealers. The quality and prices of their merchandise can vary from one hall to another. The Chinese dealers, says John, are likely to have the best material and the most new finds. Regardless of nationality, John emphasizes that as in Tucson, quality and prices are all over the map and often far from commensurate.

Moroccan dealers by the dozens are clustered in another hall and as at Tucson generally have more predictable inventory that varies little from year to year. The question was(is) how can they all make enough money to keep returning? The answer, John says is that they are there for many reasons, not just to profit on their mineral sales.

Notably different from the “Big Show” in Tucson, John states with emphasis, is that "excellent food courts are all over the place," with much better fare than available at the Tucson Convention Center. The catalog for the Munich Show is also a lot slicker than at Tucson. John gives me one shortly before I leave.

Walking once again the few steps across the driveway from his door to my car, I stoop to pilfer another pebble, because unlike the others, it's quartz. About to toss it later as the waning natural light in my office rendered little of interest to be visible, I opted first for a quick glance under the scope. Revealed was the phlogopite micromineral at left.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Collecting at the LeFarge Quarry in Churchville, MD

The LaFarge Quarry in Churchville, Maryland, has become a popular field trip destination in recent years for mineral societies that have the proper insurance and whose members adhere to carefully stipulated safety regulations.

The collecting takes place along the berms on either side of two benches. Most of the rock is gneiss or metagabbro that can be boring to observe. But for the collector who knows where and how to look, it offers up a significant variety of minerals.

The quarry walls show occasional zeolite intrusions clearly visible from the benches below. On a recent trip sponsored by the Baltimore Mineral Society, several members uncovered and extracted some fine specimens of stilbite and chabazite from the berm beneath such an intrusion. They did so by attacking promising looking large boulders on the berms with sledge hammers and by turning over the smaller boulders and rocks amongst them. A significant find by any measure was the specimen displaying balls of stilbite crystals in the box at right,

Just as remarkable was a foot long vuggy vein of exquisite pseudorhombic pink chabazite crystals in another boulder beneath this same intrusion. Trimmed of a few hand specimens, the particularly impressive crystals remaining in the boulder appeared unlikely to survive further trimming on site without serious risk of damage. The circumstances prompted the seasoned and skilled collector who'd first spotted it to haul home all 25 pounds of the partially trimmed boulder that remained. Associated with the chabazite were a few small heulandite crystals.

Plucked as you see it at right from a point along the berm at least fifty yards beyond the zeolite veins in the quarry wall was the laumontite piece shown at right. Though a keeper, it falls far short of the best this locality has been known to produce.

Vugs in the rocks and boulders along the berms are scarce, and whenever noticed are worthy of checking out. One such vug yielded a pair of colourless and nearly transparent calcite crystals, each about 2 centimeters across, unusual for this locality. Another interesting find that someone told me about was an approximately one inch long mass of molybdenite in matrix. More typical finds included epidote in dark green blades up to about an inch as well as some transparent yellow-green micro-crystals. No doubt some clinozoisite was also collected, though none that I observed. And finally, as at just about every crushed stone quarry in the Maryland Piedmont, there was pyrite, mostly massive, sometimes in small octohedra, occasionally with associated minor chalcopyrite.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

A "New Old" Baltimore County Locality

Call it "new" because there's little evidence that many people know about it. Call it "old" because my friend Harold Levey collected kyanite and staurolite here sixty years ago. The locality is on a hillside with extensive outcrops along the south bank of the Gunpowder River immediately east of the Paper Mill Road Bridge(s).

I can't think of another locality where garnets (var. almandine) are more prevalent than in the biotite muscovite plaglioclase-quartz schist that comprises these outcrops. Closer to industrial than gem quality and often quite weathered, garnets up to about an inch in diameter are everywhere.

Quartz that frequently intrudes into the schist, is what Harold recalls as the most likely matrix for kyanite. Typically bladed, he remembers finding it in loose rocks fetched from the ground. The season had been summer, and those rocks were not so hidden as they were today by a late November canopy of leaves. Otherwise, I suspect we'd have found some kyanite. However, we did come up with some staurolite.

This is probably he same locality that The Natural History Society of Maryland's 1940 publication, Minerals of Maryland , by Charles W. Ostrander and Walter E. Price, referred to as "At Ashland." The only other printed words were "In schist-kyanite, staurolite, and garnets."

We found the staurolite in the same schist that yielded all the garnets. The crystal bore the same almost gemmy luster as the ones Bob Simonoff encountered this past spring near Rockland. The fact that Minerals of Maryland listed no other Maryalnd localities for staurolite would lend further support that this was Ostrander and Price's "Ashland."

Very appealing about the locality is that by all indications, it appears to be collector friendly, so long as not swarmed en masse as a field trip destination, of which it should hardly prove worthy. Currently, parking for one car is available at a small pull-off immediately south of the bridge. When fishing season resumes, the space likely will be taken, or worse a no parking sign could be screwed to a metal post as one probably was at some point in the past. There are two slightly larger places to park not far down the road on the other side of the bridge.

The northern bank of the Gunpowder is similarly rocky. Harold recalls having prospected here as well, albeit to little or no avail.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Collecting at Sugar Grove, West Virginia

West Virginia? Aside from the meager Sugar Grove road cut locality in Pendleton County, I often wonder what else this state has to offer the mineral collector and why more information is not available. Considering the abundance of localities in all the states that surround West Virginia, such a dearth of mineral localities doesn't seem to add up. And certainly should not some of the geological activity that formed all those mountains left the state with more places to collect?

Pictured above from left to right at Sugar Grove are Robert Miller, Patrick Haynes, Maureen Campeau, and Stephanie Thi, all having a wonderful time breaking open chunks of basalt freed from the the shale into which they intruded millions of years ago. Therein are endless vugs which bear a variety of mineral species that can be quite spectacular when viewed beneath the scope.

Particularly notable is filiform pyrite, one of the most intriguing of this common mineral's numerous morphological forms. Filiform pyrite is has crystallized in the form of needles, which sometimes bend at right angles. Often at Sugar Grove, these needles are associated with the soft iron-rich clay silicate mineral nontronite, which can range in colour here from a light gray-blue to greenish black. At left is an example where the filiform pyrite has threaded dark spheres of nontronite. A right angle bent pyrite crystal coated with light bluish gray nontronite is shown at right. Microscopic pyrite crystals of other habits occur at Sugar Grove as well. Intergrown cubes are particularly prevalent

Chabazite (variety phacolite) is also notable amidst Sugar Grove's bounty. The larger crystals are easily identified. Smaller crystals that are visually quite similar to the phacolite, however are unfamiliar enough to stump me on visual identification. In the image at left, the larger 7mm. crystal to the right is obviously phacolite, but the smaller crystals to the left of it, I'm not so sure about. Included among them could be analcime and harmotome perhaps chabazite of a different habit, possibly even calcite, which is also common in these vugs, occasionally in the largest crystals of any species known to occur here.

Less common, but fun to find, is mesolite. Over three hours of cracking open rocks and peering with my loupe into vugs, the piece shown at right was the only mesolite that I, or to the best of my knowledge, anyone in our group came up with.

Though the collecting was better than expected, the locality was quite different than what I'd expected to find. It is an unremarkable looking road cut on the west side of Sugar Grove Road about 12 miles south of its intersection with Route 33. Needless to say, the area is quite rural. A possible landmark approximately 100 yards to the north on the opposite side of Sugar Grove Road is a couple of sheds, one with open sides, and a possible presence of a few old farming and/or construction vehicles and equipment.

Monday, October 31, 2011

A First Rate Appalachian Mineral Vacation

It began on a rainy Oct. 19, 2011, the only day for the next eight of anything less than picture postcard perfect weather. First stop was Harrisonburg, Virginia, to see the great James Madison University Mineral Museum. On display there are some of the greatest Virginia minerals known to exist (note the Amherst County amethyst at left), much of Elmwood Tennessee's finest, a Franklin/Sterling Hill fluorescent room, and an amazing selection of worldwide minerals. Nearby, I overheard heard two men who had recently entered the museum discussing a pair of smithsonites that Peter Via of Roanoke, Virginia had donated. Shown at right, these two different coloured smithsonites were collected at the same particularly noteworthy locality, namely the San Antonio El Grande Mine in Chihuahua, Mexico. Having just finished gawking at them and with plans to visit Mr. Via the next day and see his collection, I could not restrain myself from barging in. Turned out I was interrupting the Museum's legendary curator, Dr. Lance Kearns, as he was escorting the renowned collector Frank Hissong on a tour. They couldn't have been nicer, and we enjoyed a conversation touching upon subjects that hopefully Mineral Bliss will be in a position to cover in future posts.

I didn't really know what to expect when visiting Peter Via the following day in Roanoke. My friend John White had helped to arrange this meeting. On the other hand, I should have known. After all, it was John who had  pulled similar strings on my behalf a year ago for a visit to meet Jack Halpern and view his collection in San Francisco. And once again, I found myself in the company of another unique, gracious, and genuinely
interesting collector who had put together one of the premier private assemblages of minerals on the planet. Though with endless stories to share that were often embellished with a sense of humor leaning toward the wild side, Peter rarely attends mineral shows, even Tucson. He prefers to deal more privately, often purchasing specimens of such fragility and value as to require hand delivery. What a privilege to interact with such a collector and view the treasures he's accumulated over a lifetime. Labels don't accompany the specimens filling his intricately illuminated display cases, and some pieces were spectacular enough to occasionally belie my visual perception regarding their species. Upon complimenting Peter on the "cadmium smithsonite" at right, he had to inform me that in fact, it was Mexican mimetite.

I spent the night in Floyd, Virgina, enjoying a rootsy hotbed for Appalachian music then climbed nearby Buffalo Mountain the next day before heading on to Asheville, North Carolina. Included among my activites there was a visit the Colburn Earth Sciences Museum at Pack Place in the heart of town. Along with plenty of impressive mineral specimens, many of the Colburn's systematically organized worldwide specimens and even a few pieces in a separate North Carolina suite could have passed for study pieces compared to much that I'd seen at James Madison University and in Peter Via 's collection. Fine with me: The Colburn is far more conducive to learning about and understanding the earth sciences than most such museums, and I applaud them for this. But darnit, I've written to the Colburn as well as mentioned here in Mineral Bliss that what is pictured at right is NOT cacoxinite. It's goethite! Someone once suggested to me that making the correction could prove sensitive to the the (anonymous) donor. Heaven help me if I'm wrong.

Upon leaving Asheville, my next stop was Corundum Knob in Clay County, North Carolina, where I managed to actually dig up and break open a rock with a bleb of near-gem-quality ruby in it . This was probably sheer luck. I've since learned that the best technique for finding ruby here is to inspect the surface of boulders with a laserlike ultraviolet light, and break up any that show spots of fluorescence.

My next stop was Gatlinburg to spend the night prior to taking the delightful 2.3 mile hike to Alum Cave Bluff in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This is the type and only locality on earth known to have yielded the rare earth microminerals coskrenite, levinsonite, and zugshunstite. Don't expect to go there and find any. I can pretty much attest that such an effort would prove fruitless and can assure that anyone attempting to do so without a special permit would be subject to federal prosecution.

After fortunately falling asleep back in Gatlinburg while watching my home team Baltimore Ravens worst game ever on Monday Night Football, it was time to begin heading homeward. I stopped along the way to climb Mt. Pisgah, and then put in at Asheville after dining at Curate, this city's new first rate and very cosmopolitan tapas bar.

Thereafter my plan had been to return to Baltimore with a detour into Pittsylvania County,Virginia to check out a site at Coles Hill near Chatham, Virginia, where 119 million pounds of uranium are said to lie beneath the ground. My excitement over this jaunt had diminished somewhat after reading on the Internet that finding any collectible uranium bearing mineral specimens thereabouts would be most unlikely.

More intriguing was the blessing of another postcard autumn day along a route that just happened to pass directly by Grandfather Mountain. I wonder now what John White must have thought when he was helping me line up my visit with Peter Via. Why had I overlooked Grandfather Mountain when boasting to him about all the other mineral spots in this part of the country that were on my itinerary? John knows that I know he played a major role in putting together the mineral display at the highly regarded nature museum there.

Misinformed prejudgment on my part had perceived Grandfather Mountain to be akin to a tourist theme park. I really should have known that Grandfather Mountain offers some of the most interesting and exhilarating hiking in the Appalachians, while its nature museum displays, largely through John's efforts, what obviously are numerous best of species North Carolina minerals. One good example is the amethyst at left from the Reel Mine at Iron Station in Lincoln County, North Carolina. And for those such as myself who just as much crave some of the rarer if less visually spectacular minerals, the bikitaite at right should prove to be a mindblow. Is it conceivable to anyone that a larger or finer example of this species could ever have been unearthed? Hopefully, in the future, with input from John, who at present is in Munich, Mineral Bliss will provide its readers with a lot more regarding this fascinating museum.

With a bit of time remaining to hike, I drove on from the Nature Museum to the Black Rock Parking Area and from there hiked the half mile trail up to Grandfather Mountain's Mile High Swinging Bridge. The view from here is amazing. About 15 miles off in the distance was a peak that for many years I'd viewed from the Blue Ridge Parkway with awe and mystification. A ranger informed me that this was Table Rock and provided me with directions to the base of the trail leading to its pinnacle. With yet another consecutive day of perfect weather predicted, the opportunity for that delightful and easier than expected climb added a final extra wonderful day to one of the best vacations of my life.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Largest Native Maryland Faceted Gemstone in Existence

Editor's note:

Jeff Nagy very kindly provided the stones that are pictured in this post for me to photograph and followed through by forwarding what is to follow. The narrative begins with a basic bulleted description of a cut stone from smoky quartz that he believes to be the largest faceted gemstone cut from Maryland material. His name for it is the "The Clarksville Sultan, "and here is his story. JWS


by Jeff Nagy.


  • Faceting – William Nagy (Rockville, Maryland – Member of the GLMSMC)

  • Gem Material – Smoky Quartz (root beer color, Medium Saturation)

  • Origin of Rough – Clarksville, Maryland

  • 71 facets + 18 girdle facets for a total of 89 facets

  • Weight – 72.5 carats

  • Dimensions – 29.82 mm x 23.36 mm x 18.70 mm.

  • Style – Modified Rectangular Cushion Cut

  • Name of Cut – “The Sultans Seat”

  • li>Designer – John Bailey

    After a few years of investigative work, culminating in 1988, noted Maryland mineral collector Fred Parker, was able to pinpoint the source of fine euhedral quartz crystals reported in the 1930’s by Ostrander and Price in their book, “Minerals of Maryland.” Within a short time of the re-discovery, however, Fred found the site being prepared for a housing development. Fred observed the progress of grading and patiently waited. His persistence paid off when the bulldozers uncovered the unmistaken outline of a decomposing, kaolinized pegmatite. Fred approached the site foreman and asked for permission to dig. Since the machines were leaving this area for a few weeks to concentrate on another section of the site, he was given permission. The rest is history. For the next few weeks, Fred was able to extract dozens of fine euhedral crystals, some root beer colored, some clear, of varying sizes and clarity. A few were the size of Coke Bottles. They are considered to be some of the finest quartz crystal specimens to have ever been found on the east coast.

    Fast forward to the summer of 2008, when I purchased a number of Maryland specimens from Fred’s collection, including a few of the coveted quartz crystals from the 1988 Clarksville find. I brought them home and examined each one carefully. As a faceter, I began to consider cutting one of the smaller crystals. I chose one that was promising; a root-beer colored crystal of approximately 400 carats, terminated on one end. It appeared to be almost flawless. The more I looked at it, the more I hesitated. I just couldn’t bring myself to cut it. So for the next three years it sat on a shelf in my shop.

    By the end of July, 2011, I had finally decided to take the plunge and commit to, what a fellow collector termed, “the act of barbarity.” In that three year interval my father, William Nagy, had become a gemstone faceter, learning the basics from Jim Perkins in Jim’s Ohio studio. So I decided to have dad cut the stone. In mid-August I visited my father, showed him the rough, and specified how I wanted the crystal cut. The center section was to yield the largest stone, a modified cushion cut. The terminated end was to be a round brilliant, executed in whatever variant my father wanted. The other end, where it looked like the crystal had been attached while it was growing, was left to the discretion of my father. By August 31st, dad had finished all three cuts. The results were amazing.

    The largest of the three, which I have named “The Clarksville Sultan,” is what I believe to be, the largest faceted gemstone in existence cut from native Maryland Material. It is a John Bailey design called “The Sultan’s Seat.” Details directions for cutting this design can be found on John Bailey’s website: It is a modified rectangular cushion cut, which John describes as “not quite an OMNI, but cuts a bit similarly.” It is comprised of 71 facets plus 18 girdle facets, for a total of 89 facets. There are two versions available; one with a keel pavilion, the other an apex pavilion. I opted for the apex pavilion. It was cut on a Facetron machine.

    The workmanship and artistry of the cut is outstanding, with meet-points dead on. The final polish was first done with a Raytech Last-Lap and 100K diamond powder in lamp oil, and then finished-off with a blue Ultra-Lap. The polish is exceptionally fine. It measures 29.82 mm x 23.36 mm x 18.70 mm, and weighs 72.5 carats. The stone is of a rich, light root-beer color with medium color saturation. As the crown facets were being cut one small feather was found. However, it is positioned in a section of the stone where it is not readily noticeable and does not detract from the appearance or performance of the stone, which is quite bright and flashy.

    The second gemstone is a round brilliant, 14.5 carats in weight, measures 16.9 mm, and exhibits the same rich color of its larger brother. The faceting and polish is superb; the final polish accomplished using a blue Ultra-Lap.

    The third stone, a smaller version of “The Sultan’s Seat,” weighs 3.0 carats. Its color is very light brown, not having the deep, rich color of the two larger stones. It measures 7.9 mm x 10.1 mm. The final polish was done with a blue Ultra-lap.

    My father, William Nagy, was taught to facet by Master-Faceter Jim Perkins. Dad’s expertise, patience, and artistry are exhibited in this distinctive gemstone. While not exceptionally large as gemstones go, it does however represent the untapped potential of a State that is not known for producing quality pieces such as this. There is more to come.

    Tuesday, October 4, 2011

    The Desautels Symposium and the Micromounters Hall of Fame

    Our title picture shows but a minute portion of the classic (best in the world) vintage micromount display that John Ebner brings down from New Jersey the first weekend of October each year to the M.H.A's Cal Pierson Conference Center in Elkridge, Maryland. It is the venue for the Baltimore Mineral Society's annual Desautels Micromount Symposium. This 55th annual occurrence of world's first and longest- lived annual micromount symposium celebrated its 55th year between 7:30 PM on Sept. 30, 2011, and 2 PM Sunday, Oct. 2. Sponsored and produced since inception by the Baltimore Mineral Society, the event attracts micromount aficionados from around the globe for a weekend of fellowship, trading, purchasing, and presentations that include inducting new members into the Micromounters Hall of Fame.

    Inductees not only own substantial micromount collections, they must for at least 15 years have been among the " loudest for the longest, demonstrated generosity, and helped others." Quintin Wight, perennial master of ceremonies for Micromounters Hall of Fame inductions, speaks these words each year when describing what it takes to be considered for selection. Perhaps no one else on earth more personifies these criteria than Quintin Wight himself. Hailing from Canada, he is a 1990 inductee who regularly travels the globe with his wife Willow to participate in micromount conferences and symposia. Each year, Quintin reports on these events in a major article in Rocks and Minerals. He also authored the hardcover and glossy Complete Book of Micromounting, published in 1993 by Mineralogical Record.

    Since any attempt to even briefly describe the essence of John Ebner's collection would at the very least merit it's own post, we limit photographic coverage in our title picture to one little corner of it bearing the original Hall of Fame plaque from the late and legendary micromounter Paul Seel's 1981 induction. The micromount collection Seel accumulated is one of the greatest in the world. Upon his death in 1982, he bequeathed the entire collection, which notably included a vast array of diamonds from nearly every locality on earth, to the curatorship of James W. Hurlbut at the Denver Museum of Natural History and Science. In addition to overseeing the Seel collection Mr. Hurlbut has been an active fixture in the mineralogical community since 1947 as a speaker, author, and director of field trips. The youngish looking for age 90 inductee is shown at left next to Quintin Wight upon receiving his Hall of Fame plaque.

    Also inducted and pictured at right receiving from Quintin a similar plaque, is Dr. R. Peter Richards. Among other pursuits, Dr. Richards is a prolific author of articles in Rocks and Minerals and Mineralogical Record. Although by profession a senior research scientist at Heidelberg University's National Center for Water Quality Research laboratory, he is highly trained in and spends much of his time studying mineralogy focusing in particular on crystal morphology, a topic of paramount interest to micromounters. Among his better known accomplishments was conversion of the crystal drawing application known as SHAPE for use on the Macintosh computer.

    As dictated by tradition, this past spring the Board of the Baltimore Mineral Society, upon review of numerous letters of recommendation previously submitted to Quintin Wight, selected two new future Micromount Hall of Famers for induction at its 2012 symposium. One of those chosen, Arnold G. Hampson, of Dolores, Colorado, unfortunately passed away soon thereafter without learning of his selection, which will be presented posthumously. The other future Hall of Famer was New Zealander, Rod Martin, a major player in the international community of micromounters who also publishes and researches prolifically.

    Subsequent to their inductions, both Jim Hurlbut and Pete Richards treated the crowd to presentations about subjects on which they're considered experts. The former spoke on the extensive (primarily gold) mining operations in Colorado's Breckingridge District. He illustrated his talk with maps as well images portraying native gold specimens of mind-boggling size and substance. Pete Richards' presentation featured crystals formed in recent years by a year long shale fire that started in talus along the banks of the Huron River near Cleveland, Ohio. Highlights were photographs of sal ammoniac crystals showing a range of habits diverse almost beyond comprehension. Pete also showed other fascinating shale-fire-created crystals of other materials with slightly different molecular arrangements that he suggested should qualify for approval as minerals.

    The next day, Sunday, from 9 AM until about noon, attendees continued to socialize, to trade, to purchase mounts from busy dealers whose tables lined the main hallway, as well as peruse and help themselves to the myriad mostly unmounted rocks bearing micromount potential remaining at giveaway tables in a side room. Dan Behnke, one of the world's pre-eminent photographers of micromounts then gave the final presentation, which focused on the Clark Mine in Keweenah County, Michigan.

    Before leaving, the crowd was treated to a buffet lunch as they had been both the day before (Saturday) as well as Friday evening. Most will probably be back to the Pierson Center during early next spring for the Atlantic Micromounters' Conference, an event that's very similar to the Desautels Symposium except without the Hall of Fame inductions.

    Thursday, September 22, 2011

    My Wheatleyite

    Our post of August 21, 2011, about the East Coast Show at West Springfield, Massachussetts, heralded what is pictured above as follows:

    My most expensive purchase was a speck of something visually indiscernible inside a clear plastic capsule. That evening, one of the most prolific micromount dealers on the planet, namely Maureen (Campeau), spent nearly five minutes examining the capsule under the scope to ascertain that it was not in fact empty. So much for my stewardship of one of the rarest species in existence (from Phoenixville, PA), which will be the subject of an upcoming post. Stay tuned.
    The visually indiscernible speck---at least to the naked eye---in that plastic tube turned out to actually be several similarly indiscernible specks, three of which appear to bear the mineral wheatleyite. The species is a natural sodium copper salt of oxalic acid, named from the long closed and inaccessible Wheatley Mine in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania. In our image, wheatleyite is apparent in the blue staining on the dark pieces on the right (probably sphalerite) and the clear crystal just above and to the left of the larger colourless speck (possibly anglesite.)

    The renowned collector Bill Pinch discovered wheatleyite on the Wheatley dumps in the form of a few micro-crystals on a rock. He provided a portion of what was to become the type (and only) specimen to the Smithsonian. There, the now legendary mineralogist Pete Dunn shepherded the material to approval and ultimately publication through The American Mineralogist in 1986. The article refers to Bill Pinch's find as "the type (and only )specimen of wheatleyite." It goes further to note that the piece "is known from only one hand specimen, which consists mostly of massive galena and sphalerite in contact with quartz."

    The Handbook of Mineralogy refers to wheatleyite as "very rare, on a specimen found on the mine dumps of a Pb–Zn vein deposit." The only reference to the possibility that another specimen might exist was an uncited mention in Bernard and Hrysl's Minerals and Their Localities of an occurrence at the Nishinomaki Mine in Japan. Such an occurence is not noted at MINDAT or elsewhere that my own extensive search in cyberspace could locate.

    Needless to say, there is not much Wheatleyite around. The well-known and respected species dealer from whom I acquired my wheatleyite specks noted that his source had been a "tiny vial of fragments" that Bill Pinch "gave, sold, or traded" to the late species collector, Joseph Cilen. from whose 23,000 specimen collection he purchased it.

    Since the West Springfield show, I managed to acquire another speck of wheatleyite, this time in a vial from the same dealer. He informed that it was the one additional grain he could provide. Pictured at left, this new piece resembles the sole picture that I could find on MINDAT (as well as anywhere else), although the blue colouration is minimal.

    So now, in my collection, are several specks of what surely has to be one of the rarest species in the mineral kingdom. What I paid for them will remain private. It should be enough to say they went for hundreds of times the price of gold.

    Thursday, September 1, 2011

    Possibilities of Wroewolfeite and Leadhillite at Loudville

    Our most recent post noted we were eager to follow up upon a recent find of suspected wroewolfeite at its type locality, namely the Manham River Dumps near Loudville, Massachussetts. As noted, the "finder" was the legendary Patrick Haynes, whose micromineralogical acumen has led to the discovery of eight new minerals. He has since photographed through his scope the piece he showed me at the site and also, upon later examination of his day's take, identified a second speck of similarly curious crust. Patrick emailed the two images shown above with the following commentary:

    I do not know if the two blue images I sent are wroewolfeite. They could be posnjakite, langite, or ktenasite. The first one is a film/crust alteration product on underlying sphalerite. The more green one is a mass of very fine-grained xls. They could easily be 2 different minerals, but most mineralogists do not want to "waste their time on crusts" so I will probably not ask anyone to ID them.
    Langite is the only of the three other possibilities mentioned to have been reported from this locality (at least according to Mindat). In any event, it's an interesting find, especially since we we can rule out malachite, brochantite, or chrysocolla.

    The brochantite at left and the malachite at right were among the more eye-catching of the microminerals we collected.
    Maureen Campeau collected the brochantite, which was photographed by Rod Lee of Simkev Micromounts. Though her field collecting experience is limited compared to Patrick's, her full-time role in the micromount business at Simkev has resulted in a well-trained eye. Patrick collected the acicular malachite. at right as well as the "ball" of malachite shown below at left. I collected a similar albeit dirt-covered malachite ball, but lacked the kind of cleaning tools to render it photogenic. Blame it on red-green colorblindness, but it was on the only rock I managed to collect to bring home.

    On another part that same single rock, the blue material pictured at right, another mystery mineral, presented itself beneath my scope: Patrick checked out the image and suggested the same possibilities for identification as in his earlier comments on the "wroewolfeite?" crusts, adding devilline and linarite to the mix. The crystals did not appear to be acicular enough to be aurichalcite, a fragment of which Patrick collected, which is shown in the photomicrograph at left.

    More prevalent, on the Manham dumps are micro wulfenite crystals. Patrick came up with several particularly showy examples, the two most interesting of which appear below at right.

    One other specimen of particular interest that turned up later was Patrick's find of the hexagonal colourless micromineral at left. With its morphology ruling out cerussite or anglesite (neither of which we found very much of this year), he's thinking leadhillite. " I'm going to label it as leadhillite," he says, "unless I find a mineralogist who'd like to test it." Assuming a reasonable possibility that this really could be leadhillite, collected in 2011 at the Manham dumps in Loudville, Massachussetts, it should be well worth testing. One can be certain that very few leadhillite specimens from the Manham dumps at Loudville, regardless of how miniscule, are known to exist.

    Despite its vast array of spectacular minerals, the Manham dumps could prove far less interesting to many collectors than they did to us. The likelihood is almost nil of turning over hand or cabinet specimens save for a bit of massive galena in quartz, a few quartz crystals, or small dirty looking crusts of pyromorphite. Rather, the Manham dumps are about breaking open and then examining with a loupe the ubiquitous vuggy rocks, which get hammered up enough become smaller every year. Rocks showing evidence of pyromorphite on their surface are often the best bets. Woodlands shade the area to camouflage all but a few patches of sunlight under which to scutinize the spoils through a loupe. However, by East Coast standards on a good day, this can be a spot that approaches paradise for aficianodos of microminerals.

    Sunday, August 21, 2011

    The East Coast Show: 2011

    How little the show changes from year to year. This after five years of visiting the annual mid-August Friday to Sunday Martin Zinn produced East Coast Gem, Mineral, and Fossil Show at the Better Living Center in West Springfield, Massachussetts.

    That it doesn't change much from year to year is fine with me. I like this show. It's big enough to attract numerous mineral friends with whom to schmooze as well as minerals to view, peruse, and purchase. At the same time, it's small enough not to overwhelm with as many tough choices and missed opportunities as Tucson presents each February.

    One long day at the show, namely Friday, proved sufficient for my purposes. With but three days to spend in New England, enjoying the privilege of accompanying the renowned geologist and field collector Patrick Haynes (below right) and Maureen Campeau of Simkev Micromounts (pictured with yours truly at left) to the centuries old lead mining dumps on the banks of the Manham at Loudville consumed the first. As always, we were treated to plenty of broken up vuggy rocks to further bust up and examine. Although they didn't yield as much cerussite or anglesite as in past years, Patrick came up what very likely could be a microscopic patch of wroewolfeite. Loudville is the type locality for this species, which collectors proclaim is no longer to be found thereabouts. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that Pat will email a photomicrograph of this curious pale blue-green crust provided he can locate the rock that bears it amidst scores of others awaiting further study. If so, and he can verify that the material really is wroewolfeite, we'll feature it in a later Mineral Bliss post along with some dazzling microscopic needles of malachite that Maureen collected.

    Next day, Friday, August 12, the show: Immediately through the door to the Better Living Center beckoned the breathtaking featured exhibit of specimens from Scott Rudolph's collection. Spellbound, I could not refrain from gawking at them while other attendees demonstrated the willpower to keep moving for an early shot at the best of all that was for sale immediately beyond. Images from the Rudolph collection appear as liberally as space permits throughout this brief write-up.

    Soon after the doors had opened,the Better Living Center was packed. A partition separated the retail area from the wholesale area. For my sensibilities---and money---as for most attendees, the much larger retail section was the place to be for the best action. With more time, I'd have headed upstairs for presentations by Bob Jones about gold or Professor Nancy Millard on geodes.

    My most expensive purchase was a speck of something visually undiscernible inside a clear plastic capsule. That evening, one of the most prolific micromount dealers on the planet, namely Maureen, spent nearly five minutes examining the capsule under the scope to ascertain that it was not in fact empty. So much for my stewarship of one of the rarest species in existence (from Phoenixville, PA), which will be the subject of an upcoming post. Stay tuned.

    By late afternoon, the crowd had thinned out considerably, and word has reached me that business was slow, especially with higher end minerals. Never in my lifetime, with the arguable exception of October, 2008, had the global economy flashed more ominous signals than in the preceding week. This almost certainly influenced the amounts buyers were willing to spend as well as prices the dealers were charging.

    Regardless, there are many for whom the joys of collecting minerals tend to transcend economics. During the show and as this is written, word on the street proclaims that the precious metals sector, namely gold, is the hottest investment in the marketplace. Remaining to be seen is whether and how other precious materials from the earth such as gems and minerals may or may not folllow suit.

    Tuesday, August 9, 2011

    Panning for Gold, Carrollite, and Maybe Vesuvianite in Carroll County, MD

    What you're looking at above are grains of sand, tiny ones, photographed at 40x. Searching primarily for gold, I panned them from a little stream passing near one of the sites in Carroll County Maryland in what is known as the Sykesville formation. It once produced copper and iron as well as sulfides rich in cobalt. From left to right are what appear be gold in quartz, garnet and carrollite. If not carrollite, the silvery gray piece at right is probably a closely related member of the linnaeite family of minerals, which includes carrollite, siegenite, and linnaeite itself.

    Aware of but a single specimen bearing native gold to ever have been collected in this area, I figured that panning for it nearby could be my best approach; likewise for finding carrollite, the cobalt bearing species that derived its name from Carroll County after first being discovered there in the 1800's. Carrollite, like its close cousins siegenite and linnaeite (the species), is known to be a rare and very special find on the accessible dumps remaining in Carroll County.

    However miniscule the quantity, if gold really is the source of yellow on that sub-millimeter grain of quartz, chalk it up to Lady Luck. No further such evidence of the yellow metal caught my attention amidst the thousands of particles to end up beneath my scope. Specks that appeared to be cobalt sulfide minerals, though not always easy to identify, were more numerous. I suspect many of these succumbed amidst endless grains of magnetite that were later separated with a magnet from the more interesting material.

    Along with all the quartz grains that managed to survive were a few garnet grains. Garnet is likely to find its way into just about any stream in Maryland's Piedmont and is easy to identify. A particularly gemmy pale green and nearly transparent speck that was probably gahnite got away as I tried to separate it from thousands of surrounding particles with the thin sticky pin from the cap of a small tube of G-S Hypo Cement. Other attention grabbing particles were more challenging to identify. An example would be the brownish cube shown above at left. By sheer coincidence, and on an unrelated assignment the same day, I found myself photographing and became struck by how closely itvisually resembled the vesuvianite thumbnail from Coahuila, Mexico that's pictured at right. Interestingly, vesuvianite, albeit of different habit, is known to occur in at least one locality within the Sykesville formation. The specimen shown at left, which is in my personal collection is from the Fanny Frost Quarry, a few miles south across the line in Howard County.

    I'm sure my friend Ev Smith, who introduced me to panning, would have successfully isolated a lot more interesting material using tools and equipment better suited for the task. I've recently been in touch with Ev and hope to tag along with him on an excursion in the coming weeks. Hopefully such an experience will render me more proficient not only at panning, but also at better mastering the art---or science---of separating the most interesting grains of sand from the myriad that are less so under the scope.