Monday, February 28, 2011

Jeff Nagy Visits John White

Jeffrey W. Nagy, whose work continues with putting together an updated revision of Lawrence R. Bernstein's 1980 publication Minerals of the Washington D.C. Area, is a resident of Damascus, Maryland. John S. White, who among other things, founded Mineralogical Record and served as Curator in Charge of the Smithsonian's Division of Mineralogy from 1984 to 1991, had a hand in the earlier Bernstein original publication. He lives in Stewartstown, PA.

Being in touch with both of them and situated midway between in Baltimore, it was recently my privilege to bring Jeff and John together at John's house just a few miles north of the Pennsylvania-Maryland line. Needless to say they had plenty to chat about as they observed the various suites of minerals in John's collection.

I've always been quite amazed at how John's L shaped mineral room, except for the quartz
cabinet pictured at left, appears almost devoid of minerals on display. Instead, most of his collection is arranged in suites in cabinets where the minerals, including numerous "floater" crystals as well as cabs and cut stones, rest neatly in wooden cases and pull-out drawers. John fashioned most of these himself in a section of his and Merle's garage, which doubles as a woodworking shop. A limited amount of dealer "inventory" in about a dozen cardboard flats fits neatly inside one of several enclosed cabinets lining the east wall. More visible are scores of books relating to mineralogy that fill bookshelves lining much of the wall space. To say the least, it's an impressive setting, the feng shui of which I had limited confidence that my camera could capture.

As John and Jeff shot the breeze and looked at minerals, I was busy positioning and photographing a few selected specimens from a suite that included minerals collected in the Washington, D.C. area. One piece in particular of which I ended up with an amazing and beautiful shot was a dark green prehnite specimen adorned with a few epidote crystals. It was collected at the Fairfax Quarry in Centreville, Virginia, presumably sometime in the late 1970's, by the late and legendary George Brewer. Jeff requested that I refrain from publishing this photograph as well as other pertinent images in favor of having them debut upon release of the new Minerals of the Washington, D.C. Area.

Although Jeff has finished drafting most of the content, he is still in the midst of exploring a handful of localities that were lost in time when the original work was published. As much an historian as a mineral person, Jeff has found evidence in old land records of several likely mining operations in Montgomery County dating to pre-Revolutionary times in locations that might still prove to be accessible. He expects to have completed his research and drafting together with accompanying illustrations, maps, and photographs by the end of 2011.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Jessica Simonoff's Most Recent Prodigious Feat

Pictured above at the 2011 Tucson Gem and Mineral Show's February 12 banquet is Friends of Mineralogy National Vice President Allan Young presenting to 12 year old Maryland mineralogical prodigy Jessica Simonff the award for Best Article 2010, entitled Skeletal Galena Crystals from Madan Bulgaria--Natural or Fake? Jessica co-authored this article with Dr. Lance Kearns, Professor, Museum Curator, and SEM Facilty Director at James Madison University.

Such skeletal galena crystals have been prized for several years by collectors who've paid as much as $3,000 for them from presumably similarly duped dealers. As a result of Jessica and Lance's research, the sale of skeletal galena crystals from Madan was banned at the 2011 Tucson Gem and Mineral Show.

The first published suspicion regarding these crystals of which I'm aware was posted on Mindat by Pat Haynes on October 26, 2009. Within less than a year, the resulting thread had generated over 200 posts spanning 10 pages. Providing theoretical input along with Jessica were the likes of Rock Currier, Alfredo Petrov, and far too many other renowned authorities to mention. By April, 2010, and approximately 150 posts, Mindat founder Jolyon Ralph questioned why, with so many opinions, no article had been written and published regarding the authenticity of these specimens.

Having been active in the discussions, Jessica endeavored to borrow some (still very expensive) specimens to photograph under the microscope and test using nondestructive techniques. Edward Rosenzweig of Edwards Minerals loaned her several samples, which were provided to him as naturally occurring, to study. On July 30, she had put together and posted on Mindat a link to a photographically illustrated article on the findings of her research. The post also noted that she had obtained permission to use an SEM (scanning electron microscope) and XRD (X-ray diffraction) machine for further experimentation.

Jessica followed through during the ensuing months on Mindat with continuing updates to the article. When she and Dr Kearns eventually used the SEM to examine the two of the pieces that were being sold as natural, they saw conclusive evidence that the specimens they had studied were indeed man-made fakes. They wrote up their research in the December Mineral News article, and Jessica subsequentally submitted a post to Mindat with the results and SEM photos, completing her article.

Jessica has other irons on the fire. One will be a presentation on her research in early April at the Atlantic Micromount Conference in Elkridge, Maryland. She has also received informal feedback that an abstract submitted for presentation at the Rochester Mineral Symposium later that month will be accepted and ultimately published in Rocks and Minerals. In addition, mineralogy personnel at the Smithsonian have invited her to present her work. And there is more to come. Stay tuned.