Monday, June 20, 2011

Cummingtonite, Amphibole-Anthophyllite, or Bronzite?

The above image, photographed by Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History volunteer Ken Larsen, and identified as the amphibole mineral cummingtonite, is from among several dozen selected Maryland-collected mineral specimens that the museum's mineral sciences department has been kind enough to electronically transmit.

The only available locality information simply states "Maryland." To the best of my knowledge, the only Maryland locality where this relatively obscure mineral has ever been reported was the Bare Hills Copper Mine in Baltimore County. The occurrence was noted in by authors Charles W. Ostrander and William E. Price, Jr. in Minerals of Maryland, the definitive 1940 publication by the Natural History Society of Maryland. The Smithsonian image particularly intrigued me because as a child in the 1950's I collected and am still holding similar material from the Bare Hills Copper Mine dumps, which back then were open and assessible along the north side of Smith Avenue at what has since become the main entrance to the Bonnie Ridge Apartments.

Based on texts available during my childhood, I'd concluded my find to have been the better known species amphibole-anthophyllite, which Ostrander and Price had also reported from the Bare Hills Copper Mine. And so it was until about two years ago when I obtained the specimen pictured at right from the late Larry Krause. Its 1939 label proclaimed it to be amphibole anthophyllite and bore the stamp of none other than the late Charles Ostrander. Despite visual similarities, the colours appeared too dark, and the blades too long for this to be the same species as that in the Smithsonian's as well as my own collection.

For clarification, I looked to Mindat, which, even though the two are named as separate species in Minerals of Maryland, identified "cummingtonite" as a "synonym for amphibole anthophyllite." Further confusion followed: Another species also reported by Ostrander and Price from the Bare Hills Copper Mine was bronzite, a variety of the pyroxene mineral enstatite. Interestingly, a photograph of bronzite copyrighted by Dr. Rob Lavinsky, is but one of two images on Mindat of minerals from the Bare Hills Copper Mine. The only other is my own more recent image of chalcotrichite that was featured in our post of March 8, here at Mineral Bliss. As best as I can ascertain, the material in Dr. Lavinsky's photograph matches our title image from the Smithsonian as well as the piece I collected 50 years ago.

I am certainly not one to be questioning identifications from the Smithsonian, Charles W. Ostrander, Dr. Robert Lavinsky, or for that matter Mindat. The dilemma begs for analysis, albeit a chore likely to rank low amidst the priorities of any lab that might be available to undertake it.

Better news is that our next post features a more timely identification quandary that led to the confirmed analysis of a new find of an unrelated species not previously reported from the Baltimore area. Bob Simonoff uncovered it this past March not more than a few miles from the locality for our amphibole-anthophyllite, cummingtonite, bronzite, or whatever it turns out to be was collected. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Rocks of Soap

The three rocks pictured above bespeak a 45 species family unlike any other family within the mineral kingdom. Though in the marketplace for nearly two decades, SoapRocks(R) somehow managed to fly beneath my radar until very recently during a quick visit to the stylish clothing boutique in Wilmington, Delaware that's known as Mystique. Upon learning I was en route to a mineral auction, Mystique's friendly proprietor, Bill McClane. brought some out to show me. Never has another body product so impressed me.

SoapRocks(R) are the creation of T.S. Pink Corporation, of Oneanta, New York. That company’s eponymous founder and CEO, Todd S. Pink, received training both in geology and art several decades ago at the University of New Mexico. After years of making a living in the arts, a “lightbulb moment” flashed one morning in 1991 while Pink was in the shower. “There were these little pieces of soap,” he recalls, “and they made me think of rocks.” Within three years, Pink had trademarked SoapRocks(R) as his new company’s premier product.

SoapRocks(R) are hand crafted by artisans at a facility in Upstate New York not far from T.S. Pink’s offices. Each of the 45 species offers a slightly different blend of whole herb extracts, vitamins, and minerals from aquatic, botanical, and terrestrial sources. Their fragrances differ as well, though ever so subtly. One very specially appealing aspect of SoapRocks(R) is how with use they ultimately “tumble,” into colourful pebbles.

As one whose vocation and avocation have for several years related to minerals, my biggest question for Todd Pink was how had his products escaped me? He explained that while soap rocks had been available at the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show (in the Herkimer Diamond booth) as well as other shows, his company wholesales them exclusively to businesses with storefronts.

Pink also shared another reason: “SoapRocks(R)are sustained by the interest of those who use them, not just those who look at them.” Though beautiful to behold, they are not the gemmy specimens they so resemble: they are body products. Yet, what kind of soap could possibly be more appropriate for a mineral person to wash with and have in the lavatory soap dish for the convenience of guests? Or what better gift for a mineral person?

For information regarding where or how to obtain SoapRocks(R), Todd suggested that you call 800-762-7765 or email