Thursday, July 28, 2011

Maryland Minerals in the Smithsonian Collection

Pictured at left is an image from a new slideshow of selected Maryland-collected minerals from the Department of Mineral Sciences at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History. We have posted this slideshow of 39 images at our Maryland Minerals website. Ken Larsen, a Smithsonian volunteer, shot them all.

Astoundingly and less than coincidentally, the adjacent image is of smithsonite with associated aurichalcite. According to the Smithsonian's database of gems and minerals, the specimen was collected "near Frederick" at the "Beaver Dam Church Site, Linganore Mining District" in Frederick County. Regional mineral people know this long closed late 19th century locality as site the Mountain View Lead Mine. The turquoise coloured material is aurichalcite. As for the pink smithsonite, even responding with the word "WOW!" would prompt me to feel guilty of understatement. Rare in this part of the country, a smithsonite find bearing visual resemblance to any genre of the sort in which collectors typically take interest (for instance as from the Choix locality in Sinaloa, Mexico) is all but unheard of, especially when the colour is pink.

Our procurement of these images resulted from from a year-long effort. The time frame speaks for Federal funding that has diminished to the point that the Smithsonian lacks the human resources to openly grant interested parties access to the hundreds of thousands of mineral specimens it owns that are stored away at inconvenient locations. After denying us access, however, the Smithsonian Mineral Collection Manager ultimately agreed as rare blocks of time became available, to assign a volunteer to photograph the species about which we'd inquired .

The images were selected according to specific questions regarding certain species listed by the Smithsonian according to catalog number on the the Internet. Once linked to the site, click on "Mineral Sciences Collections Search Page," and then on "Search Gems and Minerals." This brings the user to a page where "Maryland" can be inserted on the line for "Province/State/Territory." Upon scrolling to "Maryland" and clicking on it, a list of 987 Maryland species will appear. Allow a minute or so for it to happen as 947 Maryland pieces and their catalog numbers need to download. Clicking on the "+"sign at the left of any given specimen brings up information regarding locality and various other features. The amount of information available varies. For instance, the only locality information available for the chromian clinochlore (kammererite) pictured at right is that it was collected in Maryland.

The slideshow includes several specimens of similar material from various other Maryland localities. Depending upon where and when it was published, this particular species is known not only as chromian clinchlore or kammererite, but also penninite, rhodochrome,and pennine, as well as several other titles. According to Mindat, pennine is a synonym for penninite, which it describes as a variety of clinochlore. Mindat shows "chromian clinochlore" as a separate species for which it lists seven synonyms, none of which is penninite, but one of which is kammererite, and another is rhodochrome. In describing the specimen at left as "penninite" from near Cooptown in Harford County, the Smithsonian database gives both "kammererite" and "rhodochrome" as synonyms. I'm not aware of another species where nomenclature becomes more confusing. It's not without reason that the Smithsonian spells out clearly in its "Terms and Conditions for Use of Online Collections" that there is "no warranty, either express or implied, regarding the completeness, accuracy, or currency of the information in its databases" and that "the user is responsible for verifying identities and provenance against specimens and other primary data sources."

In the elapsed time since I first perused it a year ago, the Smithsonian database has revealed to me numerous other species of interest. I'm not certain whether they were posted on line subsequently, whether their omission resulted from ineptitude on my part at navigating the database as it then existed, or both. Among additional Maryland-collected species of which we're hoping the Smithsonian will be kind enough to provide images as time permits are linarite, jarosite, idaite, azovskite, mackinawite, and tennantite. Even if later rather than sooner, we look forward to the prospect of being able to successfully procure and share these images with our readers.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

A Maryland Native Gold Classic

Simply try to imagine pulling from the ground ---in Maryland---the likes of what is pictured above. It was collected prior to 1940 at the Maryland Gold Mine near Great Falls in Montgromery County, Maryland, and measures 97.51 mm. x 39.1 mm. x 16.26mm. Once part of the Edgar T. Ingalls collection, it has been all but lost lost for 40 years.

Mr. Ingalls, who died in 1974, was the the Maryland Gold Mine's gold-fevered foreman in the years before it closed in 1940 after President Franklin D. Roosevelt froze the gold price at $40 during the Great Depression. First opened in 1868, the Maryland Mine was the oldest and by nearly all accounts the richest of numerous gold mines and prospects in its immediate vicinity. When it closed, Mr. Ingalls went to work with the Dalecarlia Water Treatment Plant on MacArthur Boulevard. He and his the family continued to live in the same Potomac farmhouse on Oaklyn Road

During that period, Edgar T. Ingalls maintained the collection, which also included paintings of mining life by his wife Marie. He kept it at their Potomac farmhouse. a part of which became a mini-museum that was open to the public on weekends. Upon moving to North Carolina in 1971, he sold the entire collection to the U.S. National Park Service with the understanding that it be displayed for the the public to enjoy. This never happened; instead, all the material ended up packed away in boxes, first in the basement of the Great Falls Tavern, later in a facility at Antietam, after that in Springfield, Virginia.

For years, the family shared concerns over what had happened to the collection, and ultimately became vociferous. Their pleadings prompted the National Park Service, at the direction of C&O Canal Historian Ahna Wilson, to locate the collection and transport it to the Park Service's Museum Resource Center in Landover, Maryland.

That news, which the Washington Post reported in late April, reached Jeff Nagy, who is actively compiling and authoring an updated revision of the 1980 Maryland Geological Survey Publication Minerals of the Washington D.C. Area by Lawrence Bernstein. On July 12, 2011, I accompanied Jeff and the noted Maryland collector Fred Parker, who is helping research the book, to the Landover facility, where Ms. Wilson and a friendly National Park Staff had laid out the collection for us to examine and photograph.

It included an array of gold ore samples, nuggets, amalgams, gold dust, tools, Marie's paintings, and even an ore cart. While it all proved to be of great interest, not to mention historical and educational merit, the content of this post's title picture amazed us most. Having long believed the Maryland gold specimen on display at the Smithsonian (pictured at right) to be the finest example of Maryland gold in existence, my opinion quickly changed.

In a recent conversation, Edgar Ingalls' grandson Byron Ricketts, emphasized that his family feels very strongly that this collection deserves to be on display where the public can see it. So do Jeff Nagy, Fred Parker, and Yours Truly. That such material is part of our state's natural bounty is sure to fascinate plenty of Marylanders. Ahna Wilson agrees with us, and Jeff is already making inquiries.

Friday, July 1, 2011

A Staurolite Find Near Baltimore

Without specifying staurolite, we heralded Bob Simonoff's find along Jones Falls near Rockland in Baltimore County, in the March 27, 2011 Mineral Bliss post entitled A Mineralogical Hike Near Baltimore, Maryland. Later, in our most recent post , Cummingtonite, Amphibole-Anthophyllite or Bronzite? we promised to cover it next or now.

Credit for finding and then quickly realizing that an assortment of dark crystals in a chunk of mica schist probably wasn't the expected schorl goes to Bob Simonoff of Middletown, Maryland. He is shown at left with his 12 year old daughter Jessica, a mineralogical prodigy whose knowledge and accomplishments have brought international reknown. Having nurtured Jessica's interest enough to acquire the "mineral bug," Bob set out on his own one day early last March for a relaxing day in the field, first at Carroll County's Springfield dumps, later Rockland in Baltimore County.

He had been to Rockland last fall with Jessica. Near the trail extending from the parking lot above where Falls Road crosses Jones Falls, they had found plenty of notably small schorl crystals in mica schist. Six months later, after the passage of winter had thinned considerable undergrowth, there was more ground to cover.

"I started kicking around and noticed again more mica schist with crystals. At first, I thought they were simply bigger schorl crystals, but they were really shiny and glassy. The first one I picked up had a fair sized crystal on it. I took a look at it and realized: Wait a minute, that's not schorl."

Simonoff's conclusion only became more certain after bringing a piece home to examine the crystals under a scope. Their cross sections were unusually flat for schorl, while fragments revealed the crystals to be be dark brown in colour, rather than black such as schorl. Bob posted magnified pictures on his Facebook page.

"Julian Gray,Curator of the Tellus Museum in Carterdale, Georgia, looked at themand asked for a couple of other pictures. Ultimately he expressed no doubt but that they were staurolite. I had suspected it was staurolite, but this was the first more knowledgeable confirmation that it really was. I'd never encountered gemmy staurolite and was only used to seeing those more typical earthy twins."

Closer to home, however, those in the know refrained from going on record with a visual identification. At first glance, the crystals very much resembled tourmaline; if not schorl, then perhaps dravite, which in this part of the country occurs primarily in marble.

Even John S. White, past Curator-in-Charge of the Department of Mineral Sciences at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History, though believing the crystals to be staurolite, was reluctant to make the call. So he sent a sample for analysis to his friend Dr. Peter Leavens, Professor Emeritus of Geological Sciences at the University of Delaware. Confirmation that the material was indeed staurolite reached him on June 18.

The trail near where Simonoff found the specimens, which years ago replaced the Ma and Pa Railroad is in Robert E. Park. It has long been popular with hikers and joggers, as well as noted for passing a pegmatite dike and later accessing a trail that leads to the Bare Hills serpentine barrens. Neither spot, however, proved to be the site of Bob Simonoff's find. Though dogwalkers continue to be ubiquitous, the park is officially closed and off-limits for collectors.