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.