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.