Friday, December 13, 2013

Kerry Matt and the Minerals of Pennsylvania

Pictured above is Kerry Matt with a chalcedony specimen from a vein he uncovered at Cedar Hill Quarry in Lancaster County near the Maryland Line. The color and habit are unique to Pennsylvania. Over a lifetime of prospecting, Kerry has numerous such new finds to his credit. The pursuit of Pennsylvania's minerals as well as fossils has been the primary focus of his life since  childhood. "Science is number one," he says. "Collecting in the field is number two; the excess is income." 

We are standing in the work room near the foot of the stairs in the basement of  his home near Lancaster. This is where he keeps tools to "dress up"  the minerals he collects. The best of them go into another part of the basement, which houses one of the largest and most significant as well as most spectacular collections of Pennsylvania minerals---and fossils--- in existence. Others he sells at various regional mineral/gem/fossil shows. 

In the middle of the room is the computer on which he put together Pennsylvania's Rainbow Under Ground. The book's 440 glossy pages include at least  three times  that number of color photos picturing localities and minerals known to occur at them.  Readers are taken from county to county, and locality to locality. Not far from the computer,  he points to a microscope and chest full of thumbnails and micromounts of  typically rare Pennsylvania species. Most eyecatching in this room are a myriad large and spectacular cabinet specimens, all from Pennsylvania. They are wherever there is space, mostly weighing down shelves. Some are species that Kerry  has collected in abundance. Very noticeable among them are numerous Phoenixville pyromorphites  as well amethystine quartz from the Glen Mills Quarry in Delaware County shown at right.  The latter, not to be confused with the material  shown in our title image, is another exclusive Kerry Matt find upon which he has bestowed the nickname," Black Raspberry Rainbow Chalcedony. 

 It is time now to wind around a narrow basement  hallway and enter another much larger room to see what Kerry refers to as "the good stuff, " namely his amazing personal collection. It is divided into suites, most but not all of which are based on locality. 
Especially impressive is a suite of  minerals from his native Lancaster County near the Maryland Line where chromium was once mined and serpentine continues to be extensively quarried. Most of these specimens he collected at the Cedar Hill Quarry or the historic Woods Chrome Pits. Note the amazing chromian clinochlore at bottom left. The columnar purple specimens immediately to the right of it are chrome antigorite, a species pretty much unique to the Woods Chrome pit. Mounted on the white plastic stands above the chrome antigorite is penninite, a pseudo-trigonal variety of clinochlore. Very little of the species is known to exist from hereabouts.
Suites of specimens from York County and Adams County share another impressive cabinet. On the bottom shelf, note the abundant museum quality golden calcites from the York Building Products Roosevelt Avenue Quarry. Leaning against the cabinet to the left is an enormous native copper from the Greenstone Quarry near Blue Ridge Summit in Adams County. Directly in front and mostly cropped out of the photo are what could well be the largest known chunks of malachite/azurite ever extracted from a well known  roadcut along Route 74 in York County near Rossville. To the right of this large cabinet  is a smaller cabinet holding miniatures of less common  species from various Pennsylvania localities. Among them are matulaite from the Bachman Mine in Hellertown, beraunite and cacoxenite from Moore's Mill, and an extremely rich matrix specimen bearing brookite and anatase crystals from Klines Quarry in Hellam.
The creme de la creme of all the suites exhibits Pennsylvania classics.   The enormous  wavellite  specimen shown above from Mount Pleasant Mills  is a mindblow. Likewise, the multi-colored brucite (cream colored and orange) directly beneath it, also the golden hued vermiculite plates to the right of the brucite. This same cabinet also holds the minerals shown at right. Note the specimen bearing huge beryl crystals adorned by almandine. These crystals were mostly hidden prior to many hours of work by Kerry to
chisel away the quartz that once encased them.  At the front of the same shelf and to the right of the beryl is a classic Wheatley Mine  Phoenixville pyromorphite. Immediately to the right of the pyromorphite is a spectacular Rutile Crystal from Parkesburg in Chester County. Pictured by itself above and at left is a columbite crystal from the Steidler Pegmatite, also in Chester County, that must be seen to be believed. 

In addition to all the Pennsylvania material is a markedly colorful single suite of minerals from worldwide localities. Despite his pre-eminent lifetime association with Pennsylvania minerals, Kerry has been well-positioned to acquire these specimens along his journey. When people visit to see his collection, he considers  it important to be able to share a perspective of mineral collecting that  extends beyond his home state. To make use every bit of space the cabinet affords,he has affixed the labels to the bottoms of the specimens. 

Only because the Mineral Bliss blog limits itself  to mineralogy, have we not mentioned until now that his amazing collection also includes six suites of fossils. Kerry is as significant a player in Pennsylvania paleontology as he is with its mineralogy. He has authored three books relating to fossils that recently have been combined into a single publication entitled  Pennsylvania's Paleozoic Playground .  He is currently involved in new species research and co-authorship with Dr. Roger Thomas in correspondence with F & M College over new finds in the Lower Cambrian Kinzer Formation in Lancaster County. Separate fossil suites in his collection feature the following localities: Maryland's Calvert Cliffs; Lancaster County; PA;  the Red Hill Devonian fish/plant site in Clinton County, PA; and  the Swatara Gap Ordovician site. There is also a very diverse suite bearing fossils from as many of the great worldwide fossil localities as Kerry has been able to muster. Pictured at left, it also includes fossils from the two previously mentioned localities. 

We believe this is an opportune time to feature Kerry's collection. It could look different within a few months.  As effectively as he has thus far managed to retain and curate so much material, he would like to have more space in which to focus on the very best in favor of contending with so many duplicates. In both volume and price, such a task goes well beyond what is feasible at the regional shows. Whatever steps he takes could well mark the beginning of a new chapter in which this quintessential Pennsylvania prospector as well as numerous dealers and high-end collectors should stand to benefit.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Collecting at the Foote Mine with Jason Smith

Credit the late Earl Nightingale for the adage, "Learn to do one thing better than anyone else in the world."  For being the best in the world at collecting  rare phosphates from the Foote Mine near Kings Mountain, North Carolina, it's unlikely that anyone could compete with 36 year old Jason Smith, a geologist from Charlotte, North Carolina.

The Foote is a world class locality that has yielded 147 different mineral species, most notably rare phosphates, many of which are microscopic.  In addition to discovering the rare footemineite, Jason has been the first to report occurrences of 14 other rare Foote Mine phosphates ---among them phosphophyllite, scholzite, schoonerite, whitmoreite, leucophosphite--- for which the locality is famous. For verification as well as to further educate himself, he furnishes  samples  of material he collects for testing to scientists at different universities and labs around the world. Well aware of Jason’s prowess at the Foote, they are eager to analyze them.

Not only is Jason anything but secretive as to where and how he uncovers these minerals, he enjoys having anyone who’s interested join him at his favorite collecting spots. On November 10, 2013, this writer had the privilege of doing so.

After meeting at the McDonald’s in Kings Mountain, we headed  to the “East Dumps” (at left) about 200 yards through woodland briars and brush immediately west of Route I-85 a short distance south of town. These dumps consist primarily of large boulders that originated above the Foote's water table. The productive rock is a granite pegmatite that's rich in spodumene, the source for lithium that the nearby open-cast mine produced. Having originated above the water table, the rare and microscopic phosphates that lurk within cracks and miniscule vugs inside these rocks are the product of more oxidation than found in boulders formed beneath the water table. It's a level of oxidation perfect for  producing the kind of colourful and aesthetically pleasing rare phosphates the Foote is famous is known for.  

Arriving at the site, Jason pointed to a boulder he'd been chipping away at for more than several years.  Over that period, this single rock has yielded him more than 40 different species. On today’s visit, Jason first went to work on another boulder.  Among some of the more spectacular species threin were beraunite, manganogordonite, rittmannite, jahnsite, cacoxenite, and strunzite. The  last two, cacoxenite and strunzite, were often associated with each other. In some specimens, the yellow cacoxenite had coated previously  straw-coloured needles of strunzite to result in crystals that visually resembled  neither species.  Jason was even more enthusiastic about finding, for the second time in his life, nordgauite, a relatively new mineral (approved by the IMA in 2010) with white crystals resembling  felted masses. The only other locality in the world from which nordgauite has been reported is the Cornelia Mine in Hagendorf Germany.

While the East Dumps consist mostly of boulders  bearing  colourful  rare phosphates, Jason noted that there are also North Dumps, where the boulders originated beneath the water table. They are more likely to host rare silicates for which the Foote is also known, such as brannockite and bitikaite to name but a couple. The North Dumps are also a source for plenty of phosphates, primarily those that experienced  less oxidation than those originating above the water table. Jason has worked the North Dumps dumps extensively, and currently believes the spot where we collected has better potential as a source for  new discoveries.

The collecting is hard work.  Jason has enjoyed his greatest level of success  by taking on the larger boulders with a chisel and small sledge.  His  labors have created hundreds  of smaller and easier to break up chunks that often look promising. Regardless of technique, anyone seeking to collect without a powerful loupe (at least 20x) and proper knowledge of what to look for can count on being skunked.

It’s evident that Jason will never be skunked here.  It would take many lifetimes to go through all the boulders waiting for someone to bust them up

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Mineralientage München 2013

It was just two years ago that Mineral Bliss featured a comparison by  John S. White between late October's Mineralientage München and the gem/mineral/fossil extravaganza that happens each February in Tucson. Having  just returned from a first visit to the Munich event,  it would seem that little has changed from John's description of it.

There is plenty, however, that we can add. Our assumption had  been that the venue,  Neuen Messe München, would be somewhere near our hotel in downtown Munich rather than at the far east end of town. As it turned out, this erroneous assumption enabled us to enjoy our trip far more than had we booked near Munich's enormous convention center. By staying in the center of town, not only were all the pleasures of Munich at our fingertips, but so was  Mineralientage MünchenThe subway (Schnellbahnnetz) ride from downtown's Central Station (Hauptbahnof) to the convention center at end of the line (Messenstadt Ost) on the U-2 train was a no-brainer.

Once inside the complex, where  Mineralientage München occupied four buildings, the level of activity---at least regarding minerals---was far greater and more diverse than at Tucson's convention Center. The same could be said for jewelry, beads, and fossils.  Although considerably more is collectively available at the numerous venues spread throughout Tucson, the convenience of so much to peruse here in Munich at a single location proved a special treat. 

Minerals predominated through  nearly  all of Hall A-5 (Mineralworld) and about a third of Hall A-6 (Fossilworld).  Mineralworld featured the higher-end dealers from around the globe as well as plenty whose merchandise was affordable to all.  At Hall A-6, numerous German dealers  offered remarkable systematic selections for species collectors. Other dealers from Asia and Africa, many if the latter from Morocco, were hawking  minerals for which their countries are best known.

The theme for the 2013 show was gold. An 
impressive display of native gold filled a tent 
within a tent at the center of Mineralworld. One highlight pictured at left was a specimen from 
California known as the Gold Corsage. One of 
the most aesthetically pleasing examples of leaf 
gold known to exist, it was first exhibited at an elementary school show-and-tell in 1959. Note 
the quartz crystal attached to the gold near the 
lower left corner. Another particularly interesting 
piece shown at right, was the Latrobe nugget, 
which at 717 grams could be the world's largest
 cluster of cubic gold crystals.

Unlike the past couple of Tuscon shows, dealers with new finds were ubiquitous.  At one of tables that dominated the north half of Hall A-6, Mindat founder Joylon Ralph could be seen photographing a new find of phosphosiderite from Fogoshino, Portugal.  Only  a few steps away another dealer was featuring new finds of malachite and azurite from the Zarinkskiy District in Altay, Russia, as well as the very spectacular mimetite shown at left, from the Chah Khouni Mine in Iran's Anarak District.

Even more remarkable was the volume of new and rare species. At Gunnar Farber's table were four of his own discoveries in Northern Chile, all approved by the IMA in the last two years: joanneumite; ammineite; mejillonesite; and witzkeite. Almost certainly they are listed in the recent and still hard to find 2013 update to  Minerals and Their Localities. Just several tables away, its co-author, Jaroslav Hrysl, had copies available in addition to his always interesting selection of rare minerals and cut stones.

Other concessions offered optical equipment, books, micromounts, display materials, and even postage stamps from what seemed like nearly every country in the world. Although more than half the show was devoted to beads, lapidary, jewelry, and fossils, none of these pursuits appeared to be represented with offerings as diverse as were avalable for minerals. For sure, Mineralientage München is a most apt name for this show.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

The Success of eBay's Mineralman

To mineral collectors around the globe, the term Mineralman refers to what is probably the most popular and successful mineral site on eBay. Responsible for it are Jasun and Mandy McAvoy of Neptune, New Jersey.

Jasun's interest in minerals began at an early age, and the pair have decades of experience in the hobby between them.  However, in college, where they first met, neither ever logged a single course as basic to their joint career as Geology I. Notwithstanding, the  bidders who vie to pay top dollar for the mineral specimens being auctioned on the Mineralman site  include some of the world's most seasoned and knowledgeable mineral aficionados.

Jasun and Mandy share one of several important reasons for their success on a  link at the site where they introduce themselves. It's the story of  how over eleven years ago they began their modus operandi of posting weekly auctions on eBay for  high end minerals. Back then, far fewer sellers of minerals or well-heeled buyers for them had begun taking advantage of the eBay platform. It was a particularly risky undertaking for sellers. On the other hand, a small number of savvy buyers were positioned to scarf up more than their share of bargains.

With the passage of time, Jasun and Mandy began enjoying the fruits of longevity, while numerous inexperienced Johnny-come-lately sellers struggled to start from scratch against a vastly increased competition. Just as integral to the success of Mineralman has been continuity. Every week for the past eleven years, the site has auctioned off between 20 and 40 unique mineral specimens at a starting price of $1.

Another factor is even more critical to why Mineralman has fared so well.  Every collector knows that ascribing a value to an individual mineral specimen is a highly subjective process. It usually involves the mineralogical sensibilities of buyer and seller alike. At Mineralman the sensibility that Jasun shares with nearly all his buyers relates to uniqueness. How often, for instance, is a collector (or dealer) likely to encounter the likes of the specimen pictured at left, which was collected in Siberia during the 1800's, featuring "radiated starbursts of prismatic cerussite crystals with a rich coverage of gemmy intense caledonite crystals?"

Along with handling and admiring minerals, acquiring them is one of the things Jasun most likes about the business. He enjoys these activities every bit as much as those who patronize Mineralman auctions. "Everyone enjoys the hobby in their own unique way," Jasun notes. "In my case, what excites me most is hunting down historic, unique or unusual specimens and then passing them on to collectors who are proud to put them in their collection."

It may surprise some to learn that neither Jasun nor Mandy have their own collections. "Buying and selling minerals allows me to handle and admire a large number of specimens," Jasun continues. " Like a collector, I inspect , research, and admire almost every specimen I acquire. However, instead of of simply putting a specimen away in a drawer or cabinet, I sell it."

Mandy adds: "Jasun spends a lot of time every week going through inventory to decide which pieces to list." What's important is that he can be comfortable describing them truthfully with such adjectives as  UNIQUE, SUPERB, AESTHETIC, EXTRAORDINARY or  RARE in the heading that represents each specimen. Another frequent Mineralman adjective is OLD, which refers to a specimen that bears significant  provenance or was collected long ago. I generally only list things that I am excited or passionate about; if it's not exciting to me, then the odds are it wont' be exciting so someone else," says Jasun.

The Mineralman motto reads, Where your happiness is the bottom line. And for the past 11 years  the site has boasted a 100 per cent positive feedback rating on over 6615---and counting---specimens sold.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Remarkable Finds Amidst Cobbles in Baltimore, MD's Herring Run

Alana Benkowski has an eye that spots four leaf clovers pretty much at will. Her eye has proven just as sharp for spotting crystals in water-polished cobbles. She collects them in the alluvial deposits of Herring Run near where it flows beneath Baltimore's Inner Harbor Tunnel Thruway. The site is but a short walk across the flood plain adjacent to her home in East Baltimore's Armistead Gardens neighborhood.

Alana has been gathering these cobbles with a passion for several years. Driving her hobby is an intense curiosity regarding the identification of what she's been finding. Her Bible has been a much pageworn edition of the National Audubon Society's Field Guide to Rocks and Minerals, and more recently the Internet. That is where she found our Maryland Minerals website, and contacted us last month.

With no training and little formal education, Alana has the sensibility of a locality expert regarding what to look for and how to find it along this brief stretch of Herring Run. With no bedrock exposures in the area, however, everything she finds originated upstream and beyond in places where the geology is different. The diversity of the species along with curiosity as to where they originated is what most draws her to this hobby.

Pictured below are a few of her finds.

Gemmy Epidote in Quartz

Clinozoisite (Micro crystals in vug in water-polished quartz)

A container of Schorl (Tourmaline Family)crystals in water-polished quartz.

Chromite in serpentinite (Peacock Ore)

Micro Pyrite Crystal on Garnet in Cockeysville Marble


Graphite (lower right of specimen)

When speculating as to where such non-indigenous  rocks originated, knowledgeable authorities can often be expected to hedge their bets. Here are a few thoughts:

After studying some maps, our friend Bob Conkright, who specializes in hydrology for the Maryland Geological Survey, offered the following theory regarding a possible source for the epidote and possibly the clinozoizite. That is, of course, on the assumption that our "clinozoisite" isn't simply a lighter coloured epidote. He noted that several miles upstream, Herring Run flows through exposures of the Baltimore Gabbro complex, which is known to host epidote.
As a member of the epidote family,  clinozoisite could be present in the Baltimore gabbro as well. Both epidote and clinozoisite tend to crystallize inside vugs where they enjoy some protection as water and sand polish the surfaces of the rocks bearing them.  

Almost certainly, these  pieces originated in the Bare Hills serpentine barrens in Baltimore County. The Barrens are adjacent to the Baltimore Gabbro Complex. It is reasonable to assume that over many years, such material could have traveled by stream or through flooding in a southerly direction toward where Herring Run flows through the Baltimore Gabbro Complex. 

This is the only no-brainer: Herring Run cuts through plenty of schorl bearing pegmatite. The specimen in our post of May 11, 2012  was collected about three miles upstream from where Alana collected these cobbles. 

This specimen is curious because the matrix, which our photomicrograph all but ignores, appears to be Cockeysville Marble. It is unlikely that streams or flooding leading from Cockeysville Marble outcrops would carry any it in a direction leading to Herring Run. Further, such soft and relatively soluble material would likely be water polished and/or dissolved away long before it could travel this far. Almost certainly this piece and a couple others that Alana collected made their way south by truck before landing somewhere upstream in Herring Run.  
Assuming our identification is correct, this one  raised some eyebrows, simply because fulgurites are rarely found hereabouts. However, they are formed when lightning strikes sand, and there's plenty of sand along Herring Run, particularly in the area where this piece was found. For that matter, a hot electric wire could have done the trick. 
By all accounts, this is the most mysterious find of all. To the best of our knowledge, graphite has never been reported at any locality from which one would expect that it could end up in Herring Run. The closest place of which we're aware that graphite has been collected is in Harford County. From there, it would most likely find its way into the Chesapeake Bay before it could get to Herring Run.

Regardless of various theories as to origin of any of these rocks, Bob Conkright, shortly after mentioning the the Baltimore Gabbro,  offered another insight: "Of course, Mother Nature has had millions of years to erode bedrock in the Piedmont, transport it and polish it along the way, to be deposited on the outwash deposits of the coastal plain." And after a moment's hesitation, he added: "But not that (Cockeysville) marble."

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

An Unique Example of Maryland Jewelry

Before reading further, we ask that you take a guess at identiying the material from which the beautiful above-pictured necklace was made. Hint:  It was collected at the Greenspring Quarry in Baltimore County,  the subject of our last post. Though but an update to that previous post, the picture reaches us at a most welcome time. The recent canicular late summer days have proven to be a tug-of-war between covering more than enough lackadaisical topics or simply not posting anything. Here was a topic that would definitely work.

During the East Coast Gem, Mineral, and Fossil Show at  West Springfield, Massachussetts, John S. White gave me the story. Two weeks later, he sent a picture. Upon seeing it, the first thing to enter my mind was manganese oxide on feldspar. Had I heard John right?  Indeed yes, at least insofar as that the black material was  schorl (tourmaline group). I don't remember how he'd described the matrix. Feldspar maybe? John did have to tell me, I suspect for the first time, that it was the quartz and feldspar bearing intrusive rock known as aplite.

John had visited the the Greenspring Quarry many years ago with the cooperation of the engineer, who was very friendly toward collectors. At the floor level, he'd noticed a good bit of the schorl-bearing aplite lying around and tossed a chunk of it into the trunk of his car. Much later, he had the beads cut at Idar-Oberstein for the necklace. He gave the necklace to his lovely wife Merle, who is Editor-in-Chief of Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist magazine. At this point, they realized how attractive and special the material was.

But alas, there was to be no more. John laments: "The next time I learned of a club sponsored collecting trip in the quarry, I decided to go because I wanted to load up on this rock. Wouldn't you know it, we could not find a crumb of it this time.

This, and the fact that the quarry has long since been closed, makes this piece of jewelry all the more unique. Thanks for the scoop, John.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Minerals of the Greenspring Quarry in Baltimore County, Maryland

Since 2006, the 40 acre former Arundel Greenspring Quarry has been the centerpiece of  Quarry Lake at Greenspring, a thriving gated community comprising about 500 condominiums and 100 single family homes served by 335,000 square feet of office,  retail, and restarurant space. The water within fills a hole  from which over the course of more than a century, 350 tons of Cockeysville Marble have been removed. It is the deepest water in Maryland.

Prior to  closing in 1999, the quarry was an occasional destination for field trips by the Baltimore Mineral Society and other groups. It was known as the McMahon Quarry when Charles Ostrander and Walter Price described it in the Natural History Society of Maryland's 1940 publication Minerals of Maryland. They mostly reported species one might expect to find in the Cockeysville Marble.

In later years,  a significant find of pale blue fluorapatite such as shown at left, attracted the attention of  and became prized by  local mineral collectors. Many of them may have been unaware of  material such as  Pennsylvania collectors Joe and Jean Dague uncovered at the quarry during the late 1990's.

While the  Mineral Bliss post of Jan.20, 2012, entitled An Amazing Visit with Pennsylvania's Joe Dague focused on remarkable finds from the Dague's home state, a major purpose of the visit had been to see material they had collected in Maryland.  While there, I  acquired several flats of their Maryland minerals.

Those flats included not only species for which the Greenspring Quarry was known, but plenty more. Somewhere in all that  Cockeysville Marble, the Dagues unearthed some rich pegmatite. The Greenspring Quarry pieces from those flats are pictured below.   We suspect that some of the specimens could WOW not only many in the local mineral collecting community, but perhaps current denizens of Quarry Lake at Greenspring as well.

                                                       BERYL (var.)AQUAMARINE
                                                      GARNET and SCAPOLITE





Saturday, June 8, 2013

Updates to the Maryland Minerals Website

We have recently added approximately  30  new images to the  Maryland Minerals Slideshow component of the Maryland Minerals website. Most are listed below. However, we have chosen not to add several that are not listed below. To the best of our knowledge, these occurrences have yet to be reported and will be the subject of one or more future posts.

Amphibole Anthophyllite: Bare Hills Copper Mine, Baltimore
Cummingtonite: Bare Hills Copper Mine, Baltimore
Chalcedony: Bare Hills Serpentine Barrens, Baltimore County
Beryl: Arundel Greenspring Quarry, Baltimore County
Garnet and Scapolite: Arundel Greenspring Quarry, Baltimore County
Goethite and Quartz: Arundel Greenspring Quarry, Baltimore County
Almandine (Garnet Group): Rt. 795 Construction, Owings Mills Baltimore County
Clinozoisite: Milford Mill Quarry, Baltimore County
Almandine (Garnet Group) McComas Ore Banks, nr.White Hall, Baltimore County
Chromian Clinochlore: Soldiers Delight, Baltimore County
Brochantite: Mineral Hill Mine, Louisville, Carroll County
Scheelite:  Maryland Materials Quarry, Cecil County
Hematite: Maryland Materials Quarry, Cecil County
Molybdenite: Maryland Materials Quarry, Cecil County
Titanite (Sphene): Maryland Materials Quarry, Cecil County
Ankerite: Harford Talc and Quartz Quarry, Harford County
Stilbite: LaFarge Quarry, Churchville, Harford County
Sphene: Vulcan Quarry, Havre de Grace,  Harford County
Mackinawite with Pyrrhotite: Montgomery-Howard Quarry, Clarksville, Howard County
Calcite on Prehnite: Hunting Hill Quarry, Rockville, Montgomery County
Pokrovskite: Hunting Hill Quarry, Rockville, Montgomery County
Botroydal Serpentine on Massive Serpentine: Hunting Hill Quarry, Rockville, Mtgy. Co.
Vivianite: Wheeler Road, Prince Georges County

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Micromounts and the Future of Collecting

According to some mineral collectors, among whom I include myself,  micromounting has more to offer the  mineral hobbyist and collector than any other niche of mineralogy. Conversely, I've heard seasoned and serious collectors say that the hobby is dying out. "I've checked out their symposia," one notable collector once told me," and there wasn't anyone there under 60." Perhaps he was correct, but things could change.

The relative dearth of young people interested in mineralogy extends beyond  micromounting. Mineral enthusiasts of all stripes lament how their ranks are aging. Possible reasons could be competition wrought by technology, former localities succumbing to sprawl, and increasingly restricted access to quarries, mines, and construction sites. Ever skyrocketing prices for hand and cabinet specimens present another obstacle. Micromounts have the potential to become a big part of the answer.

A partial inspiration for this post was a presentation at the recent Rochester Mineralogical Symposium by Quintin Wight,  probably the world's premier micromounting authority, entitled "The Pleasures of Micromounting," Every year, Quintin travels the globe to attend major micromounting events. He then contributes a major article chronicling  his travels entitled "Through the Scope: The Year in Micromounting" to Rocks and Minerals. Quintin also authored the the beautifully illustrated 273 page hardcover publication The Complete Book of Micromounting, which Mineralogical Record published in 1993.

While Quintin covered much of what this post seeks to communicate, it's important to recognize that he, as well as most of the important players in the world of micromounts define their hobby in terms of "micromounting" and refer to themselves as "micromounters."  Putting together a mount can be time consuming. Quintin has a procedure that takes three days.  Furthermore, for those with poor finger dexterity, mounting a micromineral can be unpleasantly challenging as well as  lead to the destruction of beautiful and sometimes valuable material. Somewhat overlooked in Quintin's presentation was that  one need not be a  a micromounter to collect and love micromounts.

The enjoyment of micromounts requires no more than a binocular microscope and effective lighting. For one interested in photographing micromounts, a trinocular scope is preferable. The pleasures to be enjoyed thereafter are as follows:
  • The variety of species to be collected, whether self-collected in the field, purchased, or traded is greater by multiples.  For that matter, many---arguably a majority--- of the most beautiful of the approximately 4700 known mineral species (not to mention varieties of any given species)  require magnification to be appreciated. Many require magnification even to be visible. 
  • The quality of crystals as determined by beauty, level of development, and freedom from damage is always going to be the smaller the better.
  • More features of a mineral are visible  under the scope.  Included among these features are habits and  associated minerals. 
  • Species suitable for micromounting are far more likely to be self-collectible. To collect larger specimens, one has to be able to see them. To collected microscopic minerals, one needs only to know where and how to look for them. 
  • Micromounts take up less space than cabinet specimens. Half a cubic foot can hold 500 mounts. 
  • Micromounts are far less expensive than cabinet specimens and are affordable to anyone. Quality material for micromounting, including many rare species, can be obtained free from  give-away tables at micromount symposia. 
We note these points as an expression of the potential role of micromounts not just for the future of mineral collecting, but for the present as well.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Kids Take Note: A Rock Shop in Cockeysville

I'd be curious to learn how many members of the Baltimore Mineral Society were aware that a "rock shop" was across the York Road from the Cockeysville Volunteer Fire Department where its members meet on the fourth Wednesday evening of each month. Particularly interesting is that this neighbor is a major local player in a calling that the Society holds dear. It's all about perpetuating the hobby of mineralogy by engaging the interest of young people. 

An enterprise calling itself Beads and Weeds  inside the Pennsylvania Dutch Market hardly seems the kind of establishment where members of the Baltimore Mineral Society would typically expect to find rocks and minerals for sale. The name is because its proprietor, Rhoda Zaid, is a custom bead stringer who originally opened the business as a bead store. That was 17 years ago in Westminster at the "Amish Market" before it moved to Hunt Valley. The "Weeds" part refers to plants that Rhoda has been known to also sell on specific occasions. Otherwise, minerals and a few fossils account for about a third of her inventory. The other two thirds are  divided between beads and jewelry. 

Effectively luring youngsters to the stepped display of minerals that's portrayed in our title image is a gumball machine Rhoda calls "Are You Ready to Rock?." Instead of gum or candy, however, it's filled with small polished stones, sharks teeth, and the occasional lucky crystal. For additional enticement, if a kid returns the plastic bubble that encases the treasure, he/she gets to pick out a free rock. Note also the magnifying glass on the bottom shelf for young prospective buyers to study the minerals that are for sale. The selection is interesting and diverse. I even observed an iridescent siderite specimen from Baltimore County's long built over Arbutus Canyon. The price was just a few dollars. "If you're good while we're shopping, I'll buy you a rock," Rhoda reports having heard mothers tell their kids on more than one occasion. "Anything to get them away from those video games," she adds after a moment's thought. 

Youngsters account for about 40 per cent of those who buy minerals from Rhoda. The rest, she informs me, are adults. If  not avid collectors, some are likely to acquire minerals as home decor. Others, heaven forbid, purchase minerals for their "healing properties."

Adults, of course can better afford some of the more expensive specimens that Rhoda keeps in a glass case adjacent to the open display. Though the price tags are a bit higher, they're neither unreasonable nor out of reach for most pocketbooks. And once kids get hooked, the minerals in the cabinet are perfect for advancing them in their hobby. 
Rhoda mentioned to me that in recent years she has observed increase interest in minerals on the part of young people. Let's hope she's right. 

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Tucson 2013

One day in Tucson during the first two weeks of February can provide enough material for a year’s worth of Mineral Bliss posts spread out one per week. It can all be quite overwhelming.

The dinosaurs pictured in the courtyard of the Inn Suites (for over a year now officially named Tucson City Hotel) are mobile. They enhance the atmosphere here at this Martin Zinn hosted Arizona Mineral Show. This is the most popular among serious mineral collectors of the approximately two dozen shows going on around town at this time. Featuring minerals, gems, jewelry, fossils, beads and meteorites, they precede the Tucson Gem and Mineral Society's “big show,” which happens over four days through the middle weekend of February.

Having driven across the country with a brief stop to collect at the Blanchard Mine near Bingham, New Mexico, I arrived at the Inn Suites on Friday, Feb. 1, 2013,  the day before the action there was slated to begin. Notwithstanding, before one could walk beyond the lobby, Dan and Diana Weinrich were waiting in the little adjoining room where they do business each year. Against two walls were cabinets of their typically expensive mineral specimens. Surrounding the other two walls were less expensive boxed minerals the Weinrich’s had keystoned (that means reduced by half) from original prices that were mostly  reasonable to begin with. Having disregarded a favorite aphorism  “Don’t take the first thing off the shelf,” I'm still delighted with my Weinrich purchases two weeks later.

Otherwise, my first stop would have been a second floor room above a courtyard beyond the one where the dinosaurs lurked. lt is the room where the iconic and ever fascinating dealer Alfredo Petrov holds forth each year. Alfredo was only about halfway finished setting up, but already had a small quantity of very interesting minerals on display. From somewhere behind them he lifted a seven pound boulder of river polished gneiss bearing a quartz vein in the shape of a heart. “Anyone looking for a Valentines gift,” he inquired? SOLD to Your's Truly for $40! I correctly anticipated that Mrs. Yi would be overwhelmed when presented with it upon flying in to join me for Valentines Day. Even better, Alfredo provided with this rock with one his signature handwritten labels.

Two days later was Superbowl Sunday. Not a soul at the Clarion Show, the Riverpark Show, the Pueblo Show nor at the Inn Suites, all of which I visited that morning was wearing purple. However dear the fellowship of my mineral friends in Tucson, none would suffice as superbowl watching companions  without sharing my passion for the Baltimore Ravens. Thankfully, a Baltimore friend with no interest in minerals, who had rented a condo 30 miles south in Green Valley and knew I was in Tucson, was kind enough to invite me  to watch the game with him and his family. .

The following week, I returned to Tucson from a side trip to Los Angeles in time to enjoy “Collectors Day” at the posh Westward Look Resort on Ina Road in North Tucson. Each year on this weekend before the Big Show, most of the world’s top high end dealers rent suites to display and sell their best material. The world class minerals in all of these suites attract  museum buyers and well-heeled collectors along with plenty of gawkers. Featured in the Westward Look Lobby each year on Collector's Day is a display featuring selected specimens belonging to a notable collector. This year's  honors went to Kevin Brown, who also is the Gallery Manager at Dr. Rob Lavinsky’s heralded Arkenstone in Richardson, Texas. While  in the lobby, I stepped aside from shooting photographs of Kevin's rocks to make room for Mindat Founder and Chief Executive Joylon Ralph, as he photographed an image of Kevin standing in front of the collection.

Mrs. Yi flew in from Baltimore late that night. The following day, I directed her on a tour of as many shows as time would permit. To impress her with the vastness of what happens in Tucson during February, we made a stop at the humungous annual extravaganza taking place at the Kino Sport Complex. As I ambled about in the out of doors looking over  millions of poor quality overpriced minerals, Mrs. Yi ventured inside the huge tent to find a Colorado based jewelry dealer who sold  her for $100 a ring that had been priced at $160. I beamed upon noting that the featured stone was a polished cab of the rare turquoise family species chalcosiderite.

After a brief side trip to Sedona, Mrs. Yi and I were back in Tucson for the first day of “the big show” on Thursday, Feb. 14, Valentines Day. Because it’s a weekday, fewer people attend than on the following three days, making it much easier to take everything in and make purchases. Each year’s show has a specific theme. This year the show theme was fluorite. It was  chosen because fluorite is a relatively common mineral that's much cherished by collectors for its beauty, as well as diverse colours and habits. Except for theme, the big show is  much the same from year to year. The amazing exhibits, though different each year,  are always in the same place, and the dealers are likely to be working the same spot as the year before.

The big show and all the the other shows leading up to it are much the same in another respect.  Prices different dealers ask can vary drastically for species where the size and quality can suggest equal value. Not at all unusual is for one dealer to be selling for $20 something similar to what another dealer has priced at $200. This speaks even more for how subjective the pricing of minerals can be than the likelihood that a dealer is seeking to take advantage of  buyers. More important, however, than asking price are the prices negotiated negotiated between sellers and shrewd buyers, many of whom are also sellers, when others are not present. Pity the buyer who has not been on the scene long enough to fully understand this aspect of the market.

With the largest extravaganza of its kind anywhere else in the world, Tucson in February offers perspective like no other regarding the various earth science related hobbies and businesses it showcases. As much as viewing and buying, many who attend each year  value being there for the kind of fellowship that is available with others they would otherwise rarely get to see or meet who share their unique interests. That the weather can usually be counted upon to be perfect makes it all the nicer.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

An Amazing Visit with Pennsylvania's Joe Dague

It was unbeknownst to me that sulfur crystals such as the one pictured above occurred in Pennsylvania.  As a collector who specializes in minerals collected in Maryland, I'm endlessly amazed and fascinated by the far greater bounty of collectible minerals  from our neighboring state to the north.  Of course, Pennsylvania covers a larger area and has a lot more people prone to pursuit of its mineral bounty.

Last month, I had the pleasure of visiting the very accomplished veteran Pennsylvania field collector who unearthed that sulfur crystal at the Jacksonville Quarry in Centre County.  In the company of his his wife Jeanne as well as other prominent Pennsylvania collectors, Joe Dague has been at it for decades.

Although the primary purpose of my visit was to see some of the pieces he had picked up on outings to Maryland a few miles south  from his Chambersburg quarters, Joe's Pennsylvania specimens distracted me.  Not that he didn't have plenty of great Maryland material, which we will be covering on one of two related posts in the coming months.

Since his Maryland minerals were packed away in flats, some of the  first mineral specimens Joe showed me were in a small cabinet bearing thumbnails. Upon its shelves were more interesting and unusual Pennsylvania minerals  than I could even begin to digest.

How about tyorlite from the McCauley Prospect #17 near Franklin Township in Lycoming County, PA?  To my knowledge and according to all that's posted on Mindat, this is the only locality in Pennsylvania from which tyrolite was ever reported. Sometime after that discovery, about 30 years ago, someone bulldozed the McCauley Prospect  dumps back into its pit, which has long grown over.

Another piece that instantly amazed me was a specimen of enargite altering to conichalcite and cornubite shown at right. Joe collected this from the Lime Bluff Quarry near Muncy, also in Lycoming County.

Grabbing me no less was that green sphalerite at left from the Thomasville underground limestone mine Jackson Township in York County. This specimen came from a find in 1990 by the preeminent Pennsylvania field colletor Bryon N. Brookmyer. When Wendell Wilson, Editor-in-Chief and publisher of Mineralogical Record saw these specimens, he proclaimed them the best green sphalerite he'd ever seen.

In addition to all the rare, unusual and regional species he and Jeanne have collected in the field, their worldwide wurtzite suite could be the best anywhere. It's Joe's favorite species. He explains why:
Jeanne and I collected the wurtzite specimen (pictured at right)  about twenty years ago at a coal strip mine in Elk County, Pa.  I'm especially fascinated by the wurtzite mineral species because the marine shales overlying the Brush Creek and Vanport limestones in western Pennsylvania are the type localities for three wurtzite polymorphs--4H, 6H and 15R.  For natives of Western Pa. such as Jeanne and me, wurtzite remains one of the very few interesting minerals that collectors can find in the old abandoned strip-mine in that area.  In addition to several Pennsylvania sites, we now have wurtzite specimens from 17 localities worldwide.
Another Dague specialty is kimberlite, especially Pennsylvania kimberlite, of course. While no Pennsylvania kimberlite is known to bear diamonds, as it does in Arkansas, Pennsylvania is well known for two kimberlite dikes. The first is the Gates-Adah Dike, which is located in an outcrop along the Mongonahela River where Fayette and Greene Counties meet. The other, the Dixonville-Tanoma Dike is beneath the earth in the Tanoma Coal Mine. Pictured below at left is a kimberlite specimen from a THIRD! little known Pennsylvania  kimberlite dike.An image of it appears below at left.  Per Joe,  here's the scoop:
(It's) a rock sample of the third known kimberlite dike in Pennsylvania--the Ernest mine kimberlite. Jeanne and I collected this sample  on August 22, 2009.  Our find of this specimen confirmed its previously suspected existence, and it is now the third known kimberlite dike in western Pennsylvania, and the first to be discovered here in nearly a century.
And that's not all. While my research may not be exhaustive, it's clear that little if anything has been written regarding a kimberlite dike existing  in Maryland. Regardless, Joe showed me and allowed me to photograph for publication here a specimen of Maryland kimberlite. Please stay tuned on this one. It will be the subject of yet another subsequent post in several months.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Maryland Minerals: S to Z

This is the  fourth and final part of our compendium for the Maryland Minerals website seeking to list all mineral species and varieties of species known to have occurred in Maryland. As in the previous three portions of that compenium, the name of any major mineral family and/or group to which a species or variety belongs appears in parenthesis next to the species/variety name. Duly noted on the list also are a relatively few questionable or unverified occurrences. Also included and similarly noted are the names of species that the I.M.A. has since discredited. Images of Maryland-collected specimens arranged by county for many of these species can be viewed at the website's Maryland-collected minerals slideshow.

For nearly all of information in this compendium, we are grateful to the following sources:

Minerals of Maryland by Charles Ostrander and Walter E. Price, Jr., Natural History Society of Maryland, 1940
Minerals of the Washington, D.C. Area by Lawrence R. Bernstein, Maryland Geological Survey, 1980
Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History Database.

Continuing through the end of the alphabet, subsequent posts will cover the names of additional minerals that have been collected in Maryland.

Saponite  ?
Scapolite (member of Scapolite Group)
Selenite (see Gypsum)
Sericite (synonym for mucscovite)
Siegenite (member Linnaeite Group)
Smagardite (var. Actinolite, a member of Amphibole Group)
Soapstone (see Talc)
Spessartine (Garnet Group)
Sphene (synonym of Titanite, a member of Titanite Group) Spinel (Member of Spinel Group)
Stibiconite (Member of Romeite Group)
Stilbite (Member of Zeolite Group)
Strunzite (Member of Strunzite Group)
Succinite (synonym for Amber)
Tantalite (Discredited by IMA, see Columbite)
Tetradymite (Member of Tetradymite Group)
Thulite (var. of Zoisite)
Thuringite  (a ferroan varitey of Chamosite)
Titanite (a member of Titanite Group)
Tourmaline (synonymous with Tourmaline Group)
Tremolite (Member of Tremolite-Actinolite Series within Amphibole Group)
Turgite (a mixture of Goethite and Hematite-rejected by IMA)
Uraninite (?)
Vermiculite (Alteration product of Mica that's a member of  Montmorillonite-Vermiculite Group)
Wad (Generic name for various manganese Oxides)
Wernerite (a variety of Scapolite)
Williamsite (a variety of Antigorite a member of Serpentine Group)
Withamite (a variety of Epidote)
Wollastonite (a member of Wollastonite Group)
Wurtzite (Member of Wurtzite Group)
Xonotlite (Member of Xonotlite Group)
Zeolite Family
Zinnwaldite (Member of Mica Group)