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.