Tuesday, November 25, 2014

An Historic and Obscure Zeolite Occurrence at Monkton, Maryland

Pictured above is an historic specimen displaying numerous microscopic chabazite and heulandite crystals at a contact point on a slab of Baltimore gneiss. Pursuant to the labels, it was collected at Little Falls near Monkton in Baltimore County, Maryland. The orignial label is from from the collection--- or dealership--- of Germany's late Dr. August Krantz (1809-1872) and identifies the featured species to be haydenite and beaumontite, as chabazite and heulandite  respectively were referred to at the time. The specimen was later in the collection of Jeff Weissman, a renowned mineral photographer and rare species expert.
I acqurired it from John Betts with labels that go well beyond the call of duty to document the provenance. Though  not noted on the label, John also expressed a belief that the specimen could very likely have been collected from excavations near Monkton for the Northern Central Railroad line during the 1830's.

After ceasing operations in 1972, the former NCR rail line was converted into a popular rail/trail in 1984. It  is known today as the Torrey C. Brown Trail and crosses Little Falls about 1.7 miles north of Monkton just before it flows into the Gunpowder River  The Baltimore gneiss in which the chabazite and heulandite are present is indigenous to this specific area. It is more prevalent, however, farther south in Baltimore City and was quarried there extensively in the 19th century for building stone. Interestingly, the chabazite and heulandite appear on the gneiss in a manner that is visually similar to known historic specimens collected  at the Jones Falls Quarries. Some of these can be viewed on  Mindat.

Such historic specimens from Maryland localities of which no remnants still exist can be fascinating to those with interest in the regional mineralogy. For certain, we have much to learn from them. On the other hand, the localities attributed to them can become misleading when the names by which their localies were once known change and become forgotten or confused.

With this specimen, however, the documentation is sufficient to suggest that it is everything the labels claim. To the best of our knowledge, it could well be the only currently known occurrence of these two zeolite species to be reported from the Baltimore Gneiss in Baltimore County (as opposed to the City of Baltimore) or for that matter the only chabazite and/or heulandite specimens to be reported from anywhere in Baltimore County.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Unbelievable but True: The World Class Personal Collection of Peter Via

This post is about a world class mineral collection and its collector, Peter Via, of Roanoke, Virginia.. While passing through this increasingly vital city three years ago, I visited Mr. Via and viewed his assemblage of minerals, It was overwhelming to the point that the amount of time we had scheduled for me to view it was far from sufficient.

Three years later, the opportunity arose for me to visit again.  Due to unforeseen circumstances, limited time once again became an issue. With several hundred specimens on display, my mission was to photograph as many as possible and also try to learn what I could about Mr. Via's approach to putting together such a collection.

The minerals fill intricately crafted modern wooden cabinets in which custom halogen lighting showcases each one. Magnificent as they were to view, photographing them proved challenging enough  that only about twenty of approximately one hundred hurriedly shot images proved pleasing. Despite the superb lighting, good images of such specimens are best captured by removing each piece individually to a studio setting  in order to avoid reflections from nearby minerals as well as interference from the intersection of well-finished wood and the  thick glass upon which the specimens rest. An alternative technique of maneuvering  the camera within an open cabinet might produce a few more decent images, but could easily lead to the disaster of knocking over and damaging treasures of untold value.

Such risk is why, when asked to loan specimens for display at shows,  Mr. Via's  response  is a "blanket no," All the minerals from his collection that are available for the public to to view are those he has generously gifted to museums, primarily James Madison University Mineral Museum in Harrisonburg, Virginia.
Peter Via himself is no more likely to be present at shows than the minerals in his collection. "If I went,"he once told The Robb Report, "I'd come back with my entire net worth in the back of an 18-wheeler"The reality is that when Mr.Via acquires a mineral, the provider of it hand delivers the specimen to his home. He is willing to pay top dollar,  but notes:  "It's like the stock market. You've got to know what you're doing."  Unlike many high-end collectors, however, he does not view the minerals in his collection as investments.

Instead, Mr Via chooses his minerals pursuant to a personal sensibility cultivated by serious collecting over the better part of a century. He is well aware of how prices for the kind of minerals he slowly accumulates have consistently risen over time and believes with a sense of knowing that they will continue to do so.

When viewing these specimens, one is likely to wonder about the possibility that they could be the most desirable of their genre or "best of species" known to exist. When asked about this, he responds: " I can't say I know. No one ever knows what's out there sitting in someones closet."

Like all collectors, Mr. Via will occasionally sell a specimen or two. "Sometimes when they come here to sell me minerals," he explains, "I'll want to get something out for the sake of space. I'm happy to let it go for any reasonable amount I can get, but I'm not about to lose money." He made clear, however, that he has no plans ever to sell his collection.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

A Privileged Visit to the Colorado School of Mines Geology Museum

 The shows that were happening in Denver over the weekend of September 12-14  at that city's Merchandise Mart, Ramada Plaza Hotel, and the Denver Coliseum  were great. The only regret I had was that my ten Colorado-booked days spanned the week following these shows rather than the previous week. As a result, I missed  the Colorado School of Mines Geology Museum's open house in nearby Golden on September 10.

 Headquartered in its present modern building at 1310 Maple Street since 2003, and featuring two floors of superb exhibits relating to Colorado's legendary mineral heritage, the museum was founded in 1874. Its star has been rising ever since---more than ever in recent years.

Having never had the opportunity for a visit,  I made a point of detouring to Golden after the Denver shows were over.  While the Museum's exhibits run  the  gamut of earth sciences, cabinets full of minerals predominate, especially on the main (top) floor. They are arranged mostly according to locality, with separate cabinets devoted to  minerals from Arizona, Mexico, Europe, China, South America, and various other locations. Minerals collected in Colorado fill the greatest amount of space, with separate exhibits devoted to counties and districts of Colorado's mineral belt. Included are the Aspen District, San Miguel, Ouray,  Boulder County, Gilpin County, the Leadville District, Clear Creek County, the Gilman District, the Creede District, Teller County and Cripple Creek. In addition to separate exhibits of  gemstones and pseudomorphs, I was delighted to also find an exhibit proclaiming the pleasures and merits of micromounting.

After an hour or more of browsing and ogling, I recognized through an open office door Dr. Bruce Geller, who has been the museum's Director since 2007. My timing for looking in to introduce myself and say hello could not have been more auspicious. With two collection managers, 16 student aides,  75 volunteers, and three additional buildings to oversee, Dr. Geller is also  responsible for the coordination of nearly daily guided public tours, mostly for tourists and students. As luck would have it, the next guided tour was to be for Yours Truly alone.

"Twenty percent of everything  moves out  each year in order to make room for fresh displays," Dr. Geller informs me as we walk from his office into the main floor exhibit hall. One such new display is the case to which he points in the image at left. It features gold from Central City, which is where the Colorado Gold Rush began in 1859.  Included in this case are magnificent native gold specimens believed to be the earliest known to exist from the region. Also in the case were two gold coins minted with Central City Gold in 1860 and 1861 by the privately owned mint and banking company Gruber and Clark. "We always try to do Colorado," he says. "That's our mission."

We next enter a side room that Martin Zinn  recently donated to honor his mother. Mr. Zinn is well known for his role as   manager of extravaganzas that include the Arizona Mineral and Fossil Show each February in Tucson, the recent Colorado Mineral and Fossil show, the East Coast Gem  Mineral and Fossil Show, and two major West Coast shows. The room features cabinets housing numerous specimens from the Zinn family mineral collection, as well as a cabinet of specimens provided by the  renowned mineral dealer David Bunk.
Pictured above and particularly impressive is a cabinet  filled with an extensive, diverse, and downright amazing rhodochrosite suite on loan from Dennis Streetman.

      Dr. Geller's enthusiasm continues as we walk around the larger hall, where he points out specimens he believes worthy of being considered "best of species". The pyragryite piece from the Parano mine at Fresnillo in Zacatecas, Mexico, pictured at left, speaks for one such specimen. Another, shown at right, features an enormous columbite crystal in albite from  Minas Gerais, Brazil, Viewed live, its grandeur appears all but unbelievable. To the best of Dr. Geller's knowledge, it is "the biggest columbite crystal in the world." Both specimens, as well as numerous others that are clearly world class were donated  by Oreck Corporation founder David Oreck and his son Bruce.

 Taking  a phone call, Dr. Geller refers me to Richard Parsons, one of the 75 volunteers active with the Museum.Mr. Parsons, like Dr. Geller, is an avid micromounter. Within a minute, Mr. Parsons is leading me down a flight of stairs. The room to which they lead houses  the Museum's primary earth science exhibits relating to paleontology, meteorites, and mining, Colorado's premier display of fluorescent minerals, and the gift shop, Through an inconspicuous door, we pass into a large area used by the museum for storage and study. At the forefront, are numerous cabinets such as the one next to which Mr Parsons is pictured at right. They house the world class micromount collections assembled by the late and famous mineralogist Lazard Cahn, as well as those assembled by Arnold Hampson and Dorothy Atlee. In all, these three collections include more than 15,000 micromounts.

As we  return upstairs, Dr. Geller is once again available and proceeds to further enhance my awareness of  what the Museum is about. He begins by pointing out its most recent coup. It is a mural consisting of six paintings showcasing the history of mining from Paleolithic times through the 1930's. The paintings  extend a short distance out from the west wall  about two feet below the ceiling. Irwin Hoffman painted them for the 1939 Golden Gate Exposition in San Francisco. Thereafter they graced Colorado School of Mines Berhoud Hall and later the National Mining Hall of Fame before being transferred here when the Geology Museum  moved into its present quarters. Damaged by water that seeped in during a severe 2013 rain storm, Dr. Geller employed the services of restorers, framers and other artisans to have the mural up in time for the Museum's  September 10  open house.

Later he mentions that  the Museum maintains four warehouses. One is the large storage and study area adjoining the first floor where Richard Parsons showed me the micromounts. The other three have separate locations. They include a second warehouse filled with rocks and minerals. A third warehouse is for fossils, The fourth warehouse holds radioactive material and is "so hot," he says, "I've only been in there twice."

As the afternoon winds toward an end, Dr. Geller speaks of a practice that differentiates the Colorado School of Mines Geology Museum from many other museums. It does not allow all the material that goes into its warehouses become lost or forgotten.

Dr. Geller explains:
On Average, we receive roughly one worthy donation per day, which creates a challenge for our Collections Managers, who must discriminate what is essential from what is superfluous. We are fortunate for the donations of earth science materials and rarely turn them down. We have several options for the overflow: our Gift Shop, our campus labs/classrooms, our give away box at the museum entrance, and one or two annual Garage Sales of generally low-end unlabeled material.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

STUMPED! on a Rock from Baltimore's Stony Run

Many of us  collectors have rocks lying around  that we are unable to identify even when we know their locality. Ultimately, if determined enough, we figure it out. Often we find someone who can tell us, or we encounter a similar rock that's been identified. To date, no such answer has surfaced regarding the most definitive aspect of the rock pictured above.  Baltimore artist Rick Shelley---I was collecting with him at the time---pulled it  from the stream bed of Stony Run a short distance south of the Remington Avenue Bridge.

This is a section of the stream where mica schist, quartzite and quartz account for most of what is around. The latter two often bear stains of iron oxide. A few cobbles, when cracked open, show vugs bearing weathered hematite and/or goethite.  Less frequently, one might find a rock similar to this one where the quartzite bears a coating of drusy quartz that's become variably smoothed since entering the stream, The drusy quartz may or may not be botryoidal, as it is with this specimen

What everyone who  has seen this rock finds to be curious are the concentric circles. A likely conclusion could be that they are fossils, or fossil imprints. Although it's possible, even with with a matrix of quartz or quartzite, such an occurrence would seem highly unlikely at this location in the eastern section of Maryland's Piedmont.

Much if not most of the approximately one square mile of land surrounding where Mr. Shelley found this rock was once the site of various  filled in and built over gneiss quarries that yielded a diversity of interesting mineral species. These quarries and their minerals were the subject of numerous classical mineralogical reports. We are not aware of any literature noting the existence of  fossils in the area.
Very recently, we showed this rock to my friend John S. White, who having been Curato-in Charge of the Smithsonian's Division of Mineralogy for nearly eight years, could be the source of a credible opinion. After checking it out under the scope, he was as mystified as everyone else who has seen the specimen regarding its circles. His one firm opinion was to rule out the likelihood of a fossil.  His reasoning was as follows:
  • I didn't see any organic looking surfaces.
  • While there are a couple of prominent concentric circles, there are plenty of circles  that are quite irregular.
  • There does  not appear to be any evidence of a sedimentary environment. 
What, then, expllains these circles?  We're hoping that someone will submit an answer about which he/she feels confident. 

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The Mineralogical Legacy of Baltimorean Robert Gilmor

The important collection described below is the subject of a document excerpt  recently transmitted to me by John S. White, past Curator-in Charge of   the Smithsonian's Division of Mineralogy. He received it from Dr. Johan Kjellman, curator of the mineral collection at Uppsala University, Sweden. Dr. Kjellman had been researching crystal models and was interested in those that Albert Hauy had originally intended  for presentation to the Emperor of Austria. The excerpt below is  from The American Journal of Science and Arts, Second Series, Volume 6, November, 1848. In the note to which it was attached, Mr. White stated:  "Turns out that the old gentleman was Robert Gilmor (1774-1848) who, interestingly enough, was a Baltimorean. "

It did not take long for me to determine that in 1814, Mr. Gilmor published "A descriptive catalog of minerals occurring in the vicinity of Baltimore"  in  Bruce's American Mineralogical Journal, Vol.1, 1813, pp. 221-223. Therein he enumerated 43 different minerals found within a 14 mile radius of the city. Although Google had digitized this publication, the pertinent pages were missing from those that appeared on line. 

A Friday afternoon visit to Johns Hopkins University's Milton Eisenhower Library revealed that the publication we were seeking was available there on microfilm. The librarians were kind enough to locate it for me over the weekend, and by Monday copies were in my email. 

Here are some  items that proved to be of particular interest:
  • "Native Magnesia:" From Bare Hills, obviously this is magnesite. "Is it not a carbonate of lime combined with magnesia?" Mr. Gilmor pondered. Even today, massive magnesite is quite common throughout the Bare Hills serpentine barrens. However, for it to be in crystals "accuminating to a dihedral summit---insulated, pure white and (or) transparent,"  is unheard of. 
  • Corundum:  "An hexahedral crystal an inch in diameter was also found at Bare Hills, which in all its external characters corresponds with corundum, as described by Hauy; but the writer considers it doubtful"  Since then, corundum has been reported where pegmatite injects serpentine in other parts of Maryland. As a pegmatite dike adjoins the serpentine at the northern extreme of Bare Hills, the possibility of a corundum find seems realistic.
  • "Staruotide is found in hexiahedral prisms with dihedral summits on the Falls Turnpike, 7 1/2 miles from Baltimore." This could be the same material  as collected by Bob Simonoff and very kindly confirmed for us as staurolite by Professor Emeritus Peter Leavans at the University of Delaware. It was the subject of our July, 2011 post 
  • "Disthene:"--"or Cyanite, (lamellar) of a pale green (rarely blue) is found in a micaceous rock about 20 miles from town on the Falls turnpike, at Scotts Mill, 7 miles from the York Turnpike. The crystals are large and small, many of them 4 and 5 inches in length."
  • Galena: "Found in a small vein in quarries about the first Falls Turnpike gate on the west side of Jones' Falls, accompanied by black lead ore and blende of sulphuret of zinc.  It is also asserted to be lately found in a large vein within 7 miles of the city, but the direction is kept a secret. The specimen seen by the wriiter, and said to come from the spot, was a large mass of galena." 
We have posted the document on our Maryland Minerals web site .  

Meanwhile, we have just received word from John White that Wendell Wilson, Publisher and Editor in Chief of Mineralogical Record, (which Mr. White founded in 1970) is interested in putting together an article about Mr. Gilmor, especially if he can come up with at least a couple of photographs of minerals bearing his label. Mr. Wilson's research suggests a possibility that perhaps one or two significant specimens once owned by Mr. Gilmor that were not included in the collection being sold in 1848 could have remained in Maryland. We are currently investigating that possibility. While the likelihood of locating these specimens is remote, our efforts could open new windows on mineral specimens collected in and/or housed in Maryland. 

Monday, May 5, 2014

Beware those Rare Franklin, NJ Micromounts

Dick Bostwick (left) and Van King (right) examining tethered photomicromgraphs. 

In Tucson, this past February, in a very well-received  presentation at the annual Friday Micromount Symposium,  Vandall T. (Van) King warned his audience of the strong likelihood that many of the myriad rare microminerals from Franklin and Sterling Hill, New Jersey were not what their labels proclaimed them to be.  As the owner of a small suite including several specimens alleged to be among the rarest of these species, the topic was of particular interest to me. If three specimens in that suite, namely jarosewichite, flinkite, and cahnite were correctly identified, I could be holding what to some very passionate Franklin aficionados would be submillimeter treasure no  larger than the head of a pin.

In fact, subjecting these specimens to the surest means of identification, namely scanning electron microscopy (SEM) and/or x-ray diffraction (XRD) would be to sacrifice them. Some kind of visual confirmation from a sufficiently knowledgeable expert was the best I could hope for. Upon learning that Van, who is currently busy at work authoring and compiling images for a photographic atlas of  the Franklin area's rare minerals, would be shooting photomicrographs the coming weekend  at the New York/New Jersey Gem and Mneral Show in Edison, NJ, I committed myself to be there. He said to look for him at the table hosted by the Franklin/Ogdensburg Mineral Society and the North Jersey Mineralogical Society.

Bearing the mounts proclaiming jarosewichite, cahnite, and flinkite, as well as several other pieces that seemed questionable,  namely  manganoberzeliite, antlerite, and Mg chlorophoenicite, it didn't take me long to find him.  Equipped with scope, camera and computer for shooting tethered stacked  photomicrographs to about 130x, he was  in the company of  Dick Bostwick and other heralded experts on Franklin minerals. They were all eager to provide input, albeit tentative in some instances, as to the identification of my specimens. At first, I was cautiously optimistic when they quickly recognized from their that my mounts were once in the collection of a deceased, but well-remembered and respected collector and photographer --prior to the digital age---of rare Franklin material.

Here is what I learned:

Dick Bostwick peered through the scope at this specimen, labeled as manganberzeliite and proclaimed that the identification could very well be accurate.

Van then did the same with this specimen, which was labeled as chlorophoenicite from Sterling Hill. He was unable to find any evidence of that species.

Soon thereafter, he checked out this piece, labeled as schallerite. His opinion was that rather than schallerite,  it was probably friedelite.

With my "antlerite," the verdict was warmer. Though not an inordinately rare species, antlerite  is said to be very rare at Franklin. Its  submillimeter presence had led me to believe that any conclusive visual identification would be unlikely. Van informed me that the specimen did look like antlerite.*

At left is the specimen about which everyone was  most curious. Though no more than a millimeter in length, its label  noted those three most extreme  rarities: jarosewichite (believed to be the reddish orange  balls), flinkite (the darker material with a brownish cast), and cahnite (the white material). While unable to identify any flinkite, Van took an interest in this specimen, and spent quite a bit of time studying  that reddish orange ball. He concluded that it was caryopilite, an uncommon member of the serpentine group. As for the white "cahnite?" It could be cahnite," he said.  But how could we really tell?

For his atlas, Van, of course,  was focusing on specimens that were confirmed through analysis by SEM and/or XRD. Needless to say, at least to the best of anyone's knowledge, none of my specimens were ever confirmed, For that matter, very few of the rare micromounts in circulation have ever been so confirmed. Of course, with most rare microminerals, a well-informed visual identification is usually sufficent. However, with many of the extreme microscopic rarities, especially  from Franklin/Sterling Hill, it's Caveat Emptor. 

*Prior to publication, I transmitted to Van a draft of this post for an accuracy check. His response included the following quote: 
By the way, we just learned from Lance Kearns that the Sterling Mine "antlerite" we sent for verification is gypsum colored by malachite. Your specimen does look what people have been passing around as antlerite. I would add, in retrospect, I don't know of a valid "antlerite" in private hands if the tested specimen was only gypsum.  The FrOgs (sic Franklin - Ogdenburg mineral aficionados)  will be chirping for a while over the results that just came in.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The NY/NJ MIneral, Fossil, and Gem Show 2014

At age three, there's  justification in saying  "It's a great show," or better perhaps, "likely to evolve into a great show." The NY/NJ Mineral, Fossil, and gem show has grown quickly. According to the NY/NJ EZ-GUIDE distributed by its organizers, Eons Expos, LLP, the number of booths has gone from 115  in 2012 to 270 last year, to a projected 340 booths this year. The New Jersey Convention and Expo Center in Edison, New Jersey that hosts it has a capacity of 591 booths. Eons Expos aims to fill all of them by 2017 with dealers of minerals, fossils, gems, and related attractions.  If successful,, the NY/NJ Mineral, Fossil, and Gem Show will be bigger than  "The Big Show," in Tucson, where the Convention Center is said to hold 450 booths.

We photographed our cover image at about 11 A.M. on Friday, April 11, during the first hour of the 2014 Show. This was hardly the time to expect large numbers of attendees. Rather, the hour allowed for plenty of space in which to navigate comfortably with great opportunities for grabbing first pickin's.  However meager in number, those  present at this time included enough serious buyers to bring smiles to the faces of many dealers very quickly.

What impressed  me most and caught  my attention before taking in anything else in the Expo Center were display cases housing "The Best of the Best of the Northeast,"  described in the EZ-GUIDE AS  " the finest mineral specimens collected from eleven northeast U.S. States." These cases were midway along the wall to the right heading in from the facility's entrance. Out of 30 cases, about half exhibited suites of  minerals mostly from New Jersey and New York along with a Maryland suite from the collection of Fred Parker. The other half of these cases were devoid of minerals.  Since noticeably fewer than eleven states were represented, it seemed possible that the cases without minerals would be filled for the next two days of the show.

Through a door leading to behind the cases, there  was a "junior ballroom where the Franklin Mineral Museum and the Sterling Hill Mining Museum co-hosted a magnificent display of dazzlingly fluorescent specimens. In a section adjacent to the display, they offered additional fluorescent minerals for sale at very reasonable prices, giving prospective buyers  access to fluorescent lamps to check them out.

Another  room just a short distance away housed The Fine Mineral Gallery featuring "$10 million worth of the world's rarest and most exquisite minerals and gemstones." Most  were being offered for sale by about 16 high-end dealers, among them Arkenstone, Stonetrust, Miner's Lunchbox, and  Cornerstone Minerals. The dealers in this room contributed to a relatively greater proportion of dealers selling fossils and jewelry--- as opposed to minerals--- in the main hall.

In the Fine Mineral Gallery, the only minerals not for sale were those in the beautifully curated booth of the Maine Mineral Museum. The amazing specimens on display here may have afforded a partial explanation for some of the cases in the main hall not graced with minerals.  Particularly impressive was the enormous and perfect amethyst specimen from Sweden, Maine, pictured at left.

For sure, there was plenty happening here at the NY/NJ Mineral, Fossil, and Gem Show to set it apart from other shows in the eastern United States. Among its exhibits were a 38 foot Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton, another that allowed attendees to touch rocks from the moon and Mars, and for the first time out of Germany, the world's finest collection of "weird, 400-million-year-old Devonian Bundenbach fossils." There was even a booth where the cast from  The Weather Channel's TV show Prospectors was hawking their finds from Mount Antero.

With so many attractions, the  NY/NJ Mineral, Fossil, and Gem Show's stature should improve in the future.  Lowell Carhart, Russell Carhart, and Christine Coyle, the team of siblings comprising Eon Expos LLC, have  lofty ambitions. Their goal for the year 2016 is to become "the largest annual show of its kind in the United States." If successful in reaching the previously  mentioned goal of filling all 591 booths at the New Jersey Convention and Expo Center by 2017, they should be able to boast of having organized "the third largest annual show of its kind in the world."

The trio has demonstrated the  level of experience, staying power, and success to make it happen. They note that their Denver Coliseum show, launched in 2009, had "become the largest mineral and fossil show in the U.S by its fifth (2013) year."  In Tucson,  the 22nd Street Show, which they started up in 2011, has now become the third largest mineral and fossil show in Tucson. The NY/NJ Mineral, Fossil, and Gem Show is a different kind of event: glitzier and with more diverse attractions, than either of these shows. Such sizzle should contribute significantly to their efforts to reach this goal, all the happy dealers even more so.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Historic Maryland Mineralogical Epiphany

The specimen pictured above has been sitting around in my office for five years: a mystery mineral. Part of the issue related to a presumably mistaken belief that  it had once been in the company of minerals uncovered during excavation for Baltimore's subway in the 1970's.  No one who saw it ever came close to making a visual identification. For that matter, the matrix looked similar enough to gabbro, that no one ever thought of trying to scratch it

More curious were the radiating crystals: Could they be a zeolite? Aragonite, perhaps?  Of course, had we known the specimen was collected in Harford County or even contemplated that the material was from anywhere other than  the Baltimore Subway Digs, such confusion would not likely have lingered.

To observe the similar specimen pictured at left, in a case at  the Gem, Lapidary, and Mineral Society of Montgromery County's annual show in Gaithersburg, on the weekend of March 15 and 16, 2014, came like an epiphany.  E.M. Bye's historic label identified it as steatite with altered actinolite" from Harford County.
The specimen was in a case of vintage and historically significant Maryland mineral specimens that were  once  part of the world class collection that the Philadelphia Academy had ignominiously stashed away out of sight and devoid of care for decades. Ultimately, in 2007, the Academy sold the collection to several high-end dealers. It was  the most historically  important mineral collection in America and valued well beyond what any other museum could afford to pay.

Mineral Biss was the first to report that Fred Parker had later been able to acquire for posterity most of the collection's Maryland material, which almost surely comprises the most historically significant suite of  Maryland minerals known to exist. Since few of these Maryland-collected pieces had the uniqueness or aesthetic appeal as the kind of specimens in which the dealers who purchased it normally traded, Parker had been able to buy the Maryland pieces for a price that was pleasing to all concerned.

In 2012, after  deciding to downsize his collection and eventually move out of state, Parker contacted Chris Luzier, then Vice-President of Gem, Lapidary, and Mineral Society of Montgomery County about acquiring the suite. That story, with specifics on more of the actual specimens will be the topic of an upcoming Mineral Bliss post.

Meanwhile, can we be certain that this really is altered actinolite on steatite? The steatite, of course, by its softness, is obvious. And while the scientific means of identifying minerals has evolved considerably since E.M. Bye collected the specimen in the 1800's, altered actinolite certainly seems like a good bet.   As for a specific locality in Harford County, it seems extremely likely to have been the Harford Talc And Quartz Company Quarries, as  described in Minerals of Maryland, by Ostrander and Price, published in 1940 by the Natural History Society of Maryland:
About one half mile west of Dublin, several large openings have been made in Steatite.  
Minerals to be found are green translucent foliated talc, radiated actinolite, asbestosform anthophyllite, dolomite, calcite, brown vermiculite,  limonite, and calcite in brown phlogopite schist.  

My "mystery" piece is now has a label that states the following: Radiated Actinolite in Steatite from Harford County, Maryland (Probably the Harford Talc and Quartz Company Quarries near Dublin.) 

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Tucson 2014

Today is the last day of the action. I've been here for two weeks. Each year the show(s) are much the same: the same kind of merchandise and mostly the same dealers work the same tents and motel rooms. At the end of that fortnight, from Thursday through Sunday and always on the second weekend of February, the "Big Show," sponsored by the Tucson Gem and Mineral Society, happens at the Tucson Convention Center. Except for having a different theme each year, the Big Show too differs little from year to year. This year, to mark the 60th Annual Tucson Gem and Mineral Show, its theme was diamonds.

More than anything, these two weeks in Tucson are like a bazaar where people buy and sell minerals, gems, fossils,and   meteorites, along with a range of other artifacts.Since the Mineral Bliss blog is about minerals, they are our focus---even though our most recent post from Tucson several days ago was about rare gems. Prices of  minerals as well as their quality cover a wide range that goes all over the map, and this year the gap was wider than ever. Specimens similar in every pertinent respect to what  one dealer is selling for $1,000, another dealer could be selling for $50. Anyone lacking the experience to be able to ascertain what a mineral specimen should be worth is well advised to do plenty of looking before making a purchase.Just as significant and regardless of the absurd extent to which the prices vary, they get higher every year, this year particularly so.

The climax of the whole two weeks was last night's banquet in the Copper Room of the Convention Center. As in the past, this event featured a silent auction to support Rocks and Minerals Magazine, a live auction, a buffet, and finally the presentation of awards, all leading up to the ultimately prestigious Carnegie Award for outstanding contributions in mineralogical preservation, conservation, and education that match ideals advanced in the Carnegie Museum of Natural History Hillman Hall of Minerals and Gems. This year's most deserving honoree was Gloria Staebler  for her work as pulbisher and editor at Lithographie, LLC and its English language series of monographs. At right she is shown holding the associated bronze medallion and certificate of recognition with Marc L. Wilson, the Mineral Collection Manager for that esteemed institution in Pittsburgh. 

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Rare Gems: A Niche to Behold

From Tucson:
For a couple years, the rare gems niche of mineral collecting has intrigued me. The only thing
holding me back from getting involved was lack of knowledge about and exposure to the hobby, neither of which has advanced much yet. The catalyst for throwing my hat in the ring was a 5.7 carat faceted cadmium-included smithsonite shown at right  that Jaroslav Hyrsl  was selling out of his room at Hotel Tucson City Center/lnn Suites.

Jaroslav is one of my favorite sources for rare mineral species. He is regarded as one of the world's leading authorities on that subject and co-authored with Jan H. Bernard in 2004 the 824 page Minerals and their Localities , which bears descriptions of 4,300 mineral species and 8,500 localities. Keeping this classic book current, they recently  released a supplement covering the more than 800 species described in the ten years since.

 It was serendipitous that my next stop was to see another favorite dealer for rare minerals, Alfredo
Petrov, whose room was just a few doors away. Among the items  Alfredo was selling were a few rare cut gems,of which I purchased, the manganotantalite shown at left.

The next day an email arrived from Alfredo advising that he'd found my checkbook when straightening his room. Admitting that he'd used one of the checks to purchase a new car, he allowed that the remaining ones would be available to me in his room the next day Arriving at an early
hour before it had become jammed with buyers, Alfredo tood the time to enlighten me a bit on this rare gems niche that had so piqued my interest.

"The more unwearable it is," Alfredo proclaimed, "the more it is appreciated by the rare gem collector." Every bit if not more important than the rarity of the species being cut or polished., he added, is the level of skill that has been demonstrated by the cutter. Alfredo explained how the softest gems are the most difficult to polish or cut, noting that the slightest touch on the wheel can ruin the piece.Because of their softness, selenite, vivianite, and realgar are  the most notoriously difficult to cut.

Alfredo surmised that less than a handful of people on the planet have ever been successful at cutting  such stones. One cutter, he said, managed to cut a piece of vivianite (hardness between 1 and 2) by coating the entire piece with a crust of hard epoxy and then cutting through it for all 54 facets. Once cut, the reason that stones softer than more typical gems can be unwearable is the issue of potential for damage from the metal prongs that secure them. Alfredo continued  to hold forth with stories, many that mentioned Jaroslav, whom he implied was probably  the world's foremost player in mineralogy's rare gem niche.

After purchasing a pair of  nearly matching cut yellow cassiterites and two of what Alfredo believed to be among the only boracite cabochons in existence, I headed back to Jaroslav's room. Though busy by now, he had time to share with me that 25 years ago, after having taught mineralogy at Charles University in Prague, he went to Germany to study gemology at Idar Oberstein to earn his FGG + EG. Ever since, he's been active in the rare gem arena. Rather than cut or polish stones himself, Jaroslav employs others to do so according to his specifications, while he stays busy appraising as well as  testing gems at his lab in Prague.

While in Europe, Jaroslav deals primarily with collectors; in Tucson, he sells mostly to dealers. His table of rare gems for sale graces  but a small corner of a room otherwise heavily stocked with flats bearing rare minerals most of which are anything but gemmy, and surmised that no more than ten people currently in Tucson actually specialized in rare gems. Of more significance, he sensed, were yet smaller niches within the rare gem arena. Some buyers, he noted, limited their purchases to cut or polished stones bear inclusions or exhibit changes in colour under different lighting conditions.  Others, he said, collect only within a given mineral group, sometimes in conjunction with a suite of such minerals. The garnet group, he notes, is particularly popular. Fluorite, which is softer and comes in just as many colours, could be an even better example.

The message is pertinent to just about everything that's collectible. You can't have it all. For that matter, one who specializes even within an arena as arcane as rare gems, has a better chance of accumulating a significant and worthy collection.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Fred Parker Updates his 2005 Hunting Hill Mineralogical Record Article

by Fred Parker. 

This  is an update on minerals uncovered at Montgomery County Maryland's Hunting Hill Quarry since my 2005 article in The Mineralogical Record, Vol.36, Sept.-Oct., 2005, pages 435-446. That article recorded 60 different mineral species known to occur at the quarry.

The quarry rewarded collectors with an additional 15 species in the five years subsequent to this article . Since 2010, however, the ownership has strictly prohibited all collecting. It has given no reason to believe that any kind of mineral collecting will be permitted in the foreseeable future.

The mineral descriptions below note the 15  mineral species uncovered between late 2005 and when the collecting ended in 2010. Substantial variation in the types of  these species  further illustrates the complexity and unique mineralogy of this unusual serpentinite/rodingite locality.

Sadly, the scientific and collecting communities are now denied scientific and mineralogical knowledge. The reasons relate to mining regulations and liability insurance issues.

The 15 additional species are as follows:      
  • Albite-Anorthite: Seams containing opaque white well-formed feldspar crystals were collected by Erich Grundel in 2006. He exposed the crystals by dissolving calcite infilling of feldspar pockets. Composition was determined to be intermediate in the Albite -Anorthite series. (Personal communication - Erich Grundel.)

  • Brochantite: Dark green coatings on serpentine (Jon Ertman, personal communication.)
  • Chabazite: Locally found as crusts of colorless to white glassy rhombohedra to 2 mm. lining seams in serpentine. (XRD confirmation by Lance Kearns.) 

  • Erythrite: Pink Coatings on a talc vein (Personal ommunication from Jake Slagle. Ex-Jay Lininger Collection. 

  • Heulandite: Locally found as crusts of pearly "coffin-shaped" crystals in narrow fractures in serpentine. Color ranges from tan to white. Crystal reach a maximum size of 3 mm. (XRD confirmation by Lance Kearns).

  • Laumontite: (leonhardite): locally found with minute(1-2 mm) white acicular crystals associated with other zeolites. (visual identification)
  • Margarite: Pale green scaly in serpentine (reported by numerous collectors). 

  • Mesolite: From a single occurrence in 2007: White silky radiating hemispheres and crusts to 1 cm. associated with an unusual orange-yellow prehnite (XRD confirmation by Lance Kearns).The silky texture and radiating structure distinguish mesolite from the more common scolecite. 

  • Nacrite: Very fine-grained coatings on rhombic cleavage plane of calcite; after acid etching of the calcite, nacrite formed fragile rhombic structures mimicking the dissolved rhombic calcite. (Dave Hennessy, personal communication.

  • Pecoraite: Very fine green pwodery coatings on millerite needles (visual identification)

  • Scolecite: Pockets in serpentine were locally lined with abundant elongated white bladed crystals to 8 mm. Confirmation by XRD and EDS by Lance Kearns. 

  • Stellerite: Repeatedly found as white, sheaf-like crystals to 5 mm. coating cavities in serpentine with calcite. (George Reimherr personal communication.)---Stellerite is the greenish crystalline crust in the image image where laumontite was noted. 
Acknowledgements: The mineral identifications cited throughout this update would not have been possible without the support and analytical determinations provided by Dr. Lance Kearns of James Madison University, Harrisonburg, VA. His contributions to regional mineralogy are greatly appreciated by the mineral collecting community.