Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Disappointment at the California Academy of Sciences

The Gems and Minerals Unearthed  exhibit at the California Academy of Sciences opened to the public on September 30, 2016. Just over six years earlier, we had quoted San Francisco's world class collector Jack Halpern when he lamented  that this renowned museum's wonderful mineral collection was not on display.  Upon questioning the museum by telephone, a spokesperson had informed me coldly that environmentally controlled cases would have to be constructed before any minerals were shown.  Having just viewed Jack's amazing collection, we predicted in our  post  of  Sept. 19, 2010, 
the likelihood that any future mineral display at this institution would prove to be anticlimactic. 

A recent visit on September 14, 2016, showed our prognostication from  six years ago to have been prophetic. We admit to having learned upon paying the $35.00 price of admission that for an extra $15, the museum sometimes offered a special behind the scenes tour providing an opportunity to see "some of the museum's most valuable minerals."  Despite a limited window of time during an all too quick trip west to visit family, we nevertheless expected this major public exhibit to feature a multitude of great mineral specimens.  

Gems and Minerals Unearthed consists of about a dozen cases of various minerals and some gems. They are at the end of a wide hallway on the museum's third floor. Each case has a given theme. One theme is to establish that certain mineral species are rare, and that others are common. The blue and white specimen shown at left features several balls of blue cavansite on white stilbite collected in India. Is this the best the museum could do to showcase as a rarity this wildly popular and showy combination of species?  And couldn't the curators have come up with a more attention-grabbing orthoclase specimen than the small crystal just below the cavansite to exemplify one of the more common species? The magnificent and enormous South African sugilite crystal to the left of the cavansite is more in line with what we had expected to see.  But why distract from its amazing purple color with that deep blue background?

The theme in one of the other cases related to colorful minerals displayed with numbers corresponding to written identifications explaining  their color. Once again, few of the specimens boasted the level of aesthetic qualities to be expected at a well-known museum like the California Academy of Sciences. In this case, we even noticed  two similar specimens of dull massive orpiment with identical explanations of "color due to energy gaps in
molecules."  How much thought went into this display?

While the mineral collections in other top tier museums aspire to dazzle the sensibilities of mineral aficionados, it is clear that most of the specimens in this exhibit bespeak no such intention. Clearly, the purpose is to educate the unknowing about a few very basic tenets of mineralogy.

Aside from teaching, the displays could surely do more to generate the interest of  the viewers they seek to educate. To the contrary, some themes seemingly sought  to discourage viewers from the most obvious means of putting their newly acquired knowledge to use. That means, of course, would be to take up collecting minerals as a hobby. The theme in one case deliberately points out the environmental hazards of mining. In another of the cases, it is noted how certain species that collectors prize, linarite for example, are actually poisonous.

Had timing allowed for a behind the scenes visit, the tone of this post almost certainly would be more positive.  Those who visit the California Academy of Sciences  for the primary purpose of seeing minerals will obviously wish to view  the best the museum has. In our opinion, they should be able to do so without having to pay an extra $15.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

The 2016 Desautels Micromount Symposium

On the weekend of October 14-16, 2016, the Baltimore Mineral Society celebrated the 60th Anniversary of its annual Desautels International Micromount Symposium. For the past several years, the event has occurred at Friends School on North Charles Street. The symposium derived its name to honor the  late Paul Desautels (1920-1991), who founded the Baltimore Mineral Society in 1951, and later in 1956, its micromount  symposium, the first of its kind in the world, Soon thereafter, he left  Baltimore to become Curator-in -Charge of of gems and minerals at the Smithsonian. The Desautels Symposium  has always attracted many of America's ---and some the world's---most knowledgeable, prolific, and best known micromounters. Enhancing the event's continuity  has been the induction each year of new members into the Micromounter's Hall of Fame, launched in 1981.

Mike Seeds,  a past president of the Baltimore Mineral Society, who lives in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, has chaired the event for a number of years.  Actively assisting him are Micromounter's Hall of Fame members Steve and Carolyn Weinberger, who last year were inducted as a couple.

This year's symposium featured two inductees. Pictured at left is new Hall of Famer Bob Rothenberg, seen at left with wife Monet holding his plaque. Over several decades, by virtue of  knowledge, skill, and service to the micromounting community, Bob has established himself as one of the world's great micromounters. The current focus of his work relates to the eastern part of North America. On Saturday afternoon, he gave a presentation about the discovery of an extensive array of rare microminerals recently identified in syenite along a small stream in Augusta County, Virginia.

Also elected, albeit post-mortem,  was the late Baltimore lawyer and philanthropist Randall Rothschild, who died at 93 in 2003. In addition to launching the International Directory of Micromounters,  Mr. Rothschild is remembered for having provided  much of the funding that enabled  John S. White, a Baltimore Mineral Society founding member (who succeeded Mr. Desautels as the Smithsonian's  Curator-in-Charge of Minerals) to found Mineralogical Record in 1970. Before ultimately donating his world class micromount collection to the Smithsonian, Mr. Rothschild circulated numerous mounts at the Desautels Symposium, where at least a couple turn up each year at auction. His mounts are much celebrated not only for their often surreal beauty, but for the unique and intricate skill with which Mr. Rothschild mounted them, as well as the intricate handwritten style he used to label them.

Needless to say, each year's symposium attracts its share of Micromounter's Hall of Famers. Pictured in the image at right  (l to r) are Steve Weinberger (inducted 2015); Carolyn Weinberger (inducted 2015); Lou D'Alonzo (inducted 2015; John Ebner (inducted 1997); new inductee Bob Rothenberg; and Col. Quintin Wight (inducted 1990). Col, White, of Ottawa, Ontario, is arguably the world's best known living micromounter and author of The Complete Book of Micromounting, He serves as master of ceremonies of each year's Micromounter's Hall of Fame induction.

In addition to the Hall of Fame inductions, the Desautels Symposium features speakers, dealers, plenty of trading, and a seemingly endless giveaway table. One of the highlights on this year's table was a small box of tiny white pebbles contributed by Col.  Wight, Gracing some of them were extremely unsual combinations of very dark green to black spinel morphing into corundum in association with the quite rare and complex species högbomite. They were from a find near Bathurst in Ottawa that Quintin described in the first presentation delivered at this year's event.

Among particularly intriguing  offerings from  the ever present dealers was a selection of several
dozen  mounts, each bearing numerous---in some instances scores---of submillimeter crystals mounted on 8 millimeter disks affixed to a cork pedestal.  Indeed various micromounters over the years have used such disks to display one or several crystals usually of particularly rare species. However, to see such a large number of crystals to appear so neatly and well-arranged on a disk this tiny was a mind-boggling experience for many who were present. The example pictured at left features minute yet well formed crystals of tourmaline (var.) dravite from the Coatesville Adit in Chester County, Pennsylvania. The Pennsylvania dealer Don Smoley was offering them. He noted that Joe Borowick was the name of the micromounter who created them.

A huge cake was served after lunch on Satruday to celebrate the event's 60th anniversary, Counting the number of symposia that have taken place, this was actually the 61st Desautels International Micromount Symposium. The 62nd will happen on a yet to be determined weekend toward the middle of October, 2017. Once again, one of the features will be the induction of two new Micromount Hall of Famers: Betsy Martin of Richmond, Virginia, and postmortem, the late Dr. Henry "Bumpi" Barwood, who passed away on September 9, 2016,

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Baltimore County's Historic Milford Trap Quarry

In northwestern Baltimore County, the  Milford Trap Quarry's historic legacy has continued to evolve for the better part of a century since the last of its mineralogical bouny was taken. Those familiar with the site along Milford Mill Road near the Baltimore City line will recall the fire that destroyed a mosque built there  two years after the site sold at auction in 2013. At times between 1950 and then, the old quarry was the focal point of a swimming club along with a teen center and bandstand. The Buddy Deane Show happened there at least once, and scenes from from John Waters' Crybaby and Barry Levinson's Liberty Heights were filmed there.  

Less remembered is the wide range of collectible minerals that the Milford Trap Quarry produced. The Natural History Society of Maryland's long out of print yet still penultimate  guide to Maryland minerals, Minerals of Maryland mentions  "minerals to be found" there in the present tense, suggesting that collecting was still taking place upon its publicaton in 1940. With the exception of Hunting Hill in Montgomery County, which had yet to be "discovered," few if any Maryland localities produced as many different species. Rarely do specimens from the Milford Trap Quarry grace collections or displays. 

The good news is that the Natural History Society of Maryland  has saved and thus preserved what surely must be the premier assortment of Milford specimens as described in Minerals of Maryland. Many appear to be original reference specimens upon which the publication depended.  Early in 2016, the Natural History Society allowed access to many of these long stored away specimens. Among them were many that were particularly notable. 


As ubiquitous as chlorite is at numerous Maryland localities, this one stands out in itsw habit.


This pyrrhotite specimen is notably rich compared to other specimens that have been uncovered in Maryland.  Most Maryland pyrrhotite occurs in a matrix of limestone. Here, it is seen gracing gabbro.


After it had been stored away for many decades, we uncovered this  specimen of the zeolite group mineral laumontite. It is paricularly important for having been the specimen photographed for the inside cover of Minerals of Maryland. 


At the time Minerals of Maryland was published, the Milford Quarry was the only locality in Maryland to have reported scoleite, another zeolite mineral, The species was later uncovered at Hunting Hill in Montgomery County, which is now off limits. The crystals from Hunting Hill, however, were smaller and less showy. We have every reason to believe that this is the finest scolecite specimen ever uncovered in Maryland.


Prehnite is no a zeolite mineral, but typically associated with zeolites and erroneously thought by many to be one. The Milford Quarry was prehnite's only known Maryland locality for nearly a half century. 


Though a common species found at numerous localities, the occurrence of this particularly rich specimen at the Milford Quarry is notable.


Minerals of Maryland notes sphene at the Milford Quarry in "green and brown crystals." Pictured above is a specimen of sphene in green and brown crystals in a matrix of feldspar and metagabbro. 


Clinozoisite as shown above was known to have been abundant at the Milford Quarry and thought to be zoisite. The visual distinction when in this habit is difficcult to make.   

Minerals of Maryland mentions other species known to have been collected  the Milford Trap Quarry  as follows:

Platy ilmenite; pyrite in masses and in crystals; stilbite, natrolite; calcite crystals and cleavages; flattened garnets; black tourmaline crystals; albite; quartz crystals up to five inches long; marcasite crystals and stalactic forms in cavitites; magnetite massive and in brilliant octahedral crystals 1/4 inch across; rutile crystals; horneblende crystals in quartz three inches long; chalcopyrite; radiated actinolite; pyroxene; prochlorite (chromian clinochlore); analcime crystals; laumontite pseudomorph after analcime; epidote in long bladed single crystals and crystalline masses; mizzonite (scapolite); molybdenite; andesine crystals; radiated phillipsite; talc pseudomorph after actinolite; and muscovite.

Friday, September 30, 2016

A New Updated Maryland Minerals Website

For the past month, much of our time has been devoted to working on the Maryland Minerals website, from which the all-important slide show went missing sometime in early September. 

The reason was that Google closed down its Picasa program, which the site had depended upon for our slide show of Maryland -collected minerals. We have since updated the site, replacing the previous Picasa slide show with a more user friendly slide show program that we know our viewers will prefer. 

No longer is the Maryland Minerals slideshow a separate journey through nearly 200 mineral specimens with their labels. That vast series of images now consists of links to separate smaller slide shows, each featuring minerals from different Maryland counties shown in alphabetical order.  The localities within each county also appear in alphabetical order, as well as the specimens that are pictured for each locality. The new slide show will enable viewers to access the images they seek more quickly and efficiently. 

In addition to the list of articles pertinent to Maryland minerals, we have inserted a separate menu that provides a link to the site of this our Mineral Bliss blog.  Other additions include a menu item listing shows in the general region where minerals are displayed and sold as well as a new template for users of the site to contact us. The next change will be to the header image shown at the top of this post, soon to be replaced with one where the rock hammer is surrounded with Maryland minerals. 

We hope you like the new site

Monday, August 8, 2016

New Finds: Falls Road Corridor near Baltimore City Line

Stuart Herring

There is not a field collector anywhere who has introduced this writer to more localities in our native Maryland than Stuart Herring of  Baltimore. For the past two years, his passion has been seeking out unexpected or long forgotten localities by studying old maps. He particularly enjoys exploring unheralded spots  along the Falls Road corridor near the Baltimore City Line just a few minutes from his home. 

On a recent hot August Thursday morning, we visited a talc deposit at the southeastern fringe of the Bare Hills Serpentine Barrens near the contact point between  serpentinite country rock and quartz, schist, or pegmatite, depending upon immediate  direction,  The locality also offers small quantities of  attractive micaceous green chlorite as pictured at right and a few traces of magnetite (rather than the expected chromite). More abundant than the chlorite or magnetite is what appears to be anthophyllite.

Demonstrating a particularly interesting manifestation of the apparent anthophyllite presence is the specimen pictured at left. It bears a stunning visual resemblance to a genre known as Hermanov spheres, eponymous with the locality at Heřmanov, Velké Meziříčí, Vysočina Region, Moravia, Czech Republic.These spheres consist of a phlogopite core surrounded by anthophyllite crystals. In our specimen, the core is actually talc. The crystals surrounding it are talc pseudomorph after anthophyllite. This is the first and only anthophyllite occurrence of which we are aware at the Bare Hills Serpentine Barrens and the chrome pits dotting it. Interestingly, anthophyllite was once quite common in a different geological environment less than two miles away. The locality was the historic Bare Hills Copper Mine located just past the opposite end of the serpentine barrens. At this point, the  serpentinite  has given way to gabbro with hornblende schist and  amphibolite. For the last 55 years, the Bonnie Ridge Apartments has stood where its dumps were previously accessible. 

From the talc locality, we drove to a spot in the Mount Washington neighborhood at a point on Western Run  (not to be confused with Western Run in northern Baltimore County). The location is about 100 yards above where it flows into Jones Falls beneath the Kelly Avenue Bridge. Days before, the area had had endured a flash flood severe enough to extirpate and dislodge many hundreds of previously unrevealed rocks and cobbles.  After parking on Forge Avenue, we walked to the stream. Its banks were strewn mostly with water-polished cobbles of the same gabbro and amphibolite 
that once hosted the Bare Hills Copper Mine.  Another hundred yards above us, a little creek leading  from the site of the former copper mine dumps empties into Western Run. Thus, we kept our eyes peeled for sulfides and malachite patinas, but observed no traces. Of more interest was the occasional epidote group material gracing some of the cobbles. It showed a visual resemblance to  zoisite or clinozoisite. Analysis would be necessary to make the determination. It could also be epidote, which was known to have occurred in similar material less than a mile away at the copper mine.

Another  interesting spot to explore newly uncovered rocks could be farther south along the Falls Road Corridor, especially near Woodberry where Jones Falls flows through the well mineralized Baltimore Gneiss. The same could be said for the Patapsco and the Patuxent Rivers, especially near pegmatite areas.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Chris Luzier and Another Great Maryland Collection

More fascinating Maryland minerals turned up on a recent visit to the home of  Chris Luzier. Chris is the Immediate Past President of the Gem, Lapidary and Mineral Society of Montgomery County, Maryland (GLMSMC). He is also curator of the historically significant suite of Maryland minerals that were once part of the long neglected collection of the  Philadelphia Academy of Natural Sciences.  GMLSMC  obtained this suite from its former member Fred Parker before he moved from Maryland to New Mexico. Parker  had acquired the suite about eight years ago from Collectors Edge, one of  two high-end dealerships that had purchased the collection directly from the Academy for distribution. 

Mineral Bliss had cited these historic specimens in two previous posts after seeing them at the annual GLMSMC Show in Gaitherburg. The original purpose for our visit with Chris Luzier had been to cover them more thoroughly. As we looked over the GMLSMC specimens, Chris made comparisons to interesting pieces in the Maryland suite of his own collection. Two years ago, he displayed some of the better specimens from it at the annual March GLMSMC Show at Gaithersburg  in conjunction with the historic Academy Collection case. 

Maryland's diverse mineralogy has received relatively little attention and recognition in the many decades since Academy Suite was assembled. By displaying as well some of the better specimens in his personal collection, Chris was able to update the historical perspective of the former as well as demonstrate to mineral aficionados that Maryland still has minerals worthy of collecting. 

Many of these specimens were once part of Fred Parker's personal collection along with the historic Philadelphia Academy suite. They include pieces from long closed or lost localities. Some were collected by Parker himself.

In the above picture Chris holds remarkable specimens in each hand  In his right hand is massive magnetite from the historic Mineral Hill Mine in Carroll County.  Magnetite continues to be ubiquitous on remaining Mineral Hill dumps, some that date to pre-Revolutionary times, Massive magnetite boasting such sheen, however, has rarely been encountered at any Maryland locality in recent years. 

Chris has in his left hand a  solid chunk of massive chalcopyrite from New London in Frederick County.  It makes sense that chalcopyrite of such richness could have graced  ore veins extending through the phyllite-laced Wakefield Marble. These veins are known as the New London  (copper) Deposit and were worked  at the historic New London Copper Mine. In the 1960's, similar veins were uncovered at the nearby Farmers Cooperative Limestone Quarry, which closed in 1973. Could Chris be holding the largest Maryland chalcopyrite specimen  known to exist?. 

The brucite specimen at right from Hunting Hill in Rockville, Montgomery County, is similarly
notable.  Fred Parker collected it in September, 2003. Most of what little brucite that Hunting Hill and other less heralded Maryland localities produced is white in color, less crystalline, and mostly opaque. 

The brochantite specimen at left would be unremarkable were it not from Maryland.  As a Maryland example, however, it is noteworthy. Brochantite occurs at several Maryland localities through the Sykesville Formation as well as sparsely associated with other copper minerals in the Wakefield Marble. It is typically difficult to visually differentiate from malachite. Found at the Lehigh Cement Quarry in Union Bridge, this piece was once in the collection of Grant C. Edwards. Is there another example of Maryland brochantite around that's so distinct?

Ugly or not, todorokite was once plentiful at the Medford Quarry in Carroll County, Maryland. In earlier times, collectors assumed the material to be  a curious substance that soiled whatever it touched. They were unaware that it was the complex oxide species todorokite. Sometime later, Fred Parker noted on Mindat that Medford  had yielded  todorokite that was "world class" He personally collected the specimen pictured at right, 

In addition to his Maryland specimens, Chris  maintains an impressive Pennsylvania suite. His specialty is the fluorescent material for which Franklin and Ogdensburg, New Jersey are famous. Occasionally he sells duplicates on the Internet under the handle of  "Abraham Zincoln," in reference to the abundance of zinc bearing minerals from these localities. 

More than any other aspect of his hobby, Chris emphasizes his advocacy of mineral societies and organizations that provide collecting opportunities to members, especially those that seek to engage the interest of young people. He notes that the field trip privileges  that many working quarries so graciously provide to GLMSMC and other groups afford valuable public relations to the companies that own them.  In these times when so many of  Maryland's greatest localities no longer exist, Chris believes that such field trips provide the best opportuntity for  members of such groups to uncover collectable specimens that promote the ongoing study of Maryland's mineralogy.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Maryland Topaz and Maryland Chrome Tourmaline

Additional new images of Maryland-collected minerals are now gracing the slide show on our Maryland Minerals website. More are on the way. They are from the collection of the Natural History Society of  Maryland. It is surely one of the largest and most diverse collections of Maryland-collected minerals in existence. The most glamorous of the specimens are displayed  at the Society's Headquarters at 6908 Belair Road in Baltimore. The Society has stored and preserved hundreds more. Many are the bounty of field trips dating back over 70 years.

If less spectacular to look at than the minerals on display, many of those additional hundreds are highly significant from a scientific and/or historic vantgage point. Included are dozens  of the only known examples of their species to document occurrences named at scores of localities mentioned in the Society's 1940 publication Minerals of Maryland. Often the labels credit one the co-authors, Charles Ostrander or Willaim Price,  with the finds. Two particularly interesting pieces are gem minerals.

The only reference to topaz in Minerals of Maryland is from Alto Dale Farm, which covered several acres at the southeast corner of Reisterstown Road and Cradock Lane in Baltimore County. Houses have completely covered the site for decades. The description noted "white cleavage masses" with quartz crystals" in "soil weathered from a pegmatite dike." The one pictured is the more impressive of two owned by the NHSM. They could well be the only known Maryland-collected topaz specimens in existence.

Another remarkable gem mineral is the chrome tourmaline at right. It is from the Etchison Chrome Mine in Montgomery County. Minerals of Maryland credits this find to the late mineralogist Earl Shannon (1895-1961). It describes the mine circa 1940  as "not been worked for many years, and little of interest remains at the site." The owner was Baltimore's legendary chromium mogul  Isaac Tyson, who also owned the operations at Soldiers Delight, Bare Hills and others extending northeast into Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Heyl and Pearre later reported chrome tourmaline from the Line Pits, Rock Spring, Maryland. That find, however, lacked the color and luster of the Etchison specimen, Moreover, it is possible that the Rock Spring chrome tourmaline originated in underground workings on the Pennsylvania side of the State Line. Much that was mined there ended up on Maryland bases pits.

Topaz and chrome tourmaline are but two specimens out of nearly 50 NHSM pieces begging to be photographed as well as subject matter for stories.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

The Carroll Mine in Carroll County, Maryland

The Carroll Mine was one  the four largest 19th Century copper and iron mining operations to exploit Carroll County, Maryland’s Sykesville Mining District. Worked intermittently between the 1840's and 1880, it appears to have received the least attention over the years from the mineralogy community. The copper and iron  bearing species from all four major mines in the District  were much the same. Cobalt-bearing  Linnaeite Group species occurred at all four mines, though not in sufficient quantity for successful commercial production. 
We are grateful to Stuart Herring, a prominent Baltimore-based collector and dealer, whose research led us to the several pits and grown over dumps from these Carroll Mine workings. While trails lead to the only other two mining areas that still exist in the Sykesville Mining District, a substantial bushwhack is necessary to reach the mostly grown over remains from the Carroll Mine.

The Carroll Mine hosted two separate operations at different time periods. Though primarily a producer of iron, at least one shaft was worked for copper by the New Burra Company. The material on the surface around the pits and near the dumps varies. Specular hematite and magnetite are quite easy to find.  Near one of the shafts, most likely the Burra Shaft, are sizable chunks of crystallized epidote, stressed massive garnet, and magnetite. All three host an abundance of copper bearing minerals.


Magnetite---ore quality:

Bornite---ore quality.

Chysocolla is abundant amidst the copper bearing minerals and ranges in color from a pale blue-green to a vivid medium blue.

Lesser quantities of malachite sometimes accompany the chrysocolla, often in small green crystal sheaths.

Chalcanthite and melanterite appear to the naked eye as earthy pale blue crusts hinting at  microscopic crystals, The crystallization becomes clearly evident under the scope. The two species can often be difficult to visually distinguish from each other.

Pyrite and chalcopyrite were present, but not as prevalent as at the Springfield and Mineral Hill Mines. We did not find any cobalt bearing linnaieite-siegenite-carrollite material .

Although native gold has not been reported from the Carroll Mine dumps, we kept our eyes peeled for it. Throughout the area was a fair amount of  white quartz that was weathered in a distinctive manner.  It visually  resembled quartz that once yielded a few  gold particles at an isolated nearby pit, long since built over. .

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Greenbelt, Maryland’s Phosphate Concretions: 75 Years of Questions

We are grateful to John White and Marie Huizing for procuring  two photocopied articles from 1965 editions of  Rocks and Minerals. The first article is entitled “Unusual Mineral Locality at Greenbelt, Maryland” by French Morgan; the second is a follow-up article  by Dr. Ernest E. Fairbanks, entitled “Remarks on an unusual mineral locality at Greenbelt, Maryland .” The information in these articles proved essential for this post.

Maryland’s only significant phosphate mineral find resulted when in 1941, a knoll  was leveled in order to erect a WWV Broadcasting Station near Greenbelt, in Prince George’s County. Today, the Visitor Center for the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center stands directly on the site.  The above pictured image shows one of many unearthed phosphate-bearing concretion nodules that were collected there in the 1940’s.

It is notable that iron bearing sandstone concretions of similar external visual appearance are common in Prince George’s County northeast of Washington, DC.  However, the only phosphate mineral bearing concretions ever known to occur in the region are from this one specific locality.

Out of curiosity, the late Dr. E. E. Fairbanks of the U.S. Bureau of Mines procured a few of the concretions for examination. The verdict, presumably based on visual observation, was that the phosphate material was dufrenite.  Dr. Fairbanks then provided a number of concretions to Ward's Natural Science Establishment, which subsequently sold them to various dealers and collectors labeled as dufrenite . Some concretions also found their way to both the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in Washington, as well as the American Museum of Natural History in New York.

During World War II, the U.S. Government closed the area around the towers to the public for safety reasons. However, by 1944, French Morgan and several other members of the Mineralogical Society of the District of Columbia obtained special permission to collect there.  The group collected several dozen concretions that apparently had rolled down a small hill from where grading for the radio towers had taken place. Some of these concretions proved to be more interesting than those found several years earlier.

 In his 1965 article in Rocks and Minerals Morgan mentioned finding limonite, goethite, opal (var.) hyalite, and beraunite  during these later 1944 visits as well as “red, yellow and white minerals as yet unidentified.”  He also   noted “shrinkage cracks lined with microscopic crystals of an unknown mineral.” Specimens of the crystals were submitted to the U.S. U. S. Geological Survey, where according to article they “created no excitement.”

Not until late 1949 or early 1950 did the U.S. Geological Survey become interested in the Greenbelt material. This was after and was probably prompted by a 1949 article in American Mineralogist  by the late Dr. Clifford Frondel entitled “The Dufrenite Problem.” Frondel's work  confirmed that after analysis, the material from the original 1941 find at Greenbelt  was in fact rockbridgeite rather than dufrenite. The article described rockbridgeite as “indistinguishable from dufrenite in its general appearance and confused with that species since earliest times.” Later in the article, Dr. Frondel went even further to refer to rockbridgeite as “identical in appearance with the fibrous varieties of dufrenite.”

Soon thereafter, the U. S. Geological Survey reported x-ray and chemical analyses of a new and unknown species from within Greenbelt concretion material. Subsequently, a new revision in Dana noted that a similar mineral had been found in Russia. A brief description concluded that additional verification was needed.  The new Russian find received the name avovskite.  More than a decade after this Russian discovery and in the midst of the Cold War, Morgan’s article in Rocks and Minerals article noted that “attempt (to obtain more information and/or a sample)  has been made through diplomatic, scientific, and other channels, but no trace of azovskite has been unearthed.”

 Morgan also claimed in his article that “at the very beginning,” he had been promised naming rights from an unnamed source should a  new species be uncovered. He suggested the new mineral be named named fairbanksite  (not to be confused with the lead tellurite fairbankite ) in honor of Dr. Fairbanks. The only reference to fairbanksite we have been able to locate is on Mindat, which describes it as “unidentified microscopic crystals in shrinkage cracks in concretions,” citing Hey’s Chemical Index of Minerals, 2nd Edition 1962.

Even today, the IMA describes the status of azovskite as “doubtful.” Fleischer's Glossary of Mineral Species (2014) does not mention azovskite; nor does either edition of Bernard and Hyrsl's Minerals and their Localities.   Mindat states that azovskite “appears to be a gel” and “may be identical to delvauxite.” Delvauxite, however, is amorphous and is not known to replace crystals of other species,  Still, it is interesting to note brown globular material appearing in shrinkage cracks of Greenbelt concretions that bear a visual resemblance to delvauxite. Delvauxite is not known to have been reported from Maryland.

Catalogued in the Smithsonian collection are numerous “azovskite” specimens, mostly from Greenbelt. The catalog states or implies that none of the specimens was ever x-rayed. A curious and lengthy PDF procured from the Internet describes azovskite as a mixture of  santabarbaraite and goethite.  Also observed on the Internet was an azovskite specimen from Hagendorf, Germany, offered for sale by a European dealer who described it as santabarbaraite and goethite on quartz.  For santabarbaraite to be replacing crystals of goethite hardly seems a stretch. In fact, one of the Greenbelt azovskite specimens catalogued in the Smithsonian collection names goethite as an associated mineral. Santabarbaraite, on the other hand, has never been reported from anywhere in the Americas, much less Maryland. Just as interesting is that the Smithsonian collection catalog gives the Crimean Peninsula as the locality for one of the azovskite specimens.  According to Mindat, the Crimean Peninsula boasts five santabarbaraite localities, far more than any other region or country on earth where santabarbaraite is known to occur.

After  Rocks and Minerals published Mr. Moore’s article in 1965, Dr. Fairbanks submitted his follow-up article entitled “Notes on the unusual mineral locality at Greenbelt Maryland,” In addition to gratefully concurring with Mr. Morgan’s nomenclature  suggestion, Dr. Fairbanks  raised an additional point that 37 years later would prove eerily prophetic. He stated:  

It is definitely odd that the small area in which the rockbridgeite concretions were found was the only one in that area where phosphorous was relatively abundant. A very prominent non-government geologist suggested that a huge dinosaur died here furnishing the phosphorous.  

In 2012, Smithsoniafgist and fossil hunter,  Ray Stanford, was instrumental in the discovery of two dinosaur tracks on the property of Goddard Space Flight Center. A heavily-armored plant eater, the species was known to reach the size of a small elephant. It received its name from the numerous spikes in its armor. Stanford uncovered the tracks during excavation for the new building pictured at left, photographed from the immediately adjacent Goddard Visitors Center. 

The most recent published research regarding the Greenbelt concretions appears in Lawrence R. Bernstein’s 1980 Maryland Geological Survey Publication Minerals of the Washington, D.C. Area, which evolved from an earlier 1975 U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper (Volume 475, parts 1-4) by Mr. Bernstein. Therein Bernstein noted oral communication from  Mary E Mrose of the U.S. Geological Survey reporting  cacoxenite, lipscombite, phosphosiderite, and strengite in the concretions. Our research turns up no other evidence that lipscombite, phosphosiderite, or strengite were ever reported from Maryland. The same can be said for the beraunite that Morgan claims to have collected between 1944 and 1949.

Hopefully, there are facilities willing to provide further analyses. The possibility of a new mineral species being discovered  in Maryland would surely be significant. Maryland’s only other type locality mineral---for which no type specimen is known to exist---is carrollite, discovered  at the Patapsco Mine in Carroll County and named in 1852. Should analysis of any Greenbelt “azovskite” specimen reveal santabarbaraite, America’s first santabarbaraite ite find would similarly be serious mineralogical news.  And confirmed analyses of lipscombite, phosphosiderite, strengite, or beraunite would be a major contribution to what is known of Maryland’s mineralogy.   

Sunday, February 21, 2016

In Memorium: Harold Levey: (1925-Feb.8, 2016)

With great sadness we mourn the passing on February 8, of Harold D. Levey  in Baltimore County's Northwest Hospital due to complications from a fall several days earlier. Liked and admired by all who knew him, Harold could be considered the patriarch of Maryland mineral collectors, not only by virtue of his age, but by the breadth of his experience.

Locally, that experience dated from when Baltimore City's Jones Falls pegmatites were accessible and in Baltimore County, both the Bare Hills Copper Mine and the the Bare Hills Chrome Pits yielded rich specimens. He collected also at the McMahon and Texas Quarries in Baltimore County when they were known respectively as the Greenspring Quarry, and the Campbell Quarry. He spent a lot of time at the Fairfax Quarry in Centreville, Virginia, when its management actually permitted overnight camping. The Smithsonian once traded him an African mimetite specimen for a classic Centreville apophyllite on prehnite piece that it prominently exhibited for years.  Harold's local and regional collecting experience contributed to and was later enhanced in 1955 by a six month trip to numerous localities throughout the United States.

Natural history fascinated Harold from when he was a child. While looking for snakes at age 14, he extraneously uncovered the above pictured curved Tourmaline Group (var.) schorl  crystal in quartz. The experience led to his subsequent focus on mineralogy. Curiosity about the find prompted a visit to the Natural History Society of Maryland to seek out someone to identify the specimen. As a result, Harold donated it to the Society’s collection and became active as a member. When Charles Ostrander, NHSM’s  original mineral curator moved to Harford County around 1950 Harold became de facto curator.

It was during this period, when Paul Desautels, then a professor of chemistry at the Maryland State Teacher's College (now Towson State) showed up to view the NHSM collection. That visit led to the formation of the Baltimore Mineral Society. Along with  a small group including  Mr. Desautels and John S. White, both future Curators-in-Charge Gems and Minerals at the Smithsonian,  Harold became a founding member and later  president. 
Harold continued to remain active with the NHSM late into the 1950’s.  NHSM then sponsored a Junior Natural History Society of Maryland. Throughout his life, Harold believed strongly that the best way to perpetuate the hobby of mineralogy was to have youngsters participate. He frequently led field trips for Junior NHSM members to a range of localities. They included visits in Carroll County to the Mineral Hill Mine, as well as a long built over cornfield loaded with quartz crystals near Gamber. He also led more distant trips to the dumps of the Cornwall Iron Mines in Lebanon County, PA, and the Showalter Quarry in Lancaster Co. PA. 

Like so many collectors Harold’s life during late middle age centered on family and work: wife Margie, their daughters Dana and Jodie, and a career as quality control manager for AAI Corporation at Hunt Valley in Baltimore County. Deeply saddened by Margie’s death in 1990, he became less active with mineralogy. However, his interest in minerals remained. He maintained his collection until 2013. That summer, failing health necessitated a move from his home near Pikesville to the nearby North Oaks Retirement Community. 

Further perspective on Harold Levey’s role and stature within the mineralogical community is available at the  Mineralogical Record label Archive:  http://www.minrec.org/labels.asp?colid=598 .

Saturday, January 30, 2016

A Plea to the American Museum of Natural History

Were the images larger, or had we photoshopped them a bit, you could read the labels. Clockwise from far left, they read as follows: Boleite, Cottenite, Cumengite, Laurionite, Diaboleite; and  Matlockite. They are are some of the more aesthetic  systematically classified halides on exhibit in the Amercan Museum of Natural History's Harry Frank Guggenheim Hall of Minerals. While not included on the labels, their localities and chemical composition formulas are shown nearby. With sufficient lighting, that information and the specimens themselves would surely attract a higher level of interest from viewers .

A forum on Mindat entitled "Does anyone else think the AMNH displays are lacking?" spans several pages of opinions, most from well-known and highly respected mineral aficionados. The descriptions include "Dowdy;" Disgraceful;" "A bummer to look at;" "Tragic."  Poor lighting is by far the most frequently mentioned deficiency. 

The lighting is so bad it renders many minerals unrecognizable to the point that they offer little in the way of education or entertainment. Particularly notable in this regard are some of the rarer species present in relatively minor proportion on much larger rocks. Where, for instance, is the whitlockite in the specimen pictured at right? Blown up and brightened with appropriate digital photography software, a milky colorless tabular crystal of about a centimeter in width is visible at top right. It's  an inordinately large crystal for this rare phosphate species. However, insufficient lighting renders the whitlockite invisible. And even with decent lighting, a written description regarding its presence would be necessary for the vast majority of viewers to notice it.

Comments on the Mindat forum offer plenty of opinions as to why the AMNH exhibit is so inadequate. They range from funding issues to bureaucratic red tape. One comment surmised that the AMNH directors disparaged minerals "because they were never alive."

Another recalled the world class mineral collection  that was neglectfully stored away at the Philadelphia Academy and all but forgotten. After many years, the directors of that institution  decided to sell what was left of the collection to  dealers who at least were able to bring the specimens into circulation for people to appreciate.

It is unfortunate that the world class  "Spectacular Stibnite" specimen in a well-lit area outside the the Hall of Minerals beckons those who see it to enter. Upon doing so, they soon observe a large display of mind-blowing native gold specimens from California. The lighting for them is substantial, but fails to present as realistic a visual perspective of these treasures as would a different lighting scheme.  And from here, it all goes downhill.

The AMNH's Financial Statements are available on line along with the names of those on its Board of Trustees. Does anyone on this board appreciate or understand that minerals should be viewed in a manner where it's possible to better appreciate them? If they are to remain in a dark room they might consider for perspective a visit to the the Hillman Hall of Minerals and Gems at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, or the Cullen Hall of Gems and Minerals at the Houston Museum of Natural History. And should it make sense to light the entire room, they might check out the wonderful Smithsonian Natural History Museum. Something major needs to be done  to remedy the situation.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Bounty of Baltimore County's Texas Quarry

Look  to the right heading north on I-83 between Padonia and Warren Roads. Where not obscured by embankment, you glimpse the enormous Texas Quarry. As one of five Maryland aggregate quarries that Bluegrass Materials purchased in 2014 from LaFarge North America, this ever growing pit has yielded dolostone for various purposes since well before the Civil War. Its length extends for a mile in places, and it penetrates the Cockeysville Marble formation to a depth of more than 500 feet, well below sea level. Over time, it has yielded a range of mineralogically interesting material, most that was collected decades ago ,
Arguably, the Texas Quarry is best known for its dravite, a tourmaline species, which occurs as adamantine crystals in white dolomite and calcite. The above specimen is from the collection of John S. White, past Curator-in-Charge of the Gem and Mineral Collection at the Smithsonian.
Despite its place in the Mica Group, phlogopite can visually resemble dravite. Sharing similar color and adamantine luster,  phlogopite is ubiquitous at the Texas Quarry. The above pictured piece could be the most collection-worthy Texas Quarry phlogopite piece  known to exist. It is a true Maryland classic that was pictured in  Ostrander and Price's Minerals of Maryland (Natural History Society of Maryland, 1940), and is currently owned by Baltimore area collector Bob Eberle.
Scapolite Group species and varieties, often simply labeled as wernerite, have always been a special find. Regardless of nomenclature, if the color is lilac, it's  a Texas Quarry treasure. We acquired the above pictured specimen from the late Baltimore County dealer and collector Larry Krause. The historic Natural History Society of Maryland label that accompanied it noted that it was collected by the late Charles Ostrander, co-author of the aformentioned book.
Never plentiful, most Texas Quarry Scapolite Group material featured greenish gray crystals. This 4.3 cm. crystal is a fine example. Particularly impressive is the pinkish lavender fluorescence of the accompanying calcite.

Relatively little Texas Quarry calcite fluoresces..As attractive as the above specimen appears, we've observed little  to be as  collection worthy as crystals from other well- known Maryland localities.

Rutile in crystals of more than a few centimeters are rare. The well-known Maryland collector Fred Parker collected this 1.6 cm. long crystal in the 1990's
Neither sphalerite nor baryte are particularly common here.  However, they are  notable when associated with each other as shown above along with some dolomite in the mix.
Little if anything relating to the occurrence of  bornite is in any of the literature we've been able to access. Nor has there been mention of chalcopyrite. That Fred Parker's sharp eye spotted this bornite specimen does not surprise us. We managed within a few seconds to observe chalcopyrite in dolostone boulders piled up near the Bluegrass Texas Quarry sign when shooting our title picture.  
The chalcedony in calcite, as pictured above proved to be eminently collectible.
We saved the image of Texas Quarry  pargasite for last.  Another Fred Parker find, it is the only example of this species of which we are aware from  the Texas Quarry or any other locality in Maryland, except for the Hunting Hill Quarry in Montgomery County.

Other species known to occur at the Texas Quarry are as follows :pyrite, tremolite, pink dolomite, wollastonite, fuchsite, purple fluorite, dendrites (probably manganese oxide), galena, pyrrhotite, quartz, sphene, talc, chlorite, molybdenite, margarite, diopside, and asbestos.


Before posting  we contacted Fred Parker in New Mexico to conifrm that he had not only provided but  personally field collected the pictured bornite, rutile, and pargasite as noted.. After confirming this, he shared two facinating remembrances
  • A specimen from a find circa 1935 labeled "sphalerite on limestone." 

Associated with dolomite crystals,they are stacked hexagaonal plates that appear to be sphalerite. I believe these are sphalerite after wurtzite paramorphs and good ones at that. Fred recalled  where this specimen was housed when he observed it. If still in the same collection and access can be arranged, we'll cover it in a subsequent post. 


I also recall in the early-mid 1990's a blast in which a boulder at the base of the rubble pile contained the best dravites I ever saw from Texas, as I recall 3 to 4 inch crystals. They could not be safely recovered so went to the crusher.