Saturday, July 18, 2009

Fred Parker: A Maryland Mineral Perspective

Fred J. Parker grew up in New Jersey, where he became renowned as a second generation collector, dealer and expert specializing in Franklin/Sterling Hill material. His focus expanded to Maryland mineralogy after he moved here in 1983. With an eye to history as well as to the present and the future, Fred shared his Maryland perspective with the Baltimore Mineral Society at its July 15, 2009 meeting.

Upon arriving in Maryland, he was told that our state had little to offer in the way of minerals and that that all the action happened in Pennsylvania and Virginia. Within weeks, he joined several mineral societies and met a few key "local characters" with different ideas and more extensive knowledge. He soon accompanied some of them on a visit to the LeFarge (Redland-Genstar) Quarry in Medford. Access was wide open at the time, and great calcite crystals were everywhere.

Even so, Fred Parker didn't become completely "hooked" on Maryland minerals until 1987. That happened when he and Maryland's "Mr. Garnet," John Ertman, uncovered a major pocket of gem quality grossular at Hunting Hill in Montgomery County. Twenty two years later, Fred still likes to refer to this locality as "my baby." In 2005, when The Mineralogical Record published the definitive Fred J. Parker piece, "The Minerals of Hunting Hill Quarry, Rockville, Maryland," the mineralogy of the Free State received a level of recognition not seen in decades

This article, of course, figured prominently into an arena long a Parker passion, namely the history of mineralogy in Maryland. In his personal collection, historical Maryland mineral specimens are understandably ubiquitous. They include pieces that once belonged to such noted collectors as Don Fish, Mike Elwood, and Dick Grier. His biggest recent score was the Maryland suite from the Philadelphia Academy of Sciences Collection after its sale in 2006 for millions of dollars to two mega-mineral dealers. Thereafter, following lengthy but quiet negotiations with Collectors Edge, the suite became part of the Parker collection.

When addressing the Baltimore Mineral Society, Fred described history as where "the real adventures begin." He mentioned two long out of print books as especially relevant: They were Minerals of Maryland, by Ostrander and Price, published in 1940 by The Natural History Society of Maryland and Minerals of the Washington, DC Area by Lawrence R. Bernstein, published in 1980 by the Maryland Geological Survey.

Numerous sites mentioned in these books now lie beneath shopping centers or apartment complexes, but a few remain accessible. More important: Who's to say what's under the ground where "progress" has yet to claim accessibility? To find out, knowledge of Maryland geology could obviously be helpful, but isn't entirely necessary. Another approach that Fred has also embraced is visiting and questioning the locals in areas near where great specimens were collected in the past. Most important, he says: "Check every road cut, excavation, and blast along the way!"

To share the anecdotes that made his point would extend beyond the allocated space for this post. Just about every story deserves its own post. For example:

  • The road cut near Columbia where autunite and torbernite ! covered the pegmatite.

  • Rediscovering a long forgotten smoky quartz occurrence (check out our title picture) near Clarksville in excavations making way for future McMansions.
  • The amazing amethysts near Laurel that the workmen threw into the pit to permanent burial.

  • The man who took home a quartz boulder laden with gold from the Cabin John Bridge excavation and used it as a door stop.

  • Buck Keller's major gypsum find in 2007 amidst excavations for the Woodrow Wilson Bridge.

  • The presence of quartz crystals in soil beginning just south of Thurmont and extending almost to Harpers Ferry.

These stories are history now. But others are in the works. And there should be plenty more before too long.

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