Thursday, July 28, 2011

Maryland Minerals in the Smithsonian Collection

Pictured at left is an image from a new slideshow of selected Maryland-collected minerals from the Department of Mineral Sciences at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History. We have posted this slideshow of 39 images at our Maryland Minerals website. Ken Larsen, a Smithsonian volunteer, shot them all.

Astoundingly and less than coincidentally, the adjacent image is of smithsonite with associated aurichalcite. According to the Smithsonian's database of gems and minerals, the specimen was collected "near Frederick" at the "Beaver Dam Church Site, Linganore Mining District" in Frederick County. Regional mineral people know this long closed late 19th century locality as site the Mountain View Lead Mine. The turquoise coloured material is aurichalcite. As for the pink smithsonite, even responding with the word "WOW!" would prompt me to feel guilty of understatement. Rare in this part of the country, a smithsonite find bearing visual resemblance to any genre of the sort in which collectors typically take interest (for instance as from the Choix locality in Sinaloa, Mexico) is all but unheard of, especially when the colour is pink.

Our procurement of these images resulted from from a year-long effort. The time frame speaks for Federal funding that has diminished to the point that the Smithsonian lacks the human resources to openly grant interested parties access to the hundreds of thousands of mineral specimens it owns that are stored away at inconvenient locations. After denying us access, however, the Smithsonian Mineral Collection Manager ultimately agreed as rare blocks of time became available, to assign a volunteer to photograph the species about which we'd inquired .

The images were selected according to specific questions regarding certain species listed by the Smithsonian according to catalog number on the the Internet. Once linked to the site, click on "Mineral Sciences Collections Search Page," and then on "Search Gems and Minerals." This brings the user to a page where "Maryland" can be inserted on the line for "Province/State/Territory." Upon scrolling to "Maryland" and clicking on it, a list of 987 Maryland species will appear. Allow a minute or so for it to happen as 947 Maryland pieces and their catalog numbers need to download. Clicking on the "+"sign at the left of any given specimen brings up information regarding locality and various other features. The amount of information available varies. For instance, the only locality information available for the chromian clinochlore (kammererite) pictured at right is that it was collected in Maryland.

The slideshow includes several specimens of similar material from various other Maryland localities. Depending upon where and when it was published, this particular species is known not only as chromian clinchlore or kammererite, but also penninite, rhodochrome,and pennine, as well as several other titles. According to Mindat, pennine is a synonym for penninite, which it describes as a variety of clinochlore. Mindat shows "chromian clinochlore" as a separate species for which it lists seven synonyms, none of which is penninite, but one of which is kammererite, and another is rhodochrome. In describing the specimen at left as "penninite" from near Cooptown in Harford County, the Smithsonian database gives both "kammererite" and "rhodochrome" as synonyms. I'm not aware of another species where nomenclature becomes more confusing. It's not without reason that the Smithsonian spells out clearly in its "Terms and Conditions for Use of Online Collections" that there is "no warranty, either express or implied, regarding the completeness, accuracy, or currency of the information in its databases" and that "the user is responsible for verifying identities and provenance against specimens and other primary data sources."

In the elapsed time since I first perused it a year ago, the Smithsonian database has revealed to me numerous other species of interest. I'm not certain whether they were posted on line subsequently, whether their omission resulted from ineptitude on my part at navigating the database as it then existed, or both. Among additional Maryland-collected species of which we're hoping the Smithsonian will be kind enough to provide images as time permits are linarite, jarosite, idaite, azovskite, mackinawite, and tennantite. Even if later rather than sooner, we look forward to the prospect of being able to successfully procure and share these images with our readers.

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