Sunday, April 15, 2012

New Treasures at Delaware Mineralogical Museum

The master German stone carver Gerd Dreher fashioned the bat entirely from a single chunk of Brazilian agate. It's on loan from the private collection of Herbert and Monika Obodda. And the frog, at left? Except for the eyes and flower's ovary, it's but one piece of the classic Tanzanian ruby zoisite combination. These and other Dreher carvings will be on display until July 20, 2012.

They are but a small part of what is new here at the Delaware Mineralogical Museum in Penny Hall at the University of Delaware. Otherwise, it's all world class mineral specimens that intricate fiber optic lighting showcase with a flair not likely surpassed at any other mineral museum on earth.

Why is it that of the United States of America's 50 states, one that ranks at or near the bottom of the mineralogical wealth ladder boasts such a collection? Several reasons: Generous donors have funded it; it's small enough to focus on the best of the best; and it has Sharon Fitzgerald as its full time curator.

Aware of my interest in regional minerals,
Sharon had mentioned to me in an email one new item in particular that was not on display. She described it as a "book by W. W. Jefferis---really just a cover that between dividers contains sheets of muscovite that are all included with magnetite and hematite from Chandlers Hollow." Even with the picture at left, I was not entirely certain what to expect. After all, mica crystals in nature form as "books." Jefferis collected the numerous muscovite crystal sheets between as many dividers about a century and a half ago. Though Chandlers Hollow still exists, Ms. Fitzgerald has not been able to determine specifically where at Chandlers Hollow they came from or how Jefferis collected them.

Still, the Delaware Mineralogical Museum is less about art and history, more about world class minerals. Ms. Fitzgerald insists that despite the colour of its backdrop, the aquamarine pictured at left is truly as blue as it appears to be. In fact, some of the specimens on display here could be the most visually outstanding examples of their species known to exist. Aware of the extent that such determinations, especially with respect to common or frequently collected minerals, are subject to argument amongst curators, collectors, and high end mineral dealers, I picked a less commonly displayed species to illustrate this point. Is anyone aware of a more outstanding kurnakovite specimen than the foot long piece from Boron, California pictured at right?

Though the Dreher carvings will only be here until July 20, the amazing mineral specimens will be around indefinitely. However, anyone planning to visit this April (2012) or June should first call 302-831-6557 or 302-831-8037. Scheduled renovations elsewhere in Penny Hall will necessitate closing the museum for a period of time during one of those months. Otherwise, except for holidays and school breaks, it's open Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, noon to 5, and on Thursdays from noon to 8.

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