Sunday, May 31, 2015

The Early History of the Baltimore Mineral Society

Your truly wrote  the article that follows for the October, 2014 edition of the Baltimore Mineral Society's monthly newlsetter, The Conglomerate,  Recently, the Eastern Federation of Mineral and Lapidary Societies awarded it "Trophy" recognition in the "Written Features" category for articles that appeared during 2014 in the monthly newsletters.

                    The Early History of the Baltimore Mineral Society
                                                 by Jake Slagle

Depending upon whom you ask, Baltimore Mineral Society can trace its beginnings to 1950 or 1951.  According to charter member Harold Levey, that is when Paul Desautels, then a professor of chemistry at Maryland State Teachers College (now Towson State University), appeared at the Natural History Society of Maryland to see its mineral collection. At the time, NHSM occupied two buildings in Bolton Hill. One was at 2101 Bolton Street. The other, next door at 2103 Bolton Street, housed its mineral collection.   Although at least one cabinet of minerals adorned a main front room, the building’s kitchen was home to NHSM’s more serious collection, which was well organized in drawers that opened and closed. Additional minerals were packed away in the basement.

Charles Ostrander, after more than a decade of being in charge of NHSM’s minerals, had recently
moved to Harford County.  Mr. Levey (pictured at right), then in his late 20’s, was serving as de facto curator. Mr. Levey recalls that during his visit, Mr. Desautels expressed an interest in arranging for gatherings of people who were interested in minerals where they could talk about them.

Mr. Levey, along with his colleagues at NHSM, the late Ed Geisler, John Glaser, the late Charlie Smith, and Jack Kepper were receptive to the idea. Their initial vision was to form such a group as a separate organization that would be affiliated with NHSM, a proposition that NHSM quickly rejected.  

Mr.Desautels subsequently pitched his idea to the Maryland Academy of Sciences, which then occupied quarters on the third floor of the Enoch Pratt Library.  Soon thereafter, he reappeared at NHSM and stated, “We’re going to be partners.” While no such partnership ever took place, Mr. Desautels was now in contact with enough mineral aficionados in the Baltimore area to assemble the kind of group he envisioned without the support of an outside organization.

The earliest meetings took place at Mr. Desautels’ Towson apartment.  John S. White(pictured at left), who was in high school at the time, recalls being one of the founding officers (Treasurer) along with Mr. Desautels, who was President,   and Mr. Levey, who later became President.  Whether or not the group was yet calling itself the Baltimore Minerals Society is unclear.  Whatever its name, Mr. Levey remembers that in short order, Mr. Desautels was producing  its newsletter with a mimeograph machine at the Teacher’s College.

Mr. Levey, Mr. White, and Mr. Kepper all remember that their meetings were monthly.  The group grew and soon made arrangements to hold its meetings in a classroom and/or in the College’s chemistry lab. Both Mr. Levey and Mr. White recall these early meetings as having been much like classes where Mr. Desautels was the instructor.  Learning about minerals and related fields was not simply encouraged, but required, and assignments were part of the agenda.

Via email, Dr. Jack Kepper, who now lives in Arizona, shared further early recollections pertinent to the Society’s evolution.
Paul Desautels taught us about crystallography, chemistry and was passionate about the preparation of micromounts.  Virtually all of the material initially was from his duplicates, but soon we began collecting on field trips. I recall visiting Phoenixville, Frostburg, and the trap quarries in Virginia.  We even went over as a group to Washington DC to the Washington Mineralogical Society.  I don't think we called ourselves the Baltimore Mineral Society – perhaps our group was just a precursor of the society.
On more than one occasion during those early years, Mr. Desautels arranged for well-known micromounters Neal Yedlin and Lou Perloff to visit in order to provide the group with first-rate access to the micromounting niche of mineral collecting.  After a day of working with micromounts, the entire group retired to the Penn Hotel, then a popular Towson restaurant, for a dinner where the emphasis was on fellowship.

After several such annual gatherings, what had by now become the Baltimore Mineral Society formally held its first annual international micromount symposium in 1956 at the College. Afterwards, the group continued to retire to the Penn Hotel, as the smaller group had done in the past.
The following year, 1957, Mr. Desautels left Maryland State Teachers College to become Curator of Minerals and Gems at the Smithsonian.  Future symposia moved to Stemmers Run Jr. High School in Eastern Baltimore County, where BMS member John Jedlicka was Principal. 

Mr. Desautels remained in his Curator-in-Charge position at the Smithsonian for 25 years. In 1963, he hired Mr. White, then a field geologist working for ASARCO in Tucson, to become a museum technician specializing in mineral sciences. While working at the Smithsonian, Mr. White founded  Mineralogical Record in 1970, and after a series of promotions to various curatorial positions, succeeded Mr. Desautels as Curator-in Charge of the Smithsonian’s Division of Mineralogy in 1984. 

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