Thursday, October 22, 2020


Though assembled via Zoom because of Covid-19, the 64th annual Desautels International Micromount Symposium from Baltimore, Maryland, was a huge success. Chaired for the eighth time by Dr. Michael Seeds of Lancaster, Pennsylvania on behalf of the Baltimore Mineral Society, it happened October 10, 2020, at 1 PM Eastern Time. 

Despite the absence of both dealers and live minerals, this virtual Symposium drew a significantly larger crowd than live symposia of recent years.  Perhaps this could be expected sans the time and expenses involved in travel to Baltimore from destinations around the world. More significant was the glorious manner in which the event executed its intended purposes

After Dr. Seeds opened with a few pertinent introductions, he turned the proceedings over to Col. Quintin Wight of Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, the symposium’s perennial master of ceremonies and also the best known micromounter on the planet. The most definitive part of each year’s Desautels Symposium relates to the international Micromounters Hall of Fame. Quintin, of course, was one of the 40 per cent of living Hall of Fame members in attendance.

 He noted the criteria for selection to the Micromounters Hall of Fame by emphasizing the pre-eminent qualification of being “loudest for longest” within the community of micromounters. Since so many micromounters appear to be quiet people, “loudest” in this context bespeaks volume of involvement in terms of contribution and service to the micromounting niche of the mineralogical community.

 The day’s event, Quintin explained, would feature the induction of 2020’s two new Hall of Fame members: Dr. Michael A. Seeds of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and Dr. Renato Pagano of Milano, Italy.  After their inductions, each was to give a presentation. Quintin also said that he was to announce two selectees for induction at 2021’s Symposium.

 He later named Dr. Anthony Kampf, Curator Emeritus of minerals of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County and Jean-Luc Designolle, the President of Association Francaise de Micromineralogie in France for 14 years, as next year’s (2021) inductees. He then made the point that the Micromounters Hall of Fame sought new inductees every year. He encouraged everyone to send in letters of nomination for potential candidates they considered to be worthy.

 Because Mike Seeds has chaired the Desautels Symposium since 2013, most who were Zoomed in were well acquainted with him.  Regarding his qualifications, Quintin noted that Mike has authored nearly 100 articles that relate specifically to micromounting and emphasized Mike’s Shoebox Adventures feature, which is published by mineral society newsletters around  the world.  He also mentioned Mike’s speaking engagements  about micromounting, especially a recent one he had attended at the Canadian Micro Mineral Association Symposium at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ontario.  Not mentioned were Mike’s collection, his distinct style of mounting, and unique method of labeling.

 Perhaps the reason was that, even though making and collecting micromounts are normal criteria for Hall of Fame selection, Dr.Renato  Pagano does neither. But when considering that most of the approximately 5,500 IMA approved species are microminerals, the 4,300 different species in Dr. Pagano’s personal mineral collection would in this case speak for these requirements by default---even if not trimmed and mounted by Renato in little boxes.  Widely published, he is regarded as a mineralogical superstar in Italy, and is well known throughout Europe as well as by mineralogists and curators in the United States and Canada. Very significantly, he was a founder of the Micromounters Meeting, a major annual event held in Cremona, Italy for bringing together Italian and foreign micromineral aficionados and collectors.

 Before delving into the specifics of his presentation about the sulfur mines of Sicily, Dr. Pagano expressed his views as to how mineral collecting is currently “going in two ways.”  One of them, he said, favors “typically sizeable, expensive and showy aesthetic minerals.” The other is species collecting, which is of greater interest to science and to micromounters.

 Dr. Pagano then described and offered slides relating to Sicily’s sulfur mines and the sulfur they produced. Through most of history, Sicily produced most of the world’s sulfur. He noted that the island’s well known volcanos were not pertinent to Sicily’s sulfur mining heritage and the great specimens they produced.  Instead, the sulfur for which Sicily is famous came mostly from underground sedimentary deposits. The conditions under which the miners, many who were young children, worked until well into mid-20th Century, were brutal.  Dr. Pagano wrapped up his presentation with slides of other notable Sicilian minerals that  included spectacular crystals of celestine, calcite, and hauerite.

 Before the next presentation by inductee Mike Seeds, Baltimore Mineral Society Treasurer and Micromounters Hall of Fame member Steve Weinberger added perspective to Quintin’s earlier introduction. Steve was present years ago when Mike first became discovered micromounting. He described how Mike, Professor of Astronomy at Franklin and Marshall University, after spending many years looking upwards at the stars through a telescope, became enthralled by looking down at minerals through a microscope.

 Mike’s presentation was entitled The Universe in a Micro Box. Noting that astronomy accounted for the source of all elements, atoms, and minerals, he clearly communicated verbally and with slides the most basic truths as to how this all happened. It spanned from hydrogen, the big bang, helium, stars, explosions in space that created atomic elements, then planets and ultimately some very exquisite micromounts. Mike amazingly conveyed this information within but a few minutes so that anyone could follow and understand. Particularly impressive was the exuberant response from participants, some well trained in science, others with less education. 

Nearly three hours had now passed. It was time for Al Pribula, President of the Baltimore Mineral Society to stage the Society’s annual voice auction.  It hardly mattered that the offerings were so much fewer than if the event had been in person. The high level of enthusiasm that had been apparent at the outset had persisted and grown as if to a crescendo.  Every minute had grasped the interest of those present, and it made the auction all the more fun.

 The 64th Annual Desautels Micromount Symposium, although virtual, proved to be tremendously successful. That could well prognosticate a bigger live conference than ever next year.

Sunday, September 27, 2020

George Loud and His Mineral Collection


George Loud has all the friends, contacts, and connections around the country that accompany  65 years as a serious mineral collector. For 15 years, he and his wife Karen have lived in their comfortable home on a Hilton Head Island, South Carolina cul-de-sac. Still, he remains as highly recognized as ever in the Washington, DC and Northern Virginia area.  He spent over four decades there as a distinguished patent lawyer and a leading figure among collectors and  aficionados of minerals. 

Everyone  knows that George has a collection, but not as many have had the opportunity to see it as he would like. He has sold most of his worldwide collection to focus on specimens collected in the United States. Included are specimens that could be the best  known to exist from their localities. Particularly prominent are suites from the Middle Atlantic states  where he has spent most of his life

George houses his collection in an addition to his and Karen's home. It consists of three rooms devoted to mineralogy. One enters into  what he refers to as his "man cave," where he is shown sitting with his yellow Labrador Molly. Micromounting materials are evident on many surfaces. The walls bear an assortment of  personal as well as  mining memorabilia.  

The "man cave" leads into  a hallway with a mineralogy and mining history library with bookshelves on both sides. They extend from floor to ceiling with a ladder system. Multiple shelves have so many books on Colorado minerals and mineral localities that protruding sheets of card stock divide them according to counties within Colorado.  

Beyond the library is the collection room. What first meets the eye is a relatively small single cabinet with minerals from the famous but now off-limits Hunting Hill Quarry in Montgomery County, Maryland. Otherwise, the cabinets are much larger. Keith Williams, who constructed numerous mineral cabinets at the Smithsonian, built most of them. 

Specimens  displayed in a long row of cabinets lining the left wall begin with a suite from the locality that's closest to where George lived most of his life, the fabled Centreville Quarry in Fairfax County, Virginia. Our title picture shows a few of the specimens. As everyone thereabouts who is interested in minerals knows, this locality has yielded too many world class apophyllite and prehnite specimens for passing judgment as to the best ever. What George's suite accomplishes is to show just how perfect they can get. 

Other Virginia specimens are close at hand. The Whitehall Mine in Spotsylvania County, Virginia yielded the native gold specimen at right. This is where gold was first discovered and produced in Virginia in 1806. More than two centuries later, few if any other comparable specimens from  this mining district remain to be seen anywhere. 

Specimens from Amelia County, Virginia are plentiful in an adjacent cabinet.  It would be reasonable to conclude that some of the specimens  in the image at left could vie for best of species from their specific Amelia County localities.  Prominently displayed nearby are  several relatively huge specimens with varied matrixes featuring turquoise  crystals from the Bishop Copper Prospect in Lynch Station, Campbell County, Virginia.

n impressive Pennsylvania suite fills the entirety of one of the display cases in the center of the 
 room. As I ogled over eye candy, George  was focusing on a specimen that had barely caught my attention. It featured a clearly zoned brucite crystal from the Woods Chrome Pit in Little Britain, Lancaster County. Unique classic brucite specimens from this locality are famous. Zoned brucite crystals, however, as pictured in the image at right, are extremely uncommon.

As we were observing the Pennsylvania suite, George explained how he marks, labels, and catalogs his specimens. He applies a brilliant white acrylic paint upon which he identifies the  specimen numerically with black ink, then coats with a sealer. The labels  that accompany them are extraordinary.

Provenance is paramount. His labels name as many previous owners as he can ascertain. The ultimate Phoenixville Lead Mining District  anglesite specimen  from the Wheatley Mine is a good example. Collected between 1855 and 1860, it had eight previous owners going all the way back to the famous mining magnate and mineralogist Charles Wheatley. George also records this same information and other pertinent data about every specimen on index cards accompanied by all previous labels

.The collection boasts many scores of suites and individual specimens  beyond  the very small fraction of them  mentioned herein. Standing out is  a sizeable suite of gemmy minerals from Maine, a superb suite from Bisbee, Arizona, and a suite from Franklin and Sterling Hill, New Jersey with a specimen that amazed me of native gold in willemite  .

George made a  point of showing me a witherite specimen from the Pigeon Roost Mine  near Glenwood in Montgomery County, Arkansas  It is pictured at left.  Clearly one of his favorites, he believes it could be a contender for the best of the species known to exist. 

Nearby, a suite from Magnet Cove Arkansas, a favorite collecting spot for George, bears special mention.  It includes a crystal of andradite (var.) melanite, which George thinks could be the best of its genre ever collected there. 

Another garnet  that impressed me nearly as much was  prismatic and  from North Carolina's Spruce Pine Mining District. Among numerous North Carolina minerals, he also pointed out a crystal of anatase pseudomorph after titanite from Tuxedo Junction at Zirconia in North Carolina's Henderson County.

While George had not expressed any particular fondness for pseudomorphs, I noticed that among one of the few suites  he has held onto from another country was an entire shelf exclusively of pseudomorphs from Mount Saint Hilaire in Quebec. I also noticed ---and now wish I'd taken more time to peruse--- a suite of minerals from Japan.

All that was on display in the mineral room's three lengthy rows of shelves was plenty  to take in. They represent but a small portion of 9,000 specimens in the collection. George keeps them at home with no visible evidence of clutter anywhere. Specimens fill neatly stacked flats in his garage. If not ready for display in the mineral room, most that I saw were genuinely interesting.  George realized that he had not looked at some of them for a long time. It seemed obvious he could be happy going through those flats for hours.  

The hour was approaching when I had to leave to return to Baltimore. I am most grateful  for George's time and hospitality and for showing me his great collection 

On his current agenda is to enter into a computer at least everything currently recorded on his labels and index cards. Whether that includes specimens from his extensive collection of micromounts, I neglected to ask, He did tell me that the micromounts could have to wait. 

George can be contacted at 

Sunday, August 16, 2020



 Three of us headed from Baltimore in search of piemontite on a hillside near Hamiltonban Township in the South Mountain area of Adams County, Pennsylvania. We parked along Mount Hope Road near Gum Springs Road. If we were going to find piemontite  we knew it would occur in outcrops where reddish pink metarhyolite dominated. Soon we were following a trail along the base of the ridge.


Within a few minutes, we spotted some large boulders through the trees. Although no hint of a trail led to them, we bushwhacked about 20 yards uphill,  found the reddish pink metarhyolite we were looking for and soon spotted some piemontite. It occurs mostly in adamantine radiated microscopic prisms exclusively at or near where  quartz has intruded the metarhyolite. We believe we were in one of six known South Mountain area piemontite localities, at least four of which date from the 1890’s

We were also within about a quarter mile of seriously overgrown dumps from copper prospects dating back yet further into the 19th Century.  This was one of  about 20 known localities for native copper in the South Mountain area. Always found in volcanic metabasalts,  the copper was from deposits that were much smaller than but otherwise closely resembled the enormous and lucrative Keeweenaw deposit in upper Michigan. Although extensively prospected well into the 20th Century, the copper never proved plentiful enough to be viable.  

The South Mountain area has long fascinated geologists.  Their focus has always been less on the copper than  the geologic history exposed by rocks over hundreds of millions of years of  erosion.  Research regarding the  piemontite occurrences, while thorough and specific, was limited to separate studies. 

This region prominently straddles the Maryland line into Frederick County, where the geology is similar. The Pennsylvania side calls it South Mountain, Maryland calls it the Catoctins. Geologists have extensively studied the rocks on the Maryland side as well.  Nearly all the studies, however, have been specifically  limited either to Pennsylvania or to Maryland.

Some of the Pennsylvania studies at least acknowledged the presence of piemontite, even though sometimes referred to as “rusty epidote,” or "piedmontite."   In one of a series of articles entitled Chronicles of Central Pennsylvania Mineralogy, the late Jay Lininger described the phenomenon: "Like the comedian Rodney Dangerfield who didn't get no respect." In Maryland, piemontite got less than no respect.It has received no mention. 

Yet, piemontite has aesthetic qualities that make it a highly appealing mineral species as a member of the epidote group, like zoisite and allanite.  John Sinkankas in Gemstones of North America even listed “piemontite in rhyolite” as “semi-precious gem cutting material.” Its presence shows less weathering and better luster within freshly broken rock. Though usually in radiating microscopic crystals as described, a few specimens that are less common bear larger crystals up to about 15 mm. x 3 mm.  Nearly all such crystals have been fractured upon recovery. Seeing perfection is unrealistic. Piemontite is neither common nor highly valued relative to many other species, but regard for it is rising. .

A few years ago, this writer was working a booth at a show in the Towson, Maryland Armory. A man walked by with the most spectacular South Mountain piemontite specimen I’ve ever seen. I’m sure he intended to sell it, but he did not mention a price. After I complimented the specimen, he moved on. Had this happened today, I would happily have emptied my wallet.

Nothing short of synchronicity could make sense of how this writer personally collected piemontite in Maryland’s Frederick County only three weeks before our recent collecting trip. I was clueless that piemontite was in a specimen picked up in a field less than a mile down a road leading west from the tiny hamlet of New London.

 In typical fashion, I had stopped to check out some minor excavation and a small pile of rocks and dirt along the south side of the road.  Standing out among the rocks lying on the ground was the piece of pink metarhyolite pictured above at right.  Just as I knew that  metarhyolite of such color existed in Frederick County, I also realized how conspicuously misplaced it seemed compared to other surrounding rocks. So I picked it up and took it home. No thought of piemontite ever entered my mind. Upon arriving home, I threw it onto the rock pile in my back yard and never mentioned the find to anyone.

Three weeks later by sheer coincidence, a collector called and asked me to join him to look for piemontite in Adams County and write a post about it if we found any.  We went, we found piemontite, and it was obvious that the material in which we found it was the same as the piece I’d collected near new London. Doing my research, I read something in the aforementioned article by Jay Lininger that aroused my curiosity. The article stated that that the renowned late geologist Dr. Florence Bascom, in a her PhD thesis about piemontite,  proved that some of the pink colored rhyolites drew their color from included piemontite.I should mention that Dr. Bascom was the first woman in the United States to earn a PhD in geology and later went on to establish the Geology Department at Bryn Mawr University.

So I went out to the rock pile in the back yard and grabbed the metarhyolite I’d found near New London. A presence of piemontite was readily apparent. I did not report this as a new find for Maryland because it seemed quite obvious that the specimen was not indigenous to the field where I collected it.

However,  metarhyolite has an established presence just a few miles further west of New London  in Maryland’s Catoctins. As long a some of it is the same color as the  ubiquitous reddish metarhyolite on the Pennsylvania side of the state line, piemontite will very likely be present., Once uncovered and verified, it could be a legitimate new find for Maryland.    

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Remnants of Maryland's Historic Patapsco Mine

Those in regional mineralogical circles know that the internationally cherished bright silvery cobalt bearing sulfide carrollite is eponymous with Carroll County Maryland. Carrollite, best known for magnificent cubo-octahedral crystals from Democractic Republic of Congo, is the only mineral species of the more than 5,000 that are known for which Maryland is the type locality.  A  2009 Mineral Bliss post  explains the interesting mineralogy relating to the  "carrollite" as it occurs  in Carroll County.

The specific type locality for carrollite in Carroll County was known as the Patapsco Mine(s), an operation that actually consisted of two mines: the Orchard Mine and the Wildeson Mine. Mining commenced in 1850 at the Wildeson Mine and in 1851 at the Orchard Mine. Both sites were mined for copper and by the 1870's iron.

A costly attempt to exploit a 1852 discovery  of a vein rich in cobalt ore led the identification and subsequent publication of carrollite.  It also led to the financial failure of the mines in 1854. Thereafter mining  resumed for copper through leases and different ownership.

Soon after the discovery of carrollite, specimens bearing similar cobalt sulfides turned up elsewhere in southeastern Carroll County's Sykesville Mining District at the Mineral Hill Mine and the Springfield Mine. These occurrences were small enough that mining was never considered. 

At least a few of the  dumps, shafts, and pits of the Patapsco Mines, though overgrown and difficult to locate, were still accessible to a few cognoscenti in the late 1990's. By the turn of the millennium, remnants of the mining had been reclaimed or were considered to be lost. Collectors demonstrated minimal concern. The same kind of material  the Patapsco Mines had yielded was easier to collect on the dumps of the Mineral Hill Mine. 

A collector friend succeeded in locating what appeared to have once been a pit from one of the Patapsco Mines.  On the ground nearby, we found lying on the ground several decent magnetite specimens with notable cleavage as well as rocks bearing significant malachite. Also present in a few rocks were very small amounts of epidote, pyrite, chalcopyrite, and bornite. We found no evidence of "carrollite."

After penetrating the surrounding dirt with a garden trowel, we found more that was too dirty to examine on site.  The highlight of the day presented itself inside a rock that we broke open. Pictured at right,  it appears to be chrysocolla,  albeit  of a deeper blue color than expected, some of which visually almost visually suggested azurite.  The Natural History Society of Maryland's 1940 Minerals of Maryland publication by Ostrander and Price reported both species.

Having found significant  magnetite but no hint of cobalt sulfides (carrollite), we  believe that our filled in with soil apparent former pit may have been associated with the Orchard Mine. We base this conclusion on a Summer, 1998 article by Johnnie Johnsson in Matrix: A Journal of the History of Minerals (also our source for specific earlier given dates) that limits discussion of carrollite to the Wildesen Mine.

The same literature from 22 years ago describes other workings of the Patapsco Mines in a manner that  begs for exploration. It mentions  a "600 foot adit for extraction or drainage purposes." as well as  "depressions in the area of the site near the river that could be from prospecting work, an adit, or remnants of the wheelhouse, crusher or furnace structures."                                                                                                                                       
There may yet  be more to seek.