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. 

Monday, April 13, 2015

In Middleburg, PA: The Other National Limestone Quarry

Less than ten miles away from the above pictured National Limestone Quarry in Middleburg, Pennsylvania,  is another National Limestone Quarry, which became well known about ten years ago after one of its more remote corners proved to be a source for  world-class wavellite specimens. Owned by the same family, the  Middleburg, PA,, National Limestone Quarry is by all appearances a similar kind of quarry, but it is low on the radar of mineral collectors. In fact, as best as we can determine, even  Mindat is unaware of its existence.

Through prior arrangements with the owner, members of the Baltimore Mineral Society and the Chesapeake Gem and Mineral Society received permission to collect at this "dark limestone" quarry in Middleburg on Saturday, April 11, 2015. We knew it had yielded  fluorite and that "cave flowers" had been found on the berms where  collecting was permitted,

We determined the fluorite to be easy to find in cubes  up to slightly more than an inch.It occurs in veins of dolomite within large boulders of dark limestone. To separate the fluorite cubes from the dolomite encasing them is problematic; likewise to separate the dolomite veins from the limestone through which they intrude. Many of the veins are no more than an inch wide. The preferred method for collecting the fluorite is  to  whack the large boulders with such veins using a large sledge hammer and trim away as much limestone as possible from the resulting particles

A higtlight of the day was an encounter with aragonite rubble  that  clearly originated in a cave that had collapsed on a surrounding wall. Unlike the clear to pale orangish brown aragonite stones present on many of the berms, some of this aragonite demonstrated  a presence of  stalactites, stalagmites, and "cave flowers,"  The seven inch stalactite at right proved to be one of the day's premier finds along with nodular stalagmic sections and some crumbly aragonite with vugs containing impressive microscopic orangish brown aragonite needles. Since nearly all caves or caverns in the region where such material exists are public places that prohibit collecting, this quarry provided a rare such opportunity, although  the picking were slim.

Other finds included magnificent dendrites, pictured at left. Also present, were colorless calcite crystals to about five millimeters  as seen at right  within vugs occurring in a very few limestone boulders. The only other material  of notable  interest to be uncovered were  mud crack rocks.

Even with permission to also collect at the nearby National Limestone Quarry in Mt. Pleasant Mills, the Middleburg locality sufficed to occupy our group for six hours. With  two hours of collecting time remaining, we headed to to the Mt. Pleasant Mills Quarry to a spot that yielded fine barrel-shaped calcite crystals.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Great Maryland Exhibits; Great Show

The Gem,Lapidary, and Mineral Society of Montgomery County's recent 51st annual show at the 4H building of the Montgomery County Fairgrounds in Gaithersburg raised what otherwise could be a tough question. Where else, and for that matter when, can one actually see first hand a wide range of different mineral species that were collected in Maryland?

The images above show a variety of Maryland species featured in an exhibit entitled Mines, Mineralogists, and Maryland. Each specimen is historically significant as determined by such criteria as locality, the person who collected it, and/or past ownership. Chris Luzier, the GLMSMC's president and enthusiastic curator of the display, has surrounded the specimens with images and memorabilia related to Maryland's mining history as well as to numerous renowned late mineralogists who collected, identified, and studied Maryland specimens.  The collection's previous owner was the prominent Maryland collector Fred Parker, who availed much of his Maryland collection  to GLMSMC before moving last year to New Mexico. Fred acquired the historic specimens from the well-known Collectors Edge mineral dealership, which in turn had acquired them when the Philadelphia Academy liquidated its hidden and neglected world-class mineral collection in 2007. Most of the specimens are from localities that no longer exist. It is unquestionably the ultimate historical display of Maryland Minerals

Pictured above is part of  an additional display of other Maryland collected minerals formerly part of the  Fred Parker Maryland collection. Therein are numerous species beyond those represented in the historic display. Many are from localities not included in the Mines, Mineralogists, and Maryland exhibit

At last year's show, a specimen of Harford County radiated actinolite in steatite prompted our March 24, 2014 post entitled "Historic Maryland Epiphany." This year a specimen appearing similar to an unidentified Hunting Hill serpentine rock in this writer's collection inspired a second, albeit less convincing, epiphany.  It interested me to note that Mindat refers to metaxite as a "synonym for chrisotile," A closer look could be in order. 
Pictured at left is another particularly eye-catching exhibit featuring specimens from the Fairfax Quarry in Centreville, Virginia. They are from the collection of GLMSMC member Jonathan Ertman. Referred to in our November 7, 2009 post as "Maryland's Mr. Hunting Hill Garnet," Jon has focused much of his attention in recent years on acquiring the no longer to be collected classic apophyllite/prehnite specimens for which Centreville is famous. It could be a reasonable conjecture that serious collectors from the Maryland/DC/Virginia area  crave this mineral specimen genre more than any other, possibly even those gemmy Hunting Hill grossulars,

Beyond the aforementioned and about 40 more exhibits on the first floor were numerous workshops, related to lapidary work as well a features to attract the interest of youngsters.  Dealers completely filled the second floor. The GLMSMC sets up the building this way each year, and it works great.

Most of the dealers are from or have strong ties in the region. The range of their offerings is sufficient to interest just about every kind of collector.  Their busiest time is  during the first several hours the first day of the show when aficionados eager for a grab at first pickings all but mob them. Notwithstanding, the pace remains busy, and the wide gamut of dealer offerings continues throughout the two days of this wonderful show. It's not to be missed.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Contributing to Mindat: A Pleasure and an Honor

It should be safe to say that the gentleman pictured above has done more to enhance the science and hobby of mineralogy than anyone else in history. If you have enough interest in minerals to be reading this, you know that he is Jolyon Ralph, who 14 years ago founded,  the world's largest and most complete public information database about minerals. The site makes it a no-brainer to access and cross-reference whatever you need to know about a  mineral species, from  pertinent facts to localities to hundreds of thousands of images.

 The majority of collectors, dealers, academics, and others with an interest in minerals could not do what they do as well---if at all---without Most important, access is free to everyone and will continue to be so.

With volunteer input from some of the best mineralogical minds on the planet, Jolyon  created in his spare time as a hobby. Only in the last year did he quit his day job in London, England in order to fulfil the the demands on his time to run it.

As is based in Great Britain,  Jolyon is moving  forward to establish a nonprofit as a US-based 501(c)(3) organization that will make it feasible to secure funds to  continue growing while keeping its database and website  available at no cost.  Until recently, this money came from Jolyon's pocket. To see how will spend the $250,000  it is seeking, follow this link.

One should consider it an honor to contribute to To encourage early contributions, sponsorships are available at $50 a page for the vast majority of the approximately 4600 mineral species known to exist. This writer, as a Marylander, is flattered to have his name pop up whenever anyone accesses the page for chromite  and williamsite. And for a donation of $1,000 or more you can become named as a Fellow of on the front page of the site.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

An Historic and Obscure Zeolite Occurrence at Monkton, Maryland

Pictured above is an historic specimen displaying numerous microscopic chabazite and heulandite crystals at a contact point on a slab of Baltimore gneiss. Pursuant to the labels, it was collected at Little Falls near Monkton in Baltimore County, Maryland. The orignial label is from from the collection--- or dealership--- of Germany's late Dr. August Krantz (1809-1872) and identifies the featured species to be haydenite and beaumontite, as chabazite and heulandite  respectively were referred to at the time. The specimen was later in the collection of Jeff Weissman, a renowned mineral photographer and rare species expert.
I acqurired it from John Betts with labels that go well beyond the call of duty to document the provenance. Though  not noted on the label, John also expressed a belief that the specimen could very likely have been collected from excavations near Monkton for the Northern Central Railroad line during the 1830's.

After ceasing operations in 1972, the former NCR rail line was converted into a popular rail/trail in 1984. It  is known today as the Torrey C. Brown Trail and crosses Little Falls about 1.7 miles north of Monkton just before it flows into the Gunpowder River  The Baltimore gneiss in which the chabazite and heulandite are present is indigenous to this specific area. It is more prevalent, however, farther south in Baltimore City and was quarried there extensively in the 19th century for building stone. Interestingly, the chabazite and heulandite appear on the gneiss in a manner that is visually similar to known historic specimens collected  at the Jones Falls Quarries. Some of these can be viewed on  Mindat.

Such historic specimens from Maryland localities of which no remnants still exist can be fascinating to those with interest in the regional mineralogy. For certain, we have much to learn from them. On the other hand, the localities attributed to them can become misleading when the names by which their localies were once known change and become forgotten or confused.

With this specimen, however, the documentation is sufficient to suggest that it is everything the labels claim. To the best of our knowledge, it could well be the only currently known occurrence of these two zeolite species to be reported from the Baltimore Gneiss in Baltimore County (as opposed to the City of Baltimore) or for that matter the only chabazite and/or heulandite specimens to be reported from anywhere in Baltimore County.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Unbelievable but True: The World Class Personal Collection of Peter Via

This post is about a world class mineral collection and its collector, Peter Via, of Roanoke, Virginia.. While passing through this increasingly vital city three years ago, I visited Mr. Via and viewed his assemblage of minerals, It was overwhelming to the point that the amount of time we had scheduled for me to view it was far from sufficient.

Three years later, the opportunity arose for me to visit again.  Due to unforeseen circumstances, limited time once again became an issue. With several hundred specimens on display, my mission was to photograph as many as possible and also try to learn what I could about Mr. Via's approach to putting together such a collection.

The minerals fill intricately crafted modern wooden cabinets in which custom halogen lighting showcases each one. Magnificent as they were to view, photographing them proved challenging enough  that only about twenty of approximately one hundred hurriedly shot images proved pleasing. Despite the superb lighting, good images of such specimens are best captured by removing each piece individually to a studio setting  in order to avoid reflections from nearby minerals as well as interference from the intersection of well-finished wood and the  thick glass upon which the specimens rest. An alternative technique of maneuvering  the camera within an open cabinet might produce a few more decent images, but could easily lead to the disaster of knocking over and damaging treasures of untold value.

Such risk is why, when asked to loan specimens for display at shows,  Mr. Via's  response  is a "blanket no," All the minerals from his collection that are available for the public to to view are those he has generously gifted to museums, primarily James Madison University Mineral Museum in Harrisonburg, Virginia.
Peter Via himself is no more likely to be present at shows than the minerals in his collection. "If I went,"he once told The Robb Report, "I'd come back with my entire net worth in the back of an 18-wheeler"The reality is that when Mr.Via acquires a mineral, the provider of it hand delivers the specimen to his home. He is willing to pay top dollar,  but notes:  "It's like the stock market. You've got to know what you're doing."  Unlike many high-end collectors, however, he does not view the minerals in his collection as investments.

Instead, Mr Via chooses his minerals pursuant to a personal sensibility cultivated by serious collecting over the better part of a century. He is well aware of how prices for the kind of minerals he slowly accumulates have consistently risen over time and believes with a sense of knowing that they will continue to do so.

When viewing these specimens, one is likely to wonder about the possibility that they could be the most desirable of their genre or "best of species" known to exist. When asked about this, he responds: " I can't say I know. No one ever knows what's out there sitting in someones closet."

Like all collectors, Mr. Via will occasionally sell a specimen or two. "Sometimes when they come here to sell me minerals," he explains, "I'll want to get something out for the sake of space. I'm happy to let it go for any reasonable amount I can get, but I'm not about to lose money." He has no intention of ever selling the collection itself,  Ultimately, he intends to bequeath it to the Tellus Science Museum in Cartersville, Georgia.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

A Privileged Visit to the Colorado School of Mines Geology Museum

 The shows that were happening in Denver over the weekend of September 12-14  at that city's Merchandise Mart, Ramada Plaza Hotel, and the Denver Coliseum  were great. The only regret I had was that my ten Colorado-booked days spanned the week following these shows rather than the previous week. As a result, I missed  the Colorado School of Mines Geology Museum's open house in nearby Golden on September 10.

 Headquartered in its present modern building at 1310 Maple Street since 2003, and featuring two floors of superb exhibits relating to Colorado's legendary mineral heritage, the museum was founded in 1874. Its star has been rising ever since---more than ever in recent years.

Having never had the opportunity for a visit,  I made a point of detouring to Golden after the Denver shows were over.  While the Museum's exhibits run  the  gamut of earth sciences, cabinets full of minerals predominate, especially on the main (top) floor. They are arranged mostly according to locality, with separate cabinets devoted to  minerals from Arizona, Mexico, Europe, China, South America, and various other locations. Minerals collected in Colorado fill the greatest amount of space, with separate exhibits devoted to counties and districts of Colorado's mineral belt. Included are the Aspen District, San Miguel, Ouray,  Boulder County, Gilpin County, the Leadville District, Clear Creek County, the Gilman District, the Creede District, Teller County and Cripple Creek. In addition to separate exhibits of  gemstones and pseudomorphs, I was delighted to also find an exhibit proclaiming the pleasures and merits of micromounting.

After an hour or more of browsing and ogling, I recognized through an open office door Dr. Bruce Geller, who has been the museum's Director since 2007. My timing for looking in to introduce myself and say hello could not have been more auspicious. With two collection managers, 16 student aides,  75 volunteers, and three additional buildings to oversee, Dr. Geller is also  responsible for the coordination of nearly daily guided public tours, mostly for tourists and students. As luck would have it, the next guided tour was to be for Yours Truly alone.

"Twenty percent of everything  moves out  each year in order to make room for fresh displays," Dr. Geller informs me as we walk from his office into the main floor exhibit hall. One such new display is the case to which he points in the image at left. It features gold from Central City, which is where the Colorado Gold Rush began in 1859.  Included in this case are magnificent native gold specimens believed to be the earliest known to exist from the region. Also in the case were two gold coins minted with Central City Gold in 1860 and 1861 by the privately owned mint and banking company Gruber and Clark. "We always try to do Colorado," he says. "That's our mission."

We next enter a side room that Martin Zinn  recently donated to honor his mother. Mr. Zinn is well known for his role as   manager of extravaganzas that include the Arizona Mineral and Fossil Show each February in Tucson, the recent Colorado Mineral and Fossil show, the East Coast Gem  Mineral and Fossil Show, and two major West Coast shows. The room features cabinets housing numerous specimens from the Zinn family mineral collection, as well as a cabinet of specimens provided by the  renowned mineral dealer David Bunk.
Pictured above and particularly impressive is a cabinet  filled with an extensive, diverse, and downright amazing rhodochrosite suite on loan from Dennis Streetman.

      Dr. Geller's enthusiasm continues as we walk around the larger hall, where he points out specimens he believes worthy of being considered "best of species". The pyragryite piece from the Parano mine at Fresnillo in Zacatecas, Mexico, pictured at left, speaks for one such specimen. Another, shown at right, features an enormous columbite crystal in albite from  Minas Gerais, Brazil, Viewed live, its grandeur appears all but unbelievable. To the best of Dr. Geller's knowledge, it is "the biggest columbite crystal in the world." Both specimens, as well as numerous others that are clearly world class were donated  by Oreck Corporation founder David Oreck and his son Bruce.

 Taking  a phone call, Dr. Geller refers me to Richard Parsons, one of the 75 volunteers active with the Museum.Mr. Parsons, like Dr. Geller, is an avid micromounter. Within a minute, Mr. Parsons is leading me down a flight of stairs. The room to which they lead houses  the Museum's primary earth science exhibits relating to paleontology, meteorites, and mining, Colorado's premier display of fluorescent minerals, and the gift shop, Through an inconspicuous door, we pass into a large area used by the museum for storage and study. At the forefront, are numerous cabinets such as the one next to which Mr Parsons is pictured at right. They house the world class micromount collections assembled by the late and famous mineralogist Lazard Cahn, as well as those assembled by Arnold Hampson and Dorothy Atlee. In all, these three collections include more than 15,000 micromounts.

As we  return upstairs, Dr. Geller is once again available and proceeds to further enhance my awareness of  what the Museum is about. He begins by pointing out its most recent coup. It is a mural consisting of six paintings showcasing the history of mining from Paleolithic times through the 1930's. The paintings  extend a short distance out from the west wall  about two feet below the ceiling. Irwin Hoffman painted them for the 1939 Golden Gate Exposition in San Francisco. Thereafter they graced Colorado School of Mines Berhoud Hall and later the National Mining Hall of Fame before being transferred here when the Geology Museum  moved into its present quarters. Damaged by water that seeped in during a severe 2013 rain storm, Dr. Geller employed the services of restorers, framers and other artisans to have the mural up in time for the Museum's  September 10  open house.

Later he mentions that  the Museum maintains four warehouses. One is the large storage and study area adjoining the first floor where Richard Parsons showed me the micromounts. The other three have separate locations. They include a second warehouse filled with rocks and minerals. A third warehouse is for fossils, The fourth warehouse holds radioactive material and is "so hot," he says, "I've only been in there twice."

As the afternoon winds toward an end, Dr. Geller speaks of a practice that differentiates the Colorado School of Mines Geology Museum from many other museums. It does not allow all the material that goes into its warehouses become lost or forgotten.

Dr. Geller explains:
On Average, we receive roughly one worthy donation per day, which creates a challenge for our Collections Managers, who must discriminate what is essential from what is superfluous. We are fortunate for the donations of earth science materials and rarely turn them down. We have several options for the overflow: our Gift Shop, our campus labs/classrooms, our give away box at the museum entrance, and one or two annual Garage Sales of generally low-end unlabeled material.