Saturday, January 30, 2016

A Plea to the American Museum of Natural History

Were the images larger, or had we photoshopped them a bit, you could read the labels. Clockwise from far left, they read as follows: Boleite, Cottenite, Cumengite, Laurionite, Diaboleite; and  Matlockite. They are are some of the more aesthetic  systematically classified halides on exhibit in the Amercan Museum of Natural History's Harry Frank Guggenheim Hall of Minerals. While not included on the labels, their localities and chemical composition formulas are shown nearby. With sufficient lighting, that information and the specimens themselves would surely attract a higher level of interest from viewers .

A forum on Mindat entitled "Does anyone else think the AMNH displays are lacking?" spans several pages of opinions, most from well-known and highly respected mineral aficionados. The descriptions include "Dowdy;" Disgraceful;" "A bummer to look at;" "Tragic."  Poor lighting is by far the most frequently mentioned deficiency. 

The lighting is so bad it renders many minerals unrecognizable to the point that they offer little in the way of education or entertainment. Particularly notable in this regard are some of the rarer species present in relatively minor proportion on much larger rocks. Where, for instance, is the whitlockite in the specimen pictured at right? Blown up and brightened with appropriate digital photography software, a milky colorless tabular crystal of about a centimeter in width is visible at top right. It's  an inordinately large crystal for this rare phosphate species. However, insufficient lighting renders the whitlockite invisible. And even with decent lighting, a written description regarding its presence would be necessary for the vast majority of viewers to notice it.

Comments on the Mindat forum offer plenty of opinions as to why the AMNH exhibit is so inadequate. They range from funding issues to bureaucratic red tape. One comment surmised that the AMNH directors disparaged minerals "because they were never alive."

Another recalled the world class mineral collection  that was neglectfully stored away at the Philadelphia Academy and all but forgotten. After many years, the directors of that institution  decided to sell what was left of the collection to  dealers who at least were able to bring the specimens into circulation for people to appreciate.

It is unfortunate that the world class  "Spectacular Stibnite" specimen in a well-lit area outside the the Hall of Minerals beckons those who see it to enter. Upon doing so, they soon observe a large display of mind-blowing native gold specimens from California. The lighting for them is substantial, but fails to present as realistic a visual perspective of these treasures as would a different lighting scheme.  And from here, it all goes downhill.

The AMNH's Financial Statements are available on line along with the names of those on its Board of Trustees. Does anyone on this board appreciate or understand that minerals should be viewed in a manner where it's possible to better appreciate them? If they are to remain in a dark room they might consider for perspective a visit to the the Hillman Hall of Minerals and Gems at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, or the Cullen Hall of Gems and Minerals at the Houston Museum of Natural History. And should it make sense to light the entire room, they might check out the wonderful Smithsonian Natural History Museum. Something major needs to be done  to remedy the situation.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Bounty of Baltimore County's Texas Quarry

Look  to the right heading north on I-83 between Padonia and Warren Roads. Where not obscured by embankment, you glimpse the enormous Texas Quarry. As one of five Maryland aggregate quarries that Bluegrass Materials purchased in 2014 from LaFarge North America, this ever growing pit has yielded dolostone for various purposes since well before the Civil War. Its length extends for a mile in places, and it penetrates the Cockeysville Marble formation to a depth of more than 500 feet, well below sea level. Over time, it has yielded a range of mineralogically interesting material, most that was collected decades ago ,
Arguably, the Texas Quarry is best known for its dravite, a tourmaline species, which occurs as adamantine crystals in white dolomite and calcite. The above specimen is from the collection of John S. White, past Curator-in-Charge of the Gem and Mineral Collection at the Smithsonian.
Despite its place in the Mica Group, phlogopite can visually resemble dravite. Sharing similar color and adamantine luster,  phlogopite is ubiquitous at the Texas Quarry. The above pictured piece could be the most collection-worthy Texas Quarry phlogopite piece  known to exist. It is a true Maryland classic that was pictured in  Ostrander and Price's Minerals of Maryland (Natural History Society of Maryland, 1940), and is currently owned by Baltimore area collector Bob Eberle.
Scapolite Group species and varieties, often simply labeled as wernerite, have always been a special find. Regardless of nomenclature, if the color is lilac, it's  a Texas Quarry treasure. We acquired the above pictured specimen from the late Baltimore County dealer and collector Larry Krause. The historic Natural History Society of Maryland label that accompanied it noted that it was collected by the late Charles Ostrander, co-author of the aformentioned book.
Never plentiful, most Texas Quarry Scapolite Group material featured greenish gray crystals. This 4.3 cm. crystal is a fine example. Particularly impressive is the pinkish lavender fluorescence of the accompanying calcite.

Relatively little Texas Quarry calcite fluoresces..As attractive as the above specimen appears, we've observed little  to be as  collection worthy as crystals from other well- known Maryland localities.

Rutile in crystals of more than a few centimeters are rare. The well-known Maryland collector Fred Parker collected this 1.6 cm. long crystal in the 1990's
Neither sphalerite nor baryte are particularly common here.  However, they are  notable when associated with each other as shown above along with some dolomite in the mix.
Little if anything relating to the occurrence of  bornite is in any of the literature we've been able to access. Nor has there been mention of chalcopyrite. That Fred Parker's sharp eye spotted this bornite specimen does not surprise us. We managed within a few seconds to observe chalcopyrite in dolostone boulders piled up near the Bluegrass Texas Quarry sign when shooting our title picture.  
The chalcedony in calcite, as pictured above proved to be eminently collectible.
We saved the image of Texas Quarry  pargasite for last.  Another Fred Parker find, it is the only example of this species of which we are aware from  the Texas Quarry or any other locality in Maryland, except for the Hunting Hill Quarry in Montgomery County.

Other species known to occur at the Texas Quarry are as follows :pyrite, tremolite, pink dolomite, wollastonite, fuchsite, purple fluorite, dendrites (probably manganese oxide), galena, pyrrhotite, quartz, sphene, talc, chlorite, molybdenite, margarite, diopside, and asbestos.


Before posting  we contacted Fred Parker in New Mexico to conifrm that he had not only provided but  personally field collected the pictured bornite, rutile, and pargasite as noted.. After confirming this, he shared two facinating remembrances
  • A specimen from a find circa 1935 labeled "sphalerite on limestone." 

Associated with dolomite crystals,they are stacked hexagaonal plates that appear to be sphalerite. I believe these are sphalerite after wurtzite paramorphs and good ones at that. Fred recalled  where this specimen was housed when he observed it. If still in the same collection and access can be arranged, we'll cover it in a subsequent post. 


I also recall in the early-mid 1990's a blast in which a boulder at the base of the rubble pile contained the best dravites I ever saw from Texas, as I recall 3 to 4 inch crystals. They could not be safely recovered so went to the crusher. 

Sunday, October 4, 2015

A Serious Agate Find in Baltimore County, Maryland

Definitive banding and translucency are disinctive characteristics of  the only true Maryland agate find of which we are aware.  The locality appears to be around a contact point  between siliceous (quartz) rock and  serpentinite  rock within a small  plot between I-70 and  Catonsville where a Baltimore County geological map shows serpentinite to be dominant.

The metamorphosed quartz rock is rich in iron. Drusy quartz, often nodular, is frequently present, often on the surface of these rocks, and it fills vugs  inside them.  Banding is occasionally apparent, especially inside the particularly vuggy rocks.   Much of the material is similar to that collected half a century ago during the construction of I-70. The specimen pictured at right, which well-known Baltimore County collector Bob Eberle brought home from I-70  in the late 1960's, boasts  coatings of opal (var.) hyalite.

Shown at left is an example of the more recently discovered material before  being sawed or polished. When viewed under the scope, its banding appears as minute vugs filled with an iron rich quartz druse and other ferrous material as pictured in the   photomicrograph at right.

 A clearer macrocrystalline quartz druse accounts for  the translucency evident on  polished slabs as well as blue to
purple banding  in the images beneath our title post. This becomes evident when viewing the photomicrograph at left, which also suggests that the green color could bespeak sand grains at early stages of tectonic compression.

A potential for questioning the legitimacy of agate nomenclature asserts itself in various official definitions that specifically categorize agate as cryptocrystalline  with conchoidal fracture.  While a limited amount of chalcedony is present in a few of the Baltimore County specimens as shown at right,  most are primarily  quartzite with a healthy presence of macrocrystalline quartz.

 For clarification, we contacted John S.White, Past Curator-in- Charge of of the National Gem and Mineral Collection at the Smithsonian as well as one of the world's most frequently published authors on questions relating to the integrity of species nomenclature. His response:
 I have seen lots of agate boulders split without them exhibiting conchoidal fracture.  However, a chip from them might well do so.  In any case, if this is quartz and it exhibits colorful banding, then I see no problem with calling it agate.  Lots of agate has bands that are colorless quartz xls, especially on the inside of nodules as the very last thing to grow.  Quite often “agate” is in the eye of the beholder and lots of stuff that you nor I might not care to call agate is called agate by those who have it.  This material does appear to be banded and very colorful and I would not mind having a cab of it myself.

Clearly, the banding and the translucency define the material as agate. They also raise questions relating to Maryland's Official State Gemstone, known as "Patuxent River Stone" and described on the State of Maryland's Kid's Page as follows:
The Patuxent River Stone is actually an agate, a cryptocrystalline form of quartz. Found only in Maryland, the Patuxent River Stone's  colors of red and yellow reflect the Maryland State Flag. 
 Patuxent River Stone, of course, is neither banded nor cryptocrystalline. Even worse, until after the publication of our previously referenced post about Patuxent River Stone on October 29, 2010, it  was still being called"agatized dinosaur bone”  as well. In truth, Patuxent River Stone is nothing more than quartzite with some red and yellow hues.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

A Major Quartz Crystal Find in Baltimore County,Maryland

During the past year as construction crews were clearing and digging, the now  built over and/or  grown over and off-limits construction site pictured above  near Owings Mills was the site of what could have been the State of Maryland’s most exciting and prolific quartz crystal bonanza ever.  For those with permission to collect and who knew what they were doing, the former construction site yielded notably diverse milky, clear, smoky and amethystine quartz crystal specimens including small clusters and individual crystals, most that were  doubly-terminated, and some with  Cumberland habits as well as a few scepters.

Members of the Chesapeake Gem and Mineral Society, the Baltimore Mineral Society, the Gemcutters Guild of Baltimore, and others  collected  tens  of thousands of quartz crystal specimens. The crystals displayed  by Mark Ruzicka, a Catonsville home improvement contractor pictured with his son Mason and daughter Ashley, bespeak but a fraction of the quantity of specimens they collected in just over a year. Prominent Baltimore County collectors Bob Eberle and Bernie Emery,  the a latter who first informed  Mineral Bliss of the find, collected nearly as many.

Richard Hoff, the immediate Past President of the Chesapeake Gem and Mineral Society, who is pictured at right exploring a crystal pocket, estimates that he collected about 30,000 specimens. Everyone  agrees that the kinds of crystal specimens they fsound changed through different stages of work by an accommodating construction crew.

In the early spring of 2014, the removal of trees from the site uncovered huge quartz boulders bearing numerous milky quartz
crystals. By late spring,  construction crews had removed enough earth to level the entire area, piling the dirt into a mound about 30 yards long,  8 yards wide, and  5 yards high. From these mounds, collectors uncovered plates of quartz bearing multiple crystals measuring to well over an inch. Most of these crystals were milky, some of them clear. Encrustations of dried clay were present on many of the specimens. A different mode of collecting began to evolve around the Fourth of July.

Richard Hoff was there the day that Jim Hooper, President of the Baltimore Mineral Society, wandered a few yards south from the dirt mound and found a single doubly-terminated quartz crystal measuring about an inch and a half. It was embedded in a two foot embankment where a road would later be cut. Almost immediately, Hoff and the other collectors who were present began digging a short distance from the embankment and eventually found more crystals. They dubbed the hole that produced them as “the Hooper pocket.”

In the Hooper pocket and various other holes that struck pay dirt, they typically first encountered small plates of crystals about a foot beneath the surface. As they dug slightly deeper. they found more clustered and individual  crystals.  Some of them hinted at the potential for star patterns as portrayed in the amethystine crystals pictured at left  . Hoff referred to them as “spider legs.” Lots of smokies were in the mix.

Many crystals appeared at first to be floaters. Upon close examination, however, contact points became evident, except where weathered away.  The image at right from a plate of scepter-like crystals provides a hint as to where and how many such crystals could have originated.

The site is near the southwestern edge of a gneiss formation known as the Chattalonee Dome that extends west from Falls Road to about a mile north of Randallstown. In that same area,  a  Johns Hopkins foliation and bedding map of the Chattalonee Dome shows in the general area of the crystal pockets two small patches of fault breccia that is consistent with the micaceous dirt and clay from which the crystals were extracted.  Hoff theorizes that over hundreds of millions of years, both liquid siliceous material and fault breccia filled pockets where feldspar from the Chattalonee Dome gneiss had deteriorated and that crystals began to form that later experienced numerous stages of growth. He suggests that interference from fault breccia material, which also displayed a significant presence of iron (goethite, limonite, and pyrite in specks and tiny crystals) could have accounted for the "spider leg phenomenon. Pictured above at left is one of his less common finds: a golden pyrite cube included within a clear quartz crystal.

Hoff’s  thoughts regarding the science behind these  Owings Mills crystals speak for an innate curiosity and a passion for collecting. Like most who became fascinated with these crystals, he believes that the locality deserves study in academic circles. The opportunity is more than available with the myriad   crystals that Hoff, Ruzicka, and so many others have saved.  Both Hoff and Ruzicka can be reached by email to provide specimens.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

The 2015 East Coast Gem, Mineral and Fossil Show

The experience of attending Martin Zinn's annual East Coast Gem, Mineral, and Fossil Show at the Better Living Center of the Eastern States Exposition in West Springfield, Massachussetts is much the same from year to year and a high point for most  most serious East Coast collectors. This year's show ran from Friday August 7 through Sunday, August 9.  As always, we made a point of attending on Friday, which is less crowded and offers attendees a first shot at the bounty for sale. 

As at any large show, there are magnificent as well as ugly mineral specimens to see and to purchase from different dealers selling comparable material at prices all over the map with plenty of bargains in the mix.  The show also provides a great opportunity to catch up with mineral friends well as to learn about new East Coast finds.

Prominent among a limited number of such new East Coast finds available for purchase this year
were the amethyst crystals that Jason Baskin was offering at Jay's Minerals.  He had recently uncovered them from  a pocket in Windham County, Connecticut. Jason deferred on   information regarding a more specific locality in that county pending publication of an article he is writing for a major mineralogical publication. Mostly small single crystals  or aggregates of such crystals,  their color and clarity were impressive. Prices began at less than $10. This was the second year in a row that Jason has featured a new East Coast find. Last year's was a distinct genre of pyrope-almandine garnets in graphite from Erving, Massachussetts, of which he still had plenty in stock.

Another purveyor, Geologic Desires, can also be counted upon year after year to have its share of exclusive East Coast genres collected near its home base in St. Lawrence County, New York.  That's because owner Michael Walter has obtained exclusive privileges to collect on select private farms in that county.  These localities have yielded  an impressive supply of killer tourmaline (var.) dravite such as shown at left, as well as good peristerite, diopside, uvite, and hexagonite. Michael also has for sale an attractive selection of worldwide minerals.

The show is also certain to have at least a booth or two featuring private collections from which buyers can cherry-pick. This year, Lambert Minerals had such a booth, pretty much the entirety of which offered specimens from the collection once owned by Peter Duncan, a resident of Ottawa, Canada. Among them was the one pound, two ounce brazilianite cluster pictured at right.

For the greatest number of bargains, no other dealers could begin to compete with the hundreds of  keystone (that's half price) specimens offered by Dan and Diane Weinrich. Shoppers were scarfing them up as fast as Dan and Diane could pull them out of flats to place on tables adjacent to cabinets bearing world class specimens priced as high as $40 grand. The Weinrich's have  similar bargain tables each February at Tucson in a room adjacent to the lobby at the Tucson City Center Hotel (Inn Suites) during the two weeks before the action moves to the city's Convention Center. Always prominent among the Weinrich bargains are excellent specimens of calcite and chalcopyrite from the thousands they have been able to source from miners at the Sweetwater Mine at Viburnum Trend in Reynolds County, Missouri. Just as notable, though smaller and fewer in number, are  rare species that consistently find their way to these bargain tables. We  noticed  specimens of  keckite, bobdownsite, dickthomssenite, and shcherbakovite,

At this and numerous shows all over the world, German rare species dealer Gunnar Farber  always has available the widest selection of rare species, some obscure enough to be completely off the radar of the most knowledgeable collectors. Some have only  recently been approved by the International Mineralogical Association and subsequently  published.  Also, more than several specimens from various localities in Chile and at least one this year from Canada can always be found displayed for sale in front of a sign that reads "discovered by me."

Kristalle, which is based in Laguna Beach, California, is high-end to  the point that only the most well-heeled collectors are in a position to do more than gawk when checking out what's for sale in its glass cabinets.  However, at the far end of one cabinet were several specimens that we found to be inordinately affordable, Two were Pennsylvania pieces including the hemimorphite shown at left from Friedensville in Lebanon County's Saucon Valley. While far from comparable to the ubiquitous as well as spectacular hemimorphite specimens from several localities in Mexico, specimens of the quality pictured at right, when from Pennsylvania, are viewed by that state's cognoscenti as a treasure. Standing nearby was the well-known Pennsylvania collector Joe Polytka in the midst of taking notes for the article he writes about the East Coast show each year for Mineralogical Record.  He described the Friedensville hemimorphite pictured at left as "something you don't see anymore." The $60 price tag was a relatively miniscule fraction of the amount that Kristalle asks and is paid for the vast majority the specimens it offers for sale.

Numerous specimens at this show, mostly from high end dealers, are comparable in quality, value, and aesthetics to those in the 50 cabinet display that greets showgoers as they enter the building. These exhibits always represent a private collection of a renowned collector.  This year's display featured specimens from the personal collection of Marty Zinn,  promoter of this show and others, including the famous Arizona Mineral and Fossil Show in February at the aforementioned Tucson Hotel City Center (Inn Suites), It tends to stop many showgoers in their tracks as they enter. Others are more eager to keep moving to reach the bargains as soon as possible,  then enjoy the exhibits upon leaving.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

A Truly Great Overlooked Maryland Locality

Deserving  serious recognition in Maryland's mineralogical circles for the specimens it once yielded is the defunct Farmers Cooperative Limestone Quarry near the crossroads of New London in Frederick County. The quarry, which produced a dolostone primarily of Wakefield Marble laced with phyllite, ceased operations in 1973. 

The locality found its way to Mindat  thanks to Dr. William Cordua,  now retired  as Professor of Geology at the University of Wisconsin. Over the past 30 years, Dr. Cordua has written more than 50 professional publications, most relating to Wisconsin's geology and/or mineralogy. Among them is  a compendium of Wisconsin species that appeared in  Rocks and Minerals. More thorough is the database of Wisconsin minerals he maintains for the Wisconsin Geological and Natural History Survey. Now a member of Mindat's Management Group, he has enhanced that site's listings for species and/or localities in nine other states, including  Maryland's  Farmers Cooperative Limestone Quarry. Dr. Cordua collected there between 1967 and 1969 while  a geology student living near Washington DC.

He recently decided to  "de-acquisition" some of his collection.  Included were the specimens he collected at Farmers Cooperative,  His wish was for them to “wind up with people who appreciate Maryland minerals.”

The suite appears worthy of consideration as one the most interesting and significant Maryland mineralogical finds in last 50 years. We are not aware of a more aesthetically pleasing Maryland-collected aurichalcite specimen  than the one pictured in our title image. Somewhat visually drowned  out  by virtue of colorless transparency are numerous well defined accompanying hemimorphite crystals. The image at right better captures similar crystals from  another rock in the suite. As with the aurichalcite, we are unaware of a better example of what little Maryland hemimorphite is known to exist.

None of the specimens  in the suite amazed us more than the
transparent green sphalerite crystals on calcite pictured at left. Of obvious gem quality, these crystals form an aggregate extending about  8 centimeters. 

Also significant and pictured at right is green/gray botryoidal crystalline smithsonite inside a 6.5 millimeter vug at a contact point with quartz. It is in a rock richly graced with sparkling blebs of galena. Interestingly, galena is not one of the more abundant species among the primary ore minerals from Farmers Cooperative. Far more common are sphalerite, bornite, and chalcopyrite.

 All  three aforementioned sulfides are ubiquitous in thin ore filled veins occasionally running through the Wakefield Marble for which the quarry was mined. Less common and found separately, were crystals of chalcopyrite, rare in Maryland, especially in association with calcite. The several examples that Dr. Cordua collected  rested on marble topped by drusy calcite, as pictured at left..

Of particular interest is  the specimen shown in the photomicrograph at right. The main crystal is goethite pseudomorph after chalcopyrite with epitaxial prisms of malachite. As most of the malachite from  the quarry was of  was of a darker green hue, Dr. Cordua had originally suspected that these beautiful crystals could be dioptase.

Farmers Cooperative Limestone Quarry is not mentioned in The Natural History Society of Maryland's 1940  Minerals of Maryland, by Ostrander and Price. We suspect the quarry may not  have existed then. However, it is one of but two Frederick County localities mentioned in Maryland Geological Survey's 1981 Minerals of the Washington, DC Area by
Lawrence Bernstein. Among minerals observed in Dr. Cordua's suite  that we have not covered but are are listed in that publication are baryte, hematite, manganese oxides (pyrolusite) as dendrites, and chlorite. Bernstein also noted calcite crystals, but may not have been aware that some of the smaller ones werer as beautiful as the twins  in the image at left, which  Dr. Cordua shot.

Bernstein did not mention hydrozincite, It occurs in white crusts that are less than remarkable to observe until placed under shortwave ultraviolet light as shown  at right.

Minerals of the Washington DC Area  does  mentions gold, cuprite, linarite, and rosasite, all on the basis of "oral communication." The late Herb Corbett provided the oral communication regarding rosasite, which he described as "crusts of tiny green crystals."  However, an x-ray analysis that Dr. Cordua submitted.suggests that this material was aurichalcite, which the book did not mention.

Another publication with particularly interesting information regarding the geology of Farmers Cooperative is  Heyl and Pearre's 72 page Copper, Zinc, Lead, Iron, Cobalt, and Barite Deposits in the Piedmont Upland of Maryland, published in 1965 by the  Maryland Geological Survey. Minerals it names from Farmers Cooperative include are limited to  sphalerite, galena, chalcopyrite "and their oxidation products."  These "sulfides, Heyl and Pearre noted, "occur as replacements of the (Wakefield) marble at the contact of the adjacent Ijamsville Phyllite, and in thin replacement veins, bunches and stringers within the marble band."  The veins, they added, are similar to those at the New London (copper) Mine.

It is intriguing how many species species included in Dr. Cordua's suite have been reported  at three nearby long defunct and grown or built over localities: the aforementioned New London Copper Mine; the Unionville Zinc Mine; and the the Mountain View Lead Mine.. All of these localities, along with Farmers Cooperative Limestone Quarry, are  located within a few miles of each other. The ore and collectible  minerals in Dr. Cordua's  suite comprise a significant partial composite of such species,

In a recent email, Dr. Cordua contributed some updated thoughts:.
The similarity in mineralogy at Mountain View and so forth - distinctive stuff like the green sphalerite - I think prove a commonality in origin to the deposits.  Not sure if the formation names haven't changed as a consequence of subsequent remapping. Certainly their interpretation has. I recall plate tectonics just coming in when I was an undergraduate. The Piedmont is certainly a mess of interlocking terranes, likely hacked up now by major faults but, hey, that made for the diverse mineralogy of the state.
None of the literature mentioned thus far provides as much detail as Dr. Cordua's  field notes taken when he collected these specimens.  In addition to species thus far described, they cite manganoan calcite, chalcocite, tenorite (var.) melaconite) covellite, siderite, and celestine.  The notes suggest varying levels of uncertainty regarding  a presence of native sulfur as well as secondary lead minerals  anglesite, cerussite, all known to have been found in microscopic quantities at the nearby Mountain View Lead Mine.

Today, what is left of the Farmers Cooperative Limestone Quarry is filled with water and posted with a no trespassing sign. The remains of an old wooden building still stand, and evidence of trenches and a small foundation are discernible. We saw no evidence of any remaining dumps, especially through the thick midsummer vegetation,

Monday, July 6, 2015

Getting Started in Mineralogy by Gemma Burns

Publisher's note:
Mineral Bliss always been receptive to posts written by guest writers who have something to say that's pertinent.  Gemma Burns, a freelance writer, submitted the first such article that we have received and chosen to publish.  We were impressed as to how she managed to compact the essentials to getting started in our hobby into an article of appropriate for a Mineral Bliss post. 

Mineralogy is a fascinating and rewarding area of interest. Not only is it very good for you in general [1] to have a hobby, but the study of mineralogy can vastly improve your general knowledge and view of the world [2]. However, if you’re just getting started up, it’s easy to make pitfalls, to head in the wrong direction, and to make ill-judged decisions through want of better knowledge. Here, therefore, is a short guide to getting started in mineralogy. There is of course no single surefire route to this, and lots of people get into this in lots of different ways, but these tips might help if you’re a bit uncertain!

A lot of mineralogy can be (and is) learned ‘on the job’ – plenty of people got into mineralogy by finding an interesting rock and experimenting with it. However, if you’re really serious about this science, you’d do well to familiarize yourself with the theoretical basics. There are a wealth of books, magazines, journals [3] and websites out there which can help you to increase your store of rock-based knowledge (including our own website!). If you’re just getting started, it would probably be wise to grab yourself a nuts-and-bolts handbook [4] rather than leaping in at the deep end with the more involved academic stuff.

Once you’ve familiarized yourself with some basic mineralogical theory, it’s time to get down to the real business of learning about rocks on a practical level. A great way of doing this is to get a starter kit which contains samples of rocks all the way up the Mohs Scale of Hardness (well, perhaps not quite all the way up – you’d be hard-pressed to find a kit-maker who’ll put a diamond in a practice kit!). Play around with the samples, learning about what they can and cannot tolerate. Not only will this allow you to get close to the object of your hobby – the rocks themselves – it will also aid your understanding of them on a practical level, and give you some valuable experience which will help you to know how to handle various minerals in the field.

Mineralogy isn’t dangerous if done correctly, but it isn’t always the safest of hobbies either. This is part of what makes it so much fun! Your life as a mineralogist may see you heading for some precipitous rockfaces, or putting yourself in the path of falling rocks. If you’re careful and you know what you’re doing, then you’re unlikely to get into any trouble. But it’s worth brushing up on rock safety procedures and ensuring that you and your kit are ready for all eventualities [5] just in case. Get yourself some steel toe-capped boots, some goggles to protect your eyes when chipping out rocks, a helmet, some tough gloves, a first aid kit, and some hi-viz in order to let workers see you if you’re collecting in a quarry. If you’re really serious about safety, you might also want to grab a Geiger counter in order to monitor the minerals you’re working on. Some rocks can emit surprisingly high levels of radiation [6]!

Apart from safety concerns, you’d also be advised to prepare well for any collecting expedition. Get a good geologists hammer, a chisel, a magnifier, and a bag to put your kit and specimens in. Make sure that you’ve got everything you need before setting out – there’s nothing more irritating than finding a really promising specimen, and being unable to get it out for want of a chisel. It’s also really important to get the permission of any relevant landowner whose land you may wish to work on. Not only will they be able to tell you if you’re likely to be disrupting anything of import with your activities, mineralogists who trespass [7] bring the whole field into disrepute. Finally, you’re advised to obtain things like polish and microscopes to aid you in cleaning up and examining your specimens. Other than that, there’s little else you can do apart from get down to the rockface and learn!

[1] Cynthia Ramnarace, “Why You Need To Have A Hobby”, Business Insider, Mar 2014
[2] R Detrosier, "The benefits of general knowledge; more especially, the sciences of mineralogy, geology, botany, and entomology, being an address delivered at the opening of the Banksian Society, Manchester. On Monday, January 5th, 1829", Hathi Trust
[3] Mineralogical Society Of America, "Select Publications"
[4] Sarah Garlick, “National Geographic Pocket Guide to Rocks and Minerals of North America”, National Geographic
[5] Compare "Looking after your collections"
[6] Thomas Harding, “Museum’s rock collection was highly radioactive”, The Telegraph, Feb 2001

[7] Cornell University Law School, “Trespass”