Sunday, August 31, 2014

STUMPED! on a Rock from Baltimore's Stony Run

Many of us  collectors have rocks lying around  that we are unable to identify even when we know their locality. Ultimately, if determined enough, we figure it out. Often we find someone who can tell us, or we encounter a similar rock that's been identified. To date, no such answer has surfaced regarding the most definitive aspect of the rock pictured above.  Baltimore artist Rick Shelley---I was collecting with him at the time---pulled it  from the stream bed of Stony Run a short distance south of the Remington Avenue Bridge.

This is a section of the stream where mica schist, quartzite and quartz account for most of what is around. The latter two often bear stains of iron oxide. A few cobbles, when cracked open, show vugs bearing weathered hematite and/or goethite.  Less frequently, one might find a rock similar to this one where the quartzite bears a coating of drusy quartz that's become variably smoothed since entering the stream, The drusy quartz may or may not be botryoidal, as it is with this specimen

What everyone who  has seen this rock finds to be curious are the concentric circles. A likely conclusion could be that they are fossils, or fossil imprints. Although it's possible, even with with a matrix of quartz or quartzite, such an occurrence would seem highly unlikely at this location in the eastern section of Maryland's Piedmont.

Much if not most of the approximately one square mile of land surrounding where Mr. Shelley found this rock was once the site of various  filled in and built over gneiss quarries that yielded a diversity of interesting mineral species. These quarries and their minerals were the subject of numerous classical mineralogical reports. We are not aware of any literature noting the existence of  fossils in the area.
Very recently, we showed this rock to my friend John S. White, who having been Curato-in Charge of the Smithsonian's Division of Mineralogy for nearly eight years, could be the source of a credible opinion. After checking it out under the scope, he was as mystified as everyone else who has seen the specimen regarding its circles. His one firm opinion was to rule out the likelihood of a fossil.  His reasoning was as follows:
  • I didn't see any organic looking surfaces.
  • While there are a couple of prominent concentric circles, there are plenty of circles  that are quite irregular.
  • There does  not appear to be any evidence of a sedimentary environment. 
What, then, expllains these circles?  We're hoping that someone will submit an answer about which he/she feels confident. 

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The Mineralogical Legacy of Baltimorean Robert Gilmor

The important collection described below is the subject of a document excerpt  recently transmitted to me by John S. White, past Curator-in Charge of   the Smithsonian's Division of Mineralogy. He received it from Dr. Johan Kjellman, curator of the mineral collection at Uppsala University, Sweden. Dr. Kjellman had been researching crystal models and was interested in those that Albert Hauy had originally intended  for presentation to the Emperor of Austria. The excerpt below is  from The American Journal of Science and Arts, Second Series, Volume 6, November, 1848. In the note to which it was attached, Mr. White stated:  "Turns out that the old gentleman was Robert Gilmor (1774-1848) who, interestingly enough, was a Baltimorean. "

It did not take long for me to determine that in 1814, Mr. Gilmor published "A descriptive catalog of minerals occurring in the vicinity of Baltimore"  in  Bruce's American Mineralogical Journal, Vol.1, 1813, pp. 221-223. Therein he enumerated 43 different minerals found within a 14 mile radius of the city. Although Google had digitized this publication, the pertinent pages were missing from those that appeared on line. 

A Friday afternoon visit to Johns Hopkins University's Milton Eisenhower Library revealed that the publication we were seeking was available there on microfilm. The librarians were kind enough to locate it for me over the weekend, and by Monday copies were in my email. 

Here are some  items that proved to be of particular interest:
  • "Native Magnesia:" From Bare Hills, obviously this is magnesite. "Is it not a carbonate of lime combined with magnesia?" Mr. Gilmor pondered. Even today, massive magnesite is quite common throughout the Bare Hills serpentine barrens. However, for it to be in crystals "accuminating to a dihedral summit---insulated, pure white and (or) transparent,"  is unheard of. 
  • Corundum:  "An hexahedral crystal an inch in diameter was also found at Bare Hills, which in all its external characters corresponds with corundum, as described by Hauy; but the writer considers it doubtful"  Since then, serpentine has been reported where pegmatite injects serpentine in other parts of Maryland. As a pegmatite dike adjoins the serpentine at the northern extreme of Bare Hills, the possibility of a corundum find seems realistic.
  • "Staruotide is found in hexiahedral prisms with dihedral summits on the Falls Turnpike, 7 1/2 miles from Baltimore." This could be the same material  as collected by Bob Simonoff and very kindly confirmed for us as staurolite by Professor Emeritus Peter Leavans at the University of Delaware. It was the subject of our July, 2011 post 
  • "Disthene:"--"or Cyanite, (lamellar) of a pale green (rarely blue) is found in a micaceous rock about 20 miles from town on the Falls turnpike, at Scotts Mill, 7 miles from the York Turnpike. The crystals are large and small, many of them 4 and 5 inches in length."
  • Galena: "Found in a small vein in quarries about the first Falls Turnpike gate on the west side of Jones' Falls, accompanied by black lead ore and blende of sulphuret of zinc.  It is also asserted to be lately found in a large vein within 7 miles of the city, but the direction is kept a secret. The specimen seen by the wriiter, and said to come from the spot, was a large mass of galena." 
We have posted the document on our Maryland Minerals web site .  

Meanwhile, we have just received word from John White that Wendell Wilson, Publisher and Editor in Chief of Mineralogical Record, (which Mr. White founded in 1970) is interested in putting together an article about Mr. Gilmor, especially if he can come up with at least a couple of photographs of minerals bearing his label. Mr. Wilson's research suggests a possibility that perhaps one or two significant specimens once owned by Mr. Gilmor that were not included in the collection being sold in 1848 could have remained in Maryland. We are currently investigating that possibility. While the likelihood of locating these specimens is remote, our efforts could open new windows on mineral specimens collected in and/or housed in Maryland. 

Monday, May 5, 2014

Beware those Rare Franklin, NJ Micromounts

Dick Bostwick (left) and Van King (right) examining tethered photomicromgraphs. 

In Tucson, this past February, in a very well-received  presentation at the annual Friday Micromount Symposium,  Vandall T. (Van) King warned his audience of the strong likelihood that many of the myriad rare microminerals from Franklin and Sterling Hill, New Jersey were not what their labels proclaimed them to be.  As the owner of a small suite including several specimens alleged to be among the rarest of these species, the topic was of particular interest to me. If three specimens in that suite, namely jarosewichite, flinkite, and cahnite were correctly identified, I could be holding what to some very passionate Franklin aficionados would be submillimeter treasure no  larger than the head of a pin.

In fact, subjecting these specimens to the surest means of identification, namely scanning electron microscopy (SEM) and/or x-ray diffraction (XRD) would be to sacrifice them. Some kind of visual confirmation from a sufficiently knowledgeable expert was the best I could hope for. Upon learning that Van, who is currently busy at work authoring and compiling images for a photographic atlas of  the Franklin area's rare minerals, would be shooting photomicrographs the coming weekend  at the New York/New Jersey Gem and Mneral Show in Edison, NJ, I committed myself to be there. He said to look for him at the table hosted by the Franklin/Ogdensburg Mineral Society and the North Jersey Mineralogical Society.

Bearing the mounts proclaiming jarosewichite, cahnite, and flinkite, as well as several other pieces that seemed questionable,  namely  manganoberzeliite, antlerite, and Mg chlorophoenicite, it didn't take me long to find him.  Equipped with scope, camera and computer for shooting tethered stacked  photomicrographs to about 130x, he was  in the company of  Dick Bostwick and other heralded experts on Franklin minerals. They were all eager to provide input, albeit tentative in some instances, as to the identification of my specimens. At first, I was cautiously optimistic when they quickly recognized from their that my mounts were once in the collection of a deceased, but well-remembered and respected collector and photographer --prior to the digital age---of rare Franklin material.

Here is what I learned:

Dick Bostwick peered through the scope at this specimen, labeled as manganberzeliite and proclaimed that the identification could very well be accurate.

Van then did the same with this specimen, which was labeled as chlorophoenicite from Sterling Hill. He was unable to find any evidence of that species.

Soon thereafter, he checked out this piece, labeled as schallerite. His opinion was that rather than schallerite,  it was probably friedelite.

With my "antlerite," the verdict was warmer. Though not an inordinately rare species, antlerite  is said to be very rare at Franklin. Its  submillimeter presence had led me to believe that any conclusive visual identification would be unlikely. Van informed me that the specimen did look like antlerite.*

At left is the specimen about which everyone was  most curious. Though no more than a millimeter in length, its label  noted those three most extreme  rarities: jarosewichite (believed to be the reddish orange  balls), flinkite (the darker material with a brownish cast), and cahnite (the white material). While unable to identify any flinkite, Van took an interest in this specimen, and spent quite a bit of time studying  that reddish orange ball. He concluded that it was caryopilite, an uncommon member of the serpentine group. As for the white "cahnite?" It could be cahnite," he said.  But how could we really tell?

For his atlas, Van, of course,  was focusing on specimens that were confirmed through analysis by SEM and/or XRD. Needless to say, at least to the best of anyone's knowledge, none of my specimens were ever confirmed, For that matter, very few of the rare micromounts in circulation have ever been so confirmed. Of course, with most rare microminerals, a well-informed visual identification is usually sufficent. However, with many of the extreme microscopic rarities, especially  from Franklin/Sterling Hill, it's Caveat Emptor. 

*Prior to publication, I transmitted to Van a draft of this post for an accuracy check. His response included the following quote: 
By the way, we just learned from Lance Kearns that the Sterling Mine "antlerite" we sent for verification is gypsum colored by malachite. Your specimen does look what people have been passing around as antlerite. I would add, in retrospect, I don't know of a valid "antlerite" in private hands if the tested specimen was only gypsum.  The FrOgs (sic Franklin - Ogdenburg mineral aficionados)  will be chirping for a while over the results that just came in.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The NY/NJ MIneral, Fossil, and Gem Show 2014

At age three, there's  justification in saying  "It's a great show," or better perhaps, "likely to evolve into a great show." The NY/NJ Mineral, Fossil, and gem show has grown quickly. According to the NY/NJ EZ-GUIDE distributed by its organizers, Eons Expos, LLP, the number of booths has gone from 115  in 2012 to 270 last year, to a projected 340 booths this year. The New Jersey Convention and Expo Center in Edison, New Jersey that hosts it has a capacity of 591 booths. Eons Expos aims to fill all of them by 2017 with dealers of minerals, fossils, gems, and related attractions.  If successful,, the NY/NJ Mineral, Fossil, and Gem Show will be bigger than  "The Big Show," in Tucson, where the Convention Center is said to hold 450 booths.

We photographed our cover image at about 11 A.M. on Friday, April 11, during the first hour of the 2014 Show. This was hardly the time to expect large numbers of attendees. Rather, the hour allowed for plenty of space in which to navigate comfortably with great opportunities for grabbing first pickin's.  However meager in number, those  present at this time included enough serious buyers to bring smiles to the faces of many dealers very quickly.

What impressed  me most and caught  my attention before taking in anything else in the Expo Center were display cases housing "The Best of the Best of the Northeast,"  described in the EZ-GUIDE AS  " the finest mineral specimens collected from eleven northeast U.S. States." These cases were midway along the wall to the right heading in from the facility's entrance. Out of 30 cases, about half exhibited suites of  minerals mostly from New Jersey and New York along with a Maryland suite from the collection of Fred Parker. The other half of these cases were devoid of minerals.  Since noticeably fewer than eleven states were represented, it seemed possible that the cases without minerals would be filled for the next two days of the show.

Through a door leading to behind the cases, there  was a "junior ballroom where the Franklin Mineral Museum and the Sterling Hill Mining Museum co-hosted a magnificent display of dazzlingly fluorescent specimens. In a section adjacent to the display, they offered additional fluorescent minerals for sale at very reasonable prices, giving prospective buyers  access to fluorescent lamps to check them out.

Another  room just a short distance away housed The Fine Mineral Gallery featuring "$10 million worth of the world's rarest and most exquisite minerals and gemstones." Most  were being offered for sale by about 16 high-end dealers, among them Arkenstone, Stonetrust, Miner's Lunchbox, and  Cornerstone Minerals. The dealers in this room contributed to a relatively greater proportion of dealers selling fossils and jewelry--- as opposed to minerals--- in the main hall.

In the Fine Mineral Gallery, the only minerals not for sale were those in the beautifully curated booth of the Maine Mineral Museum. The amazing specimens on display here may have afforded a partial explanation for some of the cases in the main hall not graced with minerals.  Particularly impressive was the enormous and perfect amethyst specimen from Sweden, Maine, pictured at left.

For sure, there was plenty happening here at the NY/NJ Mineral, Fossil, and Gem Show to set it apart from other shows in the eastern United States. Among its exhibits were a 38 foot Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton, another that allowed attendees to touch rocks from the moon and Mars, and for the first time out of Germany, the world's finest collection of "weird, 400-million-year-old Devonian Bundenbach fossils." There was even a booth where the cast from  The Weather Channel's TV show Prospectors was hawking their finds from Mount Antero.

With so many attractions, the  NY/NJ Mineral, Fossil, and Gem Show's stature should improve in the future.  Lowell Carhart, Russell Carhart, and Christine Coyle, the team of siblings comprising Eon Expos LLC, have  lofty ambitions. Their goal for the year 2016 is to become "the largest annual show of its kind in the United States." If successful in reaching the previously  mentioned goal of filling all 591 booths at the New Jersey Convention and Expo Center by 2017, they should be able to boast of having organized "the third largest annual show of its kind in the world."

The trio has demonstrated the  level of experience, staying power, and success to make it happen. They note that their Denver Coliseum show, launched in 2009, had "become the largest mineral and fossil show in the U.S by its fifth (2013) year."  In Tucson,  the 22nd Street Show, which they started up in 2011, has now become the third largest mineral and fossil show in Tucson. The NY/NJ Mineral, Fossil, and Gem Show is a different kind of event: glitzier and with more diverse attractions, than either of these shows. Such sizzle should contribute significantly to their efforts to reach this goal, all the happy dealers even more so.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Historic Maryland Mineralogical Epiphany

The specimen pictured above has been sitting around in my office for five years: a mystery mineral. Part of the issue related to a presumably mistaken belief that  it had once been in the company of minerals uncovered during excavation for Baltimore's subway in the 1970's.  No one who saw it ever came close to making a visual identification. For that matter, the matrix looked similar enough to gabbro, that no one ever thought of trying to scratch it

More curious were the radiating crystals: Could they be a zeolite? Aragonite, perhaps?  Of course, had we known the specimen was collected in Harford County or even contemplated that the material was from anywhere other than  the Baltimore Subway Digs, such confusion would not likely have lingered.

To observe the similar specimen pictured at left, in a case at  the Gem, Lapidary, and Mineral Society of Montgromery County's annual show in Gaithersburg, on the weekend of March 15 and 16, 2014, came like an epiphany.  E.M. Bye's historic label identified it as steatite with altered actinolite" from Harford County.
The specimen was in a case of vintage and historically significant Maryland mineral specimens that were  once  part of the world class collection that the Philadelphia Academy had ignominiously stashed away out of sight and devoid of care for decades. Ultimately, in 2007, the Academy sold the collection to several high-end dealers. It was  the most historically  important mineral collection in America and valued well beyond what any other museum could afford to pay.

Mineral Biss was the first to report that Fred Parker had later been able to acquire for posterity most of the collection's Maryland material, which almost surely comprises the most historically significant suite of  Maryland minerals known to exist. Since few of these Maryland-collected pieces had the uniqueness or aesthetic appeal as the kind of specimens in which the dealers who purchased it normally traded, Parker had been able to buy the Maryland pieces for a price that was pleasing to all concerned.

In 2012, after  deciding to downsize his collection and eventually move out of state, Parker contacted Chris Luzier, then Vice-President of Gem, Lapidary, and Mineral Society of Montgomery County about acquiring the suite. That story, with specifics on more of the actual specimens will be the topic of an upcoming Mineral Bliss post.

Meanwhile, can we be certain that this really is altered actinolite on steatite? The steatite, of course, by its softness, is obvious. And while the scientific means of identifying minerals has evolved considerably since E.M. Bye collected the specimen in the 1800's, altered actinolite certainly seems like a good bet.   As for a specific locality in Harford County, it seems extremely likely to have been the Harford Talc And Quartz Company Quarries, as  described in Minerals of Maryland, by Ostrander and Price, published in 1940 by the Natural History Society of Maryland:
About one half mile west of Dublin, several large openings have been made in Steatite.  
Minerals to be found are green translucent foliated talc, radiated actinolite, asbestosform anthophyllite, dolomite, calcite, brown vermiculite,  limonite, and calcite in brown phlogopite schist.  

My "mystery" piece is now has a label that states the following: Radiated Actinolite in Steatite from Harford County, Maryland (Probably the Harford Talc and Quartz Company Quarries near Dublin.) 

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Tucson 2014

Today is the last day of the action. I've been here for two weeks. Each year the show(s) are much the same: the same kind of merchandise and mostly the same dealers work the same tents and motel rooms. At the end of that fortnight, from Thursday through Sunday and always on the second weekend of February, the "Big Show," sponsored by the Tucson Gem and Mineral Society, happens at the Tucson Convention Center. Except for having a different theme each year, the Big Show too differs little from year to year. This year, to mark the 60th Annual Tucson Gem and Mineral Show, its theme was diamonds.

More than anything, these two weeks in Tucson are like a bazaar where people buy and sell minerals, gems, fossils,and   meteorites, along with a range of other artifacts.Since the Mineral Bliss blog is about minerals, they are our focus---even though our most recent post from Tucson several days ago was about rare gems. Prices of  minerals as well as their quality cover a wide range that goes all over the map, and this year the gap was wider than ever. Specimens similar in every pertinent respect to what  one dealer is selling for $1,000, another dealer could be selling for $50. Anyone lacking the experience to be able to ascertain what a mineral specimen should be worth is well advised to do plenty of looking before making a purchase.Just as significant and regardless of the absurd extent to which the prices vary, they get higher every year, this year particularly so.

The climax of the whole two weeks was last night's banquet in the Copper Room of the Convention Center. As in the past, this event featured a silent auction to support Rocks and Minerals Magazine, a live auction, a buffet, and finally the presentation of awards, all leading up to the ultimately prestigious Carnegie Award for outstanding contributions in mineralogical preservation, conservation, and education that match ideals advanced in the Carnegie Museum of Natural History Hillman Hall of Minerals and Gems. This year's most deserving honoree was Gloria Staebler  for her work as pulbisher and editor at Lithographie, LLC and its English language series of monographs. At right she is shown holding the associated bronze medallion and certificate of recognition with Marc L. Wilson, the Mineral Collection Manager for that esteemed institution in Pittsburgh. 

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Rare Gems: A Niche to Behold

From Tucson:
For a couple years, the rare gems niche of mineral collecting has intrigued me. The only thing
holding me back from getting involved was lack of knowledge about and exposure to the hobby, neither of which has advanced much yet. The catalyst for throwing my hat in the ring was a 5.7 carat faceted cadmium-included smithsonite shown at right  that Jaroslav Hyrsl  was selling out of his room at Hotel Tucson City Center/lnn Suites.

Jaroslav is one of my favorite sources for rare mineral species. He is regarded as one of the world's leading authorities on that subject and co-authored with Jan H. Bernard in 2004 the 824 page Minerals and their Localities , which bears descriptions of 4,300 mineral species and 8,500 localities. Keeping this classic book current, they recently  released a supplement covering the more than 800 species described in the ten years since.

 It was serendipitous that my next stop was to see another favorite dealer for rare minerals, Alfredo
Petrov, whose room was just a few doors away. Among the items  Alfredo was selling were a few rare cut gems,of which I purchased, the manganotantalite shown at left.

The next day an email arrived from Alfredo advising that he'd found my checkbook when straightening his room. Admitting that he'd used one of the checks to purchase a new car, he allowed that the remaining ones would be available to me in his room the next day Arriving at an early
hour before it had become jammed with buyers, Alfredo tood the time to enlighten me a bit on this rare gems niche that had so piqued my interest.

"The more unwearable it is," Alfredo proclaimed, "the more it is appreciated by the rare gem collector." Every bit if not more important than the rarity of the species being cut or polished., he added, is the level of skill that has been demonstrated by the cutter. Alfredo explained how the softest gems are the most difficult to polish or cut, noting that the slightest touch on the wheel can ruin the piece.Because of their softness, selenite, vivianite, and realgar are  the most notoriously difficult to cut.

Alfredo surmised that less than a handful of people on the planet have ever been successful at cutting  such stones. One cutter, he said, managed to cut a piece of vivianite (hardness between 1 and 2) by coating the entire piece with a crust of hard epoxy and then cutting through it for all 54 facets. Once cut, the reason that stones softer than more typical gems can be unwearable is the issue of potential for damage from the metal prongs that secure them. Alfredo continued  to hold forth with stories, many that mentioned Jaroslav, whom he implied was probably  the world's foremost player in mineralogy's rare gem niche.

After purchasing a pair of  nearly matching cut yellow cassiterites and two of what Alfredo believed to be among the only boracite cabochons in existence, I headed back to Jaroslav's room. Though busy by now, he had time to share with me that 25 years ago, after having taught mineralogy at Charles University in Prague, he went to Germany to study gemology at Idar Oberstein to earn his FGG + EG. Ever since, he's been active in the rare gem arena. Rather than cut or polish stones himself, Jaroslav employs others to do so according to his specifications, while he stays busy appraising as well as  testing gems at his lab in Prague.

While in Europe, Jaroslav deals primarily with collectors; in Tucson, he sells mostly to dealers. His table of rare gems for sale graces  but a small corner of a room otherwise heavily stocked with flats bearing rare minerals most of which are anything but gemmy, and surmised that no more than ten people currently in Tucson actually specialized in rare gems. Of more significance, he sensed, were yet smaller niches within the rare gem arena. Some buyers, he noted, limited their purchases to cut or polished stones bear inclusions or exhibit changes in colour under different lighting conditions.  Others, he said, collect only within a given mineral group, sometimes in conjunction with a suite of such minerals. The garnet group, he notes, is particularly popular. Fluorite, which is softer and comes in just as many colours, could be an even better example.

The message is pertinent to just about everything that's collectible. You can't have it all. For that matter, one who specializes even within an arena as arcane as rare gems, has a better chance of accumulating a significant and worthy collection.