A Summary of the Lavinsky Collection
Chinese culture has always been intricately interwoven with an appreciation for nature on an artistic level, and Westerners might think that this would be an ideal orientation for the growth of mineral collecting. However, very few Chinese had access to the products of mines, or wanted to venture underground in such dangerous places. What developed, in contrast to the Western cultural tradition of housing mineral specimens with other natural history items in “Cabinets of Curiosities,” was an appreciation of the sculptural quality of naturally shaped rocks and boulders which became known as “scholars’ stones” or “view stones.” These are examples of what Westerners would call “found art,” stumbled upon in the streams and valleys of China by hikers and wandering scholars. View stones have always had an inspirational, aesthetic appeal for the Chinese. Since they did not come from mines and did not represent “mineral wealth” in any intrinsic sense, the Chinese collectors cared nothing for the actual mineralogical or petrological content of the specimens. Even today, Chinese museums largely reflect this preference.
In modern times, the Chinese populace, now including a very prosperous and growing middle class, has finally begun to turn its eye toward the sculptural and colorful aesthetics of actual crystallized mineral specimens—especially those found in China, where mining is now a major industry, and where miners have a new financial incentive to preserve specimens for private sale.
Fortunately, the awareness of the value of fine mineral specimens has been widespread in China since at least the mid-1980s, and consequently many miners have been involved in collecting mineral specimens to resell—primarily to Americans who have then distributed them to the rest of the mineral world. Many mining areas have developed a system for the removal and marketing of specimens through a series of intermediaries and wholesalers, and many miners have become quite skilled at extracting specimens undamaged. As a result, a number of fine collections of Chinese minerals have been built in Western countries.
During this time of transition when Chinese minerals were coming out in a veritable flood, Robert Lavinsky recognized a tremendous opportunity, and for the last 15 years has positioned himself as a high-end buyer of cabinet-size specimens from China. Amidst many other collectors who specialized in Chinese minerals of smaller sizes, he became widely known as a collector of larger Chinese specimens of ultra-high quality. Thanks to this growing reputation, many fine, newly discovered specimens were brought to him from one source or another. Even many American dealers who were obtaining fine Chinese minerals would often give him first refusal, in large part because they respected what he was trying to do in building a locality-specialized collection that would be a tribute to China—comparable in concept to what Miguel Romero did for Mexican minerals in their heyday (see the supplement to the 2008 November-December issue of The Mineralogical Record), and what Lindsay Greenbank did for northern English minerals (see the supplement to the 2010 January-February issue of The Mineralogical Record).
The Lavinsky China collection will be on exhibit at the University of Arizona’s Flandrau Science Center, premiering in February during the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show and running through the rest of the year. This special supplement to the Mineralogical Record illustrates many of the specimens shown in the Flandrau exhibition and can serve as a companion publication and exhibit catalog for the only major museum exhibition ever mounted to showcase Chinese minerals in the United States. Pictured here are some of the ikonic pieces from the era of China’s first explosion onto the world mineral collecting scene, mainly from 1990 to 2010, as well as very recently found world-class specimens from Inner Mongolia.
The Chinese specimens pictured here, spectacular treasures in the longstanding Western style of natural history collecting, are examples of a precious patrimony that every Chinese citizen can be proud of, and will serve to inspire a new generation of collectors in China and worldwide.
Wendell E. Wilson
Dr. Wendell E. Wilson, a life-long mineral collector, is Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of the Mineralogical Record magazine. He received his PhD in Mineralogy and Isotope Geochronology at the University of Minnesota, in 1976. After joining the Mineralogical Record he founded the Mineralogical Record Library, established the Antiquarian Reprint Series to preserve early literature, and was presented with the Carnegie Mineralogical Award in 2001. The mineral wendwilsonite was named in his honor in 1987.
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