Rare Earth: Santa Barbara

Apr 23, 2022

Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History
2559 Puesta del Sol 

Learn More: https://www.sbnature.org/visit/exhibitions/84/rare-earth


Fluorite with Calcite from the Yaogangxian mine, Hunan, China. Robert Lavinsky Collection. Joe Budd Photo.

Far more than a dazzling display of gems and minerals, Rare Earth tells the story of how we can value the natural world in a new light.  Copper may be worth a few dollars per pound, but a beautiful piece in its (remarkable) natural form is worth far more than that.  The question is why? We humans inherently assign value to beautiful things above and beyond their utility. It’s why we value impressive minerals like these higher than their price as a mere commodity. Whether it’s a mineral, a tree, or an ecosystem, viewing nature purely in terms of “price per pound” undervalues the resource and deep down, we know it. The minerals and crystals you see here are treasures in their own right, worthy of being displayed (and valued) like any other fine art. 

As these remarkable specimens draw you in, you may wonder, “did they really come out of the ground looking like this?” The answer is a resounding yes. It is their raw natural form and geometry that resonates, calls to us, and sets them apart. Beyond their beauty, the minerals in this exhibit convey stories that tie them to the rise and fall of modern civilizations, and the evolution of art and culture throughout human history.  

Valuable beyond utility, beautiful to observe, and essential for life as we know it, minerals shape our lives in ways most of us have never imagined. Until now.   

Frank Hein

Director of Exhibits 

Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History

Rare Earth: The Art and Science of Chinese Stones

Mar 28, 2022

Exhibition open from Saturday, Mar 26 2022 to Sunday, Feb 26 2023
Crow Collection of Asian Art
2010 Flora St, Dallas, TX 75201

Collecting rocks and stone carvings has been popular in China for thousands of years. This tradition is rooted in the philosophical and spiritual inspiration drawn from the artistic beauty of natural stones, such as jade. Unusually-shaped stones called “Scholars rocks” or “Philosopher’s Stones” carved by natural processes have also been long valued in China. Seen as embodiments of the dynamic transformational processes of nature, these stones were also admired for their resemblance to mountains or caves, particularly the magical peaks and subterranean paradises believed to be inhabited by immortal beings.

Mineral collecting, based on the aesthetic appreciation or the scientific characteristics of the naturally symmetric and patterned crystals and minerals that make up rocks, has a long history in the United States and in Europe, but was not commonly practiced in China.  The country’s abundant mineral resources were historically used as raw material for both art and industrial purposes only. In the mid-1980s, this changed when remarkable Chinese specimens entered the Western market and not only amazed collectors worldwide but also stimulated a rising interest within China to collect fine minerals.

This exhibition explores the different ways that Chinese and Western cultures have celebrated the beauty found in, and created from, natural stones. Reflecting the educational mission of The University of Texas at Dallas to unite scientific and artistic thinking, this exhibition pairs works of Chinese art from the Crow Museum’s permanent collection with connoisseur-level samples of raw minerals from China. It uniquely displays these natural and reshaped minerals in contexts that invite multiple, interrelated responses: to appreciate their beauty, ponder their cultural significance, and be inspired to understand the natural forces that created them. As science can enhance our appreciation of beauty, perhaps beauty can lead us to study the wonders beneath the earth as well as in the heavens.

This exhibition is co-organized by the Crow Museum of Asian Art of The University of Texas at Dallas and the Center for Asian Studies of The University of Texas at Dallas, in partnership with the UT Dallas Department of Geosciences and the Dr. Robert Lavinsky Mineral Collection.

Tiny spessartine garnets formed around these deeply-colored smoky quartz crystals. From the Dr. Lavinsky Collection of Chinese Minerals.

Legal Nuggets: Fragile Minerals and the TSA

Jan 24, 2022

Adapted with permission from the Mineralogical Record, Vol. 39, No. 2  March - April 2008, for publication on iRocks.com.

Francis M. Allegra

Judge, United States Court of Federal Claims

Adjunct Professor, Georgetown University Law Center

Seven essays were published in the Mineralogical Record magazine by the late Judge Francis Allegra on legal matters of interest to mineral collectors between 2008 and 2012. This is the first in his series. © 2008 The Mineralogical Record, Inc.

Crocoite, scolecite, mesolite, cerussite—such specimens and other fragile delicacies are highly desired by avid mineral collectors. Yet, they strike fear in the hearts of the stoutest among us when we contemplate how to get them home intact. We have all come across a superb specimen, attractively priced, but have nonetheless refrained because there was no easy way to get it home damage-free. 

What if, however, you do decide to take that specimen home with you on a plane? And what if you carefully wrap it and loosely seal it in a box, with the intent of treating it as carry-on luggage? Of course, from the moment you embark on this course, your mind is dwelling on one thought, and one thought alone—those folks you will encounter at the airport with the badges and patches that say “Transportation Security Administration” or “TSA.” And, in your darkest moments, perhaps you wonder what would happen if those friendly TSA folks accidentally gouged a hole smack in the middle of your prized crocoite. It has happened to people before, and it can happen again.

Rhodochrosite - Sweet Home Mine, Colorado, USA - 13cm - Ex. Fran Allegra Collection

Of course, in the law, as in other walks of life, avoidance of a problem is often the best course. In this regard, the TSA website (www.tsa.gov) provides some helpful advice. It states that “[i]f you are carrying valuable items . . . we recommend that you ask Security Officers to screen you and your carry-on luggage in private,” adding that this process may be initiated by contacting the TSA screening supervisor. Using this procedure also probably lessens the likelihood that a TSA security officer will view your specimen as a dangerous “projectile” that cannot be taken on the plane. By the way, the TSA website also contains a detailed list of prohibited carry-on items.

Perish the thought, but what if your specimen, in fact, is damaged during the inspection process? At this point, you will discover that pursuing a monetary claim against the United States Government is not quite like pursuing one against the corner grocer. The reason is that the United States is protected from lawsuits except to the extent that Congress consents for it to be sued. That doctrine, known in the law as “sovereign immunity,” dates back to the English monarchy. Yet, despite its monarchial roots, the doctrine was viewed as so well-established by the Founding Fathers as not to be debated, even for a moment, at the Constitutional Convention.

But, all is not lost. There is, in fact, a statute that potentially waives the sovereign immunity of the United States in a case involving your negligently damaged mineral specimen. It is the Federal Torts Claims Act (found in various provisions of Title 28 of the U.S. Code), a law with an interesting history. This statute was passed in 1946, approximately a year after a B-25 “Mitchell” bomber—the type of twin-engine plane used for the Doolittle raid on Tokyo—got lost in a blinding fog and crashed into the Empire State Building, 915 feet above street level, killing and injuring a number of individuals. Responding to this disaster, Congress passed a statute generally making the United States liable “for injury or loss of property” that is “caused by the negligent or wrongful act or omission of any employee of the Government,” where “the United States, if a private person, would be liable to the claimant in accordance with the law of the place where the act or omission occurred.”

So, what does this law mean? Under the statute, the United States is generally liable for the negligent acts of its employees to the same extent that a private person would be liable for those same acts under the law of the State in which the negligence occurred. So, if you are in the airport in Tucson, it is Arizona law that will preliminarily control whether the government is liable for negligence in gouging your crocoite.

Of course, nothing in the law, particularly when you are dealing with the United States, is that simple. For one thing, to recover under this statute, you have to file a written claim with the TSA, stating the circumstances of your loss and the exact amount you are claiming. And you must file this claim within two years of the incident. A copy of the claim form is available on the TSA website. Pay careful attention to the filing instructions, particularly the requirement that you claim a sum certain—that is, a specific dollar amount. With very limited exceptions, the figure you list on the form represents the maximum amount you can recover under the law, even if you are forced to pursue the matter in litigation. For this and other reasons, if your claim is going to be substantial, you may want to consult an attorney well-versed in the Federal Tort Claims Act to make sure that your claim is filed correctly. Mess up this preliminary step and you may later find, to your horror and chagrin, that you cannot recover at all.

The TSA has a Claims Management Office that processes these claims. The hope (and the reason why Congress established the claim procedure) is that this agency will either grant your claim or negotiate a reasonable settlement. If, however, TSA denies your claim or does not decide your claim within six months, then you have the right to file suit against the United States in the U.S. District Court for the district in which you live. If you get to this point, you should definitely consider hiring an attorney, as the United States will be defended in that lawsuit by attorneys from the U.S. Department of Justice that specialize in handling tort cases.

Case of Fran Allegra's minerals

There are a variety of other statutory twists and turns that might affect your ability to recover here. For one thing, it is possible that the Justice Department will argue that the TSA’s actions are covered by a statutory exception to the Federal Tort Claims Act, perhaps the one that exempts from coverage claims arising from the detention of goods by a law-enforcement officer. However, a “Dear Traveler” message posted on the TSA website from the Director of the TSA’s Claims Management Office appears to admit that the agency is responsible if loss or damage to your property is directly caused by the negligence of a TSA employee. (The lawyers among you might want to read Kosak v. United States, 465 U.S. 848 (1984), in which the Supreme Court held that the U.S. Customs Service could be liable for damaging artworks.) Remember also that your recovery may be affected by nuances in the law of the state in which the negligence occurred (in our example above, Arizona). Finally, recognize that the Federal Tort Claims Act does not allow for the recovery of certain types of damages, among them punitive damages and pre-judgment interest on the amount of your loss. So do not expect a bonanza at the government’s expense.

The bottom line is that Congress has created a potential legal path for you to recover damages against the United States if, despite your best efforts to avoid the problem, the TSA folks convert your cabinet specimen into hundreds of micromounts. Happy flying.


NOTE: This column is for educational purposes only and is not legal advice, or a substitute for such advice. Readers who have questions on this topic should consult with a qualified lawyer.


View other Legal Nuggets articles by Fran Allegra

New Year, New Website Update!

Jan 9, 2022

We are excited to start off 2022 with the launch of our new and improved website experience, with many changes to freshen up the overall experience for our customers!

While at its core, the website remains mostly the same, we’ve reorganized by condensing menus to make navigation easier as well as adding a few new and exciting features to make our website more user friendly for exploring our thousands of listings.

Learn more about our updates and changes below!


We’ve condensed our navigation menus into a single row of options to make things easy:

The LEARN menu contains pages where you can discover more about The Arkenstone and its staff, as well as a host of links and other resources to learn more about minerals and the mineral collecting hobby.

The SHOP menu contains all of our various gallery pages, plus a BRAND NEW general browse page. There is also a direct link to an advanced search for customers who know exactly what they are looking for. You can also find information on our custom base services, as well as important ordering information.


We’ve given our homepage a facelift, condensing it down to focus on handpicked featured specimens and galleries as well as a BRAND NEW section featuring all three of our instagram accounts for easy reference. 

Also, the blog excerpts have been redesigned, and our blog page now has a viewable archive so you can easily access older posts quickly.


Lookout for the ‘payment plan available’ text on specimens that qualify for our payment plan program. Where available, you can click on the text to view the terms before reaching out! We are excited to be able to offer this service more widely to our customers to allow for some room to ‘stretch’ for your next great specimen. (Info also available here!)


As always, you can still create an account via the login button in the top right of the page. This will allow you to save specimens to your own wishlist for future reference (via the heart on each specimen page found on the top left of the specimen photo). 

Our purchase process still remains the same. We maintain a large physical gallery with thousands of specimens available for sale on display, many of which are also listed online. We want to ensure the specimen you would like to purchase is still available before invoicing, so please allow 1-2 business days for us to confirm. We are closed on weekends and will typically follow up on any inquiries from the weekend on Monday.

We will continue updating our website regularly with exciting new updates from special collections, new finds, and general inventory. Our team is working tirelessly to bring a host of new material to the website in 2022 and beyond, so we strongly recommend signing up for our newsletter to receive email notifications when we release new material for sale. A link to sign up is available toward the footer site-wide.

We hope we worked out any issues, but if you find a bug or have any feedback, we'd love to hear from you at admin@iRocks.com.

Getting to know the mind behind The Arkenstone - Dr. Rob Lavinsky

Jan 8, 2022

There are numerous illustrations of the 17th-century phrase, “One good turn deserves another.” By most accounts, it appears Dr. Rob Lavinsky’s life is one such example.

The “one good turn” that inspired Lavinsky, owner and founder of The Arkenstone Gallery of Fine Minerals, to take the path he has and mindfully do countless “good turns” in response, took place in Ohio during the mid-1980s. “I was introduced to minerals at the age of 12 through the Columbus, Ohio, Rock & Mineral Society (www.columbusrockandmineralsociety.org/), and was fortunate to have many generous mentors there,” said Lavinsky. “The club adopted me, taught me, let me into the library they shared. It was immersion immediately! Without such mentors, I would never have entered the hobby.” 

Rob mining pyrite in Spain

It’s safe to assume, more than a few people with a keen interest in rocks, gemstones, minerals, and fossils are also grateful to the members of the Columbus mineral club for introducing Lavinsky to these remarkable fields of natural science. The influence, education, and encouragement of Columbus mineral club members Carlton Davis and John Medici inspired and equipped Lavinsky to become a part-time mineral dealer by the time he was 14. The learning also included working with and for seasoned field collectors Neal and Chris Pfaff throughout his junior high and high school years. The after-school and summer job allowed  Lavinsky to amass a personal collection and develop an inventory to sell. 

While he was in college studying for a career in genetic engineering, he formed what would become his career purpose,  The Arkenstone. Initially, as Lavinsky explained, he saw it as a way to do something he enjoyed and pay his way through college while studying for a career in medical research. Just as he had in his youth, Lavinsky forged ahead, taking “the road less traveled” by incorporating email swap/sell lists, as early as 1991. Ultimately, he created one of the largest and earliest (1996) websites featuring an inventory of gem, mineral, and fossil specimens. During this time, he continued to buy and sell at mineral shows, including the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show®, where he became a “Main Show” dealer, a position he continues to enjoy 30-plus years later.

teal and purple fluorite from China
Specimen of fluorite with calcite, from a single pocket at the Yaogangxian mine,
Chenzhou district, Hunan Province, China, known to have produced just three such
specimens, and one of Dr. Rob’s favorite Chinese mineral specimen. 17.5cm, Joe Budd Photo.

Lavinsky, balancing business, and graduate studies, successfully earned a Ph. D. in Molecular Genetics. Upon completing his studies — while awaiting the birth of his first child — he debated pursuing a career in biotechnology or becoming a full-time mineral dealer. As Lavinsky explained, either path would have been fulfilling and, in the ensuing years, have both significantly contributed to his life.

“I could have gone into science and enjoyed it. But, playing with nature’s beauty always warred with a real job choice, and won out in the end,” said the life-long collector. Interestingly, it’s Lavinsky’s fascination with fossils that serves as a point of connection with opals. As he explained, when opal replaces a mineral or fossil, which illustrates a combining of the gem world with that of natural history, the synergy of the two is most amazing.

He went on to say, “I do not regret being a scientist or the years of training to think a certain way. I believe it helps me appreciate nature more and be better at what I do (more organized, and more disciplined on the business side.)”

Lavinsky’s analytical mindset, preparedness, and profoundly inquisitive personality is at the core of his business operations, which is a significant benefit during uncertain and unusual times, such as 2020.

“My business was vertical, not just high or low-price range, and so I am luckily prepared for these strange times,” commented Lavinsky, who employs a team of 14 people, including staff in China responsible for sourcing, and actively buying specimens daily. “I have five years of inventory amassed, a great team here in Dallas, and a large customer base to show good things to.”

He went on to say, “After Sept. 11, 2001, and the 2008-2009 crashes, minerals and the mineral collecting game exploded on the other side within two years. I expect it will do so again with the organic growth of new collectors and customers, which is great news for all of us!”

In addition to remaining optimistic, flexible, and proactive, and engaged with clients and the mineral collecting community at large, Lavinsky and his team pay close attention to what can be learned during these times. Among the most important aspects of the business that The Arkenstone team keeps top of mind are the clients.

“The collector comes first. Build and help build collections the way we would want to, as collectors ourselves – my core team is ONLY made up of people who are collectors or from collecting families. We are drinking the same juice,” Lavinsky explained. “I want to build collections over decades – we are best with the serious collectors who want long-term relationships, not the fly-by-night folks who just want to buy pretty rocks out of a rock shop.”

Whether he’s traveling to China, working with employees on various projects, buying, selling, exhibiting and speaking at shows, or serving as sponsor and host of the Dallas Mineral Collecting Symposium (an event he co-founded with Gene Meieran in 2011), Lavinsky strives to give back to the mineral community that did so much for him, and continually do “one good turn.”

graphic headline 5 facts about Dr. Rob Lavinsky

1. He is a workaholic, which is why he was able to build his company website in the early years of available technology and expand on it over the years

2. He actually LIKES all of the travel he does to China, and he now speaks Chinese. He also says it’s common to feel relaxed as soon as he gets on a plane.

3. He loves the Arkenstone staff like brothers and sisters, and with that, he does take orders from them, routinely enough for it to be weird, he says.

4. His collecting passion started with fossils and then drifted into minerals when he was 12 years old.

5. While he did indeed earn his Ph.D. in genetic engineering before becoming a full-time mineral dealer, some people in his life thought that might not be the case, as evidenced by the apparent betting pool against his completing his degree before following his passion for minerals.

Originally published in Rocks & Gems Magazine, Illustrious Opal Issue

The Bement Collection of Minerals

Jun 16, 2021

The Bement Collection of Minerals is one of just celebrity, and in the quality of its contents, the average beauty, in some cases, the unique perfection of its specimens, secures a deserved eminence. It is a collection naturally, which abounds in very beautiful and very rare and scientifically precious mineral examples. It represents the sifted and compressed results of a lifetime of collecting, in which the widest latitude of liberal appraisement of specimens has been met on the part of Mr. Bement by as boundless a generosity. There can be no question as to its importance— Gratacap (1912)

Clarence S. Bement

Clarence Sweet Bement (1843–1923), a manufacturer in Philadelphia, spent 35 years of his time, money, and effort in acquiring his magnificent mineral collection. He began to collect minerals shortly after the end of the Civil War, in about 1866; continually adding to it until its purchase from him by the banker and philanthropist J.P. Morgan in 1901, who presented it as a gift to the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) that same year. Bement sold his collection only after his eyesight began to fail him (Seaman, 1968). The Bement collection is considered to be the finest mineral collection ever assembled in the United States (MATRIX, 1989a). The mineral Bementite was named after him in 1887.

Bement, the greatest American mineral collector

Mineral collecting

Bement patronized the leading mineral dealers of his days. He purchased specimens over the years from Charles Herman, Albert H. Perereit, George L. English, Charles H. Pennypacker, William Niven, Maynard Bixby, Prof. Henry A. Ward, Lazard Cahn, Dr. A.E. Foote, and many others. G.L. English, one of the most noted dealers of that era, considered Bement to be “our great American collector” (Seaman, 1968). Writing in the Mineral Collector of 1901, dealer Charles H. Pennypacker stated: “in the decades that have past, again and again, has one of these, “pennywise and pound foolish” people asked me how it was that all of the fine things went into the Bement collection. I would reply: That’s an easy one. You belong to the skinflint fraternity. You are always afraid that you will pay too much for a mineral, and when you find out that some other collector has secured a better specimen than yours at a price less than you paid, you mourn as one without hope. None of these traits exist in Mr. Bement, he long since understood the situation. There is no standard value, there is no rule whereby mineral specimens may be accessed” (Seaman, 1968).

Bement acquired numerous specimens of minerals by exchange or purchase with many collectors and dealers in Europe and America making his collection labels some Who’s Who of the mineral collectors of the latter half of the 19th century. A long list of names is given in Seaman (1968). At various times, Bement secured the privilege of picking out the best samples from the minerals accumulated by earlier collectors. He purchased part of the Norman Spang collection in 1882. In the same year, he also bought the Hidden collection, that of Baron Braun of Vienna and some others. He secured fine Swiss minerals from the Burke collection of Bern and Graves Mountain rutiles from the collections of both the Stephensons, father, and son. Collectors and dealers would often let him cherry-pick the best specimens before the rest would be sold at retail (e.g. Ernest Schernikow and Joseph Willcox collections, see Canfield, 1923).

A Neudorf specimen of Galena & Siderite crystals, Neudorf, Harz, Saxony-Anhalt, Germany, ex. C.S. Bement / AMNH / H. Obodda. Source: The Tricottet Collection.

The best crystallized minerals and display specimens available were always sought by Bement for his collection. An example is shown above, in the present case, a fine Neudorf Galena specimen with Siderite crystals, one of the top “holy grails” of sophisticated collectors of previous generations. This cabinet specimen features excellent Siderite rhombs of iridescent golden-brown colour, on modified cuboctahedral Galenas with good metallic luster (all on sparkling Quartz). The intergrown Galenas range up to 1.8 cm across and the Siderites reach up to 1.6 cm on edge while the specimen measures 9.6 x 7.5 x 6.0 cm.

Some published correspondence between Bement and George F. Kunz provides some anecdotal information about his collecting process (Conklin, 1986). A rare glimpse into the atmosphere of Bement’s study is found in an 1895 letter, part of The Tricottet Collection. It reads: “I duly received your favor of October 18th, and would say in reply that I shall be at home next Sunday afternoon, ready to receive you and your wife, as suggested. Please come rather early, if you can, — say at two o’clock, so as to have as much daylight as possible, for my mineral room is very dark”.

Source: The Tricottet Collection.

Other collections

Let us note that Bement also assembled one of the finest collections of U.S. coins. He was also an assiduous collector of rare books and fine prints. His collection of books, begun in 1890, formed the nucleus of the Harry Elkins Widener Library, later on, presented to Harvard University. He also made a collection of Continental paper money, which was merged into the Chapman collection in Philadelphia. In the last part of his life, he devoted himself to the collecting of ancient Greek coins and owned a large number of valuable Greek and Roman gold and silver coins (MATRIX, 1989a). There is evidence that Bement, at one time, liquidated his books to finance his mineral purchases (letter from Oct. 16, 1896, in Conklin, 1986) but the two interests overlap for many years (MATRIX, 1989b).

The Bement collection at the AMNH

The Bement-Morgan collection

John Pierpont Morgan (1837–1913), who we crossed paths with in other articles (e.g. Bernard Franck collection), presented the Bement collection as a gift to the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) in 1901. At that time, the collection numbered some 12,000 specimens of minerals and contained some 580 meteorites. It formed the nucleus of both the mineral collection and the meteorite collection of the AMNH. Morgan had paid $100,000 for the extraordinary collection. His largesse to the AMNH, of which he was a Trustee, had started in the late 19th century with the $15,000 purchase of the collection of “Gems and Precious Stones from North America” arranged for the Exposition Universelle in Paris by George F. Kunz of Tiffany and Company. Known as the Tiffany-Morgan Collection of Gems, the collection was further expanded after Morgan commissioned Kunz to acquire fabulous specimens from around the world (AMNH website).

The so-called Bement-Morgan collection of minerals has been exhibited in the Morgan Hall, which is pictured on the rare postcard shown below. Gratacap (1912) explains that “its present position in the American Museum of Natural History in New York City is of incomparable value to all students and collectors and dealers. It is placed in a central, accessible, and finely equipped stadium. It can all be seen, well seen, and seen at all times.” It means that the mineral specimens displayed on this page once sojourned in those glass cabinets!

‘The Bement Collection of Minerals’ in Gratacap (1912) & its display in the Morgan Hall (postcard). Source: The Tricottet Collection.

Historic Scheelite crystal from Traversella Mine, Piedmont, Italy, ex. C.S. Bement / AMNH / E. Rosenzweig. Source: The Tricottet Collection.

Specimen labelling

Specimens from the Bement collection at the AMNH carry a painted inventory number and are accompanied by an AMNH cardboard label. An example was shown previously (see Neudorf specimen) and a second one here on the left (Scheelite crystal from Traversella, Italy — to be described in more detail later). The AMNH also kept the original Bement labels, glued on collection index cards. Those index cards provide the following information: original label, description, name, locality, collection, value, number, and number of specimens. Mineral specimens deaccessioned from the AMNH only come with facsimiles of those cards, as the AMNH keeps all index cards for archiving purposes. The index card then indicates that the specimen has been exchanged, with the name of the new holder and the date of the exchange. An example is shown below, for our Neudorf specimen (we learn that the specimen originally cost 4$ in c. 1900 and that it was traded to Herb Obodda on March 6, 1980):

Facsimile of a Bement specimen index card at the AMNH. Notice the label penned by Bement himself, glued on the card. Source: The Tricottet Collection.

The Gratacap (1912) collection catalogue

The Bement collection is described in ‘The Bement Collection of Minerals’, in the second part of the book ‘Popular Guide to Minerals’ by Gratacap (1912). Louis Pope Gratacap (1850–1917) became Curator of Mineralogy at the AMNH in 1890. It was under his direction that the 12,000-piece Bement mineral collection was sorted, catalogued, and displayed in the Morgan Hall of Minerals (see postcard above). It was considered in 1918 by Kunz to be the best-displayed collection of minerals (and gems) in the United States or abroad (Kunz, 1918). Gratacap, along with Kunz, was one of the founders of the New York Mineralogical Club in 1886.

The classic, old-time example of Scheelite from the historic Italian locale of Traversella, shown above, is listed in Gratacap (1912) (only a limited number of the 12,000+ specimens are!). This specimen consists of a modified, pseudo-octahedral crystal with sharply defined faces, marked luster, and a deep orangey colour (dimensions: 3.9cm x 3.3cm x 2cm). The Scheelite paragraph reads “… Bohemia, Saxony, Germany at Guttenen, Switzerland, France, Scotland, England, Silesia, are represented with, of course, a good deal of emphasis laid on Bohemia. Of these the noteworthy members are 16899, 16901, 16902, 16903, 16905, (tabular, interesting, base and pyramid, crystals, curiously etched, and minutely pitted), 16906 (distorted, beautifully shagreened faces, translucent), 16907, 16909 (apparently two generations of crystals), (16918, 16919, (magnificent golden-red octahedron), 16928, 16929, (a very large yellow opaque octaedron, with faces impressed, striated, and curved)…

The Scheelite specimen listed in Gratacap (1912). Source: The Tricottet Collection.

Let us conclude by quoting a brochure on ‘The Final Disposition of some American Collections of Minerals’ compiled by Frederick A. Canfield and published in 1923. On the Bement collection, we read: “This was the finest private collection of minerals ever made. It is the best public collection in America — it has but two rivals in the world.” The final question is: what are the two other collections that Canfield was referring to, which rivaled the Bement collection?

This is a modified version of an excerpt from a book in preparation on the history of collecting, courtesy of The Tricottet Collection.


Conklin, L.H. (1986), Notes and Commentaries on Letters to George F. Kunz, Selected correspondence including letters of Clarence S. Bement. Self-published, New Canaan, 137 pp. [copy in TC: Association copy, inscribed by the author to collector and friend William W. Pinch: “4–13–91 For Bill — Few people have known me longer, and I hope, not better, Larry”, with Pinch library hard stamp]

Gratacap, L.P. (1912), A Popular Guide to Minerals, With chapters on the Bement Collection of Minerals in the American Museum of Natural History… D. Van Nostrand Company, New York, 330 pp. & 74 plates.

Kunz, G.F. (1918), Biographical sketch of the late L.P. Gratacap. The American Museum Journal, 18 (4), 302–304.

MATRIX (1989a), Clarence Sweet Bement 1843–1923 (by George Frederick Kunz, edited by Joseph J. Peters and Charles L. Pearson, Jr.). MATRIX, 1 (3), 42–43.

MATRIX (1989b), Clarence S. Bement — Book Collector. MATRIX, 2 (2), 30.

Peters, J.J., Pearson, C.L. (1990), Clarence S. Bement: The consummate collector. The Mineralogical Record, 21, 47-62 [WANTED]

Seaman, D.M. (1968), The Clarence S. Bement Collection. Rocks & Minerals, 43 (11), 803-808.

In Memorium: Francis Allegra (1957-2015)

Apr 7, 2021

We are proud to offer on behalf of the family estate, the full and intact collection of the late Judge Francis Allegra, noted collector and MR legal columnist, coming up for auction on MineralAuctions.com.

Auction Open: April 15, 2021 at 6:00PM CT through May 1, 2021 at 6:00PM CT!

Click here to bid on the Francis Allegra Collection

In light of the upcoming auction, we'd like to revisit some memories of Fran, originally published in 2017 as a booklet distributed at our Dallas Symposium.

Many people here will remember Fran Allegra from the Tucson shows, and from his (free) legal advice to many of us over the years. I wanted to share a few personal memories about Fran: his role in this event; his collecting; and a few stories as we remember him as a fantastic speaker at the first inaugural year of this Symposium in 2011.

Fran was instrumental in creating what is now the DMCS, from the beginning. Gene Meieran pushed me to grow this event from the two evening talks we had at our gallery grand opening party in 2010 (at which he was the very first volunteer speaker, along with Astronaut and Senator Harrison Schmitt), into a formal Symposium. Gene met Fran through me shortly beforehand and they became fast friends, especially with all of Gene’s travel to DC. As I recall, a coincidental lunch or dinner with Gene and Fran in DC or Dallas was the next discussion of that idea, and then Fran actively helped us work on the format and the planning so that the first year revolved around “Museums and Philanthropy,” as a common theme of the event. Never having hosted a Symposium, I admit now that we winged it for the first few years, based on advice from such friends. 

Allegra Tribute Case at the Tucson Show, arranged by Daniel Trinchillo/FMI

Despite his busy schedule (at the time he was overseeing a famous legal battle between the government and an undercover FBI officer who wrote a tell-too-much book about his experiences inside the Hell’s Angels biker gang), he volunteered to support us and be a speaker. His idea was to tie in minerals and museums, with the law: how does tax law work in the interplay of donations and philanthropy, for those of us who might donate items to museums? I was dubious. His sense of humor can be rather dry, and it was about law and lawyers... but he said to trust him. As a speaker in the first year, he surprised many who did not know him well. Who knew a lawyer could be so funny? I heard many people echo my thoughts in that first year, that his talk on Tax Law was the surprise comedy break we needed in a long day of testing this format, even amid other enjoyable talks. (For those who have not seen this talk, it is on Symposium DVD #1, from the Min Record in January 2011, and we have extra copies as well). His advice, and his ideas, are still completely relevant today and we encourage anybody interested to watch that talk. 

At lunch after his talk in 2011, people kept coming up to him and saying things like “I didn’t know judges had a sense of humor,” to which he replied to the effect of “I’m not so easy on the bench as I am with mineral people.”  He used a specific piece from his own collection to illustrate in his talk what makes a good specimen (as opposed to a bad choice which invites trouble later) for high-multiple return on a tax donation, that could stand up to a later audit and inspection. The piece he used was a spectacular deep blue hemimorphite from Mexico, a superb piece that he had purchased at Tucson from a European dealer as a Smithsonite from the Kelly Mine (for a fair price, even as a smithsonite!). His point was that an argument could be made for a high-multiple valuation of such a piece for donation, based on him finding a “sleeper” and adding information and provenance that was unknown and which increased the importance of the specimen for some museum collections. In his talk, he suggested a conservative appraisal of this piece for donation value might legitimately be 3.5X to 5X on what he paid for it, based on documenting comparables and the difference between a mediocre USA smithsonite and a top-level Mexican hemimorphite. By the end of lunch, he had an offer of 6X from Sandor Fuss, who bought the piece for Bruce Oreck’s collection of Mexico minerals. It sold as the dessert was served. Fran, who intended only to make an academic point by using a nice example of something tangential to his own collection, converted that investment into a significant Colorado Smoky Quartz and Amazonite specimen (shown on the last page of this booklet).

As a friend, Fran was there for any of us with legal issues and questions about philanthropy, what could and could not be posted on the internet, and general advice for those of us dealing with international travel and customs issues. I should probably mention at this point that he advised me when I got arrested by Interpol too, but that is another story for another time and place.

Dealers knew Fran as one of the luckiest collectors out there, from his emergence on the scene in Tucson in the late 1990s. With a family and a rising busy career as a young attorney working for the government, his mineral budget had to be refined to where he would discipline himself and purchase only 1-2 pieces at each show. He was so busy, that he would only be able to attend the Tucson show each year (most years). The lucky/funny thing was, that his mother-in-law met him there and participated in the decision process, and then supported him with a budget to encourage his hobby and enjoyment of the break from his job and stresses. The first time they sat me down and explained to me this situation, I can say I was very impressed with her -  I have never heard of another collector with such a supportive in-law! It was something fun that they shared together, and then he would go home and share with his wife and later his kids. At home, 1999, Fran kept his minerals in his office (Federal Appellate Court) at the Old Red Brick Courthouse across from the White House in DC. We used to joke that it was the most secure mineral collection in the country. I had many parcels stopped by security, at their scanner, and eventually, the security people came to realize that Fran would just be the difficult one in the building. He had lovely wooden custom showcases with glass doors made as built-ins to his office (courtesy of us, the US taxpayers), and always worked from his desk facing the mineral collection, saying that it brought him calm and tranquility. (Looking to the right, one could gaze out the windows at the front door of the White House - a distraction, indeed!). Fran showed his collection to many people, including several Congressmen who collect, and he became close friends with Jeff Post at the Smithsonian and others involved in the mineral world in DC. Anybody passing through would make a pilgrimage to his office for lunch with a view (superb cafeteria food, or Thai takeout, his favorite). As you will read below, Fran drifted to focus on Russian minerals and the USA classics when he could afford them, wheeling and dealing his old pieces to work up, in the end doing business almost exclusively with Wayne Thompson and another two “young punk” dealers who were flexible in trading and helping a growing collector on a budget, as we all grew together from relatively unimportant obscurity in the hobby during the early 1990s: Daniel Trinchillo and myself. In fact, Daniel gave him such a good deal on a Chinese specimen I wanted but could not afford in the 1990s, that I later had to 8X the price, to trade it out of Fran to add it to my own China collection (an Azurite from Anhui I still own today!) Today, Fran’s core collection of USA and Russian classics remains with his family.

Azurite and Malachite - Liufengshan Mine, Anhui, China - 12.5cm. Ex Fran Allegra to Dr. Rob Lavinsky personal collection. Joe Budd Phooto

I will share one of Fran’s favorite stories, that few people could be told at the time. In 2005 or so, a tip from a fellow judge on the Appellate Court led Fran and I to sneak underground at the Bunker Hill Mine (seems safe to tell it now!) while it was the subject of a closure order from the EPA and as it was served by government attorneys. So, Fran served on the DC Appellate Court of Appeals, the final place that cases against or prosecuted by the US Government go, after appealed from a lower District Court, and before they reach the Supreme Court if a decision could not be made by Fran’s colleagues. Fran’s mineral collection was in his office, and all the judges had seen it (we tried and failed to get them to invest in minerals with him!). They knew about minerals, in any case. One day, another judge sitting at lunch next to him said to him that he had just gotten back from a case involving trying to close a Superfund toxic waste site, and had the most surprising experience of being walked through a room at the mine owner’s building that was “a rainbow of color with rocks just like you have in your office on all the walls.” Fran says he kept a poker face, excused himself to call me, then went back and got what info he could. We knew the case was being litigated in Idaho, and there are only so many Superfund waste sites in Idaho and even fewer that the government was actively fighting with the mine owner to close down. I quickly found out that the room this judge must have seen would have to be the stash of Robert “Bob” Hopper, a far-right talk show host in rural Idaho that made Rush Limbaugh look fairly liberal at the time. He had bought the Bunker Hill lead mine out of bankruptcy in the early 1980s and was responsible for allowing the collecting in old tunnels dating to the 1800s that turned up the incredible finds of Pyromorphite that came out in two waves from this old mine, in the mid-1980s and in 1995-1997. Hopper was mining the dumps of already mined material for zinc and other metals, and not bothering to mine the actual lead deposit. Too much work! 

Wayne Sorenson (a well-placed mineral collector who owned the analytical lab down the road in Idaho) and Wayne Thompson (dealer and his friend) handled the sale of the pyromorphite at the time.  I called Wayne Thompson to ask for an introduction to Bob, whom I had never met, and told him about the exciting news Fran had heard from a judge, about this secret stash! Wayne promptly said something to the effect of “oh yeah, I  always meant to go back for that stuff and keep forgetting. I got all the good stuff and Bob is so difficult, that we never bothered.” Upon further clarification, what Wayne meant was that he bought all the things he thought were worth more than $10,000 by standards of 1997.... and then forgot about it for a decade. Well, needless to say, MANY pieces were worth more than that by 2005, and also Wayne had not even thought about trimming the big ones down to size and cleaning them. Fran and I decided that we might have a different take on what was worth getting, and so I called Bob with Wayne’s info to set up a visit. Luckily, Wayne is a gun-carrying cowboy and they had a good relationship, so I got in the door with that introduction - barely. The more Bob Hopper found out about me, the less he liked me (I had gone to school in California, and was too young to be serious in his mind). I certainly did not mention that my “friend” I would bring with me was another judge on the same court that was trying the governments efforts to shut Hopper down. And a Democrat, no less! Fran and I arranged to meet in Spokane (where we had dinner with Dave Waisman and Fran contributed to the founding ideas of his Texas Fine Mineral Show); and things were all set to drive out to the mine in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, the next morning at 9 AM. While we were at dinner with Waisman, I got a call from Hopper something to the effect of: “the damned EPA **&*&-censored**&$ lawyers are coming tomorrow. I hate those &$&^$ ratbag scum lawyers. Come at 6 AM so we can go underground and avoid them.” Fran and I got up at 3 AM and drove out to meet Bob at the mine as ordered. He also told us to not bring any cameras and not tell any “damn lawyers.”

As I drove up to the mine, with us debating how to introduce him other than as a federal attorney and judge, Fran cringed a little at the signs which stated such homilies as “Just say no to the EPA!” and “This is my mine and my shotgun proves it,” that had been posted near the entry. Bob met us in his office and hurried us into gear - knee-high boots to keep out the toxic lead and arsenic-filled red water that was flooding out of the mine, and hard hats. We went underground through a locked metal mine door and onto a small ore-mover with a mini-locomotive at the front. Fran and I sat in the car in silence while he drove, and chain-smoked, about 1 mile in the dark into the mountain. While driving, Hopper lectured us on how to be quiet and not talk to his employees, how to enjoy the silence, and not to talk to any “damn lawyers” once we got out, because he was fighting the government to keep his mine open in the hopes that someday the largest easy lode of lead in the USA would make him rich beyond dreams - if he could legally mine it. We actually got to the old areas from the original lead and silver mining in the late 1800s (we saw signs to 1890) and used an old man-mover on a generator to go up a few levels, maybe 100 feet up into the mountain from grade level. He had a man there, who we were not allowed to talk to. Fran tried to make small talk but got chewed out for talking to the employee and told that “respect is the highest honor,” and to respect his wish to stop talking. We stopped talking. Did I mention he was carrying a firearm? 

That worker then climbed up the way we had ridden, and we all sat and watched them amiably chain-smoke while they pumped what I was told was pure oxygen from a tank up a 100-foot hole into the one part of the mine where the pyromorphites had been found (the Jersey Vein).  The air was bad up there, and nobody had been up in a long time, so they had to pump some air up. The ladder was about 200 steps nearly straight up through a 4-foot vertical tunnel, from our level to the Jersey Vein. It was at that point that Fran looked at me and calmly announced he was quite comfortable to stay down and “not talk” to the worker but would take a photo of my climbing up to my death. Bob had me lead, and I went up the ladder. Waiting for him, I sat and contemplated Fran’s choice of words. Bob came up and had a 5 minute smoking break in the pure oxygen, to recover from the climb. I worried it would explode us. Then, we took a walk and saw empty pockets all along the vein for maybe 100 meters, culminating in a huge and unreachable ceiling covered with bright orange arsenian pyromorphite that looked like a sunset in our headlight beams. The pockets were cleaned out and rimmed with cigarette butts encrusted in lime and mine goo, so that the butts made a rim around the bottom of each pocket. While we were up there, Fran “not talked” to the worker anyhow, and got a good picture of the goings on at the mine and the number of specimens that had been stashed. On our exit from the mine at noon, Bob was surprised to find the federal attorneys waiting for him, as he thought they would have gone away since he missed their 9 AM meeting. Sure enough, two huge black Escalades were waiting, with Salt Lake City plates. Those lawyers were not going away. So, Bob lined Fran and I up, and took turns rubbing his hands against our legs and chests to get all the gooey, red, lead-stained mud off of our clothes and put it on his overalls, unbuttoned his shirt to let the sweaty smell out, and smeared some mud on his chest for good measure. He then told us to wait in the collection room while he met the attorneys for “a short while,” and directed us to the treasure room we had been waiting for! 

Through the window, we watched him slime his hands on his boots for good measure, and then walk up to them and greet them with a firm muddy handshake. As we turned around, sort of in shock after spending 5 hours underground with this chain-smoking guy and being out of breath and having no water or food, we saw a massive mutt of a dog looking up calmly at us from his bed n the floor on the far side of the approximately 12 x 15-foot room, lined with mineral cases and filled with all colors of pyromorphite. The dog was a guard dog. It was not happy to see us in its space. Fran went to the water cooler, across the room, and it leaped up and growled. What became clear was that we could not cross a line about 5 feet into the room, without the dog making scary faces and noises at us. So, we looked at the closer minerals, leaned over to see others as we could, and waited. Two hours. Finally, Bob was done with his meeting and he came to get us, excused the dog, and we could see the whole room freely. Long story short, we bought some rocks that day, including at least two dozen pieces worth 10k and over, hundreds worth $500-5000 that Wayne had simply not wanted to handle nearly 10 years prior, and the biggest single specimen Bob had ever recovered intact - a monster yellow piece with no repairs from the mid-1980s that was near 2 feet across! Fran’s commission on the tipoff was a number of smaller pieces he traded off and a magnificent, 3-dimensional orange pyromorphite cabinet piece from the mid-1990s finds, that remains in the collection. Bob was in such a good mood after insulting the lawyers for two hours and preparing for his afternoon radio show to talk about it to his listeners that we got a splendid deal and were able to buy much of what I wanted, though it was far too much to take all at once (the rest was later wholesaled out before Bob passed away). Fran and I went home dirty but happy, having to drive all the way back to Spokane to get a hotel and a shower after our long day. I think we were both so tired that we got on the plane the next morning in relief, and he took his prize home with him.

Pyromorphite, Bunker Hill Mine, Idaho - 12.5 x 13.5 x 10 cm, Ex. Francis Allegra. FMI Photo


Fran was a strong supporter of this symposium, and he attended 3 of the years during 2011-2014. For 2015, he planned to bring his son Domenic for the first time and also was scheduled as a speaker on a sequel to his 2011 talk on how collectors and museums could work more together through philanthropic donation. Just before his cancer came back, we had scheduled him as a speaker. He was actively considering how to retire from being a judge at age 65 if he did not go on to the Supreme Court under a Democratic president. He taught law at George Washington school of Law for mineral money on the side, and he was thinking to continue to do that while starting a niche business in law advisory related to mineral donations, customs, and estate tax law. As well, Fran talked about being more active with the Mineralogical Record and was starting to write regular columns with Wendell Wilson under the title “Legal Nuggets,” which are all still as relevant now as ever.

A recent note from his son Domenic, now heading to college, shows what an impact he made in involving his oldest son, in particular, in his hobby. “I always wanted to go to the symposium with my father, but he passed away the last day of the 2015 symposium. Thankfully I was able to go to the 2015 Tucson show with him, something that I always dreamed of doing since my youth. I consistently watch my father’s talk on the DVD from the 2011 symposium; it is always great to hear his voice and his “ dad” jokes. After he passed, staying connected with the mineral world has been difficult. I haven’t had the opportunity to attend any shows, but that hasn’t stopped me from keeping in touch with all of his friends. As I head to college in the fall, even though I will not be majoring in geology, I will be studying political science and will hopefully be attending law school to follow in his footsteps.”

I would be remiss without mentioning here that Fran’s other most important activity besides his love of the law and legal matters, and his mineral collecting, was to spend time with his family and kids. He became a gung ho Cub Scout leader, going all out for Denmaster Dad at a time when I was struggling with the responsibility of being only an assistant den leader. Despite his incredibly busy schedule, he pursued the most active involvement possible for a father, and attended nearly all pack meetings and many camp outs. He was an avid counselor for kids as they advanced through Scouts, and toured them to the Courthouse and the Supreme Court on a regular basis. He stayed with his boys through Boy Scouts, and spent hundreds if not thousands of hours supporting their Troop and many other Scouting events on a regional level in Washington DC. Fran was a dedicated Scout father, often changing into Scout gear at the courthouse and going straight to meetings, and then finishing his work late into the nights and early in mornings. 

Fran Allegra with Boy Scouts

-Dr, Robert Lavinsky

August, 2017

Burma and Spinels in my Collection

Mar 17, 2021

By William (Bill) Larson, February 2021

L-R: Beryl (aquamarine), 2.4 cm, Sakhan-gyi, Kyauk-pyat-that Zone; Spinel, 1 cm, Pein-pyit, Pein-pyit Zone; Corundum (ruby), 2.9 cm, Mogok Valley Zone; Forsterite (peridot), 2.6 cm, Pyaung-gaung, Bernardmyo Zone; Spinel, 1.9 cm, Pein-pyit, Pein-pyit Zone; all Mandalay Region, Myanmar (Burma).
William F. Larson collection (L-R: 137, 248, 256, 253, 254); Mark Mauthner photo.

As both a dealer and as a collector of gem crystals and mineral species prized by both the gem and mineral markets, I have collected Burmese Gem minerals in particular now for nearly 30 years. I've traveled to Burma nearly 40 times, including a number of rare trips to the mines directly (very few foreigners were ever allowed in, and only with military escorts and government guides). Fine red or pink spinel crystals, outside of those few in museum collections, were simply nonexistent in the open mineral show markets up until the 1990s; both here in the USA and Europe. Only some rare pieces of blue gray-spinels from Madagascar and a rare few of our own US blue spinel were available. So, spinels were highly sought after on my travels, and actually make up more of my gem Burma collection than the rubies and sapphires you would have expected.

Han Htun inspecting a ruby in his home in Yangon, Myanmar (Burma).
Mark Mauthner photo.

Any collector of rare gem crystals wants beautiful red spinel octahedrons in their collection. Mogok, Burma (now Myanmar) is the world's finest locality! When Dr. Gubelin invited me to be part of the first European group to visit Mogok in 1993, I jumped at the chance. 10 of us were invited and “accompanied” by the military, including fixed machine guns on a convoy, into Mogok, essentially the Wild West of the region at the time. It was a 120 kilometer trip lasting 8 hours in what we called the pain mobile, a Jeep knockoff that you hit your head on the ceiling constantly. We stayed in almost freezing conditions in the center of the town, of perhaps 60,000 people at that time. It was obvious that they all made a living off of gemstones. We got to meet many miners including one I became good friends with, Dr. Saw Nang U. Most of the material they were mining was alluvial, so crystals were rare. Because there was no market for crystals locally, they cut everything! I helped develop this market by teaching them and paying for raw crystals, instead of gemstones.

Bill Larson, two Mogôk gem dealers, Kyaw Thu. Mandalay, Myanmar (Burma).
Mark Mauthner photo.

On my first trip I was unable to get any crystals at all, although we were shown a beautiful ruby crystal cluster but with no chance to purchase it. We were able to buy a fantastic 25-carat ruby-colored spinel from the local Yangon annual gem auction, but there was literally not a spinel crystal to be seen. However, I was excited by seeing the ruby in Mogok and started coming into Burma 3 to 4 times per year at my peak travels, as I was always going to Bangkok for gems and that’s only a one hour flight into Yangon if you can get the visa and access to do anything once you are there. However, it became abundantly apparent that the local miners and dealers in Mogok did indeed cut everything even if it was a great crystal, and only produced tiny cut or included gems. I was persistent! I kept asking for natural crystals. None of the major ruby or sapphire dealers were interested in crystals or in the slow money to deal with them and deal with waiting for me to come and see them compared to cutters who pay immediately; so I was dealing with small miners and many geology students anxious to learn, which was actually great in the long run. I taught them by bringing, over the span of 10 years starting in the 1990s, almost 500 books (heavy luggage!) on crystals including the USA gem and mineral magazines. A few caught onto the crystal idea and I started seeing nice topaz crystals. But spinel wasn’t to be seen. 

Spinel (twins); L-R: 1.1, 1.6, 1.9 cm tall. Pein-pyit, Pein-pyit Zone, Mandalay Division, Myanmar (Burma). William F. Larson collection (039); Mark Mauthner photo.

Often, I was not allowed into Mogok for all kinds of reasons of luck or timing, only Yangon and sometimes into Mandalay where dealers would bring rare cut gems. But on my third trip into Mogok, I met a dealer, U Kyaw Thaung, who later started a company in Yangon called the King of Crystals. He had a small cluster of maybe 4 intergrown octahedrons (1-2cm each opaque pinkish-brown but sharp) and it was for me at that time the holy grail! Of course, the moment I really wanted it he pulled it back and told me it was not for sale and he would not sell it. I was crestfallen but tried not to show it however the word soon got around that I would buy crystals (that crazy foreigner!) and I would later get permission to go to Mogok. There are three markets there with a fascinating split of goods: the ladies market in the early morning; a man’s market in the late morning; and the third market in Kyatpian (a small city close to Mogok). In each market, I was shown hundreds of parcels mostly cut gems including synthetics - one has to know a lot because even in the 90s there were fakes and forgeries, and treated goods in the gem market right at the source. Soon, small parcels of tiny to 1/4 inch crystals were shown and as I bought more and more, it became a trend that many beautiful crystals were preserved. In the late 1990’s I was perhaps the only foreigner to visit Mogok actually looking for crystals (more for my own interest and collection, than for resale as a mineral dealer at the time because it really was not cost-effective to buy for resale when you factor in the time and trip costs). Others soon followed but for several years I was able to obtain many amazing things, and most of this collection was assembled on frequent trips between the late 1990s and 2008 before I heavily ramped down my trips there, and restrictions were placed on Burmese imports. Under Ne Win, private dealing was not allowed (Ne Win was Burma's military dictator during the Socialist Burma period of 1962 to 1988) and some things were saved by people. Some started coming out from under beds, once word of my acquisitions spread, and I even obtained many of the pieces in this collection, many of the loose spinels, from old stashes wrapped in newspapers from the 1970s. The spinels shown here from my collection, are almost impossible to obtain today as mining is very curtailed, very industrial for gem rough when it does happen, and in any case, finer crystals were never common. Most of these spinels were therefore found between the 1970s-early 2000s and are not contemporary (I had not added much to the collection since 2008).

Bill Larson inspecting a large epidote specimen. Yangon, Myanmar (Burma).
Mark Mauthner photo.

Of course with the internet, the miners soon caught on and by the early 2000s, prices begin to soar to heights I could not purchase anything at, hardly. If they saw a specimen of topaz on the Arkenstone’s website at $2000 (that I might have sold him!), they wanted $2500 for the same or worse level material on my next trip, and they did not understand about damage and dings so everything was highly-priced with little chance to buy more. So, the easier times were gone by 2008 or so. 

I had had to forgo rubies during the sanctions at the time from 2008 until recently, but spinel and other minerals were still allowed. They just were not commonly available. In 2016 the sanctions were lifted so rubies again were allowed but it seems that not many good crystals are being recovered and without people like me on the ground there to pay cash for them, they mostly go to the cutters for quick and easy money. There is little incentive in the region to preserve crystals, without a ready and available local buyer. I have gone on 37 trips into Burma and have many friends there still. The best travel and times for me were during the past ten years, even though not many specimens came as a result (some phenakites, some odds and ends new finds, the painite discovery). I’ve been referred to as The Godfather of Crystals for Mogok stone dealers, and they treated me with much respect in the good times. Thinking about what was destroyed to cut inferior gemstones is beyond sad, but I am happy my collection preserved what I could of what was found in what are surely the glory years of minerals there. Now the miners know much more, and of course, they look at the internet often, so hopefully new finds will start to trickle out again, and more will be preserved outside of the Mogok area itself, where there are surely many other crystal deposits waiting to be found.

Think “Multi-Purpose” Specimens - Jim Houran

Feb 23, 2021

By James (Jim) Houran

People with the so-called “collector gene” often indulge multiple interests and collections, either at once or over time. For instance, there are some mineral connoisseurs who likewise build important collections of art, old bottles, vintage mining equipment, Indian artifacts, pottery, or other historic or aesthetic items. Now, think about a private or museum mineral collection you really admire — for me, this includes vintage collections such as the American Museum of Natural History, Chicago’s Field Museum, and the Smithsonian, as well as modern collectors who exhibit broadly to the community such as Carolyn Manchester, Bill Larson, Gail and Jim Spann, and Salim Edde (MIM Museum) — and most likely that collection can be divided into several sub-sets or mini-collections, either by species, crystal class, locality, or other meaningful criteria. This is part of the allure of gem and mineral collecting… individual specimens and entire collections typically have more than one story to tell.

Heliodor from New England Mining Company Quarry, Upper Merryall, New Milford, Litchfield County, Connecticut
4.14 ct; 12.74 mm x 8.84 mm

On this point, dealers and auction houses frequently use the term “crossover collectible” to describe an item with a diverse character that makes it appealing to multiple groups of collectors. Pieces with strong crossover appeal often garner greater interest and price, since they are desired by multiple interest groups. For example, antique Coca-Cola items bring high dollars because they are simultaneously in demand by collectors of (a) Coca-Cola memorabilia, (b) Americana, (c) antiques, and (d) classic advertising material. Similarly, a top-quality crystal of New Jersey zincite with a handwritten label from a historic collection or dealer would be a “Holy Grail” target for collectors seeking either East Coast classics, rare minerals, gem crystals, material from the Franklin locality, or specimens with special provenance.

However, the more common notion of “crossover” in the auction-world is less compelling to me than the idea of “multi-purpose” specimens and collections That is, pieces or assemblies that are important and hence desirable because they perform different functions. This suggestion might sound eccentric, but in a very real sense, gem and mineral specimens can provide key services for collectors and the general public. Stated more poetically, to my way of thinking they are actors in four basic types of scripted productions:

  • Conservation: Some species (or varieties) are rare in nature or at certain localities. For this reason alone, fine examples should be preserved for posterity as historical and geological artifacts.

  • Research-documentation: Fine specimens are immensely useful for research purposes, as they show the pinnacle of development for either a given species (or variety) or that species at a particular location. These pieces are geological record keepers.

  • Education-display: Following the point above, some specimens have unusually fine features that serve as “textbook” examples of crystal classes, colors, or other key features. Accordingly, these well-developed qualities exude a sense of “showmanship” and make effective display items for general education and display projects.

  • Aesthetics-adornment: Frankly, the allure of most specimens is the psychological experience they give people. Some even refer to it as an “energy,” albeit not the “crystal healing” type. Gems and minerals are visually and intellectually attractive products of nature. Their allure invites us to learn more about them, so the enjoyment associated with pure aesthetics can be considered the “gateway drug” to more academic purchases, which involves the broader principles of connoisseurship as discussed by many authors (e.g., Currier, 2008, 2009a, 2009b; Halpern, 2005; Houran & Bleess, 2014; Smale, 2006; Thompson, 2007; Wilson, 1990).

Quartz var. Chalcedony ("Blue Baxter" ) from Cady Mountains, Mojave Desert, near Barstow, San Bernardino County, California
5.90 ct; 12.11 mm

My approach both to collecting and exhibiting has generally focused on specimens that speak to most, if not all, of these four “multi-purpose” elements. Admittedly, it takes discernment and discipline to adhere to these criteria with every acquisition or when selecting specimens to exhibit. This means that collectors can still be flexible without requiring these parameters for every acquisition. That said, faithfully putting into practice this “multi-purpose” outlook has added new intellectual and emotional dimensions to my personal experience and evaluation of gem and mineral specimens.

Perhaps this approach will also make sense to readers as a way to inform or guide their collection goals. Collectors certainly pursue different things for different reasons, and our very motivations for collecting in the first place vary by individual. But my belief is that ultimately all collectors are drawn to specific specimens for the stories they tell — and all exhibitors are enthusiastic to share those stories with others. Put simply, for me the most desirable specimens are those that are talented actors who can play more than one part and star in more than one story. “Multi-purpose” equals “multi-engaging.”

Fluorite from the Walworth Quarry, Walworth, Wayne County, New York
16.36 ct; 16.63 mm


Currier, R. (2008). About mineral collecting: Part 1 of 5. Mineralogical Record, 39, 305-313.

Currier, R. (2009a). About mineral collecting: Part 3 of 5. Mineralogical Record, 40, 49-59.

Currier, R. (2009b). About mineral collecting: Part 5 of 5. Mineralogical Record, 40, 193-202.

Halpern, J. (2005). Criteria for selecting crystallized mineral specimens for a display collection. Mineralogical Record, 36, 195-198.

Houran, J., & Bleess, J. (2014). Thumbnail collecting: One philosophy of collecting. Lapis, 39, 12-28. [see also: https://www.irocks.com/little-wonders-connoisseur-thumbnails-in-the-contemporary-collector-market]

Smale, S. (2006). The Smale Collection: Beauty in Natural Crystals. Lithographie, LLC: Denver.

Thompson, W. (2007) Ikons: Classic and Contemporary Masterpieces. Supplement to the Mineralogical Record. Tucson, AZ: Mineralogical Record.

Wilson, W. E. (1990). Connoisseurship in minerals. Mineralogical Record, 21, 7-12.

We'd like to extend a special thanks to friend and fellow mineral enthusiast, Jim Houran, for authoring the reprinting of this article.

“Dr. Jim” Houran, Ph.D., Managing Director of AETHOS Consulting Group, is a 25-year veteran in applied psychological research and a published expert on peak performance, online testing and interpersonal and organizational compatibility. He has authored over 150 articles, and his award-winning work has been profiled by a myriad of media outlets and programs including the Discovery Channel, A&E, BBC, National Geographic, NBC’s Today Show, USA Today, New Scientist, Psychology Today and Forbes.com. He serves as adjunct faculty at the Laboratory for Statistics and Computation, ISLA – Instituto Politécnico de Gestão e Tecnologia (Lisbon, Portugal), an editorial board member for the APA peer-reviewed journal, Psychology of Consciousness: Theory, Research and Practice, and as an editorial board member for the peer-reviewed journal, Cornell Hospitality Quarterly.

“Many people over the years have told me that I’m best described as an unconventional researcher and practitioner who’s clearly passionate about bringing real-world psychology to the everyday personal and professional lives of clients. This is possible because of my eclectic and generalist background in the social sciences, which gives me a comprehensive perspective about imagination, cognition, personality and behavior. For me, nothing compares to the satisfaction of working on projects in which the latest psychological theories help to produce unprecedented awareness and positive outcomes. The fluid and demanding industry of hospitality is ultimately built on people and relationships. Psychology has so much to say about the drivers of professional development, team dynamics, organizational performance and the guest experience. I’m in my element when consulting with leaders and their teams on these strategic issues. But psychology doesn’t define my entire identity; I stay personally grounded through my family and enjoying the natural sciences, history, anthropology and the arts. It’s fun and rewarding being unconventional!”


In Memoriam: Mark Neil Feinglos (1948–2020)

Sep 4, 2020

Adapted with permission from Rocks & Minerals, volume 95, September/October 2020 for publication on iRocks.com.

Mark Feinglos and Susan Feinglos
Mark with his wife, Susan Totten Feinglos.

Mark Neil Feinglos, MD, CM, passed away unexpectedly on 14 March 2020 (at age seventy-two). He died in the home he loved in Durham, North Carolina, where he had lived for more than forty years. Mark Feinglos was born on 23 February 1948, in Syracuse, New York, the only child of Bertha and Clarence Feinglos. When Mark decided to attend medical school at McGill University in Montreal, his mother proudly began referring to him as “My son, the doctor,” and she would only ask for him that way on the phone ever again: “Is my son, the doctor, there?” Ever a man of many interests, Mark had one, central lifelong passion as he went through school and career: mineral collecting. In fact, most people in the mineral community were not familiar with Mark’s lifelong work in medicine and probably assumed the “Dr.” in his title was actually a doctorate in geology.

Mark began collecting minerals at the age of five when his aunt bought him a boxed set of minerals as a gift. This quickly became his favorite toy, and his mother supported his budding passion, patiently taking him to mineral stores and shows in nearby cities throughout his early years. Mark’s passion for mineralogy grew over the course of his life and saw him building one of the most scientifically important private mineral collections in the world. His undergraduate degree, also from McGill, was in geology.

At McGill, Mark met his first wife and ultimately the mother of his two children, Sue Goldman Feinglos. Mark and Sue moved to Durham in 1972 when Mark began his residency at Duke University Medical Center. He never left Durham or Duke after that— something highly atypical for a physician. He rose to become Chief of Duke’s Division of Endocrinology for more than a decade, carefully balancing immense responsibility to the hospital and devotion to his family.

Mark was an incredibly committed husband and father, taking on the role of two parents to his young children when Sue was diagnosed with brain cancer in 1994. Sue had become the highly regarded Director of the Duke Medical Center Library after a long career there. She fought the effects of cancer valiantly for eight years, but she could not have done so without her husband’s love, support, and coordination of her care across years of tests and bad news—which he always met with dedication and hope. From Sue’s diagnosis to her passing in 2002, Mark was there for her. In his eulogy for his wife, Mark stood with his children at his side and said that instead of ever suggesting that their mother had lost her battle with cancer, to remember instead that she “retired undefeated.” Mark also persisted through these incredibly challenging times, and he was there for his children every step of the way. He never missed a parent-teacher conference, a school play, or a competition. The family ate dinner together around the kitchen table every night, with Mark’s delicious cooking sustaining everyone with love and support. Mark was an amazing father, always generous with his time and a word of advice, always stepping out of meetings to take a call from either of his children, and always bursting with pride to share his children’s accomplishments with anyone who would listen.

Mark liked to say that he was very lucky to fall in love twice when some people don’t even get lucky once, and that he, apparently, only married “Susans.” He first met Susan Totten at Duke Hospital in 2007 when she was working there as a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist in endocrinology. They enjoyed ten years of marriage together. In 2008, Mark and Susan published an editorial together on diabetes research in the Archives of Internal Medicine. It is safe to say that Mark’s contributions to the field of endocrinology have enabled people with diabetes to live better lives all over the world.

Mark Feinglos with his children, Daniel and Rebecca.
Mark with son, Daniel Feinglos, and daughter, Rebecca Feinglos Planchard.

Mark was not yet ready to retire and remained diligent in his robust career, pursuing many dozens of grants and studies, writing publications and articles, and giving talks—all far too many to recount here.

But Mark would often say that his research in the medical field would not be remembered fifty years from now— the science evolves so quickly that today’s discoveries will be supplanted by tomorrow’s innovations. Instead, Mark said he would be remembered for his contributions to the field of mineralogy.

Over the years, Mark became an expert across all aspects of minerals, eventually focusing on building his own collection as a repository of diverse and historical mineralogy. He loved German minerals, complex chemistry, and Tsumeb. He loved bornites (nobody understood why) and hated borates. He loved historic labels for the stories they told of mineralogy over time, not just to track ownership of a specimen. Mark’s collection has been a teaching tool for many people through the years, and his family is sure that it will continue to be long after he is gone.

Chalcophyllite, Wheal Gorland, Cornwall, England. 4.2 cm.
Ex. Dr. Mark Feinglos Collection

At first look, his collection might seem random, but it was not. Instead, it was more than twelve thousand specimens—groups of minerals that, when arranged together, could illuminate and educate. To visit Mark, see his collection, and talk about it with him was literally to receive an education. In fact, Mark had a long-running dialogue with the late Kay Robertson in which they helped each other complete and build their German suites. He liked to joke that the only time somebody had bested him on a trade was when Kay came to visit and traded him out of the best twinned copper from Germany, a little jewel he never forgot. (When Kay sold her collection thirty years later, the specimen came back to him, and she commented that Mark was her only worthy trading adversary in the United States.)

Mark also assembled a robust suite of type minerals, arranged in a single wooden cabinet to the side of the others for protection and safekeeping. In building this suite, he had a friendly competition with his best friend, the late Bill Pinch, to acquire rare study pieces. But often they’d end up trimming the pieces in half to share with the other. These are probably the largest collections of type specimens in private hands, and the two of them engaged in amiable competition for decades, hoping the collections would both end up together in the same museum someday.

In the 1990s Mark was the mentor to a group of young dealers in the early world of internet mineral dealing. By the late 1990s he was basically “godfather” to a small group of dealers selling rare species online, which he actively encouraged to broaden interest in the wider world of minerals and collecting. Some of those early internet dealers included Rob Lavinsky of Arkenstone, Jordi Fabre of Fabre Minerals, Jasun McAvoy of Mineralman, and the late John Veevaert of Trinity Minerals, all of whom visited frequently to look and learn in person. Mark was absolutely open with his knowledge and his heart, sharing minerals and his collection with anybody who enjoyed them regardless of stature and age. He served as an online referee for all kinds of species and research questions in the era before Mindat really became established.

Mark was absolutely open with his knowledge and his heart, sharing minerals and his collection with anybody who enjoyed them.

Mark identified many new minerals, as he was often sent specimens that could not be identified. He and Bill Pinch would surely have been named the world champions of sight-identification of minerals. Working within Duke’s mineral collection (they lacked a curator, and this crazy doctor from the Medical Center was willing to step in and curate, organize, and catalog in his spare time), Mark discovered something that looked like a new mineral. He worked to name it dukeite in honor of the university and the Duke family. It was the first U.S. university to have a mineral named for it. In 1997, Mark was honored to have the mineral feinglosite named for him after he was the first to notice the unfamiliar specimen in the Natural History Museum, London.

Feinglosite, Tsumeb, Namibia. 2.0 cm.

Mark spent his life continuing in the historic tradition of mineralogy, discovering for the sake of discovery, and living out his passion for science. He was honored to be an active contributor of the RRUFF Project at the University of Arizona. Mark won the William Pinch Medal in 2003, its second recipient after its namesake, Bill Pinch. The Pinch Medal is awarded every other year to recognize major and sustained contributions to the advancement of mineralogy.

Mark Feinglos lived a full life with people he loved and people who loved him. He was a true intellectual, kindhearted, a collector, and quick with a keen sense of humor. He will be missed every day. Mark is survived by his wife, Susan Totten; his children, Daniel Feinglos and Rebecca Feinglos Planchard; his son-in-law, Sean Planchard; his sister- in-law, Laverne Vance; his brotherin- law, Jeff Vance; his nephew, Stephen Vance; and his mothers-in-law, Beryl Goldman and Lorine Totten.

Rebecca Feinglos Planchard
Rebecca Feinglos Planchard is the daughter of Mark Feinglos.

Robert Lavinsky
Dr. Robert Lavinsky, a lifelong mineral collector, is the owner of The Arkenstone.