The Jack Halpern Collection

Feb 11, 2020

We're honored to have been entrusted with the deaccession of a selection of Jack Halpern's famed collection of fine minerals, many of which are coming to market this 2020 Tucson Show. Friend and mineral collector Lauren Megaw shared some thoughts, history, and personal interactions with Jack here, by way of introduction.


By Lauren Megaw

Definition of “Gentleman” in the Oxford dictionary:

gent·le·man

/ˈjen(t)lmən/ : a chivalrous, courteous, or honorable man

Real-life Definition: Jack Halpern

Jack Halpern Photo, mineral collection Jack Halpern in front of minerals, at age 90. Photo from the Mineralogical Record Label Archive page.

Jack is the type of person who likes to revel in the joys of life, and it's absolutely contagious. When you recognize Jack strolling down the aisles of a mineral show, you smile. It’s an automatic response, and it's probably because you associate the wiry frame and hallmark bolo-tie with a man who is genuinely interested in the world. He believes that appreciating beauty is one of the greatest joys in life, and says so frequently as he pushed 100 years old this year.

Jack Halpern was born in Brooklyn to a couple of Jewish European immigrants who ran a stationary shop. Which is fitting considering Jack spent his later years selling paper goods, though on a larger scale. As part of the Greatest Generation, the upheaval of his youth transformed and shaped Halpern’s life. After joining the Navy during the onset of World War II, he was shipped off to Treasure Island in San Francisco Bay to learn how to use radar. Halpern entered the Navy as a NYU college student and left 13 years later as a Lt. Commander.

Rob told me a story about a shocking dinner he once had with Jack, back in the 1990's, when they were talking about his career and Jack brought those years up. It turns out that Jack, because he had no specific expertise on the Navy ship at the time, was designated to the newfangled "RADAR detail" to be trained by the scientists who developed the technique. Jack did not just USE radar in the US Navy...he was literally on one of the first teams trained to use it, and he then trained others throughout his career there. He retired with honor after a successful career. Yes, he was one of the first people to use radar. Crazy!

On his first leave in San Francisco fate took him to the opera, and her name was Leslie Baer. They fell in love, married in 1943 and had a pair of daughters, Jean and Leslie. They also shared a love of collecting, Jack with his minerals and flowers and Leslie with her antique knives and spoon holders. Sadly, Leslie passed away in 1995, though Jack still speaks of her fondly.

Like so many collectors, Halpern’s first significant interaction with minerals was a life-changing event. He often even goes so far as to say he was “reborn” in 1962 when he first toured the California Academy of Sciences mineral collection. Something about the form, geometry and color captivated him. According to legend of the story, which he told many times, he thought they were too beautiful to be real; however, after being persuaded of their authenticity he was hooked! (Though there were always a couple of giant synthetic alum crystals in the cases, because they were fun looking and he collects for beauty foremost, he says)

Only as I wrote this did i get the rest of that story from Rob: that Jack apparently expressed his dismay to his wife at the beauty of these "carvings" rather loudly and accidentally in the presence of Curator Jean Demuth, who was on the gallery floor at the time and overheard him. She immediately corrected him, and seeing he was hooked directed him to go to his first Gem and Mineral Show in San Francisco in the early 1960s. He already was a rising star in collecting Orchids and flowers, and had the "collecting bug" which transferred to minerals. It was his wife who parlayed his former Navy salary and his later salary as a salesman of stationary forms, into brilliant investments in the stock market, and provided enough income for them to indulge their hobbies in retirement. Jack always admitted he had no financial sophistication, and credited her highly.

A wide assortment of specimens in the Jack Halpern Collection Fine mInerals from Jack Halpern's collection.
© Rob Lavinsky

Halpern believes in the power of relationships. Relationships with fellow collectors and dealers, both. After all, a good dealer is worth their weight in gold. In the early years, Halpern bought nearly exclusively from Walt Lidstrom - which made his wins in 99’ with his twinned Cubanite (only recently deaccessed) and again in 2007 with his Zoisite var. Tanzanite even more special. While I wasn’t born yet, the stories abound of the magnificence of Jack’s collection prior to the Loma Prieta earthquake. Jack’s house was a short distance from Candlestick Park where the quake was felt strongly and after peeking into his basement, he didn’t go back down for months. However, the damage was minimal and mostly insured. This did not turn him away from collecting, as it was a part of him, and he redoubled his collecting in fact. He filled all the wall-to-wall shelves in his basement, this time anchoring every one of thousands of specimens with both mineral putty and plastic bases when needed - and renewing his insurance.

By 2003, Jack’s home and garden teemed with over 400 orchids and roses, and the basement contained dozens of display cases filled with nearly 3,200 specimens! Yet each and every one of them were there because their aesthetics Sparked Joy[1] for the vivacious gentleman. Jack was interviewed by newspapers in the Bay Area, and started running tours through his home for both kids and the elderly/retired community. Many believe that his was the most-seen private collection in the country, for this reason. Rob told me that on many visits in the 1990s, he'd have to wait upstairs until after school field trip hours for Jack to finish escorting a group of 20-30 schoolkids through the collection, and Jack often urged the elderly in their retirement homes to make bus trips to his basement (which was conveniently accessible by a sloping driveway, even for wheelchairs).

Jack Halpern with children in his mineral displays Jack Halpern tours children around his mineral displays. © Rob Lavinsky

"...I admire their beauty. And I admit: I'm addicted to them."
- Jack Halpern during a 2003 interview with the SFGate about his mineral exhibition at Pacific Orchid Exposition at Fort Mason.

While looks and form were a must for Halpern, strategic and disciplined acquisition was required to put together a singularly exquisite collection. He did this by seeing as many examples as he could by going to shows and museums, visiting friends’ collections, and reading his favorite mineral magazines. He wanted to buy one of everything, and size and price did not matter. He was just as happy with a $100 specimen as with a $10,000 specimen. Essentially, Halpern was building a visual database and if his collection is anything to go by, he did a marvelous job!

In Halpern’s 2005 for the Mineralogical Record, Criteria for Selecting Crystallized Minerals for a Display Collection”, he laid out a fantastically articulated breakdown of the identification and acquisition of visually delightful specimens. Honestly, it is probably one of the most important reads for new and upcoming fine mineral collectors. Picking specimens a multivariable problem that Jack, giving you the benefit of his years of collecting, makes approachable and understandable. He’ll even make you feel better about buying something expensive - so long as it's an excellent piece! Perhaps that is a lesson to learn from a man who ended up having 2 species of orchids named after him: mediocre will always be mediocre, but quality has the chance to become something important. You finish the article feeling empowered to go forth and assemble the collection of your dreams!

Jack believed that collections were also for sharing with others - whether that was his mineral friends or a group of children who visited his home. Maybe one of them would also have a moment of rebirth! He likes to say that through each visit, each interaction, each memory, our fondness for the minerals grow. Perhaps this is the reason some collectors get so emotionally attached to their specimens. They are an extension of us, our friendships, and our experiences. And perhaps if your heart is as big as Jack’s, you need the extra room.

 

Emerald Specimen - Pre-trim (markings for where to trim)

Emerald from Colombia Emerald specimen before trimming from the Jack Halpern Collection. © BVA for The Arkenstone

 

Emerald Specimen - After Trimming

Emerald specimen from Jack Halpern's collection Emerald after trimming, from Jack Halpern's Collection. © BVA for The Arkenstone

I remember in all my interactions with him that Jack was an absolute, old-school gentleman. He wrote to his friends, dealers, and dealer-friends, long letters in beautiful cursive where he expounded on his enjoyment of time spent with friends and minerals. He wrote an entire letter to Rob saying how much he appreciated his chocolate Birthday cake! At the Arkenstone, I saw a stack of letter after beautiful letter about visits, and about their mineral dealings and trades, and there is something so personal about an old fashioned letter. Though perhaps his most touching letter, was about how he missed a particular Rhodochrosite he’d just exchanged to Rob about ten years ago. It wasn’t the lament of someone having sold an object, but rather of a parent letting their child go off into the world. That’s the kind of person Halpern is : the kind who seeks beauty in the world and makes friends with rocks.

 

References:

Interviews with Peter Megaw and Rob Lavinsky

LARSON, W. F. (2005) A lucky man: Jack Halpern and his colorful collection. Mineralogical Record, 36, 189-194.

WILSON, Wendell E. (2020), Mineralogical Record Biographical Archive, at www.mineralogicalrecord.com.

Afterward:

Growing up, I knew Jack was a force of aesthetic collecting and respected him but did not know him well. Though mostly I knew him as a kind older gentleman. Then one year during the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show when I was a young teen, Jack struck up a conversation with me about the qualities of a truly great collection. He believed that truly great collections were those selected for the sole purpose of being visually delightful to the collector’s eye. In the truly great collections, Halpern feels there is a sense of that particular person. Then he turned to me and said, “I saw your case, and I must tell you, I could tell it was your case.” That comment matters so much to me, and I keep in mind Halpern’s idea of the mark of a great collection.

[1] Yes, this is a Marie Kondo reference

F. John Barlow Collection: A Modern Mineral Connoisseur

Jan 27, 2020

Within the mineral collecting world, there are collectors who have left their indelible mark upon the community. John Barlow was one of those collectors. This article does not aim to give you a chronological take on his life here. Others have done that. Instead, this article examines how Barlow was a trailblazer of modern mineral connoisseurship and what we can learn from that. He is an example of the many collectors who assembled a significant collection and then took the time and effort to share (through his book in 1998; as well as many exhibitions). Primarily this seeks to examine his collecting philosophy and how it helped him to gather his Great collection.

There is something poetic in the parallels seen in his life and his mineral collecting.

Barlow was born at the beginning of the 20th century and passed away at the beginning of the 21st century (1914-2004). During his 90 years, he witnessed dramatic shifts in American life. Barlow witnessed dramatic shifts in the American social, political, and physical landscape. His endless curiosity, hard-working ethic, seemingly boundless energy, and entrepreneurial spirit made it possible for Barlow to succeed in business and then he applied the same energy to "hunting" minerals, as he called it. He always talked about mineral collecting as a sport, not a hobby, and felt that showed more energy and passion.

From an early age, Barlow was a businessman. At age 12 he established the “Sunset Stamp Company”: first collecting stamps, then selling stamps, then buying stamps to sell stamps. A tactic he would use again in the future. His instinct for business would serve him well over his lifetime. It aided him in his pursuit of his Mechanical Engineering major and Business minor stress the University of Washington during the Great Depression, or transitioning from an engineer to becoming the #3 man at Western Condensing Company during World War II. Later he founded AZCO, A-Z Engineering Corporation. Starting with $5,000 in seed money, he would become one of the largest mechanical contractors in the US and some people say he built half of Wisconsin and a number of airports. However, Earth Resources - his mineral, gems, and jewelry company- was always one of his favorite projects.

Barlow began collecting at the beginning of the 1970s. His voracious curiosity was peaked by an Amethyst geode from the Atlas Mountains of Morocco given to him by his daughter Grace. This piece began a 30+ year love of mineral collecting. When Barlow did something, he DID something. In a similar fashion to how he picked up flying, then proceeded to use it as a regular mode of transportation (this man would fly a plane across the country to see a rock back when others waited until the next show!). He went “all in” with mineral collecting.

Truly fabulous collections are a reflection of their collectors. A collector’s “eye,” what attracts a collector to particular aspects of a mineral, results in a distinct aesthetic...Something that brings the ensemble together. Barlow was fascinated by collecting philosophy; he even had Bob Jones write a chapter on the “collector’s instinct” in The F. John Barlow Mineral Collection. Collectors are “hunters"; always looking for the next deal, the next great piece, the next elusive specimen...

Barlow was a collector’s collector.

He pursued specimens of all types: the rarities, the scientifically interesting, the beautiful, the elusive, the entire pocket, and the pieces he just liked gosh darn it. Barlows collection encompassed over 6,000+ specimens (not counting many duplicates and the rares and systematics - so perhaps the true total was double that). His collection was “deep,” and he was not satisfied with acquiring the minerals... he studied them. And then he went out and shared what he learned, which makes sense coming from a former Sunday School teacher! He participated in exhibitions at museums, schools, and mineral shows. Because he collected across the spectrum of size and price and rarity, he literally could patronize any dealer and talk with any collector as a peer.

He was also incredibly competitive, whether marbles as a child, football in high school and college, or as a businessman. Early on, he entered a competitive mineral display case. He lost. Being Barlow, he then directed his considerable energy and resources into acquiring the Best available AND making custom plastic stands with engraved labels at a time when nobody did so. He went on to win the Ed McDole Memorial Trophy in 1975 and again in 1978. In 1993 he returned to win the Paul Desautels Trophy (which replaced the McDole). That same year his Sperrylite won the Walt Lidstrom Memorial Award. His highest honor, the Carnegie Mineralogical Award, was awarded in 2000.

Barlow was not content to be told what was “good." Instead, he did his research — contacting museums, other collectors, and even dealers to find out how good a particular find got. For example, after encountering small Red Beryl crystals from the Wah Wah Mountains of Utah, Barlow contacted the Smithsonian. They had a 1.6 x 1.1 cm example, which was considered the best at the time. So he felt satisfied acquiring #2 but always kept his eyes peeled for better. According to mineral collecting lore, he got his chance during the Tucson Show, back in the day where circuit breakers regularly overloaded from all the display lights in dealer's rooms. So while the lights were flickering on and off, he was shown a flat of material from the Harris Mine. Barlow believed that he was looking at the best Red Beryls to ever come out, despite the atrocious lighting. And he was right! He bought them all and assembled the best known suite ever of red beryl.

Red Beryl (Bixbite) Crystal from Utah Red Beryl; Harris Claim, Wah Wah Mountains, Utah. This specimen is one of the pieces Barlow acquired that night. It is a truly stunning example of the material and arguably the best. Barlow had a soft spot for this material; he even went there collecting himself! This particular was one of his favorites! 6cm. Joe Budd Photo

One remarkable aspect of Barlow’s collection were the suites. Where most collectors of his caliber focus solely on the exceptional, Barlow wanted his Collection to be outstanding as a whole group of "Suites of Suites"! His Mexican suite is an excellent example. While flying down to Mexico for fishing trips, Barlow began collecting minerals from south of the border. There were some great pieces, namely some fantastic Silver sulfide minerals, which were also a part of one of his other suites (silver species, which was near completion). Barlow had 468 Mexican minerals in his Collection. Remarkably, 266 of these were mini-suites of single species from single localities. He had 11 Rhodochrosites from Santa Eulalia, 21 Ludlamites also from Santa Eulalia, 25 Legrandites from Ojuela, 46 Adamites from Ojuela, 50 Boleites from Boleo (some of which he self-collected, and 77 Purple Creedites from Santa Eulalia! Barlow accumulated these by buying entire lots representing a particular find or, in some cases, entire pockets! Barlow’s habit of doing this resulted in a comprehensive representation of the many different habits, associations, and styles from a similar or shared genetic source. So this suite was both aesthetically important, but also scientifically as well.

Vivianite Crystal - ex. F John Barlow Vivianite from the 13th level, San Antonio Mine, East Camp, Santa Eulalia District, Chihuahua, Mexico. Formerly in the John Barlow Collection (illustrated in his book from 1998, on page 340), it was sold off in 1998 along with the rest of the collection and quickly nabbed by Arizona/Mexico collector Evan Jones. Evan sold the Mexico suite to concentrate on Arizona, and at that time I purchased this piece for the Stoudt collection. Joe Budd photos.

While Barlow primarily collected with a silver-pick, he also took the opportunity to use a rock pick. He collected personally in Boleo, the Wah Wahs, and even in the Queen and Himalaya Mines in San Diego. During his underground excursion at the Tourmaline Queen, he realized that it would be incredible to share what a pocket looked like with those who didn’t have an opportunity like this. So after collecting a couple of crystals himself, Barlow had the entire pocket, feldspars, quartz, essentially the pocket wall, quartz extracted and later reassembled.

Creedite Crystals from Chihuahua, Mexico Ex Barlow This pair of Creedites are both from the Pinata Orebody, West Camp, Santa Eulalia, Chihuahua, Mexico. Barlow systemically bought a considerable percentage of the specimens that came out from 1982-1984, exemplifying how this collecting style captured the breadth of styles coming from this zone.

Barlow’s life’s story really comes together when we look at a specimen known as the Postage Stamp, his pride and joy and the cover image of his Book. Afterall, Barlow had his start in business selling stamps, and this Tourmaline Queen Elbaite with Quartz became one of his dearest pieces. The piece was one of four specimens featured on a U.S. postage stamp in 1974. After a long chase, Barlow finally acquired the specimen in 1983. It was the specimen that he selected as the cover of his book, and the inner cover is decorated with images of the first issue of the stamp.

Cover of F John Barlow Mineral Collection BookOne of Barlow’s most significant achievements was The F. John Barlow Mineral Collection book. The book mirrors the man’s magnificent collection and educates and inspires through the sheer breadth of it. It is still relevant today, over 20 years later... dive into the combination of collecting philosophy, history, photos of his fantastic examples from different finds, researched provenance explained through easily accessible stories. The book stands as one of the best books to read at the beginning of one’s collecting career.

He was an engineer. An intrepid adventurer. A family man. A lifelong student. A meticulous researcher. In general, an energetic and curious man, who in many ways does an incredible job of encapsulating the characteristics of a “true” collector.

The Arkenstone bought Barlow’s thumbnail collection and a large part of his rare species suite in 1998 -99. The majority of his collection was sold to a consortium representing the Houston Museum, which got many of the best pieces and consigned the rest out through a prominent dealer. Thousands of pieces found new homes, and they occasionally turn up again today. It is always fun to go look in his book and see if any of the illustrated pieces are on the market again. Several from the collection are now available, on our website as well!

 

Sources:

Barlow, F. John, et al. The F. John Barlow Mineral Collection. Sanco Pub., 1996.

Gene L. Laberge (2004) In Memoriam: F. John Barlow: (1914–2004), Rocks & Minerals, 79:6, 420-421, DOI: 10.1080/00357529.2004.9925751

“Greater Detroit Gem and Mineral Show, 1976.” Larry Maltby - Greater Detroit Gem and Mineral Show, 1976, www.mindat.org/a/detroit_1976.

WILSON, Wendell E. (2020) Mineralogical Record Biographical Archive, at www.mineralogicalrecord.com.

WILSON, W. E. (2004) Obituary--F. John Barlow. Mineralogical Record, 35, 362-363.

The Miguel Romero Collection of Mexican Minerals

Oct 12, 2019
18.7 cm, from the San Juan Poniente stope, Level 5, of the Ojuela mine, Mapimí, Durango, Mexico. “The Aztec Sun,” Jeff Scovil photo.

In 2008, Rob purchased the collection of Dr. Miguel Romero, who assembled a particularly significant and outstanding Mexican mineral collection. To memorialize the collection, we worked with the Mineralogical Record to publish supplementary volume highlighting Dr. Romero, his contributions to preserving the mineral heritage of Mexico, and his collection.

The book is available for free here, but the introduction, by Dr. Eugene Meieran, gives interesting insight into what happens when a collection is sold and thoughts about its dispersion.

If you're interested in purchasing a copy, check to see if the Mineralogical Record still has them available for sale in their bookstore.

 

Introduction to The Miguel Romero Collection of Mexican Minerals

By Dr. Eugene Meieran

Originally published in 2008

I doubt that any serious collector of anything can pursue a collecting career without becoming aware of the amazing historical collections displayed in museums and other institutions. The mere names of these great collections conjure up strong emotions—of awe at the beauty and perfection of their specimens, and, yes, of an envious desire to own those specimens. As mineral collectors, we can all name the great institutions that have amassed fine mineral collections: the Sorbonne, Harvard, Yale, the Houston Museum, the British Museum, the American Museum, the Smithsonian, the Philadelphia Academy, the Los Angeles County Museum, etc. And we can often name individual collections within each of these institutions: the Roebling Collection, the Kunz Collection, the Vaux collection, and more. These historical collections were put together over time by dedicated private collectors, and eventually made their way into the museums of the world. We all have stood before such displays and thought, “Gee, I wish I owned that specimen!” Such envy is a characteristic (or a malady) of serious collectors!

One such impressive private accumulation was the Romero collection, which most recently resided in the Flandreau Science Center at the University of Arizona in Tucson. This particularly outstanding collection of Mexican minerals was put together over the years by Dr. Miguel Romero, and includes several of the most wonderful Mexican mineral specimens ever dug out of the ground, some of which indeed are widely recognized as the best mineral specimens from anywhere (so-called “mineral ikons,” using the term recently proposed by Wayne Thompson). In fact, the Romero collection of what might be called “Mexican Mineral Treasures” could be viewed as an analog of the spectacular “American Mineral Treasures” exhibits assembled for the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show in February 2008.

Miguel Romero in 1992, at his home in Tehuacan, showing the “Aztec Sun” legrandite, his most famous specimen, to Texas collector Imelda Klein in 1992.

As is the case with many fine private collections, the Romero collection was not seen by very many other mineral collectors for many years. It was originally kept in an office in Tehuacan, Puebla, Mexico, where it was seen only by the occasional serious collector who happened by—and by hoards of local school children who were regularly admitted for tours. I was fortunate to visit the Romero collection in the early 1980s, when I passed through the city during an unsuccessful trip to acquire some Las Vigas amethyst. So in 1997 I was thrilled to see the best of the collection come to Arizona and be put on display at the Flandreau museum! Along with the fine Arizona mineral collection and the displays of world-wide minerals in the museum, the Romero collection stood out as a peerless assemblage of great Mexican minerals. During the annual Tucson Gem and Mineral Show, thousands of visitors had the privilege and pleasure of seeing the best of the Romero collection on public display (thereby making it one of the most widely viewed mineral collections in the world).

Of course, while we as collectors privately covet museum specimens, we are always grateful that public museums acquire and display great pieces for us all to see. Museums preserve valuable natural and cultural artifacts and objects for posterity. So, as I said at the beginning, we mineral collectors look at public displays of private collections with mixed feelings: appreciation that great specimens are indeed preserved and displayed for public enjoyment, and jealousy that we do not own these wonderful objects ourselves!

The Romero mineral collection clearly represents the best that Mexico has to offer to the mineral connoisseur. It was put together by a person who knew, understood and loved mineral specimens and the mineral heritage of Mexico. And since Mexico is so well endowed with great minerals, the Romero collection stands out even among other great world-wide collections. And speaking personally, I really wanted some of those world-class specimens for myself, but I was equally appreciative of the fact that the collection was on public display for me and my fellow collectors to enjoy. Of course, I never thought that the best of the Romero collection would be sold to a private collector.

There are times when a great private collection or set of collections goes on display in a museum, and then later some or all of the specimens are sold or traded to the public, usually for one of three reasons. First, the museum may have so many equivalent specimens that it makes no sense to keep more of the same; the museum collection is enhanced by exchange of specimens with other institutions or collectors or dealers, and these transactions enrich both the private and public collections. Second, the museum may need funds for other exhibits or programs and, perhaps too often, minerals are the first to go because there is such a strong market for museum-quality specimens. And third, the collection may simply be on loan to the museum and is only on temporary display under its stewardship. It can be removed at any time at the discretion of the collection’s owner.

Batopilas Since their discovery by the Spanish in 1632, the vein deposits of Batopilas have yielded seven times the total amount of silver produced at Kongsberg, Norway. Most of the silver found there in recent years is in the form of herringbone crystals from the New Nevada mine, but in earlier times some of the 300 different mines in the district produced wire silver as well. In the 1980s thousands of good specimens reached the market after having been etched out of white calcite, but large specimens were rare. For more information see Wilson and Panczner (1986) “Famous mineral localities: The Batopilas district, Chihuahua, Mexico,” Mineralogical Record, vol. 17, no. 1. 5-cm view, from the Nevada mine, Batopilas, Chihuahua, Mexico. Ex. Romero collection. Joe Budd photo.

This third scenario was the case with the Romero collection: the Romero family had retained ownership while the collection was on public display in Arizona, and they ultimately decided to put it up for sale. We are naturally saddened by the fact that the entire collection is no longer on exhibit. However, the situation is not as bad as it might seem. We can be heartened by the fact that suites of Mexican locality specimens will be retained permanently by the University of Arizona, through the efforts of Rob Lavinsky, the dealer who transacted the sale. The Arizona specimens have gone to the leading private collector of Arizona minerals, where they will surely be well cared for, and although some of the Mexican specimens have been dispersed, Rob has arranged for the core of the Mexican collection to remain intact with a private collector who is planning eventually to open a mineral museum overseas. So, although the unity of the Romero collection is lost, some of it will remain available for study by the public at the Flandreau Science Center in Arizona and the most of the major Mexican specimens may someday be on exhibit together once again in a public museum.

Since the vast majority of private collections are ultimately broken up and their cohesiveness totally lost, it is gratifying to me as a collector to see the best of the Romero collection documented in this book, and to know that most of the collection will be preserved in major segments. In addition, 1,200 specimens still in the Romero Mineralogical Museum in Tehuacan will remain there, and a systematic collection consisting of 5,500 specimens is being donated by the Romero family to the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México. I look forward to seeing portions of the Romero collection once again, albeit in different museums. Given that the Romero family has found the sale necessary, this is indeed the best possible outcome.

 

Love Mexican minerals?
Shop our fine minerals for sale from Mexico, including hyalite opal, smithsonite, quartz, adamite, and legrandite!

 

Read the Mineralogical Record supplement featuring Dr. Miguel Romero's collection online!

Free E-book Available Here

 

Emeralds: History’s Favorite Stone?

Sep 26, 2019

Emeralds: History’s Favorite Stone

The history behind Emeralds is filled with royalty who’ve sought the precious gemstone for its rarity and eloquent beauty. Emeralds come from the beryl mineral family and are renowned for their deep green to greenish-blue color. In fact, many modern gem collectors regard Emeralds as the top of the “big three” of colored stones, including Rubies and Sapphires.

Throughout the history of civilization, Emeralds have held their status as one of the most valuable colored gemstones. From Asia to Africa, and uniquely South America, the Emerald has inspired impressive statues and jewelry pieces worn by some of history’s most prominent figures and powers.

colombia emerald matrix specimen beryl Phenomenal Colombian emerald in matrix.

A History of Royalty

The Emerald is one of the world’s earliest mined precious stones with many references found throughout history. The oldest known book in the world, The Papyrus Prisse, at over 4,500 years old mentions Emeralds in a passage about pursuing wisdom. Saying, “But good words are more difficult to find than the emerald, for it is by slaves that it is discovered among the rocks of pegmatite.”[1]

Some scholars believe this passage is in reference to the emerald mines of the Ptolemaic Egyptians. In fact, the oldest known mines in the world served Pharaoh Cleopatra, dating back to at least 300 BC.[2]

Emeralds were the preferred gemstones for crowns, amulets, and staffs in many of the world’s great civilizations. One record by Rome’s Pliny the Elder tells the story of Nero, the last emperor of Rome, using a monocle with an Emerald lens to watch the gladiator games.[3] The emperor was known for having poor vision, and the soft green colors of the emerald relieved the weariness in his vision.

The fifth Mughal emperor, Shah Jahan also used over 250 pounds of Emeralds to decorate the white marble walls and peacock statues of the Taj Mahal.[4] The Emeralds used in the Taj Mahal were inscribed with sacred texts, titles and names of the Mughal rulers.[5] Yet, the distinction of “the most treasured jewel in Indian history” goes to the Taj Mahal Emerald, an emerald weighing 141.13 carats and engraved with lotus and poppy flowers.[6]

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Emerald - Muzo Mine, Boyaca Dept., Colombia • iRocks.com item GEM19-20 • We just posted dozens of new pieces for sale on iRocks.com! Visit the link in our bio to shop this piece and other little treasures. While emeralds are found in several localities around the world, Colombians are still held to a higher prestige. This emerald specimen exhibits an intense, neon-green color saturation. The color is literally shocking and can be seen from across a room. The larger crystal, measuring 2.5 cm in length, is translucent throughout and capped by a 2 mm thick, clearer area at the termination. The mass is 19 grams. The coloring on this just doesn't quite come out right on video... check the photos on iRocks.com for color-corrected images. Click the link in our bio to view pricing, photos, and more details!

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The Surprise of Emeralds in The Americas

The love for Emeralds wasn’t unique to Europe, Africa, and Asia. When the Spanish conquistadors invaded what is modern-day Colombia, they were surprised to find enormous raw Emeralds and jewelry shaped by the Incas. The Spanish conquistadors found intricately carved eggs and flower bells from raw Emeralds to be presented to the lost statue of Goddess Umina.

One legend believes the statue was a giant emerald the size of an ostrich egg that hosted the spirit of Goddess Umina.[7] The egg and flower bell carvings were presented as her daughters when they sought her guidance.[8] When the Spanish traded what they’ve found for other precious metals, it helped peaked the curiosity of European and Asian powers into the Americas.

The United States has also enjoyed a recent history of mining for Emeralds in North Carolina. The first North Carolinian Emeralds were discovered in 1875 by farmers in the area. So far, 5 major deposits have been found in the state, including the Rist and Ellis mines in Alexander County and the Crabtree mines in Mitchell County. Today, thousands of rockhounds visit the mines to try their luck at one of the world’s most important precious stones.

Emeralds have mesmerized powers and civilizations throughout history. Their deep green color has inspired many legends and works of art, and is often regarded as one of the most sought after stones in history.

New Finds

Recently, significant finds of emerald have been mined in Ethiopia, nar Kenticha, Oromia. The country has also been a significant producer of fantastic color-play opals this century. While most of the material is rather cloudy and included by biotite, there have been some beautiful cut stones that have emerged as well as rich green crystals.

Ethiopian emerald cut gemstones from Kenticha Cut emeralds from recent finds in Ethiopia

Want to see these rare crystals and gemstones in person? We’ve recently updated our galleries with many impressive specimens from around the world. You can find our latest collections here. Also, don’t miss our listings for our rare rock and mineral shows. We’d love to meet with you and talk about the specimens in our collections!

 

[1] Glenn K. Faceting History: Cutting Diamonds and Colored Stones. Xlibris Corporation, 2005, 22.

[2] Emerald History and Lore”. Gemological Institute of America Inc. http://www.gia.edu/emerald-history-lore

[3] Br O. “Nero’s Emerald”. National Center for Biotechnology Information. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC513155/?page=2

[4] Diana P, Taj Mahal: Passion and Genius at the Heart of the Moghul Empire (Walter Books, 2009), 125.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Courtney S. “Former Incarnations: The Secret Lives of Objects in Treasures from India”. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. http://www.metmuseum.org/blogs/now-at-the-met/2014/former-incarnations-treasures-from-india

[7] Fara B. “Histoy and Legend of Emerald – Gems of Yore”. International Gem Society. https://www.gemsociety.org/article/history-legend-emerald-gems-yore/

[8] Ibid.

Copper Queen Mine, Bisbee, Warren District, Arizona

Sep 4, 2019

The Copper Queen Mine was first discovered in 1877, and ever since, the history of this mine rivals the drama of an old western.  Silver and copper deposits were reported in the early 1870s, and in 1877 , rich outcrops were found for prospectors to dig into.

To set the stage, the Copper Queen Mine is situated, in what was then, hostile Apache territory in Arizona, and the U.S. Calvary patrolled the area. One day, they were searching for water in a canyon in the Mule Mountains of Southeastern Arizona, when they noticed outcrops that were tinted red with iron. These outcrops were said to contain cerussite, a lead mineral that was often found with silver; a good sign for prospectors. Sgt. George Dunn grubstaked (outfitted with provisions in exchange for part ownership) the area to George Warren to start the mining operation with a handmade map of the area.  Warren proceeded to get drunk in the Bruneko Saloon, told everyone within earshot about the discovery, using his name for the area, and then proceeded to lose his stake in the operation in a horse race. Warren was soon declared insane by his partner, and promptly committed to a state asylum in Phoenix in 1881. Shortly thereafter, his partner squandered his small fortune. When a group of miners heard about Warren’s plight, they managed to buy his freedom with a sack of sugar, and Warren emerged from Phoenix penniless. Even so, he almost immediately found himself jailed after wandering into Mexico. He finally returned to Bisbee in time for Christmas in 1892, but unfortunately caught pneumonia and died. Warren’s strange life came to a quick end, but he was responsible for getting the word out about the ores that people were looking for, and when the did, they named the mining district in his honor.

The tale of the Copper Queen picks up in 1880 when Benjamin and Lewis Williams and Judge De Witt Bisbee leased and bought multiple mining claims, including the Copper Queen. Bisbee was crucial to the area’s survival; he invested large amounts of capital to build a smelter in the town to save money instead of shipping ore to Wales, Arizona.  The town was named after him in 1880 when it transformed from a collection of tents and hastily constructed buildings to a real mining town. The Copper Queen Mining Company was formed, and the rich ores they discovered rewarded the investors. The discovery site was quarried until a massive pit formed, and a shaft and tunnels were then constructed to follow rich copper veins. By the time all was said and done, the mine had hundreds of kilometers of tunnels and stopes that were developed until nearly all of Bisbee mine became connected underground. Despite of considerable exploration, in mid-1884 it seemed only a few months of ore remained in the Copper Queen mine. The Phelps Dodge & Company had opened the Atlanta mine adjacent to the Copper Queen in hopes of encountering similar geology, but the initial results were not as good.  In one of the last mining efforts in the Copper Queen hit an ore body 60 meters in the main shaft. The same ore body was just discovered in the adjacent Atlanta mine at the same time. The Copper Queen Consolidated Mining Company formed from the two companies to give the mine a second chance. They held control over the area of Bisbee for 15 years until Phelps Dodge developed adjacent areas Copper Queen Consolidated had overlooked, and eventually took over the Copper Queen.

Azurite malachite copper queen This is a large, very sparkly display specimen of azurite from the most classic era at the Copper Queen Mine, around the turn of the 1900s.

 

The Queen was always productive; lode after lode was discovered. In the hopes of continuing the fruitful production, The Phelps Dodge Corporation eventually took over the mining operation and had total control of the area by 1931. Ben Williams became the General Manager of the Copper Queen from 1882 to 1889 and had a stunning personal collection that was recently brought to market.  The equally impressive collection of S.W. Clawson, the Mine Foreman of the Copper Queen Consolidated Mining Company in the late 1890s and early 1900s resides in the LA County Museum of Natural History. Even the miners had personal collections, albeit with questionable provenance. The miners believed it was a birthright to sneak minerals out of the mine and take them home. They even had a saying that “a specimen was only stolen when it was stolen the second time.” No one really tried to stop the miners unless they abused this tradition by taking unnecessary risk or if the miners were taking too much time collecting on their own. The Bisbee area was one of the greatest copper camps on Earth, producing more than $6 billion in metals.  Today, great tailings and dumps remain to showcase the history of mining in Arizona.

The Copper Queen was among the most prolific mines in the Warren District.  The rocks of the Bisbee area consist of Precambrian quartz sericite schist basement overlain by 1,600 to 2,00 meters of Paleozoic, predominantly calcareous sediment. During the Jurassic Period the rocks were intruded by numerous stocks, dikes, and sills, then underwent several episodes of mineralization. The origin of the limestone is from a multistage intrusion along the Dividend Fault about 180 million years ago. These intrusions deposited around 450 million tonnes of pyrite!  Following the limestone intrusions, there was an iron/copper intrusion following along the same dikes. This intrusion led to significant deposition of copper in the Sacramento Complex that later became the ores that would later be mined. A third intrusion was a lead/zinc intrusion that replaced limestone deposits and were deposited adjacent to the pyrite and copper deposits. A fourth and final, small-scale intrusion brought a large amount of precious metals that would later prove to be economically significant. Just prior to the Cretaceous there was broad regional uplift that led to erosion of the Paleozoic sediment forming deep canyons. During the Cretaceous the rejuvenated Dividend fault dropped the southern block about 600 meters relative to the northern side. Later, in the Pliocene the region-wide normal faulting formed the topography of today.

The mineralization of the mine is high-grade copper carbonates with minor lead zinc and carbonates in irregular replacement ore bodies. The pre-existing networks of dikes, sills, faulting, and brecciation controlled the ore deposition. More than 320 species have come from the Bisbee area. Among the species produced are botryoidal azurites, soft tufts of malachites with azurite overgrowths, gypsum, aragonite stalactites, and some of the world’s finest blue-green spangolite in small vugs in cuprite that were lined with velvet malachite. Rare cuprite crystal groups in octohedral cubes up to 3 centimeters in red and in the stunning acicular chalcotrichite variety. Calcites in myriad colors with unrivaled inclusions of malachite or cuprite are also among the best specimens to come from the Copper Queen. The Copper Queen is famous for the malachites and azurites that have varying hues of blue and green, stunning ingrown/overgrown nature, and beautiful shapes.  Some of the most pristine specimens have concentric rings alternating with blue azurite, blue-green malachite, and brown limonite. There are stunning examples of native copper in dendritic and branching clusters often in parallel orientations, and examples with twinning.

Copper Queen mine Bisbee An old Copper Queen mine copper with branching form completely crystallized from top to bottom with sharp spinel twins.

The western action never seemed to stop in Bisbee.  In 1884 John Heath and his gang of robbers and murderers targeted the town. The townspeople tracked him down and hanged him from a telegraph pole.  The town had peaceful times, too. The cave was large enough to host events for the town: members of the Masonic order lived there and had a ceremony inside the Copper Queen, and Bisbee High School students held a prom in the Queen. When World War I came, unions sought to organize the mine and threatened to strike. County Sheriff Harry Wheeler marched 1200 strikers onto a train and had them shipped to New Mexico fearing the strikers would dynamite the shafts. The sheriff was brought to trial as a kidnapper, but the judge ruled in his favor saying the extradition was necessary to save the community.  President Woodrow Wilson even admonished the strikers, adding to the incredible story of the Copper Queen.

Azurite and Malachite, copper-based minerals Azurite on Malachite from the Copper Queen Mine, Bisbee, Arizona. Ex. Frank Valenzuela, Joe Budd Photo.

References

Bancroft, P. (1984). Gem & Crystal Treasures. Western Enterprises Mineralogical Record.

Copper Queen Mine (Halero Mine), Queen Hill, Bisbee, Warren District, Mule Mts, Cochise Co., Arizona, USA. (2015, January 1). Mindat.org. Retrieved January 13, 2015.

Graeme, R. (2008). Bisbee, Cochise County, Arizona. In American Mineral Treasures (pp. 12-19). East Hampton, Connecticut: Lithographie LLC.

Rare Chalcopyrite Balls from Daye, China

Jul 5, 2019

Chalcopyrite Balls

Tonglushan Copper Mine, near Daye, Hubei Province, China

found Jan 2019 through April 2019

These "balls" started coming out in January, from one reliable source of mine who works directly with miners at Tonglushan (literally "Green Copper Mountain" in Mandarin), which by the way is also the world's oldest continuous working copper mine. It has been active since the Chinese Bronze Age 3500 years ago, and there is a historic museum atop the old ruins. Nowadays, they mine deep underground with huge trucks and modern mining. Tonglushan is the recently productive source of many modern copper minerals from China including Malachite in stalactites and sheet forms, the strange chalcocite "balls" in matrix that came out a few years ago, sparkly Pyrite on Calcite, Calcites of different colors, Gypsum, and many other species. The modern entry is just down the road from the museum and the archaeological grounds of the old smelters and kilns of ancient times.

Chalcopyrite fine mineral specimen from Daye, China These new 2019 chalcopyrite finds from the Tonglushan mine near Daye, China are stunningly complex!

When these first came out, we thought they might be some trickery of a new way to fake copper minerals. However, the source has worked with me for nearly a decade and said the miners were truthful and forthright. I had the first specimens looked at in several ways. We cross-sectioned one of the larger yellow chalcopyrite balls to look at the internal structure (which was normal and radial, so these are not carved), and to do analysis at University of Arizona via EDS. The results came back conclusively chalcopyrite, with no bornite (as I had guessed the multicolored coating on top might be). Both internally and externally, these are pure chalcopyrite that matches the known standards. We then asked the miners to provide matrix specimens. Apparently, the easy pickings were the floater clusters on the bottom of the pocket, and few matrix pieces had been collected (from above). In the fourth and final lot that I obtained in May, which was collected in April, we were finally able to get the matrix specimens by paying extra. The floaters had been simply picked up in the bottom of the open pockets, and the matrix specimens took more work (and time, and tools) to acquire from the roof of that last pocket. Matrix is Mudstone, an extremely fine-grained sedimentary rock consisting of a mixture of clay and silt-sized particles.

Additionally, Dr. Stuart Mills (Senior Curator of Geosciences at Museum Victoria) has been studying these extensively for a future paper. Some of his initial findings are available here.

New Chalcopyrite balls from China Two views of the inside of chalcopyrite balls from Daye, China

Courtesy of Dr. Peter Megaw, who examined pieces in China with us :

As you can see in the accompanying images, the matrix pieces show a rim or zone between the balls and the mudstone matrix.  My guess is that fluids of some sort dissolved whatever cement was holding the mudstone together, liberating the sulfide balls and allowing them to pop free and accumulate in the bottom of the void in a nest of loose sand. Originally, each ball would have been completely surrounded by this zone but in some cases it was incompletely dissolved (perhaps because it was more completely sulfidized?) leaving the balls stuck to the matrix. I think (simple) weathering is very unlikely to be the culprit as the leaching the agent. The oxidation you can see is not very pervasive and the balls generally look fresh; since chalcopyrite weathers easily and quickly I think if this was a weathering effect you'd see more oxidation and chalcopyrite destruction than you're seeing here. More likely is that late ore fluids dissolved the matrix around the balls and may even have contributed a little sulfide to “glue” the loose balls together. Closer examination of those rims and their transition towards the matrix will tell you whether this scenario is plausible. I am also intrigued by the complex lumpiness on the back of the largest matrix piece. That may reveal some aspects of the overall environment they formed in.

Fine, rare crystal for sale - Chalcopyrite from Tonglushan, China Multicolored chalcopyrite balls "cemented" together by remaining sulfides in the formation pocket. Daye, China

These matrix specimens show that the chalcopyrite forms much in the same was as "Blister Copper" from Connecticut or Cornwall formed, but in different matrix. Instead of forming in, and being bonded to, solid sulfide ores as at those classic localities, these form in a hard sandstone rock matrix with lots of cavities. The chalcopyrite filled veins and cracks, and also bubbled up into these shapes where open space allowed it. Some specimens do show two balls fused together, or clusters of smaller merged with larger, naturally in the matrix. Later, the structure of mudstone holding these heavy objects was degraded and as the sulfides are heavy they simply fell out and settled to the bottom of the pocket (except for some pieces stuck in matrix on the top). This is similar to some gem species' pockets in kaolinized clay where everything settles to the bottom in a mess of floater kunzite or tourmalines; or  like you'd expect to happen if clusters of Spanish pyrites had been exposed to such effects and ended up in open pockets instead of frozen in a mountain. When found, the miners scooped these up and took them out, and we have only cleaned them with water and a quick bath in SimpleGreen. When you look at the matrix specimens, you can see incipient floaters coming out of the strange mix of sulfide-infused mudstone, and easily imagine how these would have formed by the logic above.

 

This piece is super cool. Many mineral collectors love specimens that tell a story, and this one definitely does and looks good too. The corona surrounding the balls make a very aesthetic picture but give a glimpse at the formation of this find. Originally, each ball would have been completely surrounded by this corona zone. Looking at this specimen you can see how the corona has been preferentially dissolved, and when you rotate the specimen you get an amazing cross-section of this phenomenon. Plus, you can see the relationship between the Chalcopyrite and the mudstone matrix, the complex lumpiness of matrix is super intriguing! This piece is both visually and intellectually stimulating.

We'll be launching these for sale over the next month (and featuring more at the 2019 Dallas Symposium!) so if you haven't already joined our mailing list (in our webpage footer, or by registering for an account), do so for notification when we have these available for purchase!

5 Favorite Rare Minerals

Jun 26, 2019

5 Favorite Rare Minerals

Collecting rare minerals is a passion that requires a lot of patience. Many specimens have journeys that last millions of years until a brave explorer takes the plunge and unearths their beauty. While all minerals are precious, there are a few that stand a cut above the rest in rarity, history and value. Here’s a list of 5 of our favorite rarest minerals.

 

Tanzanite

Found exclusively in the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro, the Tanzanite is one of the rarest minerals on Earth. In fact, it carries the saying, “1,000 times rarer than the Diamond”, to signify its limited supply. The Tanzanite’s history is young as it recieved its name from New York jeweler Tiffany & Co. in 1968.[1]

Zoisite var. Tanzanite crystal and cut gem A beautiful Tanzanite ( variety of zoisite) Rough crystal and cut gem. Both are from Tanzania.

The formation of the Tanzanite crystal started roughly 600 million years ago as Mount Kilimanjaro erupted and created the unique conditions needed to form the crystals deep within the Earth. Starting at a brownish hue, the gorgeous blue-violet colors of the Tanzanite can be seen after the small amounts of the Vanadium impurities are heated and oxidized.

 

Benitoite

First discovered in 1907 near the headwaters of the San Benito river, the Benitoite is a blue-violet mineral whose gemstones are rarely found over 1-carot.[2] Found exclusively in California, Benitoite became the State’s official gemstone in 1985.[3]

 

Benitoite california dallas gem mine Benitoite from the Dallas Gem Mine in San Benito California.

Benitoite is also known as the “blue diamond”, holding a sapphire blue color due to its small amounts of iron. However, rare specimens of Benitoite can come in an array of colors when exposed to UV light. Some Benitoite crystals will appear as a reddish color when shown under a long wave UV light with slight dispersions of green.

 

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Benitoite and Neptunite on Natrolite - Dallas Gem Mine, San Benito Co., California, USA • iRocks.com item GEM19-31 • We just posted dozens of new pieces for sale on iRocks.com! Visit the link in our bio to shop this piece and other little treasures. Nicely emplaced on a matrix of contrasting white natrolite, is a single, well formed, trigonal crystal of benitoite, measuring 1.2 cm in length. For an added bonus there are a few lustrous black neptunite crystals, to 7 mm in length, embedded in the natrolite. Startling aesthetics and balance make this a competition-level thumbnail, and it is an old piece from the world class thumbnail suite of Rukin Jelks (of Tucson), purchased by him in the 1980s or previously. Specimens like this are seldom seen, and rare amidst "more clunky" examples. Click the link in our bio to view pricing, photos, and more details!

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Alexandrite

Named after the Russian Czar Alexander II (1818 – 1881), the first Alexandrite crystals where discovered near the Tokovaya River of the Urals in 1834.[4] According to legend, Alexandrite was found on the day that Alexander II came of age to become the future Czar. With the crystals shining red and green, Alexandrite became a national favorite of imperial Russia.[5]

Zimbabwe alexandrite chrysoberyl color change Alexandrite showing the signature color change. This specimen is from Zimbabwe

Alexandrite is known for its optical ability to suddenly change color under different types of light. Under daylight, the gemstones shine a deep greenish blue color, but under incandescent light it turns into a soft purplish-red color.

 

Painite

First discovered in the Mogok region of Myanmar (Burma) in 1951, the Painite was named after British gemologist Arthur Charles Davy Pain.[6] The Painite was once regarded as the rarest mineral on Earth with only 2 faceted gemstones found until mid-2005.[7] Although a few hundred crystals and pieces have been found to-date, nearly complete and facet crystals are extremely rare.

Painite, ruby, Burma Painite and Ruby from Kyauk-pyat-thet, Burma.

A few complete Painite gemstones that where found varied between brown to red-pink. It’s highly pleochroic, changing hues depending on the angle that you’re viewing it from.

 

Red Beryl

Red Beryl, also known as Bixbite, “Red Emerald” and “Scarlet Emerald”, is found in a few locations within the Thomas Range and the Wah Wah Mountains of Utah.[8] It was first discovered in 1904 and since then few quantities of Red Beryl have been large enough to form a gem.[9] This is because the special mixture of elements needed rarely occurs in large enough quantities to produce the red coloring, making the Red Beryl incredibly rare.

red beryl utah bixbite specimen One of the finest red beryl specimens. 6cm tall.

The conditions needed to make the Red Beryl occurred around a hundred million years ago during the formation of the Rocky Mountains. Volcanic activity and Beryllium-rich gases created porous pockets of low pressure and high temperature, allowing the red coloring in the Beryl to settle.

Since the mid-1990s, the Arkenstone has been a pioneer of the online mineral world, expanding the breadth of this hobby that we love worldwide. Grow your collection of rare and exotic minerals by exploring our online collection at iRocks! Click here to start your search or explore new collections in our Galleries.

 

[1] “Tiffany Colored Gemstones”. Tiffany & Co. http://press.tiffany.com/ViewBackgrounder.aspx?backgrounderId=35

[2] “California State Gemstone”. State Symbols USA. http://www.statesymbolsusa.org/symbol-official-item/california/state-gem-gemstone/benitoite

[3] Ibid.

[4] “Biography of Dr. Peter Bancroft”. Palagems. http://m.palagems.com/alexandrite-russia/

[5] Ibid.

[6] “Painite Visible Spectra (380 – 1100 nm)”. California Institute of Technology. http://minerals.gps.caltech.edu/FILES/Visible/painite/Index.html

[7]Ibid.

[8] “Utah Gemstone Mining”. Geology. http://geology.com/gemstones/states/utah.shtml

[9] Ibid.

Benitoite Gem Mine of San Benito, California

Apr 3, 2019

The Benitoite Gem Mine filled one of the largest voids in the mineral world in spectacular fashion. J.F.C. Hessel predicted the ditrigonal dipyramidal class of crystallization in 1830, and when minerals were found in San Benito County in 1907 with this crystal habit, his hypothesis was confirmed. Only a handful of ditrigonal dipyramid minerals have been recognized to this day. This new mineral, named Benitoite, formed in triangular-shaped crystals with an intense sapphire blue-color.

Benitoite crystal from Dallas Gem Mine area in San Benito, California. Copyright The Arkenstone, Joe Budd Photo.

 

In 1907 oilman R.W. Dallas grubstaked (outfitted with provisions) Jim Couch to explore California’s San Joaquin Valley. Couch brought L.B. Hawkins with him because of his extensive knowledge of minerals. The two men left Coalinga on horseback and rode through the valley for three days, without luck, in search of copper and any other minerals. On the fourth day, while waiting for sun to warm them up from the morning chill, they noticed a tiny tributary of the San Benito River dancing with light similar to reflections from broken glass. Couch went over, and saw “thousands of blue gems” scattered in the river and throughout the hillside that appeared to have weathered out of a snow-white material now known to be natrolite. Natrolite is a sodium-bearing mineral that often exhibits needle-like overgrowths with orthorhombic symmetry. Usually it has the form of a square prism with right angles and a low pyramid. Natrolite will exhibit perfect cleavage parallel to the faces of the prism, a vitreous luster, with occasional silky luster in the needles.

The ‘blue diamonds’ were sent back to R.W. Dallas, who took them to San Francisco to find out what they were. A lapidary in San Francisco described the stones as “too soft to be a sapphire,” and decided they must be a form of spinel, the only other stone that has the blue color. Next, Dallas took the minerals to George Eacret, manager of Shreve and Company, a jewelry store in San Francisco. Eacret found that the stones were doubly refractive, and thus could not be spinel. Eacret then showed the samples to Dr. George Louderback, a geologist at the University of California at Berkeley. Louderback determined that these minerals were a new species, quickly published a preliminary report, allowing him more time to do research until he could publish the final report. Louderback rode out to the site and named the crystals after the river. He also had samples of natrolite with shiny black prismatic crystals that he believed was a new species as well. At first, he named it carlosite, but it was later found to be that they were neptunite, previously found at Narsarsuk, Greenland. Even still, the neptunite that comes from Benitoite Gem Mine are recognized as some of the finest known. The men also found small amounts of copper minerals, djurlite, digenite, and chrysocolla along the seams of natrolite.

 

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The Dallas Mining Company was formed to mine the deposit of this new, yet-to-be-accurately-identified mineral. Thankfully, they kept very detailed records of the operation from 1907 through 1913. Tunneling began in August 1907, only a month after Louderback made his visit to the site, which was only two weeks after he published his preliminary report. A 50-meter tunnel penetrated the hillside and two inclines were dug, each about 16 meters. Several short side-tunnels were also constructed into the primary blue schist zone. Benitoite crystals were found in thin veins of natrolite, and were then chiseled out with hand tools and a punch press, usually used for cutting and shaping metal. The crude process destroyed many crystals, and untold quantities of crystals were lost through the use of high explosives. In later years, it was learned that the natrolite could be dissolved in acid, leaving the gem and crystals totally undamaged. This new exotic mineral is first documented in Shreve and Company catalogs in 1908 as gemstones and set in jewelry. Daily production lasted until 1910, with occasional mining continuing until 1913 when Dallas Mining Company declared bankruptcy and auction off its equipment. The next twenty years of the Benitoite Gem Mine are virtually unknown as the diary of the Dallas Mining Company came to a close.

Peter Bancroft authored Gem and Crystal Treasures, detailing 100 of the world's top mineral localities.

Edward Swoboda and Peter Bancroft (author of Gem & Crystal Treasures) became mineral collectors at a young age. As boys they had read about the Benitoite Gem Mine, and in 1938 they set out to go explore the mine for their own crystals. They were dropped off in Coalinga, and set out on foot, and made the 22-mile (36km) hike to the mine. There was a cabin leftover from the operation that was still standing, and upon inspection was determined to still be weather tight, and have a working wood stove. On their first night there they were awoken to rustling and rattling, to discover four rattlesnakes, three falling to .22 caliber rifles. Swoboda and Bancroft found the mine walls still crossed with natrolite veins, but they were devoid of gems. They did find, however, a decomposed section of the mine that was rich in weathered-out benitoite gems that allowed them to begin collecting. They sorted the crystals by grade according to the estimated flawless weight each would produce. They did this for two weeks when their food ran out, then headed out with their packs loaded to about 45 kilograms. When they returned, they loosened the matrix from the gems with hydrochloric acid, and measure several fine gems with flawless deep blues that weighed in between 4.25 and 4.45 carats. Swoboda and Bancroft made a total of six trips to the mine. In 1947 a forest fire swept through the area, destroying the cabin.

The forest fire did not mean the end of the Benitoite Gem Mine, however, Julius Gisler and his son also worked the tunnels in the mid-1940s. They found spectacular benitoite crystals up to 2.5 cm in length that are now housed in museums. R.W. Dallas managed to retain control of the mine, and in 1952 Clarence Cole leased the mine. He brought in a small amount of heavy equipment and began hauling material offsite to Oakland to work through it. Cole hauled an estimated 9 tons of material that proved to contain very little valuable material. Cole found a handful of stones weighing over 3 carats, and even claim that his cutter stole a 5.18-carat stone. Cole had control of the mine through 1967, but the last five years were inactive, and his total time with the mine proved to be unsuccessful.

In 1967 Elvis Gray and William Forrest, leased the mine from Dallas’s daughter and systematically worked the area. The process was very rudimentary at first, and was a weekend operation throughout. Gray and Forrest started with hand tools, working over the surface, and then eventually moving up to drilling and blasting. They mined every weekend, leaving Fresno at 5:00am and working until 5:00pm on Sunday so they were back work on Monday. In 1970 they discovered an enormous block of veined blue schist that produced some of the finest neptunite crystals ever found. They had superb doubly terminated crystals exceeding 5cm in length on pure white natrolite matrices. Another block was found that had freestanding benitoite and neptunite crystals in association with albite crystals that were not associated with the natrolite vein. Within the block of blue schist they found outstanding tiny crystals of orange joaquinite.

 

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Rich, blue benitoite crystals are accented by burnt-orange Joaquinite, from the Dallas Gem Mine, San Benito Co, California.

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Later on, crystals of a new mineral, snow-white jonesite, were discovered in the acid baths used to recover benitoite crystals. Three other rare crystals were found at the Benitoite Gem Mine, biotite, fresnoite, and banalsite. The operation was proving to be unsuccessful, and in 1972 they focused solely on tailing. Water was pumped up the hill, and the tailings were separated with everything greater than 2.5 centimeters being washed so they could be hand sorted for minerals. The entire process was difficult because the soil was basically clay, but the workers became proficient and were able to spot knobs of natrolite that coated benitoite and neptunite. The smaller material was sorted in a gravity jig where higher density benitoite could be sorted out. The natrolite coating was actually able to protect the more valuable minerals when the tailings were blasted and transported, and then all that was needed to remove it was hydrochloric acid. In 1984 Gray and Forrest bought the mine from the Dallas family, and found a new vein down the hill from the tailings pile. Many fine specimens were recovered from this vein, but the majority of the production from this time was from the tailings. Numerous stones larger than 4 carats were found, including a 15.42-carat flawless faceted stone now in the Mike Scott collection that is the largest clean stone ever found. Gray and Forrest operated the mine as a fun adventure despite being contacted by several companies interested in acquiring the property.

Cut Benitoite from the Dallas Gem Mine California Lustrous cut Benitoite gemstone from the Dallas Gem Mine.

In the late 1990s, new technology was available and Azco Mining, Inc. tested the property but did not purchase the mine. Bryan Lees’ Benitoite Mining Inc. (BMI) did come through and purchase the mine in November of 2000. BMI used Gray and Forrest’s old equipment, feeding 2,000 cubic meters through the sorters. In 2002 they enlarged the operating plant, installing a specimen-sorting belt, so the gravity jig operator was no longer responsible for watching specimens and making sure the flow of material was proceeding smoothly. They also went through the tailings pile, and were able to recover an astonishing amount of small gem rough. BMI embarked on a strip-mining operation of the area but was left disappointed as the blocks they cut out proved to be barren on benitoite. They processed approximately 25,000 cubic meters of material before closing down for good in 2005.

The Benitoite Gem mine is also rooted in jewelry lore. In 1972 William McDonald, a Fresno jeweler, design an elaborate necklace fashioned in platinum, gold, and diamonds, with 66 stones of benitoite. Elvis Gray spent four years cutting 60 stones for the necklace, including the feature stone; set as a pendant, it was a flawless deep blue benitoite of 6.53 carats. The necklace was sold and shipped Zurich, where a Swiss security official stole it. The necklace was recovered, but the massive pendant has never been found.

The Benitoite Gem Mine is still one of the most unique mines to this day. Benitoite occurrences around the world are basically non-existent, aside from minor occurrences in Japan and Arkansas. Five miles to the northwest of the mine is the Mina Numero Uno, which has produced pink benitoite, and that is it for localities. The California Federation of Mineralogical Societies pushed for benitoite to be named the California State Gemstone in 1984, recognizing the significance of the mineral.

References:

Bancroft, P. (1984). Gem & Crystal Treasures. Western Enterprises Mineralogical Record.

Gray, M. (2008). Benitoite Gem Mine, San Benito County, California. In American Mineral Treasures (pp. 120-127). East Hampton, Connecticut: Lithographie LLC.

 

Written by Lauren Megaw for The Arkenstone, iRocks.com

Spotlight on Azurite: The Blue-Hued Beauty

Mar 26, 2019

Spotlight on Azurite: The Blue-Hued Beauty

Azurite [Cu3(CO3) 2(OH)2] is a rare copper carbonate mineral formed by either contact between carbon-dioxide-rich water and copper-bearing minerals, or through a reaction involving cupric salts and limestone. Azurite is generally found in massive form (though it occasionally occurs as prismatic crystals), and it is often associated with malachite, chrysocolla, or turquoise, in areas with significant deposits of copper.

azurite malachite crystal mexico pseudomorph pigment Strikingly blue Azurite Crystals with a bit of Malachite. From the Milpillas Mine in Sonora, Mexico.

Azurite is best known for its brilliant, distinctive blue color – which closely resembles that of lapis lazuli. Though its stunning azure blue hue makes gem-quality specimens extremely popular amongst collectors, azurite is not commonly used for adornment. With a Mohs hardness of 3.5 to 4, it is fairly soft, and its tendency to fade from blue to green with exposure to heat and light make it less than ideal for jewelry making.

This softness has, on the other hand, largely contributed to azurite's most well-known historical use – as a brilliant pigment, prized by painters.

Though its original discovered use was in Egypt, as a pigment and dye for textiles, azurite was also commonly used in the east, and its blue tones can still be seen in the cave paintings at Tun Huang in Western China, as well as in wall paintings in Central China which date back to the Ming and Sung Dynasties.

Azurite from GuiChi Copper Mine in Anhui Province, China A shimmering azurite specimen from Anhui, China is an impressive 29cm tall. Joe Budd Photo.

During the Middle Ages and Renaissance period, azurite was prized among European painters. It was used first in tempura and fresco painting, and later in oil. To make azurite pigment, masses of the mineral were collected and ground into powder, which was then washed, and run through a sieve. The grains of ground azurite were separated by size – the heavier, coarse grounds created a dark blue pigment, while the finer grounds were used to create lighter shades.

 

pseudomorph azurite malachite mineral thumb A Tsumeb Mine Azurite caught exactly halfway in the pseudomorphing process! This is the same process that causes the Azurite pigments to fade to green .

No matter the grain, several coats of azurite pigment were required to create a solid blue color – however, the layering of coat after coat of fine azurite fragments eventually formed a crystalline crust with deep blue hue, and a subtle sparkle. The effect was a rich, beautiful, and brilliant blue, with incredible depth – hence it's popularity.

As mentioned above, Azurite, over long periods of time, can alter to greener hues as a natural change based on the copper in the mineral. This change is referred to as a pseudomorph, and the resulting green color is a related copper mineral by the name of Malachite. This change can be seen in mineral specimens, but it can also be seen in the old paintings that used azurite pigments. One of the most notable works of art affected by this Azurite to Malachite change is Raphael's Madonna and Child Enthroned with Saints. The Virgin was often depicted in a blue mantle but time has turned her clothing dark green. (See the paining here)

First noted as a valuable pigment by Pliny the Elder in the first century A.D., azurite pigment was favored by many masters, including Duccio di Buoninsegna, Johannes Vermeer, Hans Holbein The Younger, and Raphael. Its use continued until the 18th century, when it was replaced by the discovery of Prussian Blue, which was more resistant to the greening and fading which tended to occur with azurite's exposure to the elements.

Azurite is a widespread mineral, and significant deposits have been discovered in France, Greece, Germany, Australia, and Mexico, among other locales. The most prized azurites are crystalline specimens, usually originating in Tsumeb, Namibia, or Morocco. Beautiful crystalline azurite specimens have also been found in the U.S., at copper-rich sites located in both Arizona and Utah.

Arizona Azurite Bisbee Malachite Classic Azurite Specimen from the Famous Bisbee mine in Arizona. Joe Budd Photo.

Azurite's historical connection to artistic endeavors lends additional depth and interest to this stunning blue mineral. Though rarely used as a pigment today, its brilliant color still stands as one of nature's finest, making it a valuable and highly esteemed specimen, which adds distinction to any collection.

To learn more about collecting fine rocks and minerals click here to view our current collection of azurite specimens.

 

 

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Tourmaline: Most Colorful in the World?

Mar 19, 2019

Tourmaline: Most Colorful Mineral in the World?

Tourmaline is a very sought-after rare rock amongst fine mineral collectors for its massive range of colors and shades. The depth of color in tourmalines rival that of emeralds, rubies, and sapphires. Yet, tourmaline doesn’t have an extensive history of myths and lore because it is a relatively modern discovery.

Not Quite an Emerald

The earliest known history of tourmaline minerals were as recent as the 16th century, when Spanish conquistadors on the Isla of Elba confused tourmaline for Brazilian emeralds.[1] Tourmaline crystals are highly transparent with a vitreous luster, giving green colored specimens a deep and rich vibrancy that can pass for an emerald. When viewing the tourmaline below (from Minas Gerais, Brazil) it's easy to understand how they might have confused the two.

 

 

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Tourmaline remain misidentified until 1703, when Dutch jewelers introduced the mineral to the markets of Europe.[2] Tourmaline would eventually find its way to Tiffany & Company where jewelers discovered a chemical composition that was different from anything else on record.

Later observations would describe tourmaline as a grouping of four different types of minerals – elbaite, schorl, dravite, and liddicoatite – instead of a single mineral. Each type of tourmaline has a similar crystal structure but different chemical compositions that create its unique range of colors.

mint green tourmaline maine crystal for sale Mint green tourmaline from old finds in Newry, Maine

After the discovery of tourmaline as a mineral group, additional mines were found in Sri Lanka, Russia, and the United States. In 1892, gemologist George F. Kunz (the namesake for the mineral Kunzite) wrote a report on the discovery of tourmaline deposits in Maine and California.[3]

Between 1898 and 1914, California was one of the largest producers of tourmaline in the world with crystals coming in rich shades of blue and yellow.[4] The Empress Dowager in China took a particular liking to the pink and red crystals found there, reportedly shipping over as much as her boats could hold. Maine held steadier yields with a greater range in colors and weights, including a blue and green 256-carat stone.[5] Specimens from Newry, Maine have a very distinct color that many collectors can recognize instantly upon sight.

The Phenomenon of Color

elbaite tourmaline crystal mineral brazil pederneira Exceptional 31 cm tall Multi-colored Elbaite Tourmaline from Pederneira Mine, Minas Gerais, Brazil.

The most popular type of tourmaline is elbaite, which offers the widest range of gem-quality colors and gradients. Elbaites are found within granite pegmatites, which are rich in a variety of elements needed to produce the range of colors for which they are famous.

The chemical composition of elbaite contains a mixture of calcium, chromium, fluorine, iron, lithium, manganese, magnesium, sodium, vanadium, and rare traces of copper. The signature “watermelon tourmaline” is formed when there is a change in chemical composition during crystallization, leaving portions of crystal with a red center and green rim. Alternatively (and by similar compositional changes), elbaites can also display bi-color or multicolor changes along the length of the crystal, as perhaps most famously seen in tourmalines from Minas Gerais, Brazil. Multicolor specimens are coveted by gem collectors and specimen collectors alike, as multicolored minerals are rare to come by, especially in the many shades tourmaline can provide.

The liddicoatite type shares nearly mirror-like chemical and aesthetic properties as the elbaite with an equally impressive color range, but with a noticeably larger volume of calcium. Liddicoatite are unique with their trigonal pattern and multi-color zoning that can create some striking formations.

(Love this piece? Learn more on the specimen page.)

Schorl are the most common type of tourmaline, accounting for nearly 95% of tourmaline mined.[6] Most specimens are a solid black color from their rich volumes of iron. Dravite is a marble-like mineral that forms in limestone and is typically a brown-reddish color.

Tourmaline is a beautiful gem-quality stone that comes in a wide-spectrum of colors and shades. Mines in the United States have often supplied much of the world’s tourmaline, and the State of Maine named tourmaline its official state stone in 1971.[7] With multiple colors and a transparent face, they continue to be a favorite rare mineral amongst rockhounds and collectors alike.

Shop our Tourmaline selections to see what treasures we have available!

 

[1] Various, Tourmaline Gemstones – A Collection of Historical articles on the Origins, Structure and Properties of Tourmaline (Worcestershire: Read Books Limited, 2011), 189.

[2] Sandra K, Gemstone Feng Shui (Woodbury: Llewellyn Publications, 2002).

[3] Donald O. “Tourmaline”. U.S. Geological Survey. http://minerals.usgs.gov/minerals/pubs/commodity/gemstones/sp14-95/tourmaline.html

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Rod N. “Tourmaline”. HyperPhysics at Georgia State University. http://hyperphysics.phy-astr.gsu.edu/hbase/minerals/tourmaline.html

[7] “Tourmaline”. State Symbols USA. https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=3&ved=0ahUKEwig5fjRrJ7QAhXH7yYKHbnDD-cQFgg6MAI&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.statesymbolsusa.org%2Fsymbol-official-item%2Fmaine%2Fstate-gem-gemstone%2Ftourmaline&usg=AFQjCNFzANN_ssJ7FbzBV7ATtGoWCCPSSg&cad=rja