Photo Atlas of Mineral Pseudomorphism

Jun 17, 2022

We just received notice that Photo Atlas of Mineral Pseudomorphism will be pulled from the Elsevier publication list due to plagiarism in the main introduction of the text.

Intellectual scholarship demands integrity, both of which I hold in the utmost respect.

I assisted with photos for the books, and related captions for those photos, and in appreciation of this assistance, I was listed as one of the authors on the publication for this narrow scope of contribution. The portions of the text under scrutiny for plagiarism are from the main text of the book, which were outside the scope of my contribution. I’m very disappointed to hear that sections of the book failed to uphold moral standards of scholarly and literary works.

Why “Collector Gems” are Enchanting

Aug 4, 2022

Jim Houran, Ph.D., Psychologist, Collector, & Author

An intriguing trend has long been apparent to devoted readers of the Mineralogical Record (MR), Lapis, and Rocks & Minerals. Locality articles, like Robinson’s (1990) treatise on diopside from DeKalb, New York, or papers about new species such as Hawthorne et al.’s (2004) description of pezzottaite, frequently include photos of gems cut from the respective minerals. In fact, it is a challenge to read any given issue of these periodicals or any popular mineral book and not find at least one illustration of a polished specimen. The prevalence of these images underscores the universal appeal of gems — even among seasoned mineral collectors who lament the cutting of fine crystals. There is an undeniable thrill in gazing upon important jewels in museums or private collections, but there can be an even greater delight in building your own gem collection.

The collector community’s appreciation for cut stones is not simply due to their inherent beauty but because gems also serve scientific purposes. Smithsonian curator-in-charge Dr. Jeffrey Post (1997) explained the academic value of the National Gem and Mineral Collection this way, “…because gems are cut from the most perfect crystals, they are preferred, and required, samples for certain kinds of scientific studies, for example, spectroscopy and crystallographic measurements” (p. 19). Indeed, many articles appearing in gemology journals like Gems & Gemology, Journal of Gemmology and the Australian Gemmologist are mineralogic or crystallographic investigations based on high-quality gem samples. New mineral species have even been identified from the analysis of gems, the best known instances of which are sinhalite and taaffeite (Arem, 1987).

There is thus much to learn and gain from gem collecting, and the Arkenstone’s current auction highlights some superb examples that can help serious collectors either to venture into this specialized area or to enhance their existing collections. Here we are not talking about low-quality “reference samples” but rather special pieces that should be preserved in the hands of true connoisseurs. Such “collector gems” standout as mineralogical, scientific, and aesthetic oddities. They are fascinating objects in their own right or can be paired with natural mineral specimens for chic “rough-and-cut” sets. No matter how one decides to collect and display these fun and valuable objects, it is important to understand that they are unique collaborations between Mother Nature and skilled gem artists who fashion rare material into important works of art and study.

The Allure and Beauty of Collector Gems

Besides their inherent beauty, gem collections are appealing for their scientific information. Collectors can learn much about a mineral’s chemical composition and geological origins from a gem’s size, color and clarity. Each of the stones in the Arkenstone auction is a true mineralogical wonder—not just in the geological sense but also as a representative of the species itself. In particular, these examples were painstakingly selected over years of diligent searching. They are unusual, even remarkable, for their color, quality or size relative to other cut examples of the same material. Indeed, all mineral collectors (and their spouses!) can appreciate the beauty of stones, as well as the artistry and skill it takes to bring them to life. They do not merely “sparkle” as decoration, they “dazzle” people as objects that possess many attributes that engage and sustain people’s interest. To be sure, the general public often admires and purchases gems that either are, or have been at one time, outside the norm.

For example, Tiffany & Co. was responsible in 1968 for the incredible increase in market demand for blue-purple zoisite from Tanzania by coining a new “exotic” name for gems cut from this material — tanzanite. This once rare gem has since become a standard offering in virtually all jewelry stores. What is not standard are the rarer colors of this same species, with vibrant pink, green, or multi-colored zoisite being connoisseurs’ favorites. Of course, marketers or designer jewelers need not need invent fancy labels to stoke buyer interest, as sometimes the scientific or varietal names for collector gems already sound enticing, e.g., “wulfenite, rhodochrosite, or vesuvianite.”

But aside from glamorous names or localities, it is worth emphasizing how rare gems can command attention with colors that are often in stark contrast to the typical red, green and blue of the well-known ruby, emerald and sapphire. The choices of gems and associated colors that are available to collectors and the lay public nowadays is indeed overwhelming. Industry periodicals like Professional Jeweler and JCK Magazine also note that everyday consumers are gradually, but increasingly, selecting more exotic gems for certain types of jewelry. This trend is exemplified by a clever marketing catchphrase by gem dealer and lapidary John A. Rhoads (D & J Rare Gems, Salida, CO) … “Wear rare!”™

Rhodochrosite (circa 1980) ex Houran Collection from Mineralauctions.com on Vimeo.

A Natural Complement (and Ally) to Mineral Specimens

Dunn and Francis (1990) talked about “specialization” in mineral collecting and noted ten distinct themes around which collections can be built: (1) single-locality, (2) regional, (3) field-collected, (4) comprehensive species, (5) single-species, (6) chemically-specialized, (7) paragenetic, (8) historic, (9) phenomenological, and (10) mineral habit. These themes can equally apply to gem collections, which Dr. Post implicitly described as highly specialized mineral collections. Here I must confess, that display-quality “rough and cut” sets are, for my taste, the ultimate in specialization on both aesthetic and academic levels. They also convey a symbiotic, but under-appreciated, relationship that exists. The beauty, and hence market value, of gems is a significant catalyst for their preservation for future generations. And arguably the aesthetics of gems account for a major part of the motivation for constant mining of existing deposits and the exploration for new sources to satisfy the commercial market for jewelry and gemstones. That the gemstone market, in turn, helps to drive the supply of fine specimens for the mineral market. Gems and minerals are thus allies, not adversaries.

A New Frontier and Challenge for Many Collectors

As long as gems are treated as important commodities and scientific specimens, scientists and collectors alike will continue to study and learn from important examples. Who knows what interesting findings will result from in-depth studies of famous and comprehensive gem arrays, such as the Edward J. Gübelin Gem Collection acquired by the Gemological Institute of America (see: https://www.gia.edu/gia-museum-exhibit-gubelin-gem-collection) or Michael M. Scott’s famed collection (Keller & Scott, 2002). The wonderful thing is that one does not need to be a gemologist or wealthy world traveler to enjoy and become enriched by collector gems, or even to build a rewarding collection.

The Arkenstone is committed to bringing the enchanted world of collector gems to everyone with top-quality specimens to fit their means. Ultimately, collector gems are “books” that tell stories as rich and meaningful as natural mineral specimens. And in these books are different chapters that speak to adventures in history, geography, art and aesthetics, as well as modern fashion and the latest technologies. As a fellow lover and collector, I urge you to build a library of these books and share them with anyone and everyone who is eager to hear a good story.

References

Arem, J. (1987). Color Encyclopedia of Gemstones (2nd ed). Chapman & Hall.

Hawthorne, FC, Cooper, M, Simmons, WB Jr, Laurs, BM, Armbruster, Th, Rossman, GR, Peretti, A, Günter, D, Grobéty, B, & Falster, AU (2004) Pezzottaite Cs(Be2Li)Al2Si6O18: A spectacular new beryl-group mineral from the sakavalana pegmatite, Fianarantsoa Province, Madagascar. Mineralogical Record, 35, 369–378.

Keller, P. C.,  & Scott, M. M. (2002). Light & stone: Highlights from the Scott Gem Collection. Brand: Bowers Museum.

Post, J. E. (1997). The national gem collection. Harry N. Abrams Inc. Publishers.

Robinson, G. W. (1990). Famous mineral localities: DeKalb, New York. Mineralogical Record, 21, 535–541.

The Art of Collecting

Jul 15, 2022

The team at The Arkenstone has been busy with our recent collaboration with the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History on our RARE EARTH installation, bringing together specimens from the museum, Dr. Lavinsky's personal collection, UCSB's Woodhouse collection, and private collectors. With permission from museum president Luke J. Swetland, we're sharing a bit of a recent article he wrote about his father-in-law (and Arkenstone customer) David Byers. For the full article, please visit the museum's blog.


"For many of us, the compulsion to collect starts in childhood as a form of play. But things can get serious fast. My father-in-law David Byers remembers: “As a kid, I used to come home with my pockets full of rocks.” By the time he was 20, he had started collecting for real, informed by an undergraduate education in geology. He didn’t stop until 1,200 specimens later, a number he assures me isn’t actually that large by private mineral collection standards!

We asked David about motivating criteria. “Perfection” was paramount; he wanted undamaged and uncut natural crystals. He became a regular at the world’s largest and most prestigious gem and mineral show: during 45 years, he missed the mineral-lover’s annual pilgrimage to Tucson only three times."

- Luke J. Swetland

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

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

JUNE 11 THROUGH SEPTEMBER 5, 2022

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
https://crowcollection.org/

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!

NAVIGATION CHANGES:

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.

HOMEPAGE CHANGES:

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.

SPECIMEN PAGES:

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!)

WHAT HASN’T CHANGED:

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. The Latest form of this article is available on The Tricottet Collection's website.

References

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

EPILOGUE

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