The Search for the Perfect Stone

Apr 1, 2023

This year at in Tucson, The Arkenstone and Dr. Rob Lavinsky were featured in an interview by Rachel Monroe of The New Yorker titled, "The Search for the Perfect Stone" published on February 21, 2023. We have included the first paragraph here. For the full article, please visit The New Yorker's website.

Business is booming, and bidding wars and backroom deals have taken over the wildly popular Tucson Gem and Mineral Show.

"For a few weeks every winter, Tucson briefly goes rock crazy. In 1955, local gem-and-mineral enthusiasts began hosting a get-together, an event that’s since become something much more commercial, and much more overwhelming. This year, there were forty shows throughout the city, each of them a mazelike complex of dozens or hundreds of venders, drawing tens of thousands of visitors in total. Browsing one afternoon, I saw available for purchase a bathtub made of quartz, a case of onyx obelisks, an uncut twenty-two-carat diamond, a pendant made from a meteorite, a fossilized dinosaur tooth, and a daunting number of beads. A ubiquitous ad on the radio had an even more tantalizing proposition: “Do you want to take a picture with a baby goat inside a giant geode?”"

-Rachel Monroe

The Arkenstone Heads West!

Mar 17, 2023

Our Spring West Coast Road Show is coming up fast, and we've enjoyed our annual San Fran trips over the last decade. This year, we're adding LA to our list, too. We hope to see you for minerals and light bites. 

Please make sure to let us know if you're looking for anything specific, so we can pack with you in mind! This is also a great opportunity for us to hand-deliver specimens to clients who might be interested in delicate species that might be concerning to ship, as well. 

SAN FRANCISCO (Emeryville)
April 29, 2023

LOS ANGELES (Monterey Park)
May 1, 2023
May 2, 2023

Rare Earth: Crystalline Treasures

Feb 23, 2023

Exhibition at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History

Aaron J. Celestian
Department of Mineral Sciences, Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County
900 Exposition Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90007

Republished with permission

Cover art of Rare Earth Crystalline Treasures by Dr. Robert Lavinsky, Monica Kitt, Dr. Eugene Meieran, and Thomas P. Moore
Companion book to the Rare Earth Exhibition at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History by Dr. Robert Lavinsky, Monica Kitt, Dr. Eugene Meieran, and Thomas P. Moore

Rare Earth: Crystalline Treasures, running for the summer through September 5th, 2022 at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History (fig. 1), brought together more than 200 spectacular mineral specimens from around the world. Many of these were on loan from the renowned collector and mineral dealer, Dr. Rob Lavinsky. The exhibit was uniquely interwoven with various themes and stories that make inspirational connections between architectural design & earth materials, art+science+culture, carvings and illustrations, striking color, fanciful formations, and a few cases at the end that took a deeper dive into crystal form.

The overarching approach of the exhibit, according to Dr. Lavinsky, was “to share the beauty, history, and cultural relevance of these natural works of art using a Beauty Forward approach that outsiders can relate to.” Using Dr. Lavinsky’s world-class collection of Chinese minerals as the foundation, the exhibit explored the long history and appreciation of natural objects for art and cultural expression primarily in Asian cultures. Additional specimens from the museum’s own collection and from the UC Santa Barbara Woodhouse collection draw connections to American culture, in particular the rich mining history in California.

The care in curating and presenting the exhibit was clear from the moment I entered the generous 4000+ sq. ft. Fleischmann Auditorium (an imposing 110-year-old structure with huge red oak beams in the ceiling, fig. 2). Much of the design work was expertly executed by Frank Hein, Director of Exhibits at the SBMNH. Careful attention was given to specimen mounting, lighting, and content writing. The different themes of the exhibit were touched upon in the labeling, which allowed the visitor to explore the exhibition for themselves without being overwhelmed by content full of unfamiliar scientific jargon. Instead of focusing on mineralogical classification in the signage, the exhibit presented a culture-centric approach, making the non-scientist feel at ease, drawing meaningful connections with the deep relationship humans have had with minerals over the millennia, and showing why we continue to study them today.  The science in the content labels were presented in an approachable way that carefully intertwines with the bigger stories that the exhibit tells. This effort ensures there are plenty of learning opportunities for everyone in the community, and that nothing distracted your attention from the beautiful objects, and all are put to great effect in Rare Earth.

If you missed making the trip to see this amazing display yourself, the following review covers some of my highlights and I hope to convey the sense of excitement that I felt during my visit on the busy opening weekend.

Figure 1. The entrance to the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History.

Figure 2. Inside the Fleischmann Auditorium where the exhibit was installed.

Commodities as Art
Among the first specimens the visitor viewed when entering the hall are of metals -- some of the most amazing metallic pieces that one could ever hope to encounter. It is astonishing to consider that many now lost specimens of native gold, silver, and copper like these were routinely melted to make bars, wires, and pipes. The pillow-like specimen mounts were used effectively to dramatically emphasize just how delicate these minerals are. A prime example is the nearly 10-inch-tall crystalline gold from the famed Eagle’s Nest Mine (See fig. 3). This specimen calls to the crazed rush for gold mining in the mid-1800s, and how it could have been melted down to be sold for a comparatively small sum. Today, gold specimens are far more prized for their natural artistic formation rather than their weight. It is also more scientifically valuable for gold to be preserved in its natural state so that their formation conditions and provenance can be better studied (Tremsin 2017).

Figure 3. Crystalline gold (23.7 cm tall) in quartz matrix from the Eagle’s Nest Mine circa 1980s, Placer County, California. Lavinsky Collection, Arkenstone photo.

Next to the gold was a very large native silver specimen from the Hongda mine in China (see fig. 4).  Perhaps unknown to most visitors to the museum, this wire-like morphology of silver is highly sought after by collectors. In historic Chinese culture, silver was more prized than gold. By the 16th century Ming Dynasty, the monetary system was based on silver (Glahn 1996) instead of the bronze that preceded it. This transition to silver came about due many factors, including a huge influx of silver from the Americas during European extraction, a late ‘silver strike’ in Japan in the 1530s, and a historically low gold to silver ratio in China.

Figure 4. Rare wire silver (14 cm tall) from Hongda mine, Shanxi, China. Lavinsky Collection, Joe Budd photo.

Rounding out the metals was an exquisite copper specimen (see Fig. 5) with cuboidal crystals and a subdued oxidized red color that is not commonly found in native copper. This beautiful specimen was included to bluntly represent the paradoxical value of our natural resources; we need metals like this to sustain our evolving modern societal dependencies, yet there is a continued intrinsic value in minerals as art. The exhibit drew attention to this later fact, and yet the practical use of these materials in inescapable.

Figure 5. Copper (16 cm tall) from the Chengmenshan mine, Jiangxi, China. Lavinsky Collection, Arkenstone photo.

Beyond native metals, there were other specimens in the exhibit that have striking form and also have important economic and industrial interests. Tin and tungsten are critical elements for cell phones, alternative energy, and other modern devices, that do not have economic deposits of their native metal form, but only occur in substantial quantity as oxides. The massive lustrous and translucent twinned cassiterite specimen (a common ore for tin) (fig. 6) sitting on a small grouping of fine muscovite crystals was one of the finest I’ve seen. A classic gemmy, orange scheelite (a common tungsten ore) specimen was also notable (fig. 7). Large stibnite (principally antimony ore) crystals are not uncommon in museums, but a commanding tower of perfect crystals (fig. 8) was a fantastic addition to the exhibit’s theme. This specimen also impressed upon the use of minerals to the public with a connection to the origin of makeup and the word alcohol itself (from Arabic, al-kuhl, for fine black powder originally derived from distillation processes).

Figure 6. Cassiterite (14 cm tall) from Ping Wu Village, Sichuan, China. Lavinsky Collection, Arkenstone photo.

Figure 7. Scheelite (14 cm tall) from Ping Wu Village, Sichuan, China. Lavinsky Collection, Joe Budd photo.

Figure 8. Stibnite (42 cm tall) from Wuning, Jiangxi, China. Lavinsky Collection, Arkenstone photo.

Minerals as Art
Most mineral specimens undergo some degree of preparation prior to display in a museum or even a personal collection. After the mineral is removed from its growth environment, it could be only slightly enhanced, for example through the delicate removal of some surrounding matrix, or it would be wholly transformed, as carried out by the master carvers from Idar-Oberstein and other regions. The artisans of mineral preparation and presentation were not ignored in this exhibit, which had a range of examples from elaborate carvings to specimens that underwent only minimal processing. A citrine Buddha made by legendary carver Michael Peuster of Idar-Oberstein in Germany (fig. 9) was specifically commissioned for this exhibition by Dr. Lavinsky. Records indicate nearly 1,000 years of lapidary history in Idar, and an exhibit having culture + art + science would not be complete without an example from these master carvers. According to Dr. Lavinsky, the carving was designed to “make the viewer reflect upon the contrast of the human use versus the appreciation of crystals in their raw form.” The pedestal and outside walls of the figure are natural and uncarved. Through this work, I could clearly see the relationship of how people and cultures can spiritually relate to the Earth and its materials.

Figure 9. Carved Buddha in natural citrine quartz crystal (17 cm tall). Lavinsky Collection, Joe Budd photo.

California minerals were sought out by China’s Empress Dowager Cixi (aka Tzu Hsi) in the early 1900s, who especially valued gemmy pink tourmaline. The Empress bought nearly all of the pink tourmaline that came from the mines in San Diego County, and much of the raw material was carved into figurines, decor, and bottles (fig. 10). 

Figure 10. Quartz bottle with pink San Diego tourmaline cap, showing an illustration of Empress Dowager Cixi made during her lifetime in the late 1800s. 7.8 cm tall. Bill Larson Collection on loan, Arkenstone photo.

A delicately carved dragon combined cherry wood with a natural malachite body (fig. 11). The malachite was sourced from Tonglushan mine (which translates literally to ‘Green Copper Mountain,’ actually the source of copper ore for Bronze Age China 3500 years ago as mentioned in the exhibition), China, and I interpreted this dragon to symbolize people wishing to protect or respect resources they needed from the mountain.

Figure 11. Malachite from Tonglushan mine, China, in cherry wood mount (38 cm wide). Lavinsky Collection, Arkenstone photo.

Some specimens had been prepared so exquisitely that they become natural sculptures. The art of preparing minerals for display takes decades to perfect and is often done on samples so embedded in a matrix that they would not be visible otherwise. This turquoise vein network was striking, and I’ve not seen anything like it before. The soft matrix in which the turquoise veins solidified has been removed (carefully, at Lavinsky’s request after mining in China), and the turquoise itself had been slightly polished (fig. 12). The results bring to mind a CT scan of copper ore where the three-dimensional, original hydrothermal fluid network is made visible. Next was an emerald that is unlike any other. This huge (40 cm) spray of columnar green beryl crystals was revealed by carefully removing some of the hard rock that it grew in, and is presented as a natural pocket, in a cathedral display (fig. 13). Not to be missed was a grape-jelly-colored dodecahedral fluorite that had been trapped in a white quartz matrix (fig. 14). Careful chemical treatments were needed to preserve the fluorite while dissolving away the quartz. 

Finally, there was an impressive, approximately six-foot-tall shale with celestine crystals (fig. 15). This formation is often called a “chrysanthemum stone” and is known to only come from China. The rock is Permian in age (252-299 Mya). The celestine crystals are thought to have formed under reducing conditions in cavities left behind after calcite dissolved.

Figure 12. Natural Turquoise (21 cm tall)  from Hubei, China. Lavinsky Collection, Arkenstone photo.

Figure 13. Emerald spray of crystals in natural pocket (42 cm tall) from Wenshan, Yunnan, China. Lavinsky Collection, Arkenstone photo.

Figure 14. Fluorite on Quartz (48 cm) from De’an Fluorite mine, Wushan, Jiangxi, China. Lavinsky Collection, Arkenstone photo.

Figure 15. Zoomed view of celestine (approx. 10 inch field of view, entire specimen weighs approx 1400 pounds) in shale from Hunan, China. Lavinsky Collection, Aaron Celestian Photo.

Fanciful Geologic Formations
Occasionally the natural habit of a mineral can be truly astonishing, leading one to wonder what geological processes could have led to such stunning displays of crystallization. The calcite ‘lion tails’ specimen from Wenshan mine, China (fig. 16) is nearly three-feet wide and has an amazing morphology.  The specimen formed as stalactites growing down from the cave ceiling, eventually reaching a pool below. At the pool interface, a pad of calcite grew around the descending stalactite to form a ring.  Underwater, the saturated calcium carbonate solution allowed the growth of larger calcite crystals shown in this upright photo (fig. 16). There is evidence of multiple water level cycles, indicated by the dissolution of calcite seen in the thinned-out sections of stalactites that became submerged as the water
level rose. As with most cave formations, these recorded past climatic events, but none in a more spectacular fashion.

Figure 16. Calcite stalactites showing multiple generations (65 cm across) from Wenshan County, Yunnan, China. Lavinsky Collection, Joe Budd photo. Specimen presented upside down.

Other cave formations in the exhibit included malachite stalactites from Tonglushan mine, China (fig. 17) which had a very different morphology than calcite. They look like they formed during oscillatory growth from enriched copper carbonate solutions in the cave. Historically, many of these were destroyed, but as local miners learned that there is a market for selling these to collectors, more are now being preserved.

Figure 17. Malachite (9.5 cm tall) from Tonglushan mine, Hubei, China. Lavinsky Collection, Arkenstone photo. Specimen presented upside down.

I always find concretions interesting: the glaciolacustrine carbonate silica concretions from British Columbia, Canada with their diverse morphologies; the ever-popular septarian nodules from Yorkshire, England and Utah, USA; and this fun sedimentary concretion with rings of pyrite from Yunnan, China (fig. 18). It is thought that some pyrite began to nucleate prior to the lithification of the sediment, and both the pyrite and the concretion continued to grow for millions of years with increased pressure and temperature. 

Figure 18. Pyrite concretion (32 cm across)  from Dongchuan District, Yunnan, China. Lavinsky Collection, Arkenstone photo.

Symmetry and Form
While many visitors were drawn to mineral exhibits to view dazzling colors and unusual forms, there was always a scientific story that can be told about each piece. However, since each object in the exhibit had the attention of the average visitor for less than 10 seconds, it could be difficult to convey scientific concepts succinctly and effectively. In that short time, how does one talk about science without reverting to tomes of text to accompany the object?

Probably one of my favorite specimens in the exhibit was the intensely colorful fluorite on calcite from Yangaangxian mine, China (fig. 19). If these were common, they would be in every physical geology classroom and definitely in every museum. The overall crystal shape is an octahedron, however, you could clearly see the cubic skeletal construction. The crystal beautifully showed how a basic cube (i.e. a cubic unit-cell) can be stacked to form an octahedron. The color change also demonstrated chemical zoning within the crystal where each color change in the fluorite was caused by the incorporation of trace elements (or sometimes metal vacancies); a visual symbol of the changing hydrothermal fluids from which it grew. There was another one of these specimens in the exhibit, a green octahedral fluorite also built from cubes without color zoning. In my opinion, every museum needs one of these in their halls to demonstrate that not only does the study of Earth materials incorporate many sciences, but minerals are the physical records of past planetary processes and environments.

Figure 19. Fluorite on calcite (16 cm tall) from Yaogangxian mine (circa 2005), Hunan, China. Lavinsky Collection, Arkenstone photo.

Along the lines of symmetry and form, there was an entire case dedicated to the rich diversity of calcite morphology. In a quick glance, one could easily see different ways that calcite can grow. Calcite growth morphology is related to the environment of formation, but remarkably little is known about the precise mechanistic controls at the molecular scale that results in the final crystal shape. To see so many different calcite forms in one place, right next to one another, was a great teaching moment in the natural mineral growth diversity and the basics of crystallography to show the diversity of crystal form, and how it could be generated from a seemingly simple rhombohedron building block. There was also a case showing a variety of quartz and of beryl (mostly aquamarine) crystal forms, not just the terminal faces, but prismatic and bladed forms as well.  

California Collection
When in California, do as many Californians do: show your best tourmaline, morganite, and kunzite from the famed mines of Southern California. I really liked the “Postage Stamp” blue cap from the Tourmaline Queen mine. Shown in the exhibit was the actual specimen that was featured on the 1974 U.S. 10-cent postage stamp, on loan from an anonymous source. The piece was formerly in the collection of the Smithsonian Institute and was chosen as a stamp to commemorate American gems and mining. Other specimens featured in this stamp collection were petrified wood, amethyst, and rhodochrosite. Other
California tourmalines in the exhibit represented stellar examples from the classic Himalaya (fig. 20) and Tourmaline King (fig. 21) mines, including Andrew Carnegie’s San Diego bluecap from a 1906 discovery, shown publicly for the first time ever. 

Figure 20. Tourmaline on Quartz (12.5 cm tall) , Himalaya mine, San Diego Co. California.  Lavinsky Collection, Arkenstone photo.

Figure 21. Tourmaline "Blue Cap" on Quartz (21 cm tall), King mine, San Diego Co., California. Found in 1906 and formerly in the Andrew Carnegie and Bill Larson Collections. Lavinsky Collection, Arkenstone photo.

The Companion Book
The companion book to the exhibit provides more background and details on how the exhibit was developed and the thought process that went into selecting the specimens. It is designed as a coffee table exhibition catalog and companion (by Monica Kitt) with an illuminating introduction by collector and Intel Fellow Dr. Gene Meieran illuminating connections of minerals to the development of all civilizations, arts, and cultures. It also provides more content on how these minerals formed, where they came from, and why it is important to continue the preservation of this natural history. Probably the biggest takeaway from this exceptional yet compact exhibit is that mineral and rock collections preserve a portal to the past and a window into the geological and cultural history of our planet.

Cover art of Rare Earth Crystalline Treasures by Dr. Robert Lavinsky, Monica Kitt, Dr. Eugene Meieran, and Thomas P. Moore

Tremsin, A. S., Rakovan, J., Shinohara, T., Kockelmann, W., Losko, A. S., & Vogel, S. C. 2017. Non-destructive study of bulk crystallinity and elemental composition of natural gold single crystal samples by energy-resolved neutron imaging. Scientific reports, 7(1): 1-9. Myth and Reality of Chinas Seventeenth-Century Monetary Crisis. (1996). The Journal of Economic History, 56(2): 429–454.

Aaron Celestian is the Curator of Mineral Sciences at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, and he is also an Adj. Assoc. Professor of Research in the Dept. of Earth Sciences at the University of Southern California, and an Affiliate Research Scientist at NASA-Caltech Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

2023 Tucson Show Schedule and Events!

Jan 16, 2023

It's that time again! The annual Tucson show season is upon us. We are very excited to present a host of exciting collections and auction events this year. To help make navigating all of these events easier for our customers, we've put together this guide to answer any questions around our various Tucson events and offerings. For further questions, please contact via e-mail!



La Fuente (Lester St. patio entrance)
1735 North Oracle Rd.
Tucson, Arizona 85705


January 27, 2023 - February 9, 2023
10:00 AM - 5:00 PM

February 10, 2023
10:00 AM - 3:00 PM


(Click calendar to expand)

Schauss Thumbnail Collection - Auction 1: Jan 20 - Jan 29, 2023, Closing 1 pm CT (12 pm MT)
Schauss Thumbnail Collection - Auction 2 - Special: Jan 29 - Feb 8, 2023, Closing 8 pm CT (7 pm MT)
Schauss Thumbnail Collection - Auction 3: Feb 2 - Feb 9, 2023, Closing 1 pm CT (12 pm MT)
Erika Pohl-Stroher Collection Auction: Jan 31 - Feb 7, 2023, Closing 1 pm CT (12 pm MT)
Annual In-House Live From The Show Auction: Jan 25 - Feb 5, 2023, Closing 5 pm CT (4 pm MT)
AGTA Fine Gemstone Auction: Jan 31 - Feb 9, 2023, Closing 1:30 pm CT (12:30 pm MT)

Please note: Make sure to create an account on and fully verify using our secure system to be able to bid. If your account is not verified, you will not be able to place a bid.


We are proud to present the Alex Schauss thumbnail collection at Tucson in 2023! The entire intact display collection of 888 pieces will be on exhibit at La Fuente from January 27 - February 8, 2023. Don't miss this opportunity to see one of the most important private thumbnail collections on display in its entirety!

You can read more about Alex Schauss and his collection HERE.

Please read the following details regarding this important collection.

General Information:

  1. During the exhibition period (1/27 - 2/8), no specimens will be removed from the displays for any reason.
  2. Only a portion of the collection will be available for sale and/or auction in 2023. This includes approximately 400 specimens available for sale at the show (including a few species suites), and approximately 60-70 specimens offered across three special auctions hosted on, available to worldwide bidders.
  3. We will have two Schauss Release & Book Signing Events at La Fuente:
    • January 28: 6 - 8pm MT with book signing from 6-7pm. Open event.
    • February 8: 6 - 8pm MT with book signing from 6-7pm. To attend, you must RSVP via email to In addition to providing your full name, please write the following in your subject line: RSVP for 2/8 Schauss Event

Sales Information:

  1. Specimens available in 2023 will be marked with color dot stickers in the cases as follows:
    • Available for sale, as priced: GREEN
    • Auction #1: BLUE
    • Auction #2 - Special: YELLOW
    • Auction #3: PURPLE
    • Sold specimens: RED
  2. Items with no color dot stickers will not be available for sale until 2024 and will be display only. Sorry, no exceptions.
  3. The Schauss display cases are not available for sale.
  4. No items are available for sale until the first release event on 1/28 at 6pm.

Delivery Information:

  1. All items sold either via one of the three auctions or in person sales will be brought back to Dallas to be processed and shipped after the show, beginning on February 17, 2023, unless other arrangements are made.
    • Please note: Any items picked up in person in Tucson are subject to Tucson sales tax at 8.7%


In cooperation with the Pohl family and Granada Showcase, the Arkenstone is proud to assist with the curated release of specimens from the Erika Pohl collection, beginning in 2023!

You can read more about Erika Pohl and her collection HERE.

Please read the following details regarding this special collection.

General Information

  1. Specimens from the Erika Pohl collection will be on display at two locations - La Fuente and The Granada Showcase.
    • At La Fuente, Tsumeb thumbnails will be available for sale, plus a display-only preview of African specimens that will be part of an auction on to be announced at a later date.
    • At the Granada Showcase, the Pohl auction on will be on display for viewing, along with many other Tsumeb specimens and worldwide treasures from the collection that will not be available for sale.
    • Pohl auction winnings will be brought to Dallas for processing and shipping after the show, beginning on February 17, 2023, unless other arrangements are made.
      • Please note: Any specimens picked up in person in Tucson are subject to Tucson sales tax of 8.7%
  2. There will be an open house event at Granada Showcase on January 29 from 6pm until 9pm. All are welcome!

Granada Mineral Showcase
338 North Granada Ave.
Tucson, AZ 85701

1/21 - 2/12 from 10am - 6pm daily.


We are pleased to announce that, in cooperation with AGTA, will host an auction bringing fine gemstone specimens to the market directly from wholesale members of the American Gem Trade Association!

General Information:

  1. This auction will run from January 31 through February 9, 2023 at 1:30 pm CT on
  2. For security reasons, these specimens will not be on display at the show.
  3. All items won will be billed and shipped from Dallas beginning on February 17, 2023.


  1. The Annual Arkenstone In-house Special Auction will be on display at La Fuente from 1/27 through 2/5.
    • Auction wins will be brought back to Dallas for processing and shipping beginning on February 17, 2023, unless other arrangements are made.
      • Please note: Any items picked up in person in Tucson are subject to Tucson sales tax of 8.7%
  2. Beginning 2/6, a preview of fine minerals and lapidary items from the upcoming Rice Northwest Museum of Minerals deaccession auction will be on display at La Fuente for the remainder of the show. This auction will take place in late March 2023.
  3. Rare Earth books from our Santa Barbara Museum exhibition will be available for sale at the show.
  4. Crystal Showcase thumbnail boxes will be available at the show, with a minimum purchase amount of $50/10 boxes.
  5. Showcases will be available at the show for purchase:
    • Large showcases are priced at $8500 each
    • Pedestal cases are priced at $6000 each
    • White glove delivery and setup is $1250-1500 per case, from Rob Hyatt Ltd.

From Left: Pedestal cases, Large Showcases (half display), Large Showcase (full display)

Collector Profile: Dr. Erika Pohl-Stroher

Jan 12, 2023

Dr Erika Pohl-Ströher: The Life of a Remarkable Collector


Scientist, geologist, collector, museum patron, and businesswoman, Dr Erika Pohl-Ströher (1919-2016), was the granddaughter of Franz and Marie Ströher, who founded German hair care and cosmetics giant Wella AG, bought in 2003 by Procter & Gamble. Erika was born in Wurzen near Leipzig and grew up in Rothenkirchen in Vogtland, in the foothills of the Saxon Erzgebirge (Ore Mountains) - later part of East Germany. She studied chemistry and biology at the University of Jena, gaining her doctorate in biology. Her interest in science became evident from early childhood, when she developed her lifelong fascination for rock minerals and crystals. Whilst visiting the spa in Bad Gastein in Austria, she was taken with the beautiful quartz souvenirs available there, which she supplemented with specimens from the Ore Mountains closer to home. After the Second World War, the Ströhers fled Russian-occupied Saxony, settling in the West in Hünfeld in Hessen, where Erika’s father reestablished the Wella factory. However, Erika never lost touch with her beloved native Saxony. In 2004 she presented (note added here: a part of) her minerals collection (by now comprising more than 90,000 specimens from around the world) as a permanent loan to the Technische Universität Bergakademie, Freibergand founded both the interactive museum Manufaktur der Träume (Factory of Dreams) in Annaberg-Buchholz from her collection of Ore Mountain folk art and crafts and the Pohl-Ströher Repository in Gelenau, where folk art, historical toys and Christmas and Easter items are displayed twice a year. Whilst minerals and folk art took up much of her time in later life, Erika was also a lover of paintings and books. As well as inheriting pictures and objects from her father Karl, she and her husband Gerhard Pohl were avid collectors in their own right with wide-ranging interests.

Excerpt from Sothebys:



The minerals shown at terra mineralia are provided by the "Pohl-Ströher Mineralienstiftung". In 2004, the native of Saxony Erika Pohl-Ströher decided to give her unique collection as a permanent loan to the TU Bergakademie Freiberg. The collection of Dr. Erika Pohl-Ströher is regarded as one of the most valuable and significant private collections worldwide.

At terra mineralia the precious specimen are permanently on show for the public since October 2008.

Dr. Erika Pohl-Ströher collected the minerals in her collection over a period of more than 60 years. The specimens are arranged according to geographical regions. Considering that Dr. Pohl-Ströher had no intention of exhibiting her mineral collection and therefore did not make a conscious effort to ensure that she obtained specimens from all over the world, she has succeeded remarkably well in setting up an extensive, comprehensive and magnificent collection that includes minerals from every continent. Her main interest was in collecting crystals which were beautifully shaped and diverse in color, rather than impressively large. She therefore paid great attention to aesthetic formations, which has resulted in a collection of great beauty.

Dr. Pohl-Ströher’s collection grew especially during the time when those responsible for the Freiberg Mineralogical Collection only had limited possibilities to obtain new specimens. During the German Democratic Republic era, the people of East Germany had very limited opportunities to travel to important mineral sales exhibitions in order to purchase new specimens, and neither were there any funds available with which to purchase such wonderful specimens as those that were being avidly collected by Dr. Pohl-Ströher at the time. Fortunately, they were able to complete their collection of systematic minerals, thanks to an international system of bartering, but it was almost impossible to obtain specimens of the same excellent quality as those that Dr. Pohl-Ströher had. Her private collection has therefore complemented and enlarged the existing, scientifically important, Geo-scientific Collections of Freiberg Alma Mater enormously. This donation has been a unique and excellent opportunity for the University to obtain such excellent material, because even today, financial resources for purchases are very limited.


A large portion of Dr. Pohl-Ströher's collection consists of showpieces of the highest quality. The richness of color and the shapes of the excellently formed crystals overwhelm visitors. These magnificent minerals from all over the world are a delight for laymen and collectors alike. The collection consists of both historic and new collection sites.

Shortly before Christmas 2016, we received the sad news here in Freiberg that Dr. Dr. h.c. Erika Pohl-Ströher had died at home in Ferpicloz on the 18th December 2016 at the age of 97. With her passing, TU Freiberg is losing a patron who, through the permanent loan of a large part of her mineral collection to the university, facilitated the establishment of the world-renowned terra mineralia exhibition in Freiberg Castle and the Mineralogical Collection Germany in the Krügerhaus. These visitor magnets have welcomed over 850,000 people since 2008. Within the space of a few years, the entire area around Freudenstein Castle changed into an attractive part of the Freiberg urban landscape. The collection enriches the university’s teaching and research in a unique way.

Erika Ströher was born on 18 January 1919 in Wurzen in Saxony and grew up in Rothenkirchen in Vogtland. Her life was significantly shaped by the company Wella, whose foundations were laid by her grandfather in 1880. Erika Ströher studied chemistry and biology in Jena, and obtained her doctorate in biology. From a young age, she was also interested in minerals – while visiting the spa in Bad Gastein, she was taken with the beautiful quartz souvenirs available there. She began to collect periodically. It was only after the children left home that she became a passionate collector – following minerals from the Alpine region, the Ore Mountains and other regional sites, she turned her attention to Eastern Europe, Africa and America. From the mid-1990s, her main interest was in mineral deposits from China, Pakistan and Afghanistan. She brought together more than 90,000 specimens from across the world. In this way, she built up an extensive collection over 6 decades, organized by regional criteria and characterized by its premium quality and aesthetic appeal. Dr Erika Pohl-Ströher developed an international network of exchange partners and dealers across the world, constantly receiving details of exceptional mineral discoveries. In this way, she was able to continually add new and attractive specimens to her collection. In order to preserve her life’s work, she and her children sought a suitable venue to exhibit her collection, where a majority of the collection could be displayed taken care of, but also used for scientific research and teaching. On account of the TU Bergakademie, the choice was made in favor of Freiberg. In 2004, the green light for the terra mineralia exhibition was given with the founding of the Pohl-Ströher Mineral Trust in Switzerland and the conclusion of a permanent loan contract with TU Bergakademie Freiberg. Through the renovation of Freudenstein Castle a special venue for exhibitions and events was created and opened at the end of October 2008. Those treasures not on display are stored in a spacious depository where they are permanently accessible for research purposes. At the end of 2012, the Mineralogical Collection Germany in the Krügerhaus was completed. Throughout the entire duration of our partnership with Dr Erika Pohl-Ströher, what impressed us most was her humility, reserve and warm-heartedness.


One of our donor’s greatest desires was to inspire as passion in young people in particular for the natural and geological sciences through the presentation of her minerals. She regularly kept up with news about the development of our exhibition and contributed her own ideas as well. She was especially delighted when the ‘mineralinos’ kids’ club was established and a variety of school and holiday programs were developed. With 350 school groups per year and over 1,000 day visitors to our holiday initiatives, the programs have enjoyed great success. We are pleased to have been able to fulfil our donor’s wishes.

Dr Pohl-Ströher received numerous honors for her commitment to the geosciences. In 2004, she was awarded the Stein im Brett by the Berufsverband Deutscher Geologen (Association of German Geologists). The Free State of Saxony awarded her the Saxon Order of Merit in 2005 and TU Bergakademie Freiberg named her an honorary member of the university senate. In 2008, she received an honorary doctorate from TU Bergakademie Freiberg’s Faculty for Geosciences, Geotechnical Engineering and Mining. In 2013, a new and very rare hydrous copper zinc calcium arsenate discovered at Dr Pohl-Ströher’s favorite site of Tsumeb in Namibia was named Erikapohlite after her.

The world of minerals wasn’t her only interest, however. She also established two further exhibitions in the Ore Mountains, not far from Freiberg: the interactive museum Manufaktur der Träume (Factory of Dreams) in Annaberg-Buchholz from her collection of Ore Mountain folk art and crafts, and the Pohl-Ströher Repository in Gelenau, where folk art, historical toys and Christmas and Easter items are displayed twice a year.

We will always honor her memory and legacy.
TU Bergakademie Freiberg Rector’s Office

Republished as courtesy of Terra Mineralia Museum and the Pohl family

Collector interview: Alex Schauss

Dec 16, 2022

Interview by Tomasz Praszkier. Republished with permission from Minerals: The Collector's Newspaper, 2014, issue no.8.

Alexander Schauss - world famous thumbnail collector. K. McGowan photo.

This time in our Collector Interview series we have the pleasure of talking to Alexander Schauss, vice-president of Friends of Mineralogy, and one of the world’s leading collectors of competition-quality thumbnails. Alex shares with us some of his family history, and talks about his career researching nutrition and botanical medicine, and how these disciplines relate to his passion for mineralogy.

Tomasz Praszkier (Minerals): Alex, before we talk about minerals please tell us a little about the interesting history of your family and how you came to the USA?

Young Alex with his grandfather in Hamburg in 1951, before his family moved to the USA.

Alex Schauss: I come from a long line of musicians, some quite famous, starting with my great-grandfather who was a German composer. My father was a concert pianist who taught piano at the Berlin Conservatory before World War II (WWII). My grandfather was the concertmaster of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra and Quartet from 1928 until he retired in 1962. Well known as one of the best violinists in the world, he began criticizing Adolf Hitler and the National Socialist Party in articles that appeared as early as 1933, and the family was frequently threatened by the SS for his outspoken comments.

Alex, aged 7, looking for specimens; a budding mineralogist!

Once he learned that the Nazis were rounding up Jews, he assisted numerous Jewish members of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra financially and with letters of recommendation, which helped them find positions in American orchestras. I was shown many of these letters and documents by the orchestra’s historian during a visit to Leipzig in 2011.

I was born in Hamburg, but 90% of the city was destroyed by the end of the war. Food was very scarce and there were no jobs for professionals such as my parents. Life was very difficult, especially for those who had opposed Hitler. Many Germans felt that those who had opposed the National Socialist Party had betrayed their country.

Chrysoberyl var. Alexandrite, 1.6cm wide. Malyshevo, Russia. A. Schauss collection. J. Scovil photo.

So we came to America as immigrants in 1953 with just $24.00, and we lived in a gang-infested slum in the upper west side of Manhattan while learning English and trying to find work.

TP: How did you start your adventure with minerals?

AS: We soon became friends with a family that had just arrived from Puerto Rico; their son, Sammy, was seven, the same age as me. The two of us roamed around Manhattan, trying to stay away from the gangs and the violence in our own neighborhood.

One day we were walking along the Avenue of the Americas in midtown Manhattan and we stopped to watch construction workers blow up the granitic gneiss bedrock with dynamite and haul the rock away. It was exciting stuff!

Alex with his Arizona license plate reading 'PRKYBOX' (Perky Box). L. Schauss photo.

We asked the truck drivers where they were taking the rocks and they told us the location near the northern tip of Manhattan Island. We headed home and we each borrowed a hammer and a small shovel from a kind gentleman who owned the local hardware store, and then we took the subway north to see what we could find.

We brought many “treasures” back with us, and took them to the mineralogy and geology department of the American Museum of Natural History, just a few blocks from our respective apartments. This is where I met Dr. Frederick Pough, who was rather amused by the rocks we brought him, since they were nothing more than samples of muscovite, orthoclase, and quartz, all commonly found in Manhattan’s schists, pegmatites and gneisses.

Ettringite, 2.7cm. N'chwaning II mine, Kalahari, South Africa. A. Schauss collection. J. Scovil photo.

One day I brought Dr. Pough a specimen with a vug which contained an exceptional dark crystal that turned out to be the largest columbite the museum had seen. He asked me if the museum could keep it, and I agreed that it could. When I returned a few weeks later with more rocks from another Manhattan site near the Williams Bridge, he showed me the Manhattan mineral display in the main hall, where he pointed out the specimen I had given the museum in the case. Talk about cool!

Alex (right) and Jim Houran working on the display of African thumbnails for the special exhibit at the 2012 Munich show. B. Cairncross photo.

Since I had given the museum that mineral he offered to give me a specimen from its collection in return.
He took me to the rear section of the main hall where one could see stunning cabinet-sized specimens of fluorite and galena. He opened a drawer below a display case with a superb galena from Joplin, Missouri, and asked me to choose from one of the two “extra” galenas that were “taking up too much room”.

Alex working with his collection. M. Mauthner photo.

I picked one, which he agreed was the best, and carefully wrapped it up in a sack. “You picked the best of the two, Alex, you just might make a good mineralogist some day”. Talk about encouragement!

Needless to say, I returned repeatedly to help him in any way I could in the curator’s office until he allowed me to handle hundreds, and eventually thousands of specimens. This continued into my junior high school years. I was fortunate that my junior high school was located just across the street from the museum.

Spessartine, 2 cm across. Broken Hill Mine, Australia. A. Schauss collection. M. Mauthner photo.

TP: Can you tell us about your attempt to “rediscover” the Levison chrysoberyl locality in Manhattan?

AS: During one of our visits to the American Museum of Natural History, Dr. Pough showed Sammy and me a map of where one of the finest (classic V-twinned) chrysoberyl crystals in America was found, in Manhattan Island, no less! 

It was discovered on June 16, 1893, on the north side of 88th Street and Amsterdam Avenue,  at the excavation site for a five-story tenement building that, purely by coincidence, was the apartment building we lived in (from 1955-1968) on the 4th floor. The specimen is known as the "Levison Chrysoberyl". It was discovered by Wallace Goold Levison (1846-1924), one of the most prolific collectors of New York City minerals, and a member of the New York Mineralogical Club. He was also the first editor of the American Mineralogist (founded in 1916).

The cover of one of Alex's books, illustrated with a specimen of fluorite from Laura Schauss' collection.

Well, foolishly, Sammy and I went home and broke through the concrete pad at the back side of the apartment building and began digging for chrysoberyl crystals. The building superintendent discovered what we were doing and chased us off, yelling and screaming. We told our parents what we had done. My dad went to see him with me in tow and had me apologize. He then paid the superintendent the money to replace the broken concrete. I also had to help him take the garbage cans out for a month and I was grounded from leaving the neighborhood. It took me over a year and a half to reimburse Dad for the cost of that concrete.

Gypsum, Las Salinas, Peru. 3.1cm high. A. Schauss collection. J. Scovil photo.

TP: Do you think that if you hadn't been lucky to meet Dr. Pough your mineral passion would have evolved in the same way?

AS: It’s hard to know, but there is no question that he taught me so much, especially about crystallography and how to recognize a world-class specimen. I had no idea of the status of the collection at the American Museum until many years later, when people in the field of mineralogy helped me realize how fortunate I was to have been befriended and trusted by him to handle minerals and to be a junior volunteer. Of course, I was very fortunate in living so close to the museum.

Alex and his thumbnail collection, with each specimen mounted in a 'perky box.' M. Mauthner photo.

TP: Did your parents support your hobby?

AS: My mother was particularly supportive of my mineral collection as it grew over the years because her father, who had two PhD’s in engineering (one from the Sorbonne University in Paris, the other from the University of Peters-burg in Russia), had collected gems and minerals from the Ural Mountains. He was very wealthy, since he owned a large engineering firm that took on major construction jobs in Russia and Eastern Europe.

Cobaltoan calcite, 3 cm wide. Kolwezi, Congo. A. Schauss collection. M. Mauthner photo.

My mother had been about to start medical school in Belgrade when the Nazis invaded Yugoslavia. They destroyed her medical school and took over the family’s mansion as some kind of headquarters just outside of Belgrade. Mom joined the underground and used her wealth, including her father’s collection of rubies, emeralds, alexandrites, etc., to smuggle Jews out of the country. I didn’t know about this until many years later when I visited Israel and learned of her bravery. When I came home and asked her why she had never told me about her heroism, she responded, “It was what anyone would have done”, and told me not to bring up the subject again.

Rhodochrosite, 2.7 cm tall. N'Chwaning I Mine, South Africa. A. Schauss collection. M. Mauthner photo.

TP: When did you start becoming seriously involved in the mineral collecting community; going field collecting and visiting mineral shows?

AS: Well, I can’t really think of a time in my life when I didn’t find myself digging holes and taking an interest in mineralogy. When I was in high school, my girlfriend lived in Little Falls, New York. We spent quite a bit of time digging for Herkimer “diamonds” not far from her family’s home.

One summer I attended Western New Mexico University in Silver City and dated the daughter of the superintendent of the Chino Mine which, at that time, was the largest open pit copper mine in the world. When I asked him if I could collect specimens in the mine, he found it hard to say “no” to his daughter’s boyfriend.

Diopside, 3.4 cm high. Merelani, Tanzania. A. Schauss collection. J. Scovil photo.

It is worth mentioning Dr. Pough’s influence when I first met Ed McDole. I arrived in New Mexico to attend university in 1966 and joined the Albuquerque Gem and Mineral Club. The Club’s president, Dean Wise, also known as “the dean of mineralogy”, encouraged me to visit the Tucson Gem and Mineral Society (TGMS) show in February 1967, which I did.

Unique, skeletal crystal of diamond, 1.5 cm wide. Orapa mine, Botswana. A. Schauss collection. J. Scovil photo.

At the time the TGMS show was held in a large tent near the Tucson Airport. Miscalculating the starting date of the show, I arrived a few days early. A man in a white shirt, black pants and black shoes, and with the stub of a cigar in his mouth, came up to me and noticed that I looked lost. I told him I was looking for the TGMS show, whereupon he invited me to look at a few “rocks” in the trunk of his black Lincoln Continental. My eyebrows immediately went up, after which I told him what each specimen was, where it came from and, in some cases, the year it was probably found in. He took the cigar out of his mouth and asked me how old I was. “Eighteen, sir”. He replied: “How is it possible that you know so much about these minerals?”. I told him about my years at the American Museum and the knowledge I had gained from Dr. Pough.

Calcite (twinned), 2.7 cm high. Sambava, Madagascar. A. Schauss collection. J. Scovil photo.

He said: “That explains everything”. Clearly, he knew Dr Pough; then he introduced himself as Ed McDole. I was honored to meet him. Even though I had just a few dollars to buy specimens, he introduced me to people around the show floor, saying something about my being one of “Pough’s kids” from the American Museum; always with a cigar in the corner of his mouth.

Pyroxmangite (twinned), 1.8 cm high. Broken Hill, Australia. A. Schauss collection. J. Scovil photo.

Ed died in 1970 and, given this background, you can imagine how pleased I was to win the Ed McDole Trophy several years later at the 1989 TGMS show for the best mineral case (of thumbnails, no less).

TP: What was your first specimen and your first “serious” specimen?

AS: My first specimen was a piece of gneiss, 15cm by 8cm, from Manhattan Island (New York City). I still have it, but it’s not an attractive specimen!

Cronstedtite, 2.3cm high. Herja mine, Romania. A. Schauss collection. J. Scovil photo.

The first serious specimens were all self-collected in New Mexico. They included a 90 cm by 60 cm block of botryoidal smithsonite collected in 1967 from the Kelly Mine. I sold it the same year for$100, and I gave $50 to the owner of the mine. The mineral dealer I sold it to in Albuquerque wanted me to break it in half so that it would fit in a “beer flat”. He travelled to many rock and mineral shows in the western United States in his van and had all of his specimens in beer flats.

Legrandite, 3.0 cm high. Ojuela mine, Mexico. A. Schauss collection. J. Scovil photo.

Since the specimen was too large, he didn't want to buy it unless I cut it or broke it in half. I was shocked that he would take this specimen which took me several hours to get out of the mine undamaged, and want to break it in half. I don't know whether he broke it in half, but I certainly didn't.

Smithsonite, 1.6 cm high. Abenab mine, Namibia. A. Schauss collection. J. Scovil photo.

Selling the Kelly mine smithsonite was not an easy decision. Yet $100 was a lot of money for a student at the time. Also, there was no place to store it in the dormitory room shared with another student. In today’s market, that specimen would probably sell for over $250,000.

TP: Your plan was to study geology but finally you ended up as a nutrition/food scientist. How did this happen?

AS: I would have majored in geology had I not taken a trip to southern New Mexico, where I literally stumbled onto the location of a “lost” Indian tribe that dis-appeared around 1500 A.D., that archeologists had been searching for.

Grossular, 2.6 cm high. Jeffrey mine, Canada. A. Schauss collection. J. Scovil photo.

While traveling along a remote dirt road, I decided to stop and take a look at a map and figure out where I was. I spot-ted a butterfly in the middle of the desert and followed it for a few hundred yards. All of a sudden there was a spring and next to the water were shards of Indian pots that looked like some pottery a professor in the history department had shown us. I took a few pieces back to the university. A few days later the professor told me I might have found the lost tribe of Mimbres Indians everyone had been searching for. For this discovery, I was inducted as a sophomore into Phi Alpha Theta, the national honorary society in history, which motivated me to major in history, rather than geology.

Fluorite, 3.2 cm high. Penfield quarry, New York, USA. A. Schauss collection. J. Scovil photo.

My interest in the effect of nutrition on brain function and behavior, which became my career, began in 1970 when I worked for the Second Judicial District Court of New Mexico as a probation and parole officer, which also required my being a deputy sheriff. The case histories that influenced the realization of how important diet could be to human health and behavior are discussed in the first two books I authored in 1978 and 1980, Orthomolecular Treatment of Criminal Offenders, and Diet, Crime and Delinquency, respectively.

Vesuvianite, 3.2 cm high. Jeffrey mine, Canada. A. Schauss collection. J. Scovil photo.

The first book had the signature of two-time Nobel laureate, Dr. Linus Pauling on the cover, which attracted a lot of attention. It was the first of 23 books that I’ve authored or coauthored on nutrition and botanical medicine.

When I moved to South Dakota in 1975, I saw dramatic effects of diet in rehabilitating adolescent criminal offenders. This confirmed my earliest suspicions that this was a fertile field for research.

Marcasite, 3.5 cm high. Sparta, Illinois, USA. A. Schauss collection. J. Scovil photo.

TP: Your scientific work is somehow connected with minerals and chemistry. The title of one of your many books is “Minerals, Trace Elements and Human Health”. Can you tell us about your scientific work?

AS: Studying minerals both from a mineralogist’s perspective and in terms of my interest in the effects minerals can have on human health has exposed me to a wealth of scientific data. Occasionally, the information has direct applicability to problems experienced by miners exposed to toxic metals such as lead, cadmium, and arsenic.

Top: Calcite with dioptase inclusions, 2.8 cm high. Tsumeb, Namibia. A. Schauss collection. J. Scovil photo. Bottom: Calcite with cuprite inclusions on native copper, 3.2 cm. Onganja mine, Helen Farm 235, Seeis, Khomas Region, Namibia. A. Schauss collection. M. Mauthner photo.

A good example occurred in 2013. A group of miners had been working in an old base metal mine, collecting specimens of wulfenite, mimetite, barite, etc., leading to excessive absorption of heavy metals. After failing to respond to conventional methods to remove them, they were informed that a dietary supplement that had been submitted for a safety review by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) might help them. This natural product has been known for decades for its ability to remove heavy metals.

Boleite, 2.4 cm across. Amelia Mine, Mexico. A. Schauss collection. M. Mauthner photo.

Heavy metals can cause inflammation and act as pro-oxidants damaging cells, including neurons in the brain and central nervous system, which is why they are referred to as neurotoxic. The miners were also advised of a fruit whose pulp has been demonstrated in experimental studies by the USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture) to exhibit potent anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant bioactivity.

Carrolite, 2.8 cm wide. South Kamoya mine, DR Congo. A. Schauss collection. J. Scovil photo.

In just a few months the combination of these two natural compounds resulted in a dramatic reduction in the miners’ blood levels of heavy metals; soon afterwards they were back in the mine.
It is important to understand the relationships between metals to appreciate how they can work together or against each other. For example, selenium can protect against mercury exposure, zinc against cadmium, calcium against lead, etc. Such relationships and other information about nearly 30 minerals essential to human health are discussed in my book, “Minerals, Trace Elements and Human Health”.

Hausmannite with andradite, 2.7 cm high. N'chwaning II mine, South Africa. A. Schauss collection. J. Scovil photo.

TP: We talked a little about your time in New Mexico, but you’ve also lived in South Dakota and, more recently, in Washington state. What collecting opportunities have you had there?

AS: While in South Dakota I was fortunate to learn about some superb, gemmy, golden barites found in concretions in the Pierre Shale in Elk Creek, Mead County. I quickly learned how to extract the best barite specimens, and filled over a dozen flats with fine, gemmy examples during several visits. I took them to Tucson a few years later and traded them at the Old Desert Inn for some very fine thumbnail specimens from Tsumeb, Mont St. Hilaire, and Broken Hill.

Fluorite on quartz, 2.8 cm high. Erongo, Namibia. A. Schauss collection. J. Scovil photo.

In 1977, I moved to Washington State and bought a house near Tacoma. This was an ideal location to go up and down the Cascade Mountains looking for minerals. I met Bart Cannon from Seattle, who gave me permission to dig for garnets on Vesper Peak. Anything I found I could keep, and this provided me with valuable trading material at the Old Desert Inn in Tucson each year. The state geologist, Raymond Lasmanis, learned that I had a large group of kids from the Puyallup Gem and Mineral Club wanting to learn more about the geology of the state. He would call me whenever a forest road was being built in the Cascades and promising minerals had been located. On some of these trips the kids would find world-class zeolites, some of which I donated to overseas museums as my research on nutrition carried me to countries all over the world.

Rhodonite, 3.3 cm tall. San Martin Mine, Peru. A. Schauss collection. M. Mauthner photo.

TP: So presumably your overseas travels also afforded you some interesting collecting and trading opportunities?

AS: In 1983, I was invited to lectures given on the campuses of universities around South Africa. This allowed me to visit the Kalahari Manganese Field, and to meet with mineral collectors around the country, including Desmond Sacco. He kindly invited me to dinner at his house, after which he showed me his remarkable mineral collection. While I was visiting a rock shop in Cape Town, a miner from the Kalahari manganese mines appeared with nearly 20 flats of some strange new minerals none of us had ever seen before. Later we learned that these were ettringites, charlesites and sturmanites. I was fortunate to have the pick of these, and they proved to be highly sought after specimens in Denver and Tucson that allowed me to trade for some rare Tsumeb specimens.

Pyrite, 2.7 cm tall. Groundhog mine, Colorado, USA. A. Schauss collection. M. Mauthner photo.

In 1980, I was invited to give a lecture at the University of New South Wales, in Sydney, Australia. The next day I went to visit the famous Australian mineral collector, Albert Chapman, at his house just outside of the city. Albert encouraged me to visit Broken Hill, one of the locations on my bucket list, which I did. This is where I found one of my favorite garnets, a superb, red, twinned spessartine crystal, just lying on the ground; it was included in the case that won the 1989 Ed McDole Trophy at the TGMS show.

Strontianite, 2.3 cm high. Oberdorf an der Laming, Austria. A. Schauss collection. J. Scovil photo.

TP: Over a number of years you have created one of the world’s best thumbnail collections. How and why did you start to collect thumbnails? How long did it take to build your collection?

AS: By 1968, I had traded most of the specimens Dr. Pough gave me, so that I could start building a serious thumbnail collection. My income as a college student, and then working for the government for ten years, only allowed me a budget sufficient to buy a few specimens a year at best, so I had to be very selective about what I purchased. The rest of the collection, built over many years, was acquired by trading specimens or by field collecting.

Fluorapophyllite, 2.8 cm wide. Nasik area, India. A. Schauss collection. J. Scovil photo.

Exceptional specimens, even of very rare minerals, that are thumbnail-sized are relatively affordable compared to larger pieces. Many minerals rarely, if ever, get any larger than thumbnail-size, so those minerals became particular targets for acquisition. Thumbnails are also easy to store and they take up far less space than larger specimens.

During the formative years of my collection, finding exceptional specimens was not easy for two reasons. I didn’t have the money that many well-to-do collectors had and, often, there weren’t many exceptional specimens available to acquire. With perseverance and luck, being at the right place at the right time, and by attending scores of mineral shows over the years, a quality collection emerged. Entering a case of 35 minerals and/or 25 specialized thumbnail-sized minerals at regional and national American Federation of Mineralogical Societies (AFMS) competitions helped me learn from judges, collectors, and dealers, which minerals were outstanding, and why.

Euclase, 3.7 cm high. Ouro Preto, Brazil. A. Schauss collection. J. Scovil photo.

By 1980 I was a member of the San Diego Gem and Mineral Society, and I scored just a few points less than Jim and Dawn Minette’s thumbnail case at a California AFMS competition. The Minettes had a world-class collection of thumbnails, so I was very pleased with that result. Competing in AFMS-sponsored regional and national competitions allowed me to gauge my progress compared to other advanced collectors year-to-year.

Anglesite, 2.5 cm tall. Touissit, Morocco. A. Schauss collection. M. Mauthner photo.

TP: I've heard that your first thumbnail collection was stolen?

AS: In 1984, I won my first trophy for thumbnails at the TGMS show. However, I still needed just two more exceptional thumbnails of rare species from the Tsumeb mine to be able to enter a Tsumeb-only case into competition. To preview the Tsumeb-only concept, along with a case of some 60 other thumbnails from worldwide localities, I took the collection to the 1985 Pacific Northwest Friends of Mineralogy (FM) meeting in Washington State. It was held in what was then my hometown of Tacoma. Unfortunately, while registering for the meeting, two vans and my car where broken into and all of my minerals stolen, in less than ten minutes! The theft literally wiped out my collection, including 20 rare minerals from Tsumeb, acquired over many years.

Top: Meta-autunite, 2.8 cm tall. San Pedro Mine, Brazil. A. Schauss collection. M. Mauthner photo. Bottom: Spessartine on albite, 2.8 cm high. Shengus, Pakistan. A. Schauss collection. J. Scovil photo.

The theft of the collection was more than personal; it was a loss to the mineralogical community since we, as individuals, are merely the custodians of the specimens. Having failed to protect the collection, I decided to quit collecting minerals altogether. The loss was very depressing. However, my wife persuaded me not to give up, and I will always be thankful to Laura for her persistent encouragement and support.

By 1988-1989, I was able to put together a strong enough collection to win nine regional and national AFMS trophies at the Masters level, the Richard M. Pearl Trophy for the best mineral species at the Denver Gem and Mineral Show in 1988 (a gold specimen from Venezuela), as well as the cherished Ed McDole Trophy at Tucson in 1989 for best mineral case.

Rhodonite, 2.6 cm high. San Martin mine, Peru. A. Schauss collection. J. Scovil photo.

In 2012, Jim Houran, a consummate Texas-based thumbnail collector, and I traveled to Munich to display five cases with a total of 188 thumbnail specimens for the African Minerals special exhibit organized by The Munich Show. The collection included many of the world’s best African thumbnails loaned for the exhibit by collectors around the world. We were surprised and delighted by the response the exhibit received, evidenced by the thousands of people that spent time looking at those cases. It was the first time in the 49-year history of The Munich Show that a special exhibit of thumbnail-sized specimens had been displayed.

Wulfenite, mimetite, 2.8 cm tall. San Francisco Mine, Mexico. A. Schauss collection. M. Mauthner photo.

TP: Your collection has won many prizes. Which one is the most important for you?

AS: They all are. Each represents a mile-stone that contributed to the quality and range of specimens in the collection today. The awards also remind me of the pleasure derived from watching people see the specimens at various mineral shows, as well as the social interactions it affords to learn more about mineralogy and to make friends and see other collections.

The Ed McDole Trophy earned in Tucson is particularly meaningful since I had a chance to meet and get to know Ed before he passed away in 1970. Receiving the 2010 Paul Desautels Trophy for best mineral case in Tucson was another milestone since both the Ed McDole and Paul Desautels trophies were won with thumbnail specimens.

Phosphophyllite (twinned), 2.0 cm high. Unificada mine, Bolivia. A. Schauss collection. J. Scovil photo.

TP: Are you very strict about specimen size? Why collect according to size, rather than by locality, or by species? How many specimens do you have?

AS: Selecting thumbnails that meet regulation size has proven a way to acquire exceptional specimens on a limited budget.

It is well known that collecting thumbnails is a North American thing, as both the U.S.A. and Canada have encouraged competitive cases to be entered and exhibited at major mineral shows for many decades.

Cerussite (twinned), 2.4 cm high. Tsumeb mine, Namibia. A. Schauss collection. J. Scovil photo.

Since it is not possible to acquire or trade for an exceptional thumbnail each year, I made the decision years ago to maintain a sub-collection of the best thumbnail-sized calcites, hematites, and pyrites, with the balance of the collection covering all species and with a world-wide scope. Currently 17 specimens are on display at the University of Arizona’s mineral museum.

Vanadinite, 2.4 cm high. ACF, Morocco. A. Schauss collection. J. Scovil photo.

TP: Which specimen in your collection do you consider the best one and why? Which one is your favorite?

AS: That’s like asking a parent which son or daughter is their favorite. In 2013, the Mineralogical Record published an Arizona Collector’s Supplement. I was honored to be included. Several of my specimens were photographed for that issue and some of them are shown in this article.

Some favorites would include a 2.8 cm group of dioptase included in calcite rhombs from the Tsumeb mine, Namibia; a “killer” 2.5 cm cubanite twin from the Henderson No 2. Mine, Chibougamau, Quebec, Canada; a fire-red 2.5 cm transparent rhondonite from the San Martin mine, Chiuricu, Huallanca, Ancash Department, Peru; and, a 3.1 cm single veszelyite crystal from the Black Pine mine, Phillipsburg, Montana.

Rutile, 2.5 cm tall. Diamantina, Brazil. A. Schauss collection. M. Mauthner photo.

TP: Recently you and Laura moved to Tucson, Arizona – the mineral collectors’ Mecca – and you immediately got involved in exhibitions, collectors meetings etc. You’ve also had the opportunity to collect in some of the mines in the Tucson area. Can you tell us more about this most recent chapter of your collecting history? What are your plans for the future?

AS: Talk about busy, since moving to Arizona. One of the first contributions was to work with Jim Houran on displaying a collection of Chinese thumbnail specimens as part of a Special Exhibit of Chinese Minerals at the University of Arizona’s mineral museum.

As soon as we moved to Tucson we joined the Tucson Gem and Mineral Society (which manages the TGMS Show each year). We were invited to join the Arizona Mineral Minions group, and the Mineral Enthusiasts of the Tucson Area (META) group. It has been a great pleasure to meet many of the Mineral Minions and META members throughout the state and to see their collections. We’ve been attending monthly meetings of TGMS during which time many superb presentations have been given on mineralogy. I’ve also had a chance to meet many miners around the state now in their 70s and 80s, and listen to fascinating stories about their experiences working in the mining industry, and as collectors. Some have impressive mineral collections acquired over a lifetime.

Colemanite with calcite, 2.4 cm wide. Boron Open Pit, California, USA. A. Schauss collection. J. Scovil photo.

Mineralogy has given so much to me during my life that finding ways to give something back is important. In 2014, I was elected Vice President of Friends of Mineralogy (FM), a group every mineral enthusiast should join, with chapters throughout the United States. These chapters put on regional shows, and organize outstanding educational events, exhibits and socials. FM promotes, supports, protects and expands the collecting of mineral specimens and furthers the recognition of the scientific, economic and aesthetic value of minerals and mineral collections. If elected as president in 2015, I hope to do my part in further promoting the organization’s objectives. This year we will be working more closely with to optimize its benefits for the mineralogical community.

It did not take me long after arriving in Arizona to get my hard hat on and head underground. I have MSHA (Mine Safety and Health Administration) certification, which allows me to go underground to collect specimens when invited, or simply help out other miners and collectors with mucking-out or with safety issues. The most recent visits have been to the Rowley Mine in Maricopa County, which recently located the world-class wulfenites with 1.0-1.5 cm fire-red mimetite balls that were available at the 2014 TGMS show. I’ll probably be digging for specimens at mine dumps around the state and visiting mines in Colorado, New Mexico, and Nevada over the next few years.

Eosphorite, 2.6 cm tall. Golconda Mine, Brazil. A. Schauss collection. M. Mauthner photo.

Jim Houran, a fellow thumbnail collector, inspired me to continue the tradition he started with Rich Olsen to promote thumbnail collecting. It has been a delight to work with both of them and other collectors to create invited theme exhibits focusing on thumbnails displayed at major mineral shows such as Munich and Tucson.

TP: We wish you many more collecting adventures as well as many new small specimens for your collection!

Competing with Thumbnails: Little Crystals, Big Impact

Sep 27, 2022

By David Tibbits

Over the years, many generations of mineral collectors have participated in mineral competitions at the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show. This year was no exception, as folks of all ages with different experiences in collecting and collecting interests populated the 2022 TGMS with a large section of competition exhibits. To those who spend hours looking over every case exhibited at the convention center, the competition sections offer a look at the highest quality each collector exhibiting has to offer. I have heard all sorts of questions about mineral competition ever since I put in my first competition display: What even is a mineral competition? How do you determine a winner? What makes a mineral ‘competition worthy’? Usually, after hearing the answer to these sorts of questions, the following question I receive is “How can I sign up?” My goal is to help answer some of these questions throughout this article, and hopefully inspire you to consider competing one day. 

Exhibits at the 2022 Tucson Gem and Mineral Show - David Tibbits Photo

At the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show, there are various categories for competition, each divided into five skill levels. Just about any classification of collecting imaginable exists as a category for competition. I have personally competed in the thumbnail size class as well as self-collected minerals and single locality minerals. Other categories include things like single crystals, pseudomorphs, single species, mineral families, or mineral groups. For the most part, the only things required to put in a competition display are: the minerals, labels for the minerals, liners for the walls of the wooden cases, and risers to arrange the minerals on top of. Essentially, an exhibitor is assembling a museum quality exhibit with their selected specimens, and will want everything to be perfect. Competitors are judged upon four criteria: quality of specimens, showmanship of their display, accuracy of labeling, and the rarity of the pieces. Assembling high quality labels, liners, and risers is relatively straightforward, however selecting which minerals to compete with is the most difficult and confusing part. After all, how can we expect perfection of minerals, when we ourselves have no role in their creation?

To discuss what aspects of a mineral can make it ‘competition worthy,’ I will be focusing on thumbnail minerals in particular, as that is the category for which I have the most experience, typically interests the most people, and requires the highest number of specimens as a minimum for entry. After all, thumbnail mineral competition has had the longest legacy, with its origin dating back to Arthur Flagg who organized the first thumbnail competition at the Arizona State Fair sometime around the 1940-50s. Of course, the principles of quality in thumbnails scales up to any other size class of mineral. 

David Tibbits' thumbnail exhibit at the 2022 TGMS, 1st Place and Best Advanced Case. David Tibbits Photo

In order to judge a mineral's quality, a team of three judges each assigns every mineral specimen a score from 1-10, and then the average of these scores makes up the points for the quality section overall. For most levels, quality makes up 75 points of the overall score. Take for example, an exhibit scoring an 8.5 average quality amongst its pieces would contribute 63.75 points to the overall score. According to the TGMS Competitive Exhibitor Handbook, the criterion on which mineral quality is judged is:

  1. Judging will be based on the condition of crystals (freedom from bruises and flaws); size of crystals (typical of species); color (typical or exceptional for the species); aesthetics (arrangement of crystals); clarity (freedom from excess foreign material); and the visible amount of identified mineral(s) to be judged.

Summed up, a mineral’s quality is based upon every possible quality that mineral may possess, which unsurprisingly can be quite subjective. Something important to keep in mind is that each piece is judged upon its quality versus all other localities and varieties that do exist. That is to say, all beryls are judged against each other, all wulfenites are judged against each other, and all calcites are judged against each other. In many cases, a particular specimen can be exemplary given the material at its locality, but merely adequate in comparison to another find.

Another important thing to consider is that for a specimen, only one mineral species present can be evaluated. You will need to specify via label which species in a combo you’d like to have judged by putting it in all caps. Ultimately, in order to receive scores of 10s, a specimen needs to be the best of its species. That is, the best that has ever been seen, both in private hands, museums, or universities. Since acquiring pieces that are the best of species can be incredibly hard, you will need to study what the best can be and attempt to emulate those features. 

With all of that being said, there are some general guidelines which can be used to determine if a mineral is competition worthy. The highest quality single crystal thumbnail minerals often reach the 1” maximum size, as anything smaller than 1” can mean that larger pieces exist. However, there are instances where this may not be the case, such as certain species that are not known to achieve this larger size, or when larger specimens negatively impact aesthetics, transparency, color, etc. So, while size is a big factor in selecting competition-grade specimens, it should be considered as part of the whole picture.

Visible damage is inevitably a negative penalty, since that same piece damage free is always better. Sprays and combinations tend to do worse than single crystals, except in the cases where the species only exists as sprays, or alongside other minerals. This means that for your typical mineral species, you will want to look for damage-free large crystals which exhibit nice color, luster, and aesthetic. Many competition thumbnail cases feature vanadinites from Morocco, pyrites from Spain, sulphohalites from California, and fluorites from various localities, as these species/localities yield tons of thumbnails that meet the requirements for good scoring, and don’t break the bank. Over time, as you become more familiar with what exists and what is possible, your eye for quality will improve.

Personally, my highest scoring piece is my bixbyite with topaz from Thomas Range, Utah. It's not hard to see why, as it is enormous for its species, and the tiny topaz on its backside adds a great aesthetic flair. 

Bixbyite with topaz, Thomas Range, Utah. 2.5cm Tall. David Tibbits Specimen and Photo. TGMS 2020 Exhibit.

An example of a great scoring piece that's not in my collection is this danalite from New Hampshire. Danalite is a mineral most people are unfamiliar with, and comparing to other specimens online, particularly on mindat, you can see how this piece stands far apart from the rest of its species. It is incredibly well formed and sharp, combined with characteristic color and a size pushing the boundaries of the thumbnail class. It is no surprise that this piece scored an average of 9.75 when it was in Brandy Naugle’s competition exhibits at both the 2011 and 2013 TGMS.

Alex Venzke Specimen, Matt McGill photo. 2.4 cm tall.

A few great specimens available for sale on iRocks now and previously are:

Andradite Garnet var. Demantoid

This particular demantoid is incredibly competition worthy. At 2.5cm it fills in the 1” requirement, and with a brilliant translucent green color, it stands far above the typical garnet that you would expect. It is worth noting however, that the provenance of the specimen previously being in Dr. Federico Pezzotta’s collection does not increase its value to competition as the judges would not be aware of this, however it certainly does contribute to the value of the piece.


Speaking of Dr. Pezzotta, this pezzottaite approaches perfection for the species. Pezzottaite is one of those rare minerals that does not come from a lot of places, and you don’t see too many examples of on the market. Many pezzottaites are not complete on all 6 sides, or are heavily etched out on their ‘front’ face. This specimen is the ideal when it comes to form and color, and the fact that it is 2.3 cm in width means that the only way to improve the specimen for competition would be to increase its size by 2 millimeters. 


Here is an example of a competition worthy thumbnail which ‘exceeds’ the 2.54cm size limit. Standing vertically, this thumbnail is 2.9cm in height, so this crystal of vesuvianite would need to be tipped back in order to fit the required dimensions for a thumbnail on display. Its sharp form and great green color makes it nearly ideal for the species of vesuvianite. It is possible that a judge may find himself partial to the purple vesuvianites available from the Jeffrey Mine in Canada. This might mean that this piece would only be very high scoring instead of approaching a 10. 

It's not hard to see how these could score quite well. There definitely is a common theme that connects them. Exemplary color and form, combined with a large size.

On the other hand, it is often that a piece you absolutely adore scores not quite so perfectly. An example of this, from my experience, is this fluorapatite from Golconda Mine, Minas Gerais, Brazil

Fluorapatite - Golconda Mine, Minas Gerais, Brazil 2.3cm wide. David Tibbits Specimen and Photo.

Although it has great color, aesthetics, clarity, and pushes the limit of size, it struggled to break even the 8 point threshold with this piece. That is because even though the piece is very nice, the individual crystals which make up the specimen are very small for apatite. This stands in contrast to another fluorapatite in my collection, which has a similar color and size, but has much larger crystals. 

Fluorapatite from Panasqueira Mine, Portugal. 2.5cm tall. David Tibbits Photo and Specimen.

In the end, scoring still can be quite subjective. Even on a year to year basis the scores of a single specimen can change, based on judges or the other specimens submitted for judging that year. You might think you have a total 10, until you see another piece in someone else’s display that feels like an 11! 


Several competitions also have their own separate categories for younger collectors, such as TGMS’s Junior and Junior Master divisions, for 8-18 year olds. Dr. Rob Lavinsky has always been a passionate supporter of young collectors, as he himself was lucky enough to have several notable mentors when he was just in his young teens. Each junior age exhibitor, regardless of which exhibitor class they enter, will receive a $100 check from him, the high point score by a junior-age exhibitor receives $500, and the second-high point score will receive a $300 check, as a way of honoring those who helped him when he was a young collector. 

2022 Junior Master Thumbnail Exhibit (B-11) Max Kaminski. Awarded 1st Place and Best in Show Junior Master.

With a greater perspective of what makes for a competition grade mineral, I highly encourage you to get involved in competition, regardless of whether or not you think you have enough high quality minerals. There is so much to gain, even just from being a part of the process. Competition requires you to become very familiar with the pieces you own, leading you down a path of intense research. You will have no choice but to research the localities of the pieces to ensure their accuracy in labeling. 

Another added benefit is a connection to the community of competitors, which in my experience have always been welcoming and supportive, rather than toxic and cutthroat as other sorts of competition sometimes lend towards. And ultimately, the greatest benefit to competition is that you get an outlet to display your specimens to the public. This builds provenance for your collection as a whole as well as the pieces as individuals, and gives you the opportunity to share the pieces you love with friends and strangers alike. 

If I have convinced you to consider competing with thumbnails, here are some next steps:

Pick a category and read the rules. 

Build the display and create the labels. 

Around fall/winter, signup becomes available on the TGMS website

There are a few clubs which heavily promote competition like the Mineralogical Society of Arizona, or the Flagg Mineral Foundation which you might consider joining, even remotely. 

If you are below the age of 40, I’d recommend joining the Young Mineral Collector’s Facebook group to connect directly with other mineral competitors. 

More info still can be found in this article by Les Presmyk and Marc Countiss, which offers a greater perspective into competition as a whole, as well as includes a ton of great photos, beyond what is featured in this article.

If all of those options for learning more still aren’t enough, you can feel more than welcome to reach out to me, other collectors, or staff members at The Arkenstone, as there’s a wide group of people happy to talk minerals!

We'd like to thank our friend, Young Mineral Collector's member and award-winning competitor David Tibbits for graciously authoring this article.

A New Standard In Thumbnail Storage And Display - Crystal Showcase Boxes

Sep 5, 2022

For many decades, the 'Perky Box' - named for Willard Perkin - has been the go-to standard for thumbnail specimen storage and display. However, with the rise in thumbnail collecting as a primary collection focus and the increasing amount of collectors who choose to proudly display their thumbnails in showcases rather than store in drawers, the demand for a solution that meets the high presentation and aesthetics demands of modern collectors has grown rapidly.

To further assist our customers in enhancing their collections, we're proud to announce our exclusive partnership with OPENALLDAY as the sole North American distributor of their Crystal Showcase™️ boxes!

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These boxes offer key features that 'Perky Boxes' do not: The lid is acrylic and completely removable and unhinged, allowing for an easy transition from storage to display without visible hinges; the table insert is plastic instead of styrofoam, which elevates the aesthetics of a display and does not degrade as quickly as the foam inserts; they are slightly larger than 'Perky Boxes' giving plenty of breathing room for safer storage, and some extra room for larger, 'box-buster' specimens that otherwise would not have fit inside a 'Perky Box' easily; and they are 'tried and true' display solutions for show displays and award-winning competition cases - eliminating the need to dismount and remount onto 'competition-worthy' bases!

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David Tibbits' 2022 TGMS Thumbnail Competition display won 1st Place Advanced Thumbnails and Best in Show - Advanced Class.

We are also proud to utilize these boxes in our own personal displays, with members of our own staff utilizing these for their thumbnail displays to elevate their specimens and provide a clean overall look.

We strongly believe that these boxes are the best solution on the market for long-term archival level storage of thumbnail specimens, as well as an elevated display option for thumbnail specimens in showcases and competitive displays!

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Alex Venzke's personal thumbnail collection, featuring specimens mounted in Crystal Showcase boxes. Some specimens shown here with box lids on, for reference.

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 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: 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.


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.