This is a guest post by Michael Conway, Chief, Geologic Extension Service AZ Geological Survey.
“Harvard is the granddaddy” of mineral collections, said Professor Bob Downs, Curator of the University of Arizona Mineral Museum, as he welcomed an overflow crowd of several hundred people, most with strong ties to Arizona’s mineral collecting community, to the unveiling of the American Mineral Heritage: The Harvard Collection at the University of Arizona’s Mineral Museum on February 5th. The exhibit displays dozens one-of-a-kind minerals from around the world, with especial focus on classic pegmatitic minerals of the northeastern U.S.
The fabulous gold display alone is worth the price of admission. An affinity for gold is interlaced in human DNA. The American Mineral Heritage “Gold” case (Figure 2) includes extraordinary specimens from the world famous collection of A.C. Burrage. Specimens hail from California, France, the Czech Republic, British Columbia, and elsewhere. The full range of gold hues and forms – from massive, to scaly (Figure 3), to leafy and dendritic – are on display. France’s largest gold nugget – a massive, oblong, fist-sized stone – is here (Figure 4). For most of these extraordinary specimens, this is the first time in decades that they have reached the exhibit floor, or been out of the curator’s closet.
Harvard has the oldest, extant mineral collection in the United States. No less than Founding Father John Adams was an early enthusiast, encouraging Professor Benjamin Waterhouse (Figure 5) in 1784 to build a mineral collection to promote the “Natural History” of the new nation. In the first year of his presidency, George Washington visited and examined the Harvard collection.
In the 19th and early 20th century, the team of Louis Agassiz and son Alexander Agassiz, built out the collection: adding intellectual fervor, finances and splendid new specimens. In the 20thand 21st century, the collection flourished under the hands of curators, Charles Palache (1923 – 1940), Clifford Frondel (1946 – 1977), Carl Francis (1977 – 2011) and Raquel Alonso-Perez (current).
A suite of famous mineral collections from world-renowned collectors comprise the backbone of the museum.
- Albert F. Holden Collection – 6,000 specimens and an endowment, 1913
- E. P. Hancock Collection – New Jersey minerals, 1917
- H. Karabacek Collection – acquired after 1963
- A.C. Burrage Collection – including gold and Bisbee azurite and malachite
- L. H. Bauer Collection – Franklin, New Jersey minerals
- Rex Bannister Collection – Illinois fluorites
- T. Szenics Collection – Chilean minerals
- R.V. Gaines Collection – Mineralogist, geologist, and mine engineer
Spectacular examples of tourmaline abound. “The Flor de Lis,” from the Jonas Mine, Itatiaia, Minas Gerais, Brazil, comprises elbaite (watermelon tourmaline) on quartz with albite (Figure 6). The host rock was a Neoproterozoic granitic pegmatite. The brilliant, ghost white albite forms a swirl of flat, bladed crystals admixed with a large quartz crystal and variegated elbaite – the gemstone member of the tourmaline mineral family. This large and magnificent specimen is on loan from Eugene Meieran. A second case holds a slice from the Smithsonian’s famous “Jolly Green Giant” tourmaline crystal.
Harvard possesses one of the world’s great collections of minerals of the northeastern United States. At the Flandrau show, they dedicated several cases to displaying the best-of-the-best from their pegmatitic mineral collection (Figure 7 and see video below). The shattered “Rose of Maine,” once a 30-cm-wide, 40 kg, 115000-carat of morganite beryl, originally valued at more than $1 million is there, and it’s accompanied by “The Peach,” a scintillating 7-cm wide crystal of morganite. Both the “Rose of Maine” and “The Peach” were discovered by the Holden Brothers of Sugar Hill Minerals at Bennett Quarry, just west of Buckfield in western Maine in 1989.
Frustrated that they not could find a museum buyer to purchase the Rose intact, the brothers differed on whether to keep it whole or slab it out for gemstones. The argument came to hammer blows directed at the Rose and the mineral was crudely split into a number of pieces. One of the larger pieces, the last extant “Rose of Maine” came into the possession of Harvard’s mineral museum (Figures 8a and 8b).
Other illustrious minerals include: watermelon tourmaline slab cut from the Smithsonian’s “Jolly Green Giant”; a black schist hosting coarse garnet crystals from the Red Ember mine of Irving, Massachusetts; purple apatite from Auburn, Maine; and a half-dozen other world class minerals and gems.
A small, inset mineral case on the south wall houses a colorful display of fluorescent minerals from Franklin in Sussex County, New Jersey (Figure 9). Franklin is home to the world’s largest collection of fluorescent minerals, and more than 50 minerals have been identified there. The Harvard exhibit includes 15 specimens, some including more than one fluorescent mineral. An abridged list of minerals on display: willemite, margarosanite, calcite with zincite, barite, and tumeareite.
And there’s more. Specimens of fluorapatite, babingtonite, wulfenite, bornite and exceedingly rare spangolite that are among some of the finest mineral specimens of their kind in the world.
The American Mineral Heritage: The Harvard Collection exhibit will be at the Flandrau through December 2016. Contact the Flandrau Science Center & Planetarium for hours and fees.
Kevin Czaja Curatorial and Research Assistant, Mineralogical & Geological Museum at Harvard University