New American Independence Day Update 09 July 2021

9 July 2021

CONTINUING our United States of America week celebrating last Sunday’s 245th anniversary of Independence Day, thoughts turn to early mineral collecting in those pioneering days.

Prior to independence, minerals and mining matters in the 13 colonies were almost non-existent. Few, if any, economic ore deposits were discovered down the eastern seaboard states and life was too focused on survival to have any spare time for recreational hobbies. There also prevailed an attitude amongst the governing and academic elite that any mineral wealth was important only for manufacturing and industrial development of this new country, not for aesthetic consumption like in Europe, to which such American pioneers looked on with disdain.

But for whatever reasons, many movers and shakers in the fledgling USA did hold an interest in mineralogy, including two of its most famous, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson. Franklin acted as a diplomat in Europe between 1776 and 1785 and during this period brought back an extensive collection of Derbyshire minerals, donating it to the newly formed museum in Philadelphia. Jefferson, an author of the American Declaration of Independence and third president of the USA possessed many important mineralogy books in his library and always travelled with a portable blowpipe kit and accompanying set of analytical reagents and greatly enjoyed geological field work. During the 1790’s, Benjamin Waterhouse at Harvard instructed his students they should not concern themselves with the “playthings of Kings and Queens”, precious stones for example, and so academic mineralogy was to focus only on ore deposits suitable for practical industrial advancement. Based on this philosophy, we had better leave the gem species until later. Of economic importance in this week’s selection are the likes of Fluorite with Galena, Malachite, Native Copper, Zincite and Pyromorphite.

From the Franklin mine in Houghton County, Upper Michigan, we have one of the Keweenaw Peninsula’s most iconic of minerals, Calcite with Native Copper inclusions. I adore these specimens; they just do it for me! A scalenohedral crystal, 7 cm tall, with parallel prism faces and a termination divided into three individual peaks, is uniformly coloured a deep flesh-pink by finely disseminated Native Copper inclusions. Emerging from the Calcite at numerous points are hackly granules and small sheets of Native Copper, slightly tarnished to a dull copper-red.

Another source of copper would be the magnificent Malachite after Azurite from the Morenci mine in Greenlee County, Arizona. Classic bladed-tabular crystals of rich dark blue Azurite measuring to 3 cm have been partly to completely pseudomorphed by radial sprays of fine acicular, vivid emerald green Malachite crystals which display a velvety to silky lustre.

From the classic Franklin mining district in Sussex County, New Jersey, take a look at a really choice small cabinet specimen of Zincite and Franklinite in Calcite. The Zincite forms as large rounded dark cherry red-brown crystals surrounded with rounded, slightly modified octahedral crystals of Franklinite. Under LWUV the Calcite fluoresces pale red while under SWUV it is a brighter orange-red with a few tiny patches of fluorescing green Willemite. And from the famous Wheatley mines at Schuylkill in Pennsylvania, a beautiful cabinet specimen of Pyromorphite with well-formed lustrous deep chartreuse to mossy-green crystals covering a ferruginous matrix.

Other wonderful specimens of potential economic importance include Fluorites from both the Denton and Victory mines in Illinois; the gold-silver telluride Sylvanite from the Cripple Creek District in Teller County, Colorado and a beautiful twinned crystal of Rutile from Graves Mountain in Lincoln County, Georgia. There is also a delightful light aquamarine-green Fluorite from the Oatman District of Mohave County, Arizona.

Not wishing to offend those early academics decrying the attraction of gemstones and precious metals, I’ll just whisper a nod to the excellent choice of gem specimens we have to offer. See the single well-formed hexagonal Emerald crystal sitting elegantly on matrix from Hiddenite in Alexander County, North Carolina. There are two fine Tourmalines, one with Quartz and Albite from the Main Pegmatite Dike at the Little Three mine in San Diego County, California and an excellent double terminated, tapering candy pink and light peppermint green crystal from the enigmatically named Cryo-Genie mine in San Diego County, California. Don’t tell Mr Waterhouse we have a complexly terminated gemmy Topaz from Pikes Peak in Teller County, Colorado or a fabulous Native Gold from the Mockingbird mine in Mariposa County, California, otherwise we British will be in his bad-books once more!

Since the birth of the United States of America, this great country has slowly revealed its vast wealth of mineralogical treasures, just a tiny smattering of which we hope you thoroughly enjoy today. Have a great weekend and relax looking through both of this week’s USA updates, perhaps spotting something worthy of a place in the continuing history of your own collection.. PT

Here is what you have to look forward to in next week's update:

Tuesday 13th July & Friday 16th July - British


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Author: JH
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