New British Update 16 July 2021

16 July 2021

WE continue our British theme and amongst today’s 21 great specimens are several stand-out beauties the likes of which are now seldom seen. More on these later.

We spoke on Tuesday of the mineralogical diversity of the British Isles, a fact reflected in many of today’s private collections throughout Britain and abroad. Seven British counties are represented today, six in England and one in Wales. As in almost all other countries, mineral collecting was at first the domain of the aristocracy, landed gentry and often the clergy, all educated people with two essentials, time and wealth. The one missing element in Britain was the patronage of Royalty, an acknowledged influential driving force, whereas throughout Europe this was the case and hence their head start on Britain.

All changed when Queen Victoria accessioned the throne in 1837 and two years later, marrying Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. Albert was a keen mineral collector and gradually assembled a suite of specimens following visits to prominent London mineral dealers, frequent visits to the Scottish Highlands and numerous official visits to mines throughout the country. Two well documented visits were those to Botallack mine near St Just and Restormel Iron mine close to Lostwithiel, both in Cornwall. During Victoria and Albert’s visit to Restormel in September 1846, Albert enthusiastically used a pick to remove ore samples for his collection, accompanied by the cheers of surrounding miners. Following their enthusiastically received visit, the Queen commanded 50 gold sovereigns to be distributed amongst the miners and the name changed to that of Restormel Royal Iron mine, to which we still refer.

So what of today’s update? As good Welsh specimens are increasingly hard to obtain, let's begin with two excellent specimens, both from the county of Gwynedd. The Benallt mine on the Lleyn Peninsula is an amazing locality and type locality to four species, but one not well known to collectors unfamiliar with the British Isles. Paracelsian is a rare barium aluminium silicate and can form magnificent specimens at Benallt, this cabinet piece being a splendid example. It was collected by Sir Arthur Russell in 1911 and is accompanied with his handwritten label. Composed almost entirely of Paracelsian, crystals of up to 1.5 cm long richly cover a matrix of massive Paracelsian intermixed with black manganese oxides.

Still in Gwynedd, but now at Gwynfynydd mine in the Dolgellau Gold Belt, a small cabinet specimen of milky-white Quartz veinstone and black to golden-orange massive Sphalerite with an impressively rich distribution of Native Gold. This occurs as buttery yellow golden metallic grains and small hackly flakes across all faces of the specimen, both back and front and is particularly associated with the Sphalerite. This is one impressive specimen.

Cornwall has today’s top count with seven featured specimens, closely followed by Cumbria with six. I must begin with Cornwall and one very special specimen, the likes of which may not be seen again. Such words read like overzealous hype, but in this case, I believe this a fact. Ludlamite is a relatively rare mineral at its type locality Wheal Jane and even small specimens are highly coveted. Measuring up to almost 11 cm overall, an approximately 9 x 5 cm vug forms the heart of this cabinet specimen. This and adjacent areas are densely coated with acicular crystals of needle Quartz, much of which is overgrown with beautiful double terminated feathered bunches of golden amber-brown Siderite crystals and an almost continuous overgrowth of magnificent translucent lime green Ludlamite crystals, many of up to 1 cm tall. There are too many Ludlamite crystals to estimate, so just look at the accompanying photos. It is magnificent, worthy of any top museum, and its original label specifies it was collected from the C2 Stope in the 11 - 15 Levels Decline Area in Wheal Jane, a mine close to the city of Truro.

A most unusual Cornish specimen is that of Chalcopyrite occurring as the variety Blister Copper and forming rod-like pseudomorphs after Chalcocite. It is a quite amazing small cabinet specimen formed from a porous mass of golden brassy Chalcopyrite from Cook's Kitchen mine at Pool, north of Carn Brea, west of Redruth. Other fine Cornish specimens include a lovely Tennantite from Wheal Jewel at Crofthandy; a thumbnail Liroconite from Wheal Gorland; a rare Andrewsite from Wheal Phoenix and a beautiful Pharmacosiderite with Scorodite, again from Gorland.

Staying close to Cornwall, we have just one item from Devon, a Wavellite, but this is without doubt a case of quality, not quantity! Collected from High Down quarry at Filleigh in north Devon in 1979, this is a classic and particularly well-formed small cabinet specimen of hemispheres and near- spherical balls of Wavellite to 1.4 cm diameter. The Wavellite clusters have a satin-like lustre with a mustard to acidic yellow crystalline surfaces. Incomplete Wavellite spheres reveal their white to colourless internal radial structure.

From Cumbria, do look at a fabulous Hematite-included Calcite from Stank mine by Barrow-in-Furness; a golden amber to acidic lemon yellow Fluorite cluster from Hilton mine and a truly delightful and perfect miniature blue Baryte on pearly, snow white Dolomite from the mines around Frizington.

Before closing, I have just to mention a rare and magnificent scalenohedral Calcite from Millclose mine in Derbyshire and from this same county, an old time and beautifully crystallised Phosgenite from Bage mine at Cromford.

Following the death of Queen Victoria in 1901, mineral collecting in Britain for many decades took a low profile, save for more famous collectors such as Sir Arthur Russell (1878 to 1964). However, following post-WW2 years of austerity, the late 1950s and early 1960s saw a renewed interest in mineralogy and mineral collecting as a more popular pastime amongst the general public with an interest in natural history and Earth science. This same community, now a generation or two on, maintains a vibrant interest to this day, with the added advantage of the international links through modern communications! We hope our British and international followers love and appreciate today’s choices and are able to find at least one great addition for their collection. PT

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

Tuesday 20th July & Friday 23rd July - Olympics


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Author: JH
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