New France Update 04 March 2022

4 March 2022

TODAY, all our specimens are from France, the largest of all countries in the European Union and one very rich in mineralogical diversity.

Drawing on the powerful analytical tools mindat has to offer, it lists 1302 valid minerals with 124 type localities for France, an impressive count for a relatively small county on the world scale. Even if as a mineral collector you are unfamiliar with French material, most know many of its most iconic minerals and localities. Examples include Azurite from Chessy; Pyromorphite from Les Farges; countless wonderful Fluorite localities and, of course, it’s incredible Alpine minerals.

France can be singled out as the country which pioneered the development of the mineralogical sciences, beginning in the 18th century. Paris had become the European centre of learning, attracting scholars from around the world. Up until the 1700s Latin has remained the language of science, but this now shifted to French. Jean-Baptiste Louis Romé de L'Isle (1736-1790) and René Just Haüy (1743-1822) pioneered the science of crystallography and chemists such as Antoine Lavoisier (1743-1794), who had studied geology and at one stage worked for the French Geological Survey mapping the Alsace-Lorraine region. Mineral collecting also got off to an early start in France, largely driven by the passion expressed by successive Kings, beginning with Louis XIV (1638-1715). Such royal patronage was an significant driver, making the collection and display of minerals a respectable (and fashionable) subject for the aristocracy, universities and institutions. Such an interest was not taken-up by British Royalty until that of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert around the mid-19th century.

As might be anticipated, we have a fair selection of wonderful Pyromorphites amongst today’s 21 specimens. In terms of its unequalled diversity of colour, structure, habit and aesthetics, then the Les Farges mine knows no bounds! The superlatives classic and iconic are all too easily bandied about, but surely no one would argue against their relevance for Les Farges.

On one beautiful cabinet specimen, curious crystalline balls of intense apple green Pyromorphite to 1.7 cm diameter are prominently scattered over a Goethite-coated white Baryte matrix. Seven primary spheres dominate the specimen with a few minor balls scattered here and there. Even by Les Farges standards, this is an unusual Pyromorphite! Again from this mine, but moving up to large cabinet size, we have a museum quality Pyromorphite overgrowing Baryte. Excellent, highly lustrous oil green crystals of curved prismatic Pyromorphite to 1.4 cm are richly distributed in aggregated areas over intermeshed bladed crystals of white Baryte covering a milky Quartz matrix. The Pyromorphite displays considerable variations in crystal habit ranging from flat pinacoids, hoppered terminations and pointed, hexagonal pyramidal terminations.

The less well known Sainte-Lucie mine at St Léger-de-Peyre worked a small silver-lead deposit, finally closing in 1936. Two local collectors revisited the mine in the 1990s in a search for mineral specimens and discovered very fine and unusually large Stolzite crystals. This lead tungstate is perhaps most famous from the Broken Hill mines in New South Wales, yet the crystals from Sainte-Lucie should merit equal recognition. This amazing single crystal is free of matrix and measures an astounding 4.8 x 3.0 x 1.1 cm. Opposite prism faces are coated with a thin layer of sucrosic, opaque pinkish tan Stolzite, sandwiching between them a glassy translucent crystal of pale butterscotch-yellow.

Another fascinating locality is that to the north of Saint-Pons village in Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur, a locality just 22 km west of the border with Italy. Siderite lenses host a wide variety of species, one of which is the lead antimony sulphide (or sulphosalt) Zinkenite. On this lovely miniature Zinkenite forms an array of acicular bladed metallic grey crystals richly aggregated over red-brown Goethite replacing Siderite crystals. The lath-like crystals measure up to over 1 cm and richly line a V-shaped open cavity.

Siderites from St. Pierre de Message mine at Isère in the Rhone-Alpes region are some of the most outstanding examples in the world. The Pierre Rousse mine, from where this specimen most likely originates, is an extremely old lead-zinc mine, 15 km due south of Grenoble. An aesthetic array of interlocking, thin bladed crystals are composed from overlapping, reptilian scale-like crystals. The near opaque, pale buff coloured Siderite is associated with a few small terminated white to clear Quartz crystals, a frequent association in this area.

Other magnificent large cabinet specimens include a Sceptre Quartz on Siderite from Mésage mine, Isère; Axinite with Quartz and Epidote from Bourg d’Oisans (the type locality of both Axinite and Epidote) and a large plate (over 16 cm long) covered with Epidote crystals from the same locality.

There are also two Fluorites from Vosges, Grand Est and Bergheim in Alsace and two delightful Marcasites from the famous occurrence in the chalk cliffs, a little south of Calais. Let’s end with a Smoky Quartz from the Mont Blanc Massif, Chamonix, in the Rhône-Alpes. This stunning cabinet specimen is of superb display quality, dominated by a crystal standing an impressive 9 cm tall, with a perfect and completely undamaged termination. The Quartz is of a wonderful mid-smoky clove and I would estimate the majority of crystals are of gem quality with only occasional internal crystalline defects. It is a beautiful, classic and damage-free Smoky Quartz group.

Use the hyperlinks to discover more about each of today’s specimens. By visiting our website, many more photographs accompany each specimen, highlighting different features taken from different angles. We hope you enjoy this French selection and maybe spot a fitting piece for your collection. PT

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

Tuesday 8th March - Austria

Friday 11th MarchGermany

                                         

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Author: JH
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