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Philadelphia Academy of Natural Sciences Mineral Collection
The following is an article I have created about the Philadelphia Academy of Natural Sciences Mineral Collection, its history, its contributors and those pivotal in its creation, its sale, our experiences with the historic specimens, and its future….
The Philadelphia Academy of Natural Sciences Mineral Collection.
The Philadelphia Academy of Natural Sciences, also known as the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia (ANSP) was founded in 1812 and since its very beginning has built a huge mineral collection, through donations, purchases, expeditions and exchanges. The collection began in the years when Earth Sciences, and therefore Minerals, were of great interest to the Scientific world, and the field of American mineralogy was just starting out. Prominent mineralogist Sam Gordon worked at the Academy and held a pivotal role in the growth of the collection, leading many expeditions around the world collecting specimens. The renowned William S. Vaux donated his entire collection of 6,400 quality specimens to the museum upon his death in 1882. By the early 1900s the ANSP Mineral Collection is thought to have consisted of over 30,000 specimens. The quality of the Mineral Collection ranges incredibly from superb aesthetic classic pieces, to literally broken pieces of rocks, all lovingly collected and all as scientifically important as each other with historic and regional value. The collection is the oldest organized rock and mineral collection in the USA, assembled when the study of specimens was important to the industrial development of the Nation.
Tourmaline and Gem specimen display
A Brief History of the Philadelphia Academy of Natural Sciences, and its Mineral Collection.
The Philadelphia Academy of Natural Sciences was founded in 1812 by a small group of local devotees to nature including John Speakman, a Quaker apothecary, to advance scientific knowledge for people, encourage learning, and as a way to ‘occupy their time in the fashionable interest of Nature’. The first meeting of the Academy was held in Speakman’s apothecary shop in Philadelphia. The charter of incorporation for the Academy was granted in 1816 by the Pennsylvanian legislature. William Maclure, a roving Scottish merchant and geologist, already known for his work on the geology of the Eastern USA, was elected president in 1817. In addition to funding, he presented the Academy with 1,500 volumes on natural history, voyages and the fine arts, as well as geological and mineralogical specimens. The Academy was opened to the public in 1828.
The first formally trained mineralogist in America was Adam Seybert, a 1794 graduate of the School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. He studied in Europe, and on his return continued to build his own collection to 1,725 specimens. His collection was purchased by John Speakman in anticipation of the establishment of an Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia, and was one of the very first collections acquired.
In the early 1800s it was fashionable for the upper class to be interested in nature, and form collections to display in one’s home. This was what primarily lead to the ANSP establishment, and important scientific collections of mineralogy, geology, paleontology, botany, and zoology were assembled at the Academy through the gifts of wealthy members, as well as purchases, exchanges and expeditions. Many classic expeditions to explore the ‘Western Wilderness’ were organized from the Academy, returning with new species of plants and animals to be studied and catalogued at the ANSP.
Mimetite var Campylite from Dry Gill Mine, Caldbeck Fells, Cumbria, England
The Academy mineral collection grew rapidly from many contributors and the full list reads like a who’s who of the elite in the USA Scientific Community. The following gives examples of just some of the contributors:
- Adam Seybert (1773-1825), first American Mineralogist, whose collection was the first purchased in readiness for the Academy formation. Member of the American Philosophical Society in 1797.
- Philadelphia Philosophical Society donated its entire mineral and rock collection to the Academy shortly after its establishment in 1812.
- Chemical and Physiological Society of Pittsburgh in 1814.
- Silvain Godon (ca.1769-1840, collection received 1816), a Parisian mineralogist and one of the first American mineral collectors.
- Gerard Troost, a Dutch scientist trained in chemistry, medicine and mineralogy, one of the founders of the Academy, and ANSP President from 1812 to 1817.
- Geologist William Maclure (1763-1840) through several donations, also ANSP President in 1817.
- Specimens purchased in Freiberg, Saxony in 1820.
- Adam Seybert's son Henry in 1825.
- Dr. Thomas B. Wilson (1807-1865) doctor, scientist, prominent naturalist and philanthropist. He donated many specimens and was ANSP President 1863 – 1864.
- Dr. Joseph Leidy mineralogist, and professor at the University of Pennsylvania, he also served as ANSP President.
- A.E. Foote, Founder of the Foote Mineral Company, an early supplier of minerals.
- Dr. George W. Carpenter donated a large collection.
- American Philosophical Society (the oldest scientific society in the former British colonies).
- Franklin Institute donated their entire collection.
- William S. Vaux (1811-1882), an attorney, bequested his collection to the Academy (received in 1882), member of the ANSP since 1834, and served as Vice-President of the ANSP.
- George Vaux Jr (1863- 1927), Harvard Law attorney, nephew of William Vaux, assisted and funded ANSP field expeditions, part of his collection donated to the ANSP, the rest to Bryn Mawr College.
- Ferdinand V. Hayden, Geologist and Surveyor who surveyed Wyoming and what is now Yellowstone National Park, donated the collected rocks and minerals to the Academy.
- Samuel G. Gordon (1897 – 1952), curator of the ANSP mineral collection from 1918 -1948, a prominent mineralogist, author of nine new mineral species, and founder of the ‘American Mineralogist’.
- Dr. Frank J. Keeley, an Academy mineralogist from 1906 to 1942.
- Dr. Thomas Nuttall, a famous early naturalist at the Academy from 1836 to 1841.
Later donators include Dr Hugh Ford, mineralogist, and Dr Richard Gaines, author of an update of Dana’s System of Mineralogy.
Fluorite on Quartz from Bere Alston, Devon, England
By 1817 the Academy collection numbered between 4,000 and 5,000 specimens and by the mid 1800s, the Academy was considered to be the best-equipped institution in the country for the study of mineralogy and the other natural sciences. By 1909 the collection had grown to over 30,000 specimens.
Specimen with their old labels glued on.
One of the most important collections within the ANSP collection was that of William Sansom Vaux (1811-1882), a private collection of outstanding quality. It was willed on his death to the Academy and acquired in 1882. His collection was started in the early 1800s out of the fashionable Natural Science interest, and he was one of the ANSP long standing supporters, serving at one time as Vice President. He was an avid collector, donating many minerals to the Academy during his life time, and his collection of nearly 6400 specimens given to the ANSP on his death. Those donated during his life time of active collecting were amongst those acquired by ourselves in the purchase of the ANSP collection.
An old label thought to be handwritten by W. S. Vaux
An ANSP label for a specimen donated by Vaux during his lifetime
A later style ANSP label for a specimen donated by Vaux during his lifetime.
The Contributions of Samuel G. Gordon
The most pivotal person to the ANSP Mineral Collection was Samuel George Gordon, one of America’s most outstanding mineralogists. He authored many works on descriptive mineralogy and crystallography, founded the ‘American Mineralogist’ in 1916, authored nine new mineral species, and was curator at the ANSP for 30 years. It was his work as the curator, combined with the outstanding donated collections, that built up the ANSP Mineral Collection into a notable world class collection. The following is a summary of his work and life:
Sam Gordon was born in 1897 in Philadelphia. His interest in the natural world began in his teens, and his received a student fellowship at age 16 years in the department of Geology at the Academy. He was appointed Assistant Mineral Curator in 1915. During this time, he spent his spare time collecting, with a focused interest on minerals in Pennsylvania, donating all the specimens to the museum. Over eight years he compiled all data on the occurrences and locations of minerals in Pennsylvania, culminating in his publication ‘The Minerals of Pennsylvania’, one of America’s best examples of ‘State Mineralogy’. In 1921 Gordon began his first in a series of world wide collecting expeditions, bringing to the academy a wealth of mineral specimens, and writing scientific papers and expedition stories. He visited the Andes (Ecuador, Bolivia, Chile, Peru) discovering Vauxite and Paravauxite; Greenland in 1923; Bolivia and Chile in 1925; and South America and parts of Africa, including Tsumeb where he discovered a stunning pocket of Azurite crystals measuring to 6 inches long and 3 inches wide. It is fortunate he was able to take half the specimens he collected from this pocket to add to the Academy’s collection. In the late 1920s he visited Chile and again in the 1930s; and he made numerous expeditions around the USA.
Gordon was helped in the first expedition to the Andes by the nephew of William S. Vaux - George Vaux Jr. Gordon named Vauxite after him. Vaux Jr was an elected member of the ANSP, as well as Treasurer and Solicitor at various times. He accompanied Gordon, helped to finance the trips, and also added to his own personal collection. George Vaux Jr died in 1927. His son, George Vaux II also had a serious interest in minerals, working under Gordon as an assistant at the ANSP for several periods. In the 1950s, George Vaux II had his father’s collection given to the Geological department at Bryn Mawr College, where the displays are still well preserved and used for educational study.
In May of 1926 Gordon went to Heidelberg Germany to study crystallography under Professor Victor Goldschmidt. In the 1930s Gordon achieved one of the best museum displays at the ANSP, including a Mineral Hall, Fluorescent area, and Pennsylvanian Hall; all with eye catching and informative arrangements.
Gordon was also tireless in his efforts to raise interest and support for the ANSP and mineralogical department, leading to lots of volunteer workers, many able to study under him.
Gordon contributed to WWII as a crystallographer through his efforts in the Quartz-crystal Oscillator-plate industry, used by armed forces in radio transmitting and receiving frequency control.
Times were changing, and after Gordon’s return to the Academy after WWII he became frustrated with what he could achieve at the Academy. Mineralogy was no longer the strong focus to the general populous as it was before. The emphasis of the Academy turned increasingly to the study of plants, insects, birds, fossils and ecological dioramas of stuffed animals. Gordon finally left the academy in 1948. He returned to his life outside the Museum; he had been happily married to his wife Bertha since 1931, and they both shared a love of music. Sadly Gordon passed away only four years later in 1952.
After Gordon’s resignation there were no mineral curators for 30 years except for a five year period in the late 1970s. The mineral collection was left without proper care, deteriorating and becoming out of date. Part time volunteer curators did help out, but the same level of work could not be achieved. The famous mineral collection was taken off public display and relegated to more or less permanent storage.
The Mineralogical Record has some excellent information about the ANSP including its history (WILSON, Wendell E. (2007) Mineralogical Record, Biographical Archive, at www.mineralogicalrecord.com) and also about the history of its important curators such as Samuel G. Gordon. This synopsis of Samuel Gordon was created from the series of nine articles in the Mineralogical Record starting Nov-Dec 1973 page 256, through to Mar-April 1975. The Mineralogical Record Biographical Archive also contains information on many other contributors to the ANSP Mineral Collection (http://www.minrec.org/labelarchive.asp). Other information about the ANSP can be found on the ANSP website (www.ansp.org).
The ANSP Mineral Collection Today
In October 2006, the bulk of the Philadelphia Academy of Natural Sciences mineral collection (about 19,000 specimens) was sold to a consortium of three mineral dealers – Kristalle (Laguna Beach, CA, USA), Crystal Classics (Somerset, UK) and The Collector’s Edge (Golden, CO, USA). The specimens that were not included in the sale were the Vaux Suite (those bequested in 1882, bound by his will to remain in the Museum’s collection, but not including specimens he donated to the ANSP through out his life time), and the Seybert collection (one of the Academy’s first collections, containing minerals from the pre-1800 Lewis and Clark Expeditions), both of which will remain with the ANSP; and the handful of scientifically valuable type specimens which were transferred from the ANSP to other museums at no cost. The ANSP assures to give the remaining collections proper care and curation and we hope they will display the collection again for the public to enjoy.
Fluorite on Siderite from Carn Brea Mine, Cornwall, England
The sale of the collection has caused mixed feeling amongst the mineral community. Understandably some were against the sale, wishing the collection to remain complete and together in the institution, with the chance that in years to come it would become available for the public to view. Others were excited by the idea, that there was a chance they could own a small piece of this esteemed collection, and add a significant historic specimen to their own collection.
So why would the ANSP want to sell its collection?
The Philadelphia Academy of Science, like most Scientific Institutions and Museums, does not have a steady income of funds It relies on donations, government funding, and entrance fees to pay for the upkeep of the collections, buildings, staff, and to continue to acquire and keep their collections up-to-date. The ANSP has shifted it focus to Biological and Ecological Sciences, and moved away from Earth Sciences. In the last 60 years there has not been an active mineral department or full time curator (except for a five year period in the late 1970s) and there were no new plans to have one, or to display the collection. As a result of all these factors, the logical step for the Museum was to sell a portion of the mineral collection and use the money as funding towards the rest of the Academy, ‘to maintain the collections which support its core scientific research programs’. Proceeds of the sale will serve as an endowment to support the Academy’s Ewell Sale Stewart Library – one of the world’s finest natural history Libraries. In an ideal world, the entire collection would have gone to another museum or institute. As part of a five year stringent process to sell the Collection, as governed by the law and Association of American Museum guidelines, the Academy attempted to locate a museum that could purchase the collection. They were not able to find one, and it is unfortunate that few museums have both the funds to purchase such a collection, and the space to store and display it.
The major problem with the ANSP mineral collection is that it has not been properly cared for or curated over the last half century. The minerals were locked away unavailable for viewing, research or study, many decaying, and unfortunately also pilfered over the years, the better specimens disappearing, replaced in their boxes by smaller specimens of lesser quality.
What we hoped to do was to take this collection and restore it as best we could, by cleaning, repairing, and relabelling with today’s mineral names and locations. The aim was to pass several suites to museums and institutions to be curated and displayed on view for the public once again; and also to bring parts of the collection to the market, so that mineral collectors would have the chance to own a piece of this significant history. And by preserving the history with each specimen, we can in part preserve the whole collection even though it is no longer together.
Plumbogummite on Mimetite from Roughton Gill Mine, Caldbeck Fells, Cumbria, England
The Tasks we faced
The tasks facing Kristalle, Crystal Classics and The Collector’s Edge following the purchase of the collection were both arduous and immense.
Firstly the collection had to be packed up from its storage at the ANSP. Dona, Wayne and Lois of Kristalle, Ian of Crystal Classics, and several of the personnel from Collector’s Edge all flew to Philadephia. Here is Dona’s experience:
“Some 19,000 pieces had to be packed in a short amount of time. In the beginning it was more organized with the way we packed but as time became short we could not separate or classify specimens as we would have liked. As it was, we spent more than a week in Philadelphia packing. We worked from about 7 am to 7 or 8 pm most days with about 20 minutes for lunch (grim at best since the museum lacks a good restaurant). There was no time while packing at the museum to stop and say "look at this" or "wow" - we had almost an assembly line going....the trays would come out to Wayne and he would look them over and separate anything of real value and then Lois would read off the numbers against the master list and they would be checked off by me. Then the specimens went to Richard and Tom of Collector’s in the next room for packing into flats - then down to the basement where Steve of Collector’s was waiting to put them on pallets and wrap.
The packing process
Uncovering old specimens.
“At one point when we reached the Pyrites and Marcasites we had to don masks so as not to breath in the only thing left of the specimens: a pile of Sulfuric dust. Other minerals had decayed, and dropped through their drawers onto specimens below. There would have been some beautiful quartz specimens if they had been cared for. Instead we have quartz that is chipped and dinged on the terminations. It was sad as proper care over the years could have saved them.
A disintergrated specimen
“By the time the minerals were all packed there was a total of 1,758 flats filled with minerals!
Lois with the 'Welcome Stranger' gold nugget replica
“The collection was next shipped to a warehouse in Golden, CO, near the headquarters of Collector’s Edge. Back at the warehouse in Golden there were probably six to eight of us working everyday to separate into suites; i.e., by localities, regions, etc. The better specimens were pulled and set aside for special cleaning. This took several months of work. David Lloyd (Crystal Classics), and Lois (Kristalle) were there for a month, but Bryan's crew handled most of it since we had no way of putting people there for several months.
“The suites were then laid out so that we could finally see all in one place just exactly what the collection contained. Whilst we had received a list from the ANSP, and checked as we packed, with collections and catalogues of this magnitude, they just don’t always match up. Minerals with different catalogue numbers to their labels, labels and boxes without minerals, minerals with out labels and boxes. Nightmare! There are still about 100 flats of material which have no identity information whatsoever - Anything would be a guess!”
The next task was the labeling - creating our own label to go with each specimen, with the correct location and mineral name by today’s standard. It was a massive job (bravely undertaken by Dona!) made more difficult due to the age of the specimens. Dona explains:
“Countries have changed names, boundaries, etc. making it ‘type part of a label, then hit the references for where in the hell that place is now!’ The other difficult thing was the ‘generalization’ used on most of the labels; i.e., on the ANSP labels everything from Switzerland is either marked just ‘Switzerland’ or ‘St. Gotthard’. The hunt now begins because NOT everything is from St. Gotthard. Some place names I could never find despite hours of research. Another problem was mineral names that are now discredited.
“The upside was just seeing the old labels written in the hands of Gordon, Vaux, Roebling, English, Foote etc. The earliest handwritten label I found was dated 1835!”
Clinoclase and Liroconite from Wheal Unity, St Day, Cornwall, England
The Future of the Collection
Since the sale of the ANSP Mineral Collection nearly one year ago, approximately 8,000 specimens from the collection have been distributed to museums or institutions, mostly to the appropriate regional museum for that suite:
- The Pennsylvanian suites, by far the largest part of the entire collection totaling 426 flats went to the Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh.
- The New Jersey suite has gone to the Franklin Mineral Museum and the Sterling Hill Mining Museum.
- The New York suite went to the New York State Museum.
- The Italian suite went to the Museo di Storia Naturale in Milan.
- The majority of the Gem collection was sold to the Gemological Institute of American (GIA)
- The Norwegian suite went to a Museum in Norway.
Gem display, these specimens are now with the GIA
We have delayed sales to the public in order to first offer the specimens to the public institutions.
The remaining suites have been divided between Kristalle, Crystal Classics and Collector’s Edge based on the knowledge and specialization of the company, and we are continuing to work towards placing other suites into the collections of Museums and public displays.
To Kristalle and Crystal Classics were the Californian suite, the Mexican Suite, the English Suite (totaling approx 102 flats), and the majority of the European suites – German (72 flats), Austrian, Belgium, Swiss, Swedish, Slovakian, Hungarian, Czech suites.
Californian Gold specimen display, part of those acquired by Kristalle and Crystal Classics
We also acquired the Greenland Suite, one of the finest assemblages outside of Denmark, and we are currently looking for an interested buyer. This suite was created through Sam Gordon’s expeditions to Greenland when the Greenland mines were active.
Collector’s Edge acquired specimens from the North American and South American suites, except those of California and Mexico.
All of the three dealers are planning to attend the 2007 Denver Gem and Mineral Show and this will be the first public showing of any of the remaining suites, with additional specimens to be next offered at the 2008 Tucson show. We will be only showing a small selection of specimens at Denver, due to limitations in time to prepare the specimens, as well as booth space.
Look out next week for our next article about our release of the specimens!!
- Academy of Natural Sciences Press Release Oct 20, 2006 (www.ANSP.org/Press)
- Information collated by Wayne Leicht, of Kristalle
- Mineralogical Record Nov-Dec 1973 page 256, through to Mar-April 1975
- WILSON, Wendell E. (2007) Mineralogical Record, Biographical Archive, at www.mineralogicalrecord.com) (http://www.minrec.org/labelarchive.asp)
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