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November-December 2009

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The Graphites of New York

Scientific and Aesthetic Surprises




In an effort to improve his health, Benjamin Silliman (1779–1864) traveled in the latter part of May and early June 1821 with Samuel F. B. Morse to areas along the upper Hudson River and Lakes Champlain and George. In his notes made during this trip Silliman (1822), who was a professor of chemistry, mineralogy, and other subjects at Yale College and also founder and editor of the American Journal of Science, made the following observation regarding graphite, which he referred to by its then common but now obsolete synonym, plumbago: “This mineral, of singular beauty, occurs near Ticonderoga, both massive and disseminated, in brilliant plates, in a large grained crystallized limestone.” With an air of regret, Silliman noted that he was unable to visit graphite occurrences at Ticonderoga and at Roger’s Rock “from want of time and want of health.” What “singular beauty” does graphite from the state of New York bear that would merit such a description by a mineralogist of such stature as Benjamin Silliman? Although we are unlikely to ever know what specimens Silliman was able to see to inspire such a description, we hope that this article will reveal some of the remarkable beauty of New York graphite.

Dr. John A. Jasczak is adjunct curator of the A. E. Seaman Mineral Museum and a professor of physics at Michigan Technological University.

Dr. Steven C. Chamberlain, a passionate collector specializing in the minerals of New York State, is coordinator of the Center for Mineralogy at the New York State Museum.

Dr. George W. Robinson is curator of the A. E. Seaman Mineral Museum and a professor of mineralogy at Michigan Technological University.

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