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September-October 2012

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Media Reviews

Collecting Arizona: State of Mines, Legacy of Minerals, ed. Terry C. Wallace et al. Lithographie LLC, Denver, CO; 382 pages; 2012; $80 (hardcover).

by Quintin Wight

This weighty tome (and at 4 pounds of thick, claycoated paper, it is weighty) is at once fascinating and frustrating. It is fascinating because the enthusiasm of the authors—Tony L. Patucek, Les Presmyk, Richard Graeme, and others—bubbles through on every page; it is frustrating because it lacks an index, which makes finding a specific mine, collector, specimen, or reference difficult. Nonetheless, it makes for very interesting reading.

Lithographie Publisher Gloria Staebler was responsible for the layout and design and did a fine job. The overall size, 26 cm tall by 21 cm wide, is a trifle off-standard but looks good, and the interior layout of primary narrative on each page, accompanied by many illustrations explained in marginal captions, works well. Of course, it may mean that the reader is misled into drooling over the illustrations (many by photographer Jeff Scovil) rather than reading the text, but that's one of the hazards with mineral collectors, who tend to be visually oriented anyway.

The book has a preface, acknowledgments, an introduction, ten chapters, a short afterword, and seven pages of “literature and cited” works.

The preface, written by Les Presmyk, covers the genesis of the book, which began with casual conversations with Dr. Carl Francis, then of the Harvard Mineralogical Museum, in the early 1990s. It explains the development of the idea, and eventually Staebler's support, and the involvement of so many others to get the job done. One doesn't usually pay much attention to a preface, but in this case it leads to a much better understanding of the structure of the text and its juxtaposition of history, geology, and mineralogy. It is history, but it is history written from the point of view of a mineral collector, and it works to a different standard.

Similarly, acknowledgments are often ignored, but in this case, with two full pages listing a Who's Who of major figures in American mineral collecting, it is worth noting the depth of expertise that has been called upon to generate this book.

The introduction, “A Collector's Paradise,” offers an overall view of the book and introduces Arizona as a mineral producer. It notes, among other things, that Arizona has produced “more than 90 billion pounds of copper, 500 million ounces of silver, and 16 million ounces of gold.”

Chapter 1, “A Tour of Arizona's Geology,” introduces the concepts of the physiographic provinces: the Basin and Range (in the south and west), the Colorado Plateau (in the northeast), and the Transition Zone (between the two). Arizona's geology spans the ages from the Precambrian to the recent with significant gaps between. Something found in one province may not occur in another.

Chapter 2, “Prospects of the Pimeria Alta,” goes back 13,000 years to note the first evidence of human use of Arizona minerals—particularly turquoise—and brings us forward through the Spanish explorers.

Chapter 3, “The New Arizona Territory,” looks into the first discoveries by members of the army and the gold and silver seekers who came with them. This chapter emphasizes the gold of the Precambrian. Discoveries were often made near forts—for good reason!

Chapter 4, “The Silver Bonanza,” and Chapter 5, “The Rise of Copper,” are self-explanatory. They describe the major discoveries of each metal and, particularly for the copper, the genesis of the great mines at Morenci and Bisbee. It is interesting to note that before Edison, Tesla, and the rise of electricity for power, copper had been of little worth. The 1880s saw the great need for wire, and the rise of copper was spectacular.

Chapter 6, “Coming of Age,” ends the nineteenth century and enters the twentieth, with relatively mature mines, and it begins to bring more politics and labor troubles to the area. In spite of it all, good specimens were still being found, and work continued. Arizona's first mineral museum, the University of Arizona Mineral Museum, was established.

Chapter 7, “Depression, War, Recovery,” marks the setback brought by the Great Depression. Copper dropped to five cents a pound. Commercial production was down, but contract mineral collectors such as Ed Over flourished. World War II brought production back with a rush.

Chapter 8, “The Post-War Boom,” at 105 pages, and Chapter 9, “The Postmodern Era,” at 95 pages, are by far the longest in the book. They are also the most ebullient in terms of anecdotal history. Within these pages are stories by collectors, many of whom are still with us. Their tales have more of an adventurous slant than mere recorded history.

Chapter 10, “The Centennial State,” is an acknowledgment that this is the one hundredth anniversary of the creation of the state of Arizona, and thus one of the primary reasons for the creation of the book.

The afterword is a single page of philosophical thought on the state, the book, and an aging population of collectors.

As mentioned, the book is interesting, fascinating, and frustrating. I like it, though it has to be taken in small portions at a time—otherwise, it clogs the mind with minutiae. The photographs and their reproduction are fabulous, and the information and stories are really valuable. The frustration stems from more than the index, though that is symptomatic of the problem. Simply, the book gives the impression that it was thrown together in a hurry to meet a deadline—as, indeed, it probably was. That deadline was the 2012 Tucson Gem and Mineral Show, the Arizona centennial. The text is shot through with syntactical problems—not necessarily misspellings (spell checkers fix that), but proper words with the wrong endings, or words that are simply missing, and dates that are wrong. Spell checkers don't fix those. The book should have had a very thorough proofreading before publication. It is unfinished. Still, it's worth the price.

Collector's Guide to the Beryl Group; Collector's Guide to the Tourmaline Group; and Collector's Guide to the Garnet Group by Robert J. Lauf. Schiffer Publishing Ltd., 4880 Lower Valley Rd., Atglen, PA 19310; 93 pages; 2011–2012; $19.99 each plus $5.00 shipping and handling (softbound).

by Robert B. Cook

These color-illustrated Schiffer Publishing references on the beryl, tourmaline, and garnet groups are the latest offerings by Robert J. Lauf. They nicely complement and expand on his prior coverage of other rock-forming silicates that include the mica, axinite, epidote, vesuvianite, and pyroxene groups as well as the titania minerals (rutile, anatase, and brookite), granite pegmatites, silicate structures, and radioactive minerals. Each follows the same format and is similarly illustrated with photographs of specimens from Lauf's collection and, consequently, will be reviewed together.

Each book begins with a preface and acknowledgment section. Many mineral dealers are acknowledged and are likely the source of most of the illustrated specimens. Next is a short introduction that contains useful group-specific information. For instance, there is an interesting table that describes the obsolete and varietal names that have been applied to the garnet group and, with respect to beryl, a nice discussion of gemology. The next chapter in each book is devoted to taxonomy, a discussion of group and species composition, and crystal structure. Helpful tables showing the accepted species and their formulas as well as informative structural diagrams are included. Useful discussions of crystal morphology and chemistry and related color variations are presented here. The following chapter describes the group's modes of occurrence or formation and their geochemistry. Subsections treat occurrences in igneous, metamorphic, and sedimentary environments, as appropriate.

The second half of each book contains a species-by-species discussion of the group's members. Each contains brief information on best-known occurrences, particularly of specimen or gem materials, and is complemented by a wide range of photographs. The final chapter in each book is a list of references.

When one thumbs through these books, several things become apparent. They are fundamentally photographic essays on each group. There are 49, 37, and 29 pages that contain only photographs or diagrams and their captions in the beryl, garnet, and tourmaline books, respectively; each has a total of 105, 127, and 124 figures. In addition, as mentioned, essentially all specimens are from Lauf's very large collection rather than illustrating what is contained in a broader spectrum of public or other collections for which specimen photographs are likely available. Some photographs seem overly large, filling up far more space than necessary to illustrate a particular feature. This space could have been used for expanded locality information, for example. Having examined each of the previous books in this series, it is clear that the quality of photography has steadily improved, and the text, although still brief, is well edited and better suited to the publication's objectives. The presentation is good, with sharp, crisp photographic reproduction on heavy, slick stock. The price of each book is certainly modest and offers a fair value for dollars spent. These volumes, when added to those already out, significantly expand on a nice reference set for admittedly complex mineral groups. They are recommended for anyone maintaining a reference library that makes available quick, easy-to-understand details about rock-forming minerals and their collectible specimens.

Agates III by Johann Zenz. Bode Verlag, Lauenstein, Germany; 2011; 656 pages; €89 plus postage (hardbound).

by Robert B. Cook 

This hefty (3.5-kilogram) book is the sequel to Johann Zenz's previous volumes on agate and, like the others, is profusely illustrated, this time with more than two thousand color photographs. It was written in collaboration with Rainer Bode, Stefan Hamann, and Steffen Jahn with text contributions by Nick Crawford, Lord John Cromartie, Hans Gamma, Jens Gotze, Frieder Jentsch, Falf Schmidt, and Dieter Schwartz. As might be expected, the photo credits are extensive and highlighted by Rainer Bode, Hans Gamma, Jens Gotze, Klaus Schafer, and Zenz.

The book begins with a brief introduction that reminds us of the objective of this massive tome, followed by a self-contained or stand-alone essay on agate formation by Jens Gotze. This more than 100-page work contains 13 sections or chapters that cover all the fundamentals of definition, mineralogy, microstructure, geological occurrences, conditions of formation, paragenetic associations, inclusions, and agate types including volcanic, vein, and those of specific sedimentary forms, such as cavity fillings, wood replacement, and other pseudomorphic types. The section is illustrated with not only wonderful agate photographs, but also photomicrographs, composition diagrams, and many tables. There is a concluding, quite comprehensive list of references.

Pages 134–507 contain the meat of the book, an update on worldwide agate locations. It begins with Germany, which is covered separately from the other European countries. An interesting section on “agateing” in Scotland by John Cromartie is found here, as is a short section on Turkey. Asia, including Iran and Russia, is covered briefly in 14 pages with only scant new data presented relative to the many good Russian agate localities. Timor-Leste and China are briefly mentioned, as well. Australia, North and Central America, South America, and Africa follow in turn. Only Nevada and New Mexico localities are featured in the U.S. chapter, and several sites in Chihuahua, Mexico, are illustrated. A particularly interesting and colorful section is devoted to Moroccan agates.

The next chapter, totaling 177 pages, updates and expands data on jasper localities, again treating each continent sequentially in turn. The landscape jaspers of the Owyhee area of Oregon are particularly well covered. The jasper section concludes with a nice description of the jasper and agate collection of Anton Ulrich, Duke of Sachsen-Coburg-Meiningen.

The final chapter contains about 125 pages devoted to “Important People in the World of Agates.” This interesting and unusual section expands on that begun in Agates II and highlights the collections of approximately sixty agate enthusiasts worldwide. Two pages are devoted to each collector, most with a personal photograph and a selection of photographs of their best specimens. The arrangement is alphabetical, making it easy to find a particular individual but somewhat difficult to get a feel for the geographic distribution of this set of enthusiasts. The book concludes with an index, photo credits, and acknowledgments. There is no comprehensive set of references, as topic-specific references are given at the end of each chapter or section.

There is much to recommend this book. It is wonderfully illustrated and makes an important companion to the first two volumes in this set. The printing and paper are of high quality, and the translation into English is good with few literalisms. Although there are debatable issues in the section on agate formation, as pointed out in the Mineral Observer review by Boris Kantor (Mineralogical Almanac, pages 86–87, volume 17, number 1), it is clearly a valuable and worthwhile contribution. When examining the three volumes together, one wonders, however, how much is left of real importance about agate. If you have Agates and Agates II, you must, of course, have Agates III. It is highly recommended.

The Frugal Collector, Volume 1, by Bob Jones. JMiller Media/Miller Magazines Inc., 3585 Maple St., Ste. 232, Ventura CA 93003. 256 pages; 2011; $48.95 (domestic shipping included; hardbound).

by Robert B. Cook

The Frugal Collector is the first volume in what will ultimately be a several-volume set of mineralogical, historical, philosophical, and collecting facts, advice, and related ramblings by one most suited to this purpose, the venerable Bob Jones, author of hundreds of articles on just these topics and a longtime senior consulting editor of Rock & Gem magazine. In fact, The Frugal Collector is a collection and expansion of some of Jones's most interesting articles, the underlying theme being the truth understood by most of us—really fine mineral specimens are very expensive and likely beyond the means of most mortals, but good ones can be had at reasonable prices by the careful, frugal buyer. Success of the frugal collector must be based on knowledge of minerals and the mineral marketplace, and Jones admirably sets out to make sure we are educationally armed once we have read The Frugal Collector.

The book begins with a “note to the reader” followed by a formal introduction. The major chapters, of which there are 16, are arranged alphabetically beginning with The Arsenates and Azurite. Chapter 3 is Barite, which logically precedes Beryl and Calcite. Subsequent chapters are devoted to Carbonates, Copper, The Feldspar Group, Fluorite, The Garnet Group, Gold and Silver, and so on. Interestingly, although Azurite, Calcite, and Malachite each has its own chapter, they are, of course, carbonates and could have been included in that chapter. Mimetite is given its own chapter, but other equally deserving candidates, such as pyromorphite, are lumped together in Chapter 16, Phosphate Minerals. Self-respecting black minerals are treated collectively under Oxide Minerals, Chapter. 15. The book closes with a good index.

There is a certain charm to this book. It rambles, it circles, it deviates, it hones in, and is, in its own way, a delight to read through. It is certainly not a reference book. It is, however, an informative book that conveys good mineralogical information, insightful commentary, some trivia, and much sound advice. It does from time to time wander into peripheral matters, but they are always of some relevance to the topic under discussion. It is well illustrated with photographs, many of which are by Jones, of good to very fine specimens. Specimen sizes are not given, and one must assume they are all museum-sized or larger. A thumbnail-sized shot of the introductory specimen for each chapter marks the upper left-hand corner of the left page in each chapter, making orientation within the book an easy matter. Unlike many modern books, there is much text in The Frugal Collector with a modest font size and reasonable line spacing, presenting a good mix of text and illustration. One is not overpowered by a huge number of photographs and relatively little text, as seems to be the trend these days.

There is little to criticize about this book, particularly if one understands its objective. Every good book must teach us something. In my case, I learned that the Ojuela mine at Mapimi, Mexico, has produced exceptional mimetite pseudomorphs after pyramidal wulfenite, as pictured on page 197. This is a fun read and is recommended for those collectors who enjoy hearing about their hobby from one who has “been there and done that.”

Gems & Minerals: Earth Treasures from the Royal Ontario Museum by Kimberly Tait. Firefly Books, Richmond Hill, Ontario, Canada. 255 pages; 2011; $40 (hardbound).

by Quintin Wight

At 26 × 26 cm, this book is clearly not designed to fit on the shelf, yet it does not have coffee-table dimensions either. “Somewhere between the two” is probably the best way to describe it, and in fact that designation also fits in another way—this is not exactly a textbook nor a pretty picture book; it is “somewhere between the two.”

Gems & Minerals has an introduction, 14 chapters, a glossary, a list of additional reading, and an index. In the introduction, Kimberly Tait describes and defines various rock structures and how they are formed, then turns to minerals, providing a catalogue of their physical and optical properties and a short course on crystallography. Her writing is tight and precise and, with illustrative drawings, is easy to follow—for someone who already has a basic idea of the subject. For an absolute beginner, it might be a bit difficult to absorb the concept of space groups from the roughly four hundred words devoted to the subject. That's not really a criticism, however. It is clear from the subtitle of the work that the primary aim is to showcase the fabulous collection of minerals and mineral-related artifacts of the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM), and Dr. Tait does that very well.

I do have a minor quibble with one definition in the introduction. In speaking of crystals requiring space for growth, Tait writes: “Crystal linings that survive being freed from the rock by weathering—or by humans—are called geodes.” That sounds as though a crystal lining freed from a cavity of any sort is a geode. The U.S. Bureau of Mines' A Dictionary of Mining, Mineral, and Related Terms defines geode as “A hollow nodule or concretion …,” and goes on to distinguish geodes from “… vugs, which may also be crystal lined.” The distinction is a small point, but small points add up to big ones, and understanding thrives on mutually agreed upon definitions.

Again tending toward the textbook option, the 14 chapters follow the usual pattern, beginning with Chapter 1, “Native Elements,”and proceeding through “Sulfides and Sulfosalts,” and on to “Nesosilicates” in Chapter 14. All chapters are structured in the same fashion, usually with two minerals per page, and giving the formula, crystal system, space group, hardness, specific gravity, cleavage, fracture, tenacity, habit, environment, notable localities, and name (derivation). Each mineral in turn is illustrated by a photograph of a specimen in the collection of the ROM.

That's where the coffee-table aspect of the book returns. These are museum-quality specimens, and the photographs by Brian Boyle and Miguel Hortiguela reflect that. In addition to the individual description photographs, Tait includes a special shot of particularly spectacular specimens, sometimes as faceted gemstones, every few pages. The pages of gold artifacts added to the “Native Elements” chapter, tanzanite with the “Sorosilicates,” and the faceted fluorapatite and beryllonite with the “Phosphate” chapter are striking, although it might have been better if the fluorapatite had not been shown as “fluorapatite-(CaF).” The arguments over nomenclature are mind-boggling, but one might have expected either “apatite-(CaF)” or plain “fluorapatite.” Splitter-taxonomists may drool over suffixes, but the presumed target audience for this book is likely to find them confusing, particularly when they are not explained in the text. A similar difficulty is in the reference to “korite” in the section on aragonite. Korite is an old trade name for iridescent fossil ammonite shell from Alberta; the correct gemological term for such material is ammolite.

To return to the “somewhere between” theme, one might argue that the list of minerals is not as comprehensive as a textbook might require, but the idea is to illustrate the specimens in the collection of the ROM, not to present a general compendium, and the book fulfills that aim nicely. Besides, the 260 minerals that are described do cover a wide swath of representative species anyway, uncommon as some may be (e.g., nitratine, suolunite). The point is that the ROM has good specimens of each species and wishes to show them off.

In summation, although the book may be “somewhere between,” it offers the best of both. The information, complete and not overwhelmingly technical, is laid out in easily accessible fashion on the pages, and the photographs are fine depictions of specimens that one can see for oneself on a visit to the ROM. A plus is that the dust jacket and the book's cover are identical—a torn jacket can be removed with no change in appearance. Printed on quality glossy paper, the book is a worthy addition to the shelf or the coffee table, and at $40 is within reach of everyone.

Collector's Guide to Silicate Structures by Robert J. Lauf. Schiffer Publishing, Atglen, PA. 96 pages; 2010; $19.95 (softbound).

by Carl A. Francis 

This book is a welcome addition to Schiffer's Collector's Guide series. Robert Lauf, a material scientist and active mineral collector, has undertaken an ambitious retirement project—providing collectors with modern reviews of the rock-forming minerals. He has already contributed volumes in this series devoted to the axinite, epidote, mica, tourmaline, and vesuvianite groups and to the TiO2 polymorphs as well. This new guide is a gentle introduction to the subject of silicate systematics. It provides valuable context to his previous (and future) guides, which explore familiar mineral groups in depth.

Few collectors have the luxury of taking a formal mineralogy course. Consequently, although perhaps experts in hand-specimen mineralogy, they may not fully appreciate the broader and more theoretical aspects of our science. One marvelous insight is that silicate minerals, which are especially important because they make up the bulk of our rocks and soil, can be understood and classified based on the linkage of the silicate oxyanion, (SiO4)−4, a tetrahedral-shaped atomic cluster with a silicon at its center surrounded by four oxygen atoms. The silicate tetrahedra may be isolated, as in garnets, or they may be linked together (polymerized) to form clusters, chains, rings, sheets, or frameworks. This ability to polymerize accounts for the large number and diversity of silicates, which comprise more than seven hundred species or about 20 percent of known minerals! Similarly, carbon can bond to itself to form clusters, long chains, and rings that are the skeletons of organic molecules. So, we can say that the organic world is based on the polymerization of carbon atoms, and the inorganic world is based on the polymerization of silicate anions, which is a satisfying parallelism.

The book's introductory material is brief. It begins with crystal symmetry, continues with atomic structures, and ends with silicate classification. Most of the book is devoted to describing the several silicate classes using familiar mineral examples. It is illustrated with morphological drawings, structure diagrams, and photographs, all of which Lauf has prepared himself. The photographs are of contemporary specimens in his personal collection.

Because they are intended for collectors, these guides are well illustrated and easily read. Unlike other volumes in the series that are devoted to specific mineral groups, this one is deliberately broader in scope and gives the reader a valuable perspective from which to understand and enjoy silicate minerals.

Agates from Plóczki Górne, Lower Silesia, Poland by Thomasz Praszkier, Jacek Bogdanski, Rafal Siuda, and Michal Sachanbinski. Spirifer Geological Society, 2011; 200 pages; $56 (hardbound).

by Robert B. Cook 

The Plóczki agate fields are well known to European agate collectors for the spectacular specimens found there. Every year hundreds of geotourists visit Lwówek Ślaski to collect these attractive agates. Little, however, has been published concerning the details of their occurrence, nor have the specimens themselves been photographically documented to any significant extent—that is until now. The recently published Agates from Plóczki Górne, Lower Silesia, Poland is a welcome addition to the growing number of beautifully illustrated books devoted to agate.

The book is divided into two parts. The first consists of basic information about agate, the geologic development of the Sudetes (the northeasternmost mountain range in the Variscan orogenic belt in which the agate fields are located), why the agates are found there, factors that control the specific characteristics of these particular agates, and how they are collected and processed. Of particular note is that the agate fields individually are confined to very small areas, generally of less than one square mile, and are contained within a particular volcanic horizon in a manner similar to agate fields in many other parts of the world. Individual short chapters include interesting treatments of the “Structures and Colors of Agates from Plóczki Górne,” the “Mineralogy of Agates from Plóczki Górne,” and “Agates Through the Eyes of Collectors.” Each is very well illustrated with color photographs and drawings. The final few sections describe the interesting land situation there and the partial restriction of collecting, a situation that will hopefully be resolved in favor of public access. The first part of the book closes with an “Additional Bibliography.”

The second part of the book, which begins on page 51, is a magnificent photographic essay featuring picture after picture of exceptional Plóczki Górne agates. There are one or two color photographs per page, each seemingly more interesting and beautiful than the ones before. Captions give only specimen size, owner (almost all are from private collections), and photographer. Nothing else is needed as the photographs clearly speak for themselves. After perusing page after page of these colorful agates, one is struck by the fact that there are no real unique characteristics here. Instead, there are many examples of special features often attributed to this locality or that locality, reflecting growth features and color patterns that are unusually diverse for such a small and geologically constrained group of occurrences.

The book has certainly met the objective of carefully documenting an important though lesser-known agate field. The photographs are excellent, the English translation quite good, and the overall presentation in terms of paper quality, editing, and photographic reproduction of excellent quality. The large format style (the work is 9.5 × 13.0 inches), relatively large-print, and very attractive cover make this an ideal coffee-table book. It is highly recommended for those collectors specializing in agates or simply those who appreciate wonderfully colorful specimens of all types.

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