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November-December 2013

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Media Reviews

The Hoppel Collection of Fine Minerals—Auction 1 by Heritage Auctions, 3500 Maple Ave., Dallas, TX 75219; 2013; 217 pages; $50 (softbound)     

The description of an auction catalogue such as this is a significant departure from our usual media reviews. In this case, however, it is appropriate because the catalogue is lavishly illustrated with hundreds of color photographs of fine and unusual mineral specimens coupled with significant and interesting information about the more important pieces, including the chain of custody data. It represents the latest impressive effort by Jim Walker and Mary Fong/Walker and Craig Kissick, directors of Heritage Auctions. The Walkers, of course, are well known to the collector community as the operators of Ikon Mining and Exploration, a traditional source of good mineral and fossil specimens.

For those not well versed in current mineral or natural history auctions, much can be learned from the first few pages of the catalogue. Gone are the days of auctions where one must be present to participate. There are, in fact, seven ways to place bids in this venue, each described in clear terms. These include bidding by Internet, email, postal mail, fax, live by phone, live online using the Heritage real-time site, and traditional floor bidding. Pre-auction viewing details are also clearly presented as are the payment procedures for the successful bidders. At the close of the descriptive section of the catalogue are several pages of “fine print” that lay out the full terms and conditions of the auction, information about other Heritage departments and specialists, and an interesting page about how to ship your purchases.

Of course, the bulk of the book is devoted to the illustration and description of the specimens to be auctioned. All are from the Hoppel collection, an extensive assortment of generally high-end specimens assembled quietly during the 1990s and early 2000s. The collection contains specimens from thumbnail sized to those that are quite large. The objective was clearly comprehensiveness, quality, and documentation of provenance. There are wonderful specimens of both rare and common species as well as a scattering of historical specimens such as Roebling specimen R101, a Virgin Valley, Nevada, opal. In addition to mineral specimens, there are also ten collector-quality cut stones and several carved egg–type items. The catalogue contains only several hundred specimens of the two-thousand-plus-piece collection, the remainder to be dispersed at other auctions later in 2013 and 2014.

The specimens are presented in vivid color photographs, generally two or three specimens per page. Each piece is well described with respect to size and critical features. In most cases interesting locality data are also discussed. The source or ownership succession of most specimens is given, ending with the Hoppel collection number and an estimated range of the specimen's auction value. Old or unusual labels are also shown with some pieces, and there is even a centerfold, a tantalizingly pink rhodochrosite on one side and a voluptuous galena bar on the other.

The book is well done with excellent Mark Mauthner photographs and vivid realistic color rendition. It is printed on slick heavy stock, is tightly bound, and has been reasonably well edited. There were a few interesting things discovered as I paged through the catalogue, forcing myself to carefully read the text rather than stare at the photographs. For instance, I found that C. Carter Rich, a well-known eastern mineral dealer, has a fabulously wealthy uncle, “C. Rich Carter.” Also of note, Tom Randall (referenced as “J. Randall”), an original benefactor of what grew to become the large Tellus Science Museum north of Atlanta, apparently maintained a mineral collection for an astounding eighty years from a prewomb “1908 to 1988.” We learn too that one of the cornerstones of historical New York mineral dealers, Hugh Ford, had a less well-known, apparently drug-addicted mineral-dealing brother “High Ford.” Ah, such are typos. Finally, the true importance of legrandite is clearly emphasized when we see that the size of its specimens must be reported to the nearest ten thousandth of an inch for an adequate description to be made. These trivial distractions aside, my overall impression of the catalogue is very good, in no small degree because it presents enough information on species and localities to be a source of new information for most collectors, this in addition to presenting a clear and honest treatment of each specimen for use by potential off-site bidders. This educational and documentary value, coupled with the fine Mauthner photographs, make it a worthwhile acquisition. At $50, though, one must wonder just how much money mineralogical bibliophiles will be willing to put into Hoppel collection documentation if they are to acquire the catalogues for this and all of the future auctions. This could get expensive. That said, unsold auction catalogues are often dispersed to dealers who sell them at much reduced prices at antique and special venue shows. In this case, patience may indeed be a virtue for those wishing to obtain the entire set.

by David G. Bailey


Collector's Guide to the Minerals of New York State by Dr. Steven C. Chamberlain and Dr. George W. Robinson. Schiffer Publishing Ltd., 4880 Lower Valley Rd., Atglen, PA 19310; 96 pages; 2013; $19.95 plus shipping (softbound)     

This beautifully illustrated book provides an excellent overview of the most important mineral localities in New York State. Beginning with a summary of the history of mineral collecting and of mineral collectors in New York, followed by a brief description of the state's geology, it then proceeds to describe the state's notable mineral occurrences. Unlike most collector's guides that are organized by either geographic location or by an alphabetical listing of mineral species, this book divides the mineral occurrences in the state into three major groups based upon their geological mode of occurrence: (1) occurrences in sedimentary rocks, (2) occurrences in crystalline rocks, and (3) occurrences in fractures. This is a unique and scientifically more interesting way to present mineral occurrence information.

The sections of this guide are also very well organized, with information for collecting localities given in a systematic and concise manner. For each locality, the scientific and/or historical significance of the site is described first, followed by a description of the geographic location (including the latitude and longitude) and an overview of the history of mining and/or mineral collecting at the site. Authors Steven C. Chamberlain and George W. Robinson then briefly summarize current geologic theories for the origin of the mineralization at each locality, doing an excellent job of condensing complex technical information into easily understood general geologic concepts and principles. Next are brief descriptions of the important mineral species at each locality, complemented by numerous professional-quality color photographs of some of the best mineral specimens collected. Sections end with a listing of similar mineral occurrences in New York State, along with a list of scientific references for each locality.

Although the book is called a “collector's guide,” it is not a “field guide” for mineral collectors, which the authors clearly state in the introduction. As such, no maps or detailed site descriptions are provided. Some localities mention site ownership and/or accessibility, but this is not done consistently throughout the text.

The book is extremely well written and edited, with only a few minor errors, which is remarkable for a first edition printing. For the most part, the writing is clear and understandable to the informed collector, although the authors occasionally slip into “scientist mode,” particularly when describing crystallographic forms (and, unfortunately, there are fewer and fewer people who understand and appreciate this type of information!). Similarly, there are a number of geologic terms used throughout the text that are not defined and that may not be known by the average collector (e.g., skarn and retrograde metamorphism). Overall, however, the authors do an excellent job of providing interesting and accurate information in a clear, well-organized format.

For anyone interested in the minerals of New York, or the early history of mining and mineral collecting in North America, this book is a must-read. Even the more casual mineral collector or connoisseur would find it a worthy addition to their personal library, if only for the approximately 150 high-quality color photographs of exceptional mineral specimens. 

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