Skip Navigation

March-April 2015

ResizeResize Text: Original Large XLarge

Media Reviews

This fine book fills a longstanding need for a modern and clear explanation of the geology of New Hampshire's famous White Mountain region. It was written by the experts for the general reader. Its authors are professional scientists from academia, government, and industry, all of whom study and publish on the White Mountains in scientific journals. Reading it, one senses the authors' love for the White Mountains and understanding of their history. Ten chapters by separate writing teams introduce geologic concepts and processes, review the history of geological studies in the White Mountains, explain plate tectonics as it relates to the White Mountains (actually the whole northern Appalachian region), and describe glaciation of the region and the resulting geomorphology—the landforms that we see when we drive through, hike, or ski here. Surprisingly, the last chapter is devoted to Paleoindians, who arrived in the region about 12,500 years ago. Their departure from the area was climate-related, which is interesting to consider in light of our recognition that our climate too is changing.

By showing their students doing field work and explaining how important measurements are made in the laboratory, the authors easily convey a sense of how research is done and new understandings are developed. This slim volume is beautifully illustrated with abundant figures, maps, and photographs and is printed in landscape format to best accommodate them. It concludes with a glossary and reference list. I enjoyed it, really learned from it, and recommend it highly.

Mica (muscovite) was one of the U.S.'s early mineral products. In this self-published volume, Fred E. Davis shares the impressive results of his “5-year obsession” (p. 280) with discovering the evidence documenting the beginnings of mica mining in New Hampshire in the late eighteenth century, well before the establishment of copper mining in the 1840s in the Lake Superior region, which is regarded as America's first mining district.

Genealogy is a surprising approach to mining history, but mica mining was a family affair both in New Hampshire and later in North Carolina, which came to dominate U.S. mica mining. Davis begins with a genealogy of the Ruggles family that focuses on Sam Ruggles, who purchased property on Isinglass Mountain in Grafton, New Hampshire, in 1805, and follows his descendants who continued to mine and market mica for almost a century. Chapter 2 is a history of the famous Ruggles mine and the Ruggles' mica business. After describing early mining in North Carolina, Davis similarly documents the Bowers family who began in the mica business in New Hampshire but moved to North Carolina.

This book is more about documenting evidence for the true history of the mica industry than narration. Davis invites readers to check his facts and discover more. Hence the text is full of citations, and the reference list is extensive. His appendices usefully ask and answer “What is Isinglass?” and “How is Mica Used?” The text is illustrated and well indexed.

Davis reports (p. 98) that “in London, England, 1851 George Ruggles exhibited a 91-kg (200-pound) [New Hampshire] mica book at the Great Exposition,” and (p. 232) “in 1897 Mary L. Bowers presented a very large [47-kg (104-pound)] crystal to the North Carolina State Museum.” Regrettably, no such relics of early American mica mining are preserved today to grab our attention and stimulate our imaginations. Mining histories such as this one give context to our specimens and, perhaps, impetus to visit the sites where they originated.

These two informative books are the second and third in a series by gemstone author Renée Newman (a review of volume 1 of this series can be found on page 468 of the September/October 2011 issue of Rocks & Minerals). Both deal with the identification, evaluation, selection, purchase, and care of unusual gemstones. Their strength lies in their practical orientation, excellent pertinent illustrations, general accuracy, and attention to detail.

Volume 2 begins with a brief introduction and moves into the first exotic gemstone—single-color chrysoberyl. It, like those that follow, is treated in a series of subsections, in most instances including discussions of geographic sources, identifying characteristics, evaluation and price ranges, special care needs, and, where appropriate, metaphysical attributes. Chapter 3 covers cat's-eye chrysoberyl, and Chapter 4 covers alexandrite. Chapter 5 deals with agatized dinosaur bone (gembone) and coprolite, including sections on imitations and assembled stones. Chapters 6–8 present a nice treatment of the aluminosilicate family—andalusite, kyanite, and sillimanite. Chapters 9 and 10 cover common and fire opal, respectively, and contain good sections that explain the sometimes confusing use of the term fire opal, the care of opals, opal treatments and assembled stones, and the sometimes tricky identification of synthetic and imitation opal. The remaining six chapters deal with the garnet family of gems, beginning with an informative introduction that includes garnet chemistry, naming, and cutting. Subsequent chapters deal with demantoid and other andradites; red garnets including pyrope, almandine, rhodolite, and “grape” garnet; pyralspite; spessartine; Malaya and color-change garnets; and tsavorite and other grossulars including “mint garnet,” hessonite, pink hydrogrossular, and Mali garnet. The book closes with an appendix, devoted appropriately to where one can find an appraiser, a bibliography, and an index.

Volume 3 continues the interesting treatment of exotic gemstones, dealing for the most part with the broad tourmaline family. Newman begins with an introductory section that discusses exactly what are considered exotic gems in the context of her books, followed by a second chapter devoted to factors that impact tourmaline pricing. Each is treated separately and includes color, clarity, transparency, shape, cutting style and quality, brilliance, weight, chemistry, and even geographic source. Chapter 3 discusses the “Tourmaline Group” and covers such topics as identification, species characteristics, and cutting (including a section written by noted faceter John Bradshaw). Chapter 4 is a ten-page treatment of Paraíba and related copper tourmalines. This is followed by a fine discussion of blue to green tourmalines that includes sections on indicolite, chrome tourmaline, gray tourmalines, and true green tourmalines. Pink and red tourmaline is covered in Chapter 6, and yellow, orange, and brown stones in Chapter 7. Multicolored tourmalines including liddicoatite and intensely pleochroic stones are discussed in the next chapter. The treatment of tourmaline closes with Chapter 9, a discussion of cat's-eye and color-change tourmaline. Chapters 10 and 11 deal with blue chalcedony and fire agate, respectively. The final chapter is a thorough treatment of matrix opal that begins with a discussion of boulder opal. Matrix opal from specific localities including Andamooka, Australia, Mexico, and Honduras is described next. The chapter ends with an important section on caring for matrix opal. The book closes with a bibliography and an index.

Both of these books are certainly well worth the price. They are practically oriented, illustrated with photographs carefully chosen to show in clear detail important features described in the text, and are well edited for both technical content and grammar. They could be especially important to those embarking on the purchase of a relatively expensive stone of the types covered or simply considering the collection of unusual gemstones as a hobby. If nothing else, they make nice additions to any collection of gemstone literature and are certainly recommended in this regard.

For anyone who has been to the Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines Mineral Show or who might be planning to attend this show, or is interested in the minerals and mining history of the Alsace region of France, this book is a must.

It is a trilingual book: all of the text pages consist of three vertical columns: the left-hand one in French, the center in English, and the right-hand column in German. So this book appeals to three language groups. I am fluent in neither French nor German, but the English translation (from the original French) is grammatically excellent, unlike some books that get “lost in translation.” Note that the picture captions are in French only, but anyone with a basic knowledge of French can ascertain what is featured in the photographs. The quality of the color mineral photographs is excellent, both in color rendition and in sharpness and clarity. In fact, the introductory note on page 2 states that “Particular care has been exercised to render colors correct for the mineral photographs in this book,” and that is indeed the case, and it is lavishly illustrated throughout.

The book begins with Alain Martaud explaining his experiences and association with the region and its minerals, an involvement dating back to his childhood days. This is followed by an overview of the geography and geology of the region (6 pages with maps and photographs) followed by a chapter on the mining district (6 pages, beautifully illustrated with maps and field photographs). The next few sections highlight the history of mining in the region that dates back to before the tenth century. Silver was one of the main commodities won from the mines, and silver minerals feature strongly in the book. The history section leads up to present-day scenarios and documents the various developments through the centuries to modern times, which discusses today's prominent mineral collectors and mineral collections. This part of the book takes up 55 pages. Thereafter, for the next 139 pages, follows the “meat” of the book, the section dealing with specific mineral species found in the region and with, of course, accompanying photographs of specimens. A host of minerals are described, among them silver minerals and various sulfides, oxides, and carbonates such as galena, sphalerite, hematite, calcite, and ankerite, to name a few. There are short sections on minerals of the country rock and on “other minerals” (i.e., other than those that fall into the main section's various chemical groups). A few pages on the region's mineral heritage, a glossary, acknowledgments, and an index complete the book.

Throughout the book, the text is confined to the left-hand page with photographs on the facing page. This produces a pleasing format, as every double-paged spread has some pictures. There are also sections where the colored photographs run continuously over two pages. The actual size of the mineral photographs, maps, and associated pictures are all relatively large, some two per page and some occupying an entire page, so the layout is pleasing to the eye. I could chose many stunning photographs to emphasize here, so to name but a few: the full-page image of golden, transparent sphalerite crystals on a drusy white quartz matrix; a 22 × 18-cm chalcopyrite (full-page photograph); nineteen photographs of native arsenic (pages 80–89—it may be a gray metal, but the specimens are wonderful); two outstanding proustite specimens (pages 67 and 69); and, of course, the suite of native silver specimens. It does a bit of injustice to mention only these because many other pictures are equally good, as is the accompanying text for each of the various species. This is not a coffee-table book!

Publisher Louis-Dominique Bayle has done a great job, and he and Martaud were responsible for the layout and design. I highly recommend this book, not only to the Saint-Marie-aux-Mines show-goers, but also to anyone interested in this corner of European mineralogy.

New England has a vast number of mineral localities that have yielded collectible specimens, but it's not easy to come up with a list of sites that are both productive and still accessible. Many famous localities have been obliterated by construction projects or closed to the public for a variety of reasons. So I was pleasantly surprised that Peter Cristofono has written a book on one hundred collecting sites in this part of the country. As noted in the introduction, each site can be accessed either on one's own or as part of an authorized field trip.

Rockhounding New England is more than just a locality guidebook. It contains background information to help plan a collecting trip and to understand the types of mineral deposits represented by the localities described. Sections at the beginning of the book summarize the geology and mining history of New England, including a mineralogical overview of each state. These are followed by a section, titled “Rockhounding Basics,” which has useful tips for the beginner on field equipment, collecting etiquette, and safety concerns.

Locality descriptions, grouped by state, occupy most of the book (253 pages). As one might expect, the pegmatite-rich states of Maine and New Hampshire have the most sites (thirty-five and twenty-five, respectively). Information for each locality is organized under headings that include collecting status, type of deposit, GPS coordinates, driving/walking directions, tools needed, mineral list, and applicable rules. There are clear overview maps and even information on nearby attractions and where to find lodging! A few fossil localities are also covered.

Specific collecting tips are discussed at length for each site. Photos help in visualizing the localities and some of the minerals found in them. Many of the pictured specimens are examples of what might be found on a good day; others are certainly well above average and include spectacular pieces that have been found by lucky collectors in recent years.

Not surprisingly most of the places discussed do not allow collectors to just stroll in and start digging! Some are commercial working quarries with the usual requirements for safety gear. Others are owned or leased by people mining for gemstones and crystal specimens. Access to such places typically is limited to occasional club trips by prior arrangement. Emphasized is the importance of joining a mineral club, since belonging to an active club with a field trip program is often the only way to gain access to restricted sites.

Several appendices round out the book by giving information on New England mineral clubs, shops, museum exhibits, literature references, and resources such as websites and guide services. These are followed by a comprehensive index.

Rockhounding New England was a pleasure to review. It is a wonderful accomplishment that reflects Cristofono's enthusiasm for the mineral hobby and his considerable experience in field collecting. He is known for his specimen photography, and the quality of photos in the book (sharpness, color, composition) surpasses that of many books on mineral identification. His writing style is professional yet clear and “user friendly,” and the book is so well edited that I did not spot any spelling errors or other glitches. This is an important, moderately priced, and long-needed contribution to the literature of New England mineral collecting. You will enjoy it regardless of whether you collect your own minerals or just want to know what the region has to offer.

In this Issue

Taylor & Francis Group

Privacy Policy

© 2018 Taylor & Francis Group · 530 Walnut Street, Suite 850, Philadelphia, PA · 19106