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May-June 2015

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In Memoriam: Frederick “Rick” Ludlow Smith III (1939–2014)

Frederick “Rick” Ludlow Smith III (named after his uncle), was born on 13 August 1939 in Short Hills, New Jersey, the son of Louise Francis and Augustus Whitehead Smith, a building contractor. He graduated from Johns Hopkins University in 1963 and married his English girlfriend, Shelagh D. Cann, on 30 November 1968. The Smiths have two children, Annabelle Smith Murray (born 9 May 1971) and Friedrich Smith (born 18 December 1973).

The Smiths have lived in Short Hills, New Jersey, most of their lives, except for two years in Castelldefels, near Barcelona, Spain, and one year in the Algarve in Portugal. I had the great privilege of traveling around much of Europe with Rick or with Rick and his family on several occasions. It was hilarious to see him driving his large American station wagon in 1979 through the narrow streets of German, French, Spanish, and Portuguese villages, with Fred, a very large Alaskan malamute (dog) in the car. Fred was a story unto himself. Much adored by Rick, he was entered in competition in Europe where he won Best of Show in Switzerland, Spain, and Portugal. When Rick and I were in Portugal, we nearly had an accident when he braked hard into a sliding stop because he spotted a large Boletus edulis (mushroom) growing alongside the road. This we harvested and kept in the trunk of the car until it started to rot and smell bad.

Rick managed to keep a low profile, for the most part, when he started in the mineral business in the mid-1960s as New Jersey Mineral Supply, 1 Short Hills Avenue, Short Hills, New Jersey, in an office building owned by his father. In his advertisement in the January/February 1971 issue of the Mineralogical Record he announced the opening of a shop on 1 April at this address under the ostentatious name Earth Science Division, Ludlow, Smith & Cann, Inc., where he had display cases with minerals and hosted visits from mineral collectors. The name was an early indication that Smith had a keen sense of humor, as it was held by some that the name was nothing more than an April Fool's Day joke.

Early on he entered into partnership with Charles Locke Key, a former field-collecting friend and fellow New Jerseyite, as Earth Science Imports, and the two of them traveled widely in their quest for fine mineral specimens, especially to Peru, Portugal (Panasqueira), Eastern Europe, and Tsumeb (then South-West Africa). At that time there were not many mineral dealers from this country doing so; Smith and Key perceived that their biggest competitor was the famous Martin Ehrmann from California, and they aspired to function much as he did. From the very start Smith and Key specialized in expensive, high-quality specimens for elite collectors. As partners they never had a shop or a formal retail outlet. They even, for a while, had an agreement with David P. Wilber, who at that time was a mineral collecting superstar, wherein Wilber acted as an agent for them in placing exceptional specimens in private collections. Although the relationship with Key was relatively short-lived—approximately five years—it was forever made eternal when the rare Tsumeb mineral ludlockite, which they found, was named in their honor in 1970, the name being derived from Frederick Ludlow Smith and Charles Locke Key.

A few years after his first ad in the Mineralogical Record, ads under the name “F. L. Smith Minerals” appeared in the March/April 1974 through January/February 1975 issues. The first, which appeared in two consecutive issues (see copy here), was written by Rick in collaboration with me, when I was a Smithsonian curator and editor and publisher of the Mineralogical Record. Although obviously tongue-in-cheek and designed to introduce a little humor into the journal, some readers did not appreciate the effort and angrily canceled their subscriptions. Others thought the ad hilarious, and the magazine received quite a few complimentary letters. Apart from being very funny—his grandchildren had been told to call him “Ace”—Rick had a keen interest in fine food as long as I knew him, and he was quite a fine chef. Once, while traveling with Rick and Shelagh in France, we arrived in Macon at dinner time with a great appetite. As luck would have it we stumbled onto a 5-star restaurant, according to the Michelin Guide that Rick carried with him, and I had one of the best dinners of my life. He knew a smattering of French, but on at least one occasion it did not serve him well. While in Paris, he decided he wanted to go to the horse races at the Longchamp Racecourse. In seeking directions, instead of using the name of the racecourse, he elected to ask a stranger, “Where are the horses (cheval)?” Instead his question was, “Where is the hair (cheveux)?” and the person responded by laughing and pointing to Rick's very bald head.

Ads in the Mineralogical Record under the name Ludlow, Smith & Cann appeared in three issues in 1977–1978 after a couple of years with no ads, and then they stopped altogether. The very last minerals that I recall him having were a few exquisite galena specimens with gemmy sphalerite crystals, wonderful specimens from the Mogul mine in Ireland. Some believe, myself in particular, that Rick never really had any intention of becoming a full-time major mineral dealer; he just sort of played at it. There were bursts of hyperactivity, but the desire to expand and develop the business did not appear to be there.

He gave up the mineral business for good when he moved to Spain in the late 1970s. Rick died in New Jersey on 20 December 2014, after battling lung cancer for more than a year.


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