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January-February 2016

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Media Reviews

Ruby & Sapphire: A Collector's Guide by Richard W. Hughes with photographs by Wimon Manorotkul and E. Billie Hughes. Order from author's website: www.lotusgemology.com. 384 pages; 2014; $99 plus shipping (hardbound).

As one peruses the bookshelves of their favorite section of any library or bookstore, including online, inevitably it is either a book's title or cover that catches the eye. What happens next greatly depends on first impressions. If one looks at only the spine, the title conveys a message upon which one decides whether it is a trail worth following—that is, whether to pull out the tome or to let one's fingers continue to drift over other titles, perhaps never to return to it. If one beholds the cover, the graphics alone may entice or dissuade one from picking the book up from among a myriad of others on display.

In the title of this book, Ruby & Sapphire: A Collector's Guide, each word is an invitation. Ruby & Sapphire evokes visions of treasure. Collector begs the question “people actually collect them?” Guide proclaims that the reader may aspire to become a collector! Surely the title alone will make the fingers pause, rise to the top, and tip the book out.

Regarding the cover, everyone will have a different reaction based on their own background and sensibilities. For many, its image of a Burmese miner's outstretched tongue with his latest finds of ruby and sapphire perched upon its tip will illicit either a positive or negative reaction, hardly a neutral one. Few will be able to resist picking up the book to find out what it represents. The answer is revealed as its pages fall open to a glorious feast of photographic excellence: more than three hundred images spread over as many pages, with nearly every leaf adorned with imagery captured by Richard W. Hughes's own lens, as well as those of his wife, Wimon, and daughter, Billie.

As with the cover, the book's imagery is the first and lasting impression one acquires upon opening the book and exploring its pages. The stunning photography rivals the finest of that venerable periodical National Geographic, mesmerizing the reader in much the same way as that publication has its many generations of readers. In this respect, it is very much a coffee-table book, suitable for people of all ages and interests. Aside from the theme of gem corundum, it transports the viewer to lands far away—exotic and beautiful, sometimes harsh, but always in the context of people and culture. In this age of easy access to stock photos, it is a rare treat that this photographic journey spanning the globe is offered up by one family of photographers under the leadership of its patriarch. That he is also the book's designer and handled most aspects of its production is a jaw-dropping revelation in itself, as the layout is both meticulously professional and highly aesthetic in every respect.

Just as the musician Taj Mahal describes himself as an ethnomusicologist, a self-proclaimed student of music in its cultural context, Hughes may be thought of as an “ethnogemologist.” Having had insights into the genesis of the manuscript before it was published, it was fantastic to see the completed book achieve its stated goal, best articulated in Hughes's foreword (p. 12): “This book is a guide to provide the reader with the tools and information necessary to successfully begin collecting ruby and sapphire. It is not one of scientific gemology, but instead represents what I call humanistic gemology: the relationship between gems and the people and places from which they come.”

Hughes, an internationally recognized and highly acclaimed gemologist specializing in the mineral corundum, has not drawn his wisdom from sitting in the comfort of his vast personal library. Indeed, in passionate pursuit of understanding all aspects of ruby and sapphire (as well as other gems), he has spent more than three decades traveling to and spending significant time in the many places featured in this book, not all of them nearly as comfortable as his Bangkok residence. In his own words, again from the book's foreword (p. 13), he urges others to do the same as best they can: “Hate and war become more difficult when people and places are more than abstractions, more than just electrons on a screen. By personally visiting other lands, we learn to better appreciate the values that tie us together.” Although it's perhaps not possible to travel to the extent Hughes has, his latest book widens our sense of the world, not only with its focus on the localities in which these gems originate, but also with a palpable sense of culture and milieu.

Hughes's large body of work includes four previous books and more than 160 published articles, many of the latter are freely available to read on his websites: www.ruby-sapphire.com and www.lotusgemology.com. This latest book follows Corundum (1990), Ruby & Sapphire (1992), Ruby & Sapphire (1997), and the edited and annotated historical manuscript of Col. J. F. Halford Watkins: The Book of Ruby and Sapphire (2012). Many consider his 511-page 1997 tome to be the essential book on the subject, and used copies of this out-of-print volume list at $999. Although fans have eagerly awaited an updated second edition, Ruby & Sapphire: A Collector's Guide is not this. It is completely different in all content; not one picture or block of text from the 1997 book is duplicated in the new book. The book is aimed at collectors as well as a wider general audience, yet it is also a valuable reference for mineral enthusiasts, gemologists, and appraisers. It is arguably an essential companion to the 1997 reference text, should one be lucky to own one, as well as to any future editions and other references on corundum.

The heart of the book is the section titled “Source—Lands of Red and Blue.”* Over the course of more than two hundred pages, localities around the world are documented through Hughes's own experience and colorful anecdotes, woven together with such themes as history, geology, mining, gem corundum characteristics, and always concluding with a list of pertinent references for further reading. The next hundred pages are devoted to five chapters covering connoisseurship, forensic gemology, an intimate look at his adopted Thailand home, an extensive bibliography, and, finally, a portfolio indexing of gems featured throughout the book. All are written in the classic style Hughes is famous for: witty, engaging, sometimes irreverent, always thought provoking.

* Richard W. Hughes has produced and released two exquisite videos drawn from chapters in the book. In addition to page-spread previews on Hughes's website, these videos provide a window to his artistry (“Source,” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D-ZMsUphSqc; “Lands of Red and Blue,” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bywBNHHBT3I).

Ruby & Sapphire: A Collector's Guide is probably the most significant book to have emerged recently from the gemology world, but more importantly it transcends that genre to delight a far wider audience. Given its relatively small print run, don't miss out on the chance to own this literary treasure from an author who opens his heart to the world, yet has nothing to fear having done so: “Miles Davis once said it often takes time for a musician to learn to sing with their own voice. And so it has been with me. Nearly four decades ago, I set out to see the world and in doing so, found my voice and calling. What follows is my song, accompanied by a choir of family and friends who have joined me on the journey. I hope you find it worthy” (Hughes 2014, p. 11).       

Geology Underfoot in Western Washington by Dave Tucker. Mountain Press Publishing, www.mountain-press.com. 388 pages; 2015; $24 plus shipping and handling (softbound).

Geology Underfoot in Western Washington is the latest guidebook-type offering from Mountain Press Publishing. It continues their fine tradition of interesting and useful publications pointed toward those wishing to take trips focused on geological features and education rather than motels and rest stops. Its author, Dave Tucker, is a local geologist, a research associate at Western Washington University, and a director of the Mount Baker Volcano Research Center. In 22 chapters or vignettes, Tucker leads us through a diverse array of geologic situations within a large area extending from the crest of the Cascades to the Pacific, and from the Columbia River north to the Canadian border. Most are easily accessible along Washington's highway and road network, although a few require a little hiking.

The book begins with a preface; a valuable section on using the book and its maps with a series of important recommendations about equipment, tools, and etiquette; a brief discussion on units of measure and time; and acknowledgments. Next comes a stand-alone section or chapter on the geology of western Washington. It includes an appropriate geologic time scale and a most useful table that gives in descending chronological order a timeline of 29 major geologic events that shaped western Washington and the vignettes or stops that correspond to these events. The importance of plate tectonics is explained here as well as petrology and how ages of rocks are determined.

The meat of the book, descriptions of the 22 sites (or what may be considered field-trip stops), begins on page 27 with Bridge of the Gods and the Bonneville Landslide near the Oregon border. The stops or sites move generally in a northern direction ending with stop 22, calderas and columns at Artist Point and Heather Meadows near the Canadian border. The presentation of each stop begins with a useful map and description of how to get there from several easy-to-locate towns, highway intersections, and the like. Illustrations abound within individual site descriptions and include historic photographs and maps and various sorts of geologic illustrations. The stops continue with Beacon Rock and the Missoula Floods, Cape Disappointment, and the Sunken Forest of Willapa Bay. Stop 5 is a look at the Columbia River Basalt in the Chehalis River. The volcanic theme continues at stop 7, the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument, site 8 at Johnston Ridge, and site 9, Mount Rainier National Park. Glacially focused features are illustrated by sites 10, 11, and 12, the Nisqually Glacier, Whidbey Island, and the glacial erratics of the Puget Lowland, respectively. My favorite, Snoqualmie Falls, emerges as site 13. There is even a walk through downtown Seattle (stop 14) where urban geology at its best(?) can be observed through the examination of various types of building stone. The beauty of the Olympic Peninsula is exemplified by site 16, well-known Hurricane Ridge and its panorama of the Olympic Mountains. Each of these and the remaining stops reveal a fundamental geologic feature of western Washington. Clearly they cannot all be visited in a single day, but a week or ten days augmented by the careful use of this guide might well turn one into a near-expert on the area's geology.

The book closes with an important table of GPS coordinates for selected waypoints, with at least one given for each site, a surprisingly complete 11-page glossary, and sources (generally references) of more information that include separate sections on general reading, geologic maps, other field guides, and the individual stops themselves. There is a final 11-page comprehensive index.

Geology Underfoot in Western Washington is a well-written book that has few editorial issues. It is printed on high-quality paper and is tightly bound. There are 270 illustrations that include site photographs; geologic diagrams, maps, and cross sections; and location maps designed to aid the traveler in arriving at and navigating around or within each vignette site. The book will be extremely useful to anyone contemplating a visit to western Washington, an area of great geologic diversity, some of the major processes of which are operating today for all to see. It is highly recommended. 

Matthew Forster Heddle: Mineralogist and Mountaineer by Hamish H. Johnston. NMS Enterprises Publishing, www.nms.ac.uk/books. 272 pages; 2015; £14.99 (softbound).

Matthew Forster Heddle (1828–1897) was Scotland's greatest mineralogist. His masterpiece, Mineralogy of Scotland, published posthumously in 1901, remains today as the authoritative work on the subject. Heddle was a medical doctor with a broad interest in science, particularly mineralogy. Interestingly, his MD thesis, written in 1851, was titled “The Ores of the Metals.” During his lifetime he built a very large and fine mineral collection that is now housed in the National Museums Scotland. Heddle was well known for climbing some 350 of Scotland's 3,000-footers, resulting in his being made an honorary member of the Scottish Mountaineering Club. He was also a skilled craftsman who devised and constructed a unique device for measuring the interfacial angles of small crystals. His talents included book binding, and he leather-bound, blind-tooled, and gilded his own 1561 edition of Agricola's De Re Metallica. He was an early champion of women's education. The present book gives in great detail all aspects of Heddle's life against the backdrop of mid- to late-nineteenth-century Scotland, written most appropriately by his great-great-grandson through the use of family records and related original research. It is the story of an energetic, intelligent, and perceptive man of science who likely would have been just as successful today as he was more than a century ago.

The book begins with acknowledgments, a foreword by Dr. Alec Livingstone of the National Museums Scotland, a preface, and a family tree. The body of the book is arranged chronologically into 9 chapters, beginning with 25 pages about Heddle's parentage. Chapter 2 describes his childhood and education and is followed by a chapter detailing his experiences as a doctor. Chapter 4 focuses on Heddle's mineralogical activities, the earliest reference to which was in 1846. Heddle was influenced by contemporary mineralogists, particularly Robert Jameson, one of his professors at the University of Edinburgh. By the early 1850s Heddle was professionally active, a member and officer of various learned societies and an author and presenter of technical papers devoted to mineralogy. Chapter 5 outlines Heddle's experiences as a lecturer at the University of St. Andrews, an initially tenuous venture in a temporary position teaching chemistry for Arthur Connell (of connellite). Chapter 6 is devoted entirely to Heddle's collecting and scientific papers. There is much here that outlines such things as the development of geologic mapping in Scotland and the lengths to which it was necessary to go to gain access to both property and specimens. Heddle was fortunate to have been a contemporary of such geologic giants as Archibald Giekie who clearly understood his passion for science and for geology in particular. Heddle's writings are formidable and to that end are presented in bibliographic form on pages 258–262. They include papers in the Proceedings of the Royal Physical Society of Edinburgh, Mineralogical Magazine, Transactions of the Geological Society of Glasgow, and even the section on mineralogy in the 1883 edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica. Buried here, one also finds that Heddle was one of the early users of petrographic thin sections, publishing several papers related to this important modern, universally practiced technique. Chapter 7 focuses on Heddle as a mountaineer and his devotion to climbing. Chapters 8 and 9 outline his activities as a retired professor, his final years, and his legacy.

The book closes with an appendix that contains a table for converting old currency amounts to modern equivalents so that certain important sums can be examined. For instance, the most expensive item in his mineral collection was a piece of meteoritic iron purchased at a 2014 equivalent price of £412. His university pension was the equivalent of £9,400 today. His inheritance in 1842 was the equivalent of £148,000, and the similar value of his moveable assets at his death was £171,000. The appendix is followed by a section containing “Sources and Bibliography,” the listing of his written works, and a selective index. A series of “notes” that include references and explanations follow each chapter and are most useful.

The book is well edited, printed, and bound. It is illustrated with eight pages (in two groups of four pages each) of photographs that are primarily color and range from portraits of Heddle and those influencing his career to specimen photographs to geologic maps and sketches. The book is a tribute to a mineralogist who will not soon be forgotten, written almost lovingly with great attention to detail by one with a family interest so deep that the resulting book can well serve as a model for others. It is highly recommended.       

Frank C. Perham, Adventures in Maine Pegmatite Mining by Karen L. Webber and Raymond A. Sprague. Rubellite Press, www.rubellitepress.com/index.html. 200 pages; 2014; $59 plus shipping (hardbound).

Frank C. Perham tells the remarkable story of pegmatite miner Frank Perham, who has played a key role in mineral discoveries in the Oxford County pegmatite district in western Maine, including the gem tourmaline mines at Newry and Mount Mica. He made some of these discoveries himself, and he worked deposits for others who needed his mining expertise. Frank continues to be a regular visitor at specimen mining operations, often arriving on the scene by intuition just as a crystal pocket is found!

Karen L. Webber and Raymond A. Sprague pulled together a tremendous amount of information from videotapes of Perham's talks at the Maine Mineral Symposium, Maine Pegmatite Workshop, and New England Mineral Conference. They also obtained interviews and photos from his wife, Mary; sister, Jane; and mining partners.

The videotaped talks were edited into an engaging personal history. Perham tells, in his own words, about growing up in West Paris, Maine, and collecting minerals at quarries belonging to his father, Stanley Perham. Many of Frank's specimens supplied the well-known Perham's Maine Mineral Store that was founded by his father in 1930.

The book's narrative preserves the humorous incidents and sharp memory for details that keep audiences spellbound at Perham's talks. He tells of studying geology at Bates College and military service in South Korea, which gave him skills from understanding rocks to repairing old trucks and mining equipment on a shoestring budget. (He still runs the Route 219 Garage in West Paris.)

Later chapters describe mining ventures from the 1960s to the present. Foremost among them was the opening of large and highly productive tourmaline pockets at the Dunton Gem mine in Newry. Perham mined the Dunton for Plumbago Mining Corporation in the early 1970s. He gives the definitive account of the pockets, their contents, and the sequence in which they were found.

Perham's description of the Newry tourmaline strike includes an incredible twist of fate. In 1966 he had been hired to work the much smaller Robinson Pocket at the Dunton. A test hole drilled a few feet down from the floor of this pocket suggested there was nothing more to be found. But mining in 1973 revealed that the bottom of the old drill hole was just a couple of feet above the roof of the Big Pocket! With his typical good-natured understatement, Frank says, “Now, you talk about fate dealing a hand. I mean, if I'd drilled a 6-foot hole, and we drilled right into that pocket, I mean, I don't know what we would have done.”

In recent decades Perham has gone mining on weekends with a group of close friends. Their mineral discoveries are recalled here and include the enormous (up to 2 tons) and sharply formed feldspar crystals found in 2008 at the Albany Rose quarry. This site was owned by the late Barry Heath, a member of Perham's mining team for twenty-six years, who is remembered in the book's dedication.

Photos throughout the book greatly enhance the story, giving it the flavor of a family album. In particular, there are many previously unpublished color photos of the Dunton mine tourmaline discovery. A few of the mining views are a bit fuzzy, which is understandable given the field conditions and excitement that prevailed when they were taken.

In recalling an anecdote (p. 107), Frank elegantly sums up his fondness for mining and minerals as follows:

It's little things like this that I remember, as much as the mining itself. It's the interactions between the people and all the facets that go along with finding pockets and mining, figuring out where and how to mine, making equipment work, fixing things that go wrong and so forth. I've had a whole life time of this and love it still. The day I say ‘well, it's just a quartz pocket’, is the day I stop mining.

This book will have great appeal to people who know Frank Perham and have read about and perhaps visited the Maine pegmatites. However, the warm, personal style with which he tells his story, spiced with memories of great minerals and adventures, will likewise interest many collectors from outside New England as well. It is an enthralling “good read” from start to finish!       

Pyrite—A Natural History of Fool's Gold by David Rickard. Oxford University Press, www.oup.com/us. 297 pages; 2015; $29.95 plus shipping and handling (hardbound).

Pyrite is an intellectual endeavor that has resulted in a fascinating and educational work by scholar and scientist David Rickard. It presents one of our most widespread minerals from diverse points of view that include geochemistry, history, biology, and even the global environmental. As an acknowledged expert on iron sulfides and a professor emeritus at Cardiff University, Cardiff, Wales, Rickard is well suited to the task. His many scholarly works have appeared in such venues as Chemical Geology, Geochemica et Cosmochemica Acta, and Earth and Planetary Science.

The book, which contains 10 chapters, begins with a short preface and prologue. Chapter 1 is titled simply “Fool's Gold.” It contains sections with such interesting topics as pyrite's impact on the founding of Canada and the United States. In it we also learn the origin of the term fool's gold and which great mineralogists did and did not use the term with respect to pyrite. Chapter 2 deals with pyrite and the origins of civilization, including its almost universal use as a fire starter and its relationship to the earliest arms industries and to agriculture. Chapters 3 and 4 explain what pyrite is, beginning with early confusion and ending with the developmental concept of elements and minerals. This is followed by a formal discussion of pyrite in the atomic and crystallographic sense. Chapter 5 is an excellent presentation of certain concepts of mineral deposit formation, particularly with respect to sulfide-rich environments such as geothermal systems in general, black smokers, and volcanoes. Chapters 6 and 7 delve into the interaction between microbes and pyrite, pyrite isotopes, and the problems of acidic environments produced by the oxidation of pyrite. Separate sections are given on acid rivers, acid rain, acid sulfate soils, and smog. These chapters lead us progressively to Chapter 8, a good treatment of pyrite and the global environment that makes a strong case for its importance in understanding the evolution of life. Chapter 9 delves into the origins of life itself with sections sporting such tempting titles as “The Iron-Sulfur World,” “The Frankenstein Experiment,” and “Pyrite and the Synthesis of Biomolecules.” The final chapter is appropriately called “Full Circle.” It ends with sections on extraterrestrial pyrite and “Not So Foolish Gold.”

The book is very well edited, printed on high-quality paper, and illustrated with a variety of black-and-white and color photographs, drawings, and diagrams. Some of the more interesting illustrations include the title page, frontispiece, and classification of pyrite crystal forms from Henckel's 1725 masterpiece Pyritologia. To that end, there is an initial list of figures that accompanies the table of contents and a useful and comprehensive closing index. To further enhance the book and its scholarly worth, each chapter ends with a series of numbered “notes” that give references and related annotations. Finally, I must admit that when I received Pyrite I was reasonably sure that perhaps enough material existed to fill a modest book, but only with a high degree of boredom and redundancy. What a surprise it was, then, to see how important and intimately intertwined this common mineral is to our everyday life, chemistry (and by extension mineralogy), and human history. It is a good read for those wishing to learn more about one of our most interesting and yet maligned minerals from multiple points of view that are often peripheral to the collecting hobby. I recommend Pyrite and certainly place it beside other books on minerals more familiarly linked to human history such as those on copper, gold, silver, diamond, and sulfur.       

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