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November-December 2016

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Media Reviews

Juchem—Achate, Drusen, Sammler—Der berühmte Steinbruch bei Niederwörresbach in der Region Idar-Oberstein (Juchem—Agate, Geodes, Collectors—The Famous Quarry near Niederwörresbach in the Idar-Oberstein Region) edited by Joachim Lorenz and Kay Müssig (in German). Mitteilung des Naturwissenschaftlichen Museums der Stadt Aschaffenburg vol. 27. Helga Lorenz Verlag. 516 pages; 2015; €34.90 (hardbound).

When I noticed the book for the first time, at a booth at the 2015 Munich Show, it looked very official to me, very much like an annual report for a big corporation—the colorful cover is a composite of six images, one of which shows a processing plant; the silver-stamped title, Juchem, is bold; and the logo of the Juchem Group is included. A business report in solid hardcover and 516 pages? Well, it turns out that this book is a compilation of articles on the famous Basaltlavatagebau (basalt open-cut quarry) Juchem near Niederwörresbach, a few kilometers northeast of Germany's gemstone cutting center, Idar-Oberstein. Family-owned and operated by the fourth generation of the Juchem family, this quarry has attracted mineral collectors for decades.

The editors, Joachim Lorenz and Kay Müssig, explain in their foreword (in German and Dutch) that their goal is “to show the beauty of the region, especially the rocks and minerals … and provide information to foreigners that cannot be found on the Internet.”

To achieve this goal they put together forty-plus contributions by a variety of authors on the history of the town of Niederwörresbach; the scenic German Gemstone Route; the fauna and flora of the region; the history of the Juchem family; the geology, mineralogy, and paleontology of the quarry; and lavishly illustrated stories of Juchem collectors as well as regional and local museums, hiking paths, visitors' mines, historic gem-cutting workshops that are open to the public, and other related topics.

Juchem is volume 27 in the series of the Mitteilungen des Naturwissenschaftlichen Museums der Stadt Aschaffenburg (Transactions of the Natural History Museum of the City of Aschaffenburg), which covers more local topics on natural history of the northern Bavarian region of Franconia. With that said, the general setup of the book that we know from scientific journals is explained.

There are contributions from local tourism officials, scientists, and collectors about the history of the Juchem family, which has owned and operated the quarry since 1932. Some articles have abstracts, some don't; some are just a few sentences long, one is 100 pages; some are frighteningly scientific, others are just entertaining in their telling of tourist attractions or collecting tales from Juchem collectors from Germany, Austria, Holland, and Belgium. Most articles conclude with their own reference lists, which is good for those readers who plan to use the book for further studies.

There is not enough room to go into detail on each of the articles, but some, as mentioned earlier, stand out. Let's face it, what collector struggles through 100 pages of geology, mineralogy, and paleobotany with complicated diagrams, tables, mineral reactions, an 11.5-page reference list, and so on when one can read captivating stories written by mineral collectors, some of whom have been collecting at the quarry for decades. In their own words, these collectors describe how and when they started to collect, and they show an enormous variety of treasures in their collections. These more than 170 pages of the book are well spent! I always find it interesting to look at photos of the variety of minerals occurring at a deposit. The editors present all the mineral species that have been identified from the quarry; 19 pages are devoted to fossil plants that can be found in sedimentary layers between the lava flows; and 24 pages show the various mineral localities in the vast quarry. Full-sized pictures of the locality's geodes and minerals are presented throughout the book. This wealth of visual information is important and extraordinary. Herein lies the real value of the book—it documents the history of a deposit, and collectors with no access to analytical instruments help identify minerals and sometimes even the specific areas in the quarry where they were found.

The layout of the book takes getting used to: bold colors everywhere, thick borders around photos, and an enormous hodgepodge of graphic elements and of fonts and font sizes. It is difficult to read small text on some of the pages with a bold background of a checkered notebook and various color gradients; then, too, there are unusual picture shapes from square to rectangular, round, oval, and hexagonal. Unusual yes, but not unattractive.

In my opinion, the editors met their goal. They have compiled a wealth of information not only for collectors who plan to visit the Juchem quarry to collect minerals but also for visitors who want to explore the region beyond the quarry. It's a great resource for planning a family vacation, but you would have to work on your language skills.       


Understanding Minerals and Crystals by Bruce Cairncross and Terence McCarthy. Struik Nature (Penguin Random House, South Aftica); 312 pages; 2015; R290 (softbound)

Understanding Minerals and Crystals is an interesting book that is pointed clearly toward education of the layman, beginning student, or amateur mineral collector. It presents a good view of the science behind mineralogy and in that regard would make an excellent companion to the more rigorous textbooks used in college-level first mineralogy courses. The book is particularly well illustrated both diagrammatically and photographically. An important aspect of the book is that it was sponsored by a mineral resource extraction company, Exxaro, without whose understanding of the importance of natural resource education it would not have been produced.

The book begins with the sponsor's foreword followed by a table of contents. The overall arrangement of topics is standard, with initial chapters dealing with fundamental physics and chemistry of solids followed by sections of descriptive mineralogy arranged in the classical chemical format from elements through silicates. That said, the initial four chapters are an introduction, a discussion of “Atoms, the Building Blocks of Minerals,” bonding and how minerals are formed, and a lengthy chapter on the formation of crystalline solids that includes such interesting sections as “The Origin of Crystal Faces” and “Ionic Substitution in Minerals.” Chapter 5 presents a good discussion of the morphology of crystals that includes a nice section comparing natural crystals to crystal models, followed by sections on crystal systems, common crystal classes, and how to describe crystals. Chapter 6 outlines the physical characteristics of minerals including a section on the reaction of some minerals with hydrochloric acid. In this regard, there is a disclaimer at the beginning of the book indicating that the authors and publisher cannot be held responsible for accidents or injuries related to the use of hydrochloric acid in testing minerals as described in this book—a rather sad sign of the times. Next comes a chapter on mineral identification and classification complete with identification flow sheets and identification tables. Based on personal experience with similar identification schemes, these will likely not often be used despite the obvious care and thought that went into them.

Chapters 8 through 16 present a series of common minerals arranged chemically from elements through sulfides, oxides-hydroxides, halides, carbonates, sulfates, phosphates-vanadates, tungstates, and finally silicates. Silicates are further broken down into the fundamental structural types beginning with nesosilicates and ending with tectosilicates. Each of the major sections has a brief introduction, and each mineral description has general information concerning its physical and chemical properties, occurrence, associated minerals, and name. These chapters are profusely illustrated with several hundred photographs of good- to superb-quality specimens that for most species illustrate the wide range of appearance and beauty. For example, calcite is illustrated with fourteen photographs that are an essay of sorts on the mineral. Many specimens illustrated throughout these chapters are from southern African localities, giving the book an additional bonus for the geographic mineral enthusiast. Chapter 17 is a short treatment of mineraloids such as opal and amber.

The book closes with two appendices—one a tabulation of data on the abundances of the elements and the second a series of crystal models that can be constructed by cutting and pasting photocopies of unfolded diagrams. There are short final sections on suggested further reading, photographic credits, and acknowledgments. There are also a glossary and comprehensive index.

Understanding Minerals and Crystals is a very useful book for students and those wishing to have an understandable reference for introductory mineralogy. It is not a comprehensive presentation of all common mineral species but is pointed more toward collector species and specimens. Interestingly, sulfosalts are not treated, and such favorites as the ruby silvers are not covered. The book is well edited, the printing and binding very good, and the illustrations of high quality. One is left with a few questions, though. Is figure 16.40 really olivine from China or simply a good Russian uvarovite? How can the native elements be minerals based on the definition of mineral in the second paragraph of the introduction? These are minor points, of course, and do not in any way detract from the value of the book. It clearly fulfills its objectives and should be a popular addition to one's library.       

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