Skip Navigation

September-October 2017

ResizeResize Text: Original Large XLarge

In Memoriam: William Wallace Pinch (1940–2017)

William Wallace Pinch was born in Hornell, New York, on 15 August 1940 and passed away in Tucson, Arizona, on 1 April 2017 at the age of seventy-six. As his daughter wrote in a touching obituary posted on Facebook (7 April):

He was a world-renowned mineralogist, loving husband, father, and grandfather. He is survived by wife Jacquelyn, daughter Megan, son Michael (Karina), and granddaughter Elise. Pinch was a larger-than-life collector of many of earth's rarities including not only minerals but also gems, fossils, shells, botanical, and rare books.

She wrote these words reflecting that, unlike for so many collectors, he was blessed with a family that appreciated and recognized his passion for minerals as an integral part of who he was. As parents ourselves, we see that this praise reflects Bill as a person.

Bill was a self-made man, in both minerals and life in general. His life story could be (and is) a full-length tale, well told by Steven C. Chamberlain and Vandall T. King in the March/April 1981 issue of Rocks & Minerals (pages 49–65) that is well worth reading. He taught himself mineralogy to the point where most people assumed he had a PhD in the field, and he participated in so many discoveries (seventeen new species) that among amateur mineralogists he was very well published, with quite a few peer-reviewed scholarly articles.

As he told Chamberlain and King (1981, p. 51) about his early days:

In some sense the collection began in 1947 when I was given a box of specimens from the Cooperstown Museum. Before that I had been intrigued by the fossils found on my aunt's farm in West Bloomfield, New York, but it was the minerals I collected and those I saw at the Smithsonian Institution in 1952 that fired my imagination.

The March/April 1981 issue of Rocks & Minerals that featured a lengthy article on Bill Pinch and his collection. The cover photo is a silver, 7.6 cm high, from Kongsberg, Norway. Bill Pinch specimen and photo.

The March/April 1981 issue of Rocks & Minerals that featured a lengthy article on Bill Pinch and his collection. The cover photo is a silver, 7.6 cm high, from Kongsberg, Norway. Bill Pinch specimen and photo.

Bill worked his way up, wheeling and dealing in minerals and investing his salary from a paper route as a teenager. He attended the University of New Mexico but never graduated, instead returning to Rochester where he was employed by Eastman Kodak, the local tech giant. There he developed a great working knowledge of X-ray analysis and then used that knowledge to study his personal collection as well. Most people, when hearing Bill talk about minerals and mineralogy, logically and safely assumed that he was indeed a PhD mineralogist.

Bill grew a magnificent, broad, globe-spanning collection numbering more than ten thousand specimens of significance, plus another ten thousand lesser duplicates; all of this is a story in itself, documented elsewhere (Chamberlain and King 1981). His collection became one of the major references of the day because he recognized and sought research-quality specimens and type material. The collection was sold to the Canadian National Museum of Nature in the 1980s, after which Bill built his second (current) and also quite significant collection. He knew that the future of mineralogical knowledge was not going to be found in books but in the integration of large databases with measurements from definitive samples. His collection provided important material to the emerging mineralogical databases such as Mindat and RRUFF. Bill spent the later part of his life as a major contributor to the RRUFF project at the University of Arizona with the Downs lab.

Chamberlain and King (1981, p. 53) wrote of Bill, typifying his philosophy of both minerals and people (whom he also collected in his orbit as his collection continued to grow), the following:

Bill Pinch acquires mineral specimens to acquire knowledge. The extensive compositional and locality suites in the collection reflect the evolution of his interest in localities, associations, and chemical groups. The presence in the collection of so many scientifically important specimens is a result of this quest for and delight with knowledge about minerals.

One of Bill's favorite stories told over the years was the “story of the rhodochrosites on my lawn” from the early 1980s. Prosper Williams had just gotten back from Africa, and Bill was hosting a dinner and evening party at his home. As Bill told it, he could have bought most of the wonderful red scalenohedral rhodochrosites imported, then and there (if rhodochrosite were a mineral worth having so many of!). Bill saw Charlie Key sneak out of the party and go meet Prosper's jalopy on his front lawn. Suspecting something was up when Charlie did not come back quickly, Bill peeked out the window and then followed and saw Prosper unpacking pointy red beauties onto his grass. After declaring one for himself, he did the honorable thing and told other guests what was on the lawn, and that very night Prosper sold some of the best rhodochrosites the world has seen, right there on the grass in Rochester. If they were more chemically interesting, they might all have been Bill's.

In 1988, Bill decided that, for a variety of reasons, it was time to sell his collection. One of the most important reasons was that it seemed there might be a singularly unique chance for it to be purchased by the Canadian government as the core collection of the Canadian National Museum of Nature in Ottawa, and this seemed to Bill such a romantic disposition for the collection that the offer had to be taken. In his mind, the chance to preserve what he had built as a legacy for the future was paramount to living with it, and he did, of course, plan to use a chunk of the money to buy more minerals and start over. At the time, the selling price (millions of dollars) was a world-record sum for a mineral collection, and people were stunned at the price. With his broad smile he claimed that his wife, Jackie, never questioned any of his purchases since then. Bill moved on; he and Jackie built their dream home in Rochester and quickly proceeded to build a new mineral collection as well. Bill said on many occasions that he made the right call but had since regretted that so much of the collection was in storage and not displayed. He said on numerous occasions that if he had known they would not display it, he might not have sold it at the time.

However good that first collection was, don't ever think that his second collection did not also aspire to world-class status! He was right back in the trenches, trading and buying minerals, and his current collection numbers in the thousands, with particular emphasis on suites of English classics, sulfides, silver-bearing species, Tsumeb and Kalahari minerals, classics, plus many other subsuites that provided him the excuse to rationalize collecting broadly again. Bill was particularly proud of the Tsumeb rarities suite, which contains what we assume must be the largest, most well-documented suite of Tsumeb rare species ever assembled in one place. (Many specimens are the best of species and even more are types, crystal structure types, and RRUFF standard examples—an important scientific repository.)

One of Bill's most consuming projects of the past ten years was to archive for posterity this collection and then publish it on his website: In his own words regarding the website:

These are a few of my Tsumeb minerals which I am happy to share with you. There are over 600 specimens in the Tsumeb collection, and as I am able to add more photographs I will. Any comments or questions, please feel free to contact me. Tsumeb is, in my opinion, one of the most important mineral localities known with the world's finest examples of many of the species, both common and rare.

Some of his most famous “finds” at shows made magazine covers and became iconic specimens in their own right in this new collection that Bill was so proud of. We believe that if he had to pick one specimen to save in a house fire—after he had already rescued the family dog—that it would be the andyrobertsite pictured here (and here Bill, watching us write this over our shoulders would chuckle and insert a lengthy correction: NO! It is andyrobertsite on calcioandyrobertsite, you dummy. Two different species. Do not forget to mention that. It is the type, structure type, and Raman type too, and that is very important. And it's the only specimen in existence. Don't forget to mention that, either.)

A Sampling of the More Than Two Dozen “Pinch Papers,”

Many in Collaboration with the Downs Lab

Bindi, L., R. T. Downs, P. G. Spry, W. W. Pinch, and S. Menchetti. 2012. A chemical and structural re-examination of fettelite samples from the type locality, Odenwald, southwest Germany. Mineralogical Magazine 76:551–66.

Bindi, L., and W. W. Pinch. 2014. Cameronite, Cu5-x(Cu,Ag)3+xTe10 (x = 0.43), from the Good Hope mine, Vulcan, Colorado: Crystal structure and revision of the chemical formula. The Canadian Mineralogist 52:423–32.

Cabri, L. J., A. Rosenzweig, and W. W. Pinch. 1977. Platinum-group minerals from Onverwacht: I. Pt-Fe-Cu-Ni alloys. The Canadian Mineralogist 15:380–84.

Cooper, M. A., F. C. Hawthorne, W. W. Pinch, and J. D. Grice. 1999. Andyrobertsite and calcioandyrobertsite: Two new minerals from the Tsumeb mine, Tsumeb, Namibia. Mineralogical Record 30:181–86.

Downs, R. T., W. W. Pinch, R. M. Thompson, S. H. Evans, and L. Megaw. 2016. Yangite, PbMnSi3O8·H2O, a new mineral species with double wollastonite silicate chains from the Kombat mine, Namibia. American Mineralogist 101:2539–43.

Hawthorne, F. C., Y. A. Abdu, N. A. Ball, and W. W. Pinch. 2013. Carlfrancisite: Mn32+(Mn2+,Mg,Fe3+,Al)42(As3+O3)2(As5+O4)4[(Si,As5+)O4]6[(As5+,Si)O4]2(OH)42, a new arseno-silicate mineral from the Kombat mine, Otavi Valley, Namibia. American Mineralogist 98:1693–96.

Kampf, A. R., S. J. Mills, and W. W. Pinch. 2011. Plumboselite, Pb3O2(SeO3), a new oxidation-zone mineral from Tsumeb, Namibia. Mineralogy and Petrology 101:75–80.

Kampf, A. R., S. J. Mills, M. S. Rumsey, M. Dini, W. D. Birch, J. Spratt, J. J. Pluth, I. M. Steele, R. A. Jenkins, and W. W. Pinch. 2012. The heteropolymolybdate family: Structural relations, nomenclature scheme and new species. Mineralogical Magazine 76:1175–1207.

Kampf, A. R., H. Yang, R. T. Downs, amd W. W. Pinch. 2011. The crystal structures and Raman spectra of aravaipaite and calcioaravaipaite. American Mineralogist 96:402–7.

Origlieri, M. J., R. T. Downs, W. W. Pinch, and G. L. Zito. 2009. Stibioclaudetite, AsSbO3, a new mineral from Tsumeb, Namibia. Mineralogical Record 40:209–13.

Origlieri, M. J., H. Yang, R. T. Downs. E. S. Posner, K. J. Domanik, and W. W. Pinch. 2012. The crystal structure of bartelkeite, with a revised chemical formula, PbFeGeVI(GeIV2O7)(OH)2·H2O, isotypic with high-pressure P21/m lawsonite. American Mineralogist 97:1812–15.

Roberts, A. C., M. Bonardi, J. D. Grice, T. S. Ercit, and W. W. Pinch. 1989. A restudy of magnolite, Hg24+O3, from Colorado. The Canadian Mineralogist 27:129–31.

Roberts, A. C., D. C. Harris, A. J. Criddle, and W. W. Pinch. 1986. Cameronite, a new copper-silver telluride from the Good Hope mine, Vulcan, Colorado. The Canadian Mineralogist 24:379–84.

Tait, K. T., F. C. Hawthorne, J. D. Grice, J. L. Jambor, and W. W. Pinch. 2004. Potassic-carpholite, a new mineral species from the Sawtooth batholith, Boise County, Idaho, U.S.A. The Canadian Mineralogist 42:121–24.

Tait, K. T., H. Yang, R. T. Downs, C. Li, and W. W. Pinch. 2010. The crystal structure of esperite, with a revised chemical formula, PbCa2(ZnSiO4)3, isostructural with beryllonite. American Mineralogist 95:699–705.

Yang, H., R. T. Downs, S. H. Evans, and W. W. Pinch. 2013. Scottyite, the natural analog of synthetic BaCu2Si2O7, a new mineral from the Wessels mine, Kalahari manganese field, South Africa. American Mineralogist 98:478–84.

——. 2013. Terrywallaceite, AgPb(Sb,Bi)3S6, isotypic with gustavite, a new mineral from Mina Herminia, Julcani mining district, Huancavelica, Peru. American Mineralogist 98:1310–14.

——. 2014. Lavinskyite, K(LiCu)Cu6(Si4O11)2(OH)4, isotypic with plancheite, a new mineral from the Wessels mine, Kalahari manganese field, South Africa. American Mineralogist 99:525–30.

Yang, H., W. W. Pinch, and R. T. Downs. 2009. Crystal structure of argentopyrite, AgFe2S3, and its relationship with cubanite. American Mineralogist 94:1727–30.

Bill usually laughed or chuckled when he told the story of how he and luck acquired two of his best known Tsumeb pieces—because he got them only because “Bill was Bill,” and the luck of discovery was not luck at all but based on his vast mental warehouse of random mineralogical trivia and his keen eye. He literally saw both of these specimens sitting on a shelf, mislabeled and available to the public for sale at a mineral show. Because Bill was Bill, he immediately knew that the association was unusual and the morphology was off, and so he bought them—knowing in his heart that he had gloriously beautiful examples of new species, even before having them analyzed. He might not have known what the chemistry would be, but somehow he saw what others did not, and in each of these two pieces, he bought the world's best example of a Tsumeb rarity for a fair price and left the rest of us begging for scraps. Only Bill could do this, and do it twice. And with a discount, no less, if he is to be believed (and we do believe him).

Warikahnite (an iconic Bill Pinch specimen), 4.9 cm high, Tsumeb mine, Tsumeb, Namibia; Jeff Scovil photo.

Warikahnite (an iconic Bill Pinch specimen), 4.9 cm high, Tsumeb mine, Tsumeb, Namibia; Jeff Scovil photo.

Andyrobertsite and olivenite (the finest sample of andyrobertsite known), 1.5 cm high, Tsumeb mine, Tsumeb, Namibia; Bill Pinch collection, Jeff Scovil photo.

Andyrobertsite and olivenite (the finest sample of andyrobertsite known), 1.5 cm high, Tsumeb mine, Tsumeb, Namibia; Bill Pinch collection, Jeff Scovil photo.

Knowing Bill as we did, we think he would rather see his thoughts engraved here in print than more photos of his favorite minerals, so we will try to share a few. Bill relayed to all who would listen some cardinal ideas for his collecting, copied here in his own words (Chamberlain and King 1981, p. 55):

  • “Keep your best specimens no matter what the offer. You may never get an equally good specimen in the future, and you'll regret the trade.”

  • “You have to acquire duplicates; you can't build a collection by getting rid of them.”

  • “A major museum, due to lack of funds, may on occasion exchange specimens which should never leave the museum, and then regret it. On one hand this is good because it makes fine quality specimens available. On the other hand it is bad because fine quality specimens are difficult to replace.”

  • “People forget to collect feldspars, micas, and so on. All species are important.”

  • “A collection must be studied. Always re-examine and read about your specimens. An extensive reference library is essential.”

  • “As Neal Yedlin said, ‘Buy and use a good mineral book.’”

  • And his most repeated advice of all: “I alone determine what goes into my collection. I collect those things that interest me. Some people collect ribbons, but don't learn anything. They let the judges and others determine what they put in their collections. I continuously upgrade and add specimens based on my own ideas about collecting. On the other hand, you've got to be careful of who owns what. Besides providing specimens for the collection, collecting produces friends, interesting experiences, travel. … I don't want to be known just for the Pinch collection.”

And indeed, he will be remembered for more than being just a mineral collector. His urge to study his pieces led to a lifetime of publishing in the scientific community. Bill had an eye! He always knew what he was looking at and usually its provenance as well. He found the highest quality crystals and built a network of colleagues to conduct research. RRUFF is a project of systematic mineralogy to analyze and produce reliable standards for all mineral species so that the results can be used in applied science on earth and even in space—such as lasers for identifying extraterrestrial minerals, as used on the Mars Rover Curiosity. The RRUFF project mineralogical reference database currently lists nineteen papers coauthored by Bill with his favorite collaborators including Downs (ten), Yang (seven), Kampf (three), and Hawthorne (three). He coauthored papers describing seventeen new species and six revisions of species. He contributed far more than these numbers reflect. Bill seemed to thrive in the Tucson sun and the intellectual thrill of being in the academic environment that fit him so well. He became a valued part of the lab and the RRUFF team.

Bill and Jackie bought a snowbird nest in Tucson so they could be there during all the flurry of mineral activities. After the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show® wound down, Bill would come by the mineralogy lab at the University of Arizona, often two or three times a week, for the afternoon with a handful of “interesting” pieces to show Dr. Yang, Dr. Downs, and the grad students. There were always stories about the pieces—where they came from and why they seemed to be of peculiar notice, then followed by an examination under the microscope and the Raman spectrometer.

Having personally handled many thousands of species ourselves, there is no one in our experience who could sight identify minerals better than Bill. He knew what he was looking at and he knew when things were strange. Like all world-class skill sets, it came from long years of practice and looking at pieces. With Bill, those eyes contributed not only to the beauty of his collections, but to the science of the future as well.

Pinchite, a mercury oxychloride from Terlingua, Texas, was named in his honor. The citation in the naming paper reads as follows: “In recognition of Mr. [William] Pinch's observations and his generous contributions to many of the major mineralogical museums of the world, we have named the mineral pinchite” (Sturman and Mandarino 1974).

The Pinch Medal, issued by the Mineralogical Association of Canada (MAC), was established in 2001 and named in honor of Bill Pinch “in recognition of his enormous and selfless contributions to mineralogy through the identification of ideal specimens for study, and by making them available to the academic community” (mineral; accessed May 2017). Bill was the first recipient of the award and was particularly proud of it because others received the honor and the prize in a tradition related to his own interests. The Pinch Medal will continue to be presented every two years at the Tucson Show by MAC.


Chamberlain, S. C., and V. T. King. 1981. The William W. Pinch mineral collection. Rocks & Minerals 56 (2): 49–66.

Sturman, B. D., and J. A. Mandarino. 1974. Pinchite, a new mercury oxychloride from Terlingua, Texas. The Canadian Mineralogist 12:417–18.


Dr. Robert Lavinsky has been a mineral collector all his life (in part motivated by a childhood poster of the Pinch collection minerals purchased at a science museum). Despite an academic background in molecular genetics, he is now a mineral dealer (and collector) in Dallas, Texas.

Dr. Robert Downs is a professor of geosciences and director of the University of Arizona Mineral Museum. His laboratory specializes in mineralogy and crystallography, hosts and leads the massive international project for systematic mineralogy known as RRUFF (, and is one of the world's leading labs for identification of new species (


In this Issue

Taylor & Francis Group

Privacy Policy

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