American Mineral Treasures, edited by Gloria A. Staebler and Wendell E. Wilson: A Review

American Mineral Treasures, Edited by Gloria A. Staebler and Wendell E. Wilson (Lithographie, LLC, 2008)

American Mineral Treasures, Edited by Gloria A. Staebler and Wendell E. Wilson (Lithographie, LLC, 2008)

It’s not always easy to meet fellow mineral collectors. For what used to be such an inclusive and welcoming hobby (or was that just how it felt to me?), a lot of people you meet — at clubs, in rock shops, at shows — are just that little bit stand-offish, almost as though they’re afraid that you’re going to come around and nick their best stuff. There are exceptions to this rule, of course, like the elderly couple who I once overheard in a swap area at a local show, with the woman saying to her husband: “Well, I’d rather buy rocks than food,” then cheerily talked with me about pyromorphite. I suspect that my perception of the change in attitudes has to do with the amount of cash that is now running rampant in the hobby, from dealers who grossly overcharge for comparatively poor specimens to the high-end dealers who really do have the best of the best, but are unfortunately all too aware of the fact. Minerals have gone from being valued for their chemistry (as ores) and rare beauty (as a handful of gemstones) to holding an intrinsic value far in excess of anything dictated by logic. Yes, there have always been pricey minerals, and monied collectors willing to buy them. But the money that is now a part of the game often seemed to put the casual collector, or the fascinated boy or girl who has $10 in pocket money, almost completely out of reach of anything even remotely nice. That look of disappointment which I saw one too many times led me, when I regularly worked at shows, to always ensure that I had something decent for a kid who reminded me a bit too much of myself at that age, to try to encourage them.

The very finest minerals are in their own league and are, in their own way, pin-ups. They are the museum pieces, the core of a private collection, even just the pride of the basement or garage lair. And if there were such a thing as mineral pin-up art, this book would be its herald. American Mineral Treasures does what it says on the wrapper, and is filled with lush, vibrant color photography, on heavy, glossy paper. There’s a reason – apart from the rarified nature of the subject – why this book was an $85 hardcover (and now costs even more, if you can find it). The price, in my opinion, is entirely worth it, not only for the photos, but for the content.

Like the book to which it is in some ways a successor, Peter Bancroft’s 1984 work Gem and Crystal Treasures, which at the time set the standard for mineral pin-ups, American Mineral Treasures sets out to depict the best of the best. If you ever find or own specimens like these, you are either incredibly lucky or incredibly well-off. Following the school of mineral photography driven, I would say, mostly by the likes of co-editor Wendell E. Wilson from the time when he became Editor-In-Chief of the Mineralogical Record back in the late 1970s, this is a very artful and specific sort of still photography, which tries to highlight the beauty of a three dimensional object in two dimensions. When the Record started heavily featuring color photography, it was a costly proposition which had bankrupted the only publication which had previously tried such a tactic (that being the ill-starred but wonderfully eccentric Mineral Digest). Now, it is the norm, and the Record and a phoenix-like Rocks & Minerals regularly feature such gorgeous images that younger readers can’t understand why it seems like a novelty.

By turns dealing with the most famous names in mineral collecting and mining locations – the Red Cloud Mine, Arizona; the mines of Butte, Montana; the Bunker Hill Mine, Idaho; the San Benito Gem Mine, California; Crater of Diamonds, Arkansas; Viburnum Trend, Missouri to name but six –  American Mineral Treasures surveys the best of the beautiful things which have come from the ground and been conserved for posterity. In many ways, the book reads like a cross between Staebler’s Lithographie, LLC publications and articles in the Mineralogical Record. With a Foreward by Harrison Schmitt, the only geologist to set foot on the Moon during the Apollo era, and articles on every famous mineral locality in the United States that I can think of, if you’re a fan of minerals and mineralogy, you won’t be disappointed.

Much of American history has been dictated by natural resources. Access to the riches of a broad swathe of North America proved incredibly fortuitous in economic terms. But the legacy of the beauty of those specimens and samples which avoided the crushers and the smelters is also extraordinary. This is a book to be dipped into, to be read through, or to take from the shelf when you have to justify to a non-initiated friend why you spend countless hours and ready cash to “play around with rocks”. If they don’t get it after seeing this book, then there’s a good chance that they never will. Five stars. Highest recommendation.

Originally reviewed 26 June 2011.

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About Bill Bibliomane

Reader and writer, collector and cataloguer. Amateur mineralogist, astronomer, numismatist, philatelist: I have too many hobbies. I'm somewhat compulsive when it comes to book shopping. Fortunately for my budget, there are no bookshops near to my home. Unfortunately, I've discovered the Internet. I started out reviewing books for my own amusement. Now I've decided to assemble them on my own site.
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