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Highlights from a visit at the Collection de minéraux of Sorbonne Université

Last Updated: 15th Dec 2018

By Antoine Barthélemy

Context


When visiting a friend in Paris during fall 2018, I decided to go for the second time to the
Collection de minéraux of Sorbonne Université. I had already seen the Collection a few years back, before it was relocated in its current building, but I wanted to have another look at the specimens. So, on a sunny Saturday afternoon, I headed towards the Jussieu campus where the museum is located. The campus lies in the very center of Paris, and is visible from afar thanks to the 90 m tower which stands just in the middle of it.

The Zamansky tower


This article is somehow a follow-up to the one I wrote last year after a visit to the Galerie de Minéralogie et de Géologie of the Muséum national d'Histoire naturelle. For those who want to visit these museums, it is interesting to note that they lie within 1 km from each other.

Approaching the Collection de minéraux


Just like last year, the localities reported below are the ones shown on specimen labels, without further verification. This time, I also included in the captions the (very) approximate size of the specimens. The photographs in this report are not as good as the ones from the previous article, for reasons that will be mentioned below, but I think they still give a nice idea of what can be seen in the Collection.

The visit


The Collection de Minéraux is organized in a very simple way. A square-shaped room is filled with dozens of 4-sided glass cases mounted on poles. In those case, the minerals are sorted by chemistry. The fact that the cases are almost entirely made of glass nicely allows to look at specimens from several angles. But it also makes it more difficult to take photographs, because of reflections and of the transparency of the surfaces on which specimens lie. In addition, three of the four walls of the main room host cases as well, in which meterorites, larger minerals specimens, recent acquisitions and donated pieces are displayed.

But let's go on with the minerals! :-)

The M'Fouati mineral locality was the topic of a recent Mineralogical Record article. In one of the wall cases, a large cabinet specimen shows why M'Fouati is a significant wulfenite occurence: light brown crystals up to 5 cm wide and perhaps 1 cm thick are covered with sugary quartz. The large hemimorphite pictured below is another nice example from the same locality.

Hemimorphite from M'Fouati, Congo Brazzavile


In a small side room dedicated to radioactive minerals, specimens illustrating another recent Mineralogical Record article can be found. As you may have guessed, I am referring to the article about the Cu-Co-U Musonoi Mine, from which this cuprosklodowskite vug was unearthed. Also on display are two large specimens of Musonoi metatorbernite, incorrectly labelled as torbernite and so poorly lit that they were impossible to photograph. Speaking of metatorbernite, it is not a surprise that the Collection includes several samples from the French Margabal Mine, such as the large miniature pictured below.

Cuprosklodowskite from Musonoi, Katanga, Democratic Republic of the Congo
Metatorbernite from Margabal, Entraygues, Aveyron, France


If you have a look at my Mindat photo gallery, you will notice that I am really into secondary lead minerals. This preference will also be noticeable here ;-) The main primary lead mineral, galena, can form impressive crystals and very aesthetic pieces. But, in my personal opinion, it does not compete in beauty with species like wulfenite. A large specimen from China has a white coating, which leaves the red color of the wulfenite only visible along the edges of the crystals. On the contrary, the saturated blood-red color that is typical of some of the Iranian wulfenites is well visible in the absolutely gorgeous small-cabinet pieces shown further down.

Galena from Sweetwater, Missouri, USA
Wulfenite from Jianshan, Kuruktag Mountains, Xinjiang, China
Wulfenite from Chah Kharboze, Anarak, Iran


Pyromorphite from the Les Farges is of course well represented in the museum. The two specimens below show a part of the range of colors of the species at this locality. Even more impressive was a huge boulder displayed in the entrance, nearly 1 m wide, almost entirely covered with pyromorphite in surprisingly variable habits and colors.

Pyromorphite from Les Farges, Corrèze, France


Going on with French lead secondaries, we have here two more unusual samples. The first is an anglesite from the remote New Caledonia archipelago in the South Pacific. The second is stolzite from the Sainte-Lucie Mine in Mainland France. Stolzite occurs for instance in Australia as gemmy orange millimeter-sized crystals. At Sainte-Lucie, the crystals reach several centimeters, although they are admittedly duller.

Anglesite from Meretrice, New Caledonia, France
Stolzite from Sainte Lucie, Marvejols, Lozère, France


From the distance, the crystal below looks a bit like a large pale scalenohedral calcite from the Tri-State District in the US. It is actually a monstrous cerussite from Tsumeb. A second sample from the same occurence is show here, and it is mindblowing! The reticulated twin is lustrous, huge (I think more than 25 cm high) and in outstanding condition for what it is. From what I could see, the only broken blade is the one just above the left side of the label.

Cerussite from Tsumeb, Otjikoto, Namibia
Cerussite from Tsumeb, Otjikoto, Namibia


I will stay in Namibia for one more photograph. Next to a miniature specimen of the gorgeous blue scorodite from the Cabrestante Mine in Mexico, was this one from Tsumeb. If this specimen was properly mounted, you could see that is a complete, richly colored, 3 cm crystal on a bit a matrix. Unfortunately, it is just laid in an awkward position on a small acrylic base.

Scorodite from Tsumeb, Otjikoto, Namibia


Now we'll move on to another of my collecting specialties: secondary copper minerals. Two such specimens have already been showed above, here are three other showy ones. The first is a classic bright blue botryoidal azurite from Bisbee. The second is something labelled as chrysocolla, but which I suspect is also rich in heterogenite, from the Kabolea Mine in Katanga. And finally, the last one is large cabinet piece of velvety shattuckite sprinkled with centimeter-long dioptase crystals from the Kaokoveld Plateau in Namibia.

Azurite from Bisbee, Arizona, USA
Chrysocolla from Kabolela, Katanga, Democratic Republic of the Congo
Dioptase on shattuckite from Okandawasi, Namibia


You may think that my report is somewhat biased towards lead and copper minerals, but it would have been even worse (or nicer, depending on your taste) if I managed to get good pictures of:

  • ● an impressive cluster of thick brochantite crystals on matrix from the Milpillas Mine,
  • ● two massive V-twins of cerussite from Touissit, reaching well over 15 cm,
  • ● a wonderful azurite crystal, again from Touissit, thick and more than 5 cm long, nested in a vug,
  • ● large glistening dioptase crystals on a contrastive white matrix from... well you guessed it, Tsumeb.


And then, among the new acquisitions, there was an amazing piece that I did not notice immediately because it was hidden in a dark part of the display case. I had to use the flashlight on my phone just to be able to examine it. A 10 cm wide by 5 cm high matrix is covered with snow-white dickite. Right in the center of the specimen, on its upper edge, stands a 2 cm rosette of volborthite. This alone is sufficient to make the specimen an excellent one for this rare species, but there is more to it. A dozen light green malachite rounded aggregates, and flat lustrous azurite crystals reaching about 2 cm, are implanted on the dickite and on the volborthite itself. Simply put, the most beautiful volborthite specimen I have ever seen.

Just before concluding, and to make this report slightly more balanced, I will also show three non-lead, non-copper specimens. Pictured below are helvine lost in a forest of quartz crystals, a well-formed spessartine from the Thomas Range in Utah, and a large cabinet specimen made of two generations of amethyst.

Helvine on quartz from Dafeng, Jiangxi, China
Spessartine from Thomas Range, Utah, USA
Quartz (var: amethyst) from Rio Grande Sul, Brazil


Concluding remarks


The Collection de minéraux of Sorbonne Université is truly an excellent mineralogical museum. It will probably be mostly appreciated by people already familiar with minerals, who would recognize the amazing quality of the specimens displayed (some of which ranking among the world finest for the species). However, I must say that I have been slightly frustrated by the few "display mistakes" that I have mentioned above (the Milpillas volborthite, the Tsumeb scorodite...). The lighting in particular could be improved. It is not a big deal that lights are too weak to make good photographs, but it is an issue when it prevents to examine some wonderful specimens.

When your visit of the museum is over, and you're waiting for your non-mineral-interested friend to show up, a nice place to spend time is the Arènes de Lutèce, situated a few hundred meters from the Jussieu campus. This little park, built around the 2000 year old remains of an ancient Roman theatre, is a tranquil haven in the heart of Paris.

The Arènes de Lutèce


This article is linked to the following museum: Collection de Minéraux (Ile-de-France)




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Comments

Thank you Antoine for the nice museum report.
I visited the museum in 1985 so I think a lot changed.

And another display error is the heterogenite from Kabolela. Almost sure it's from L'Etoile du Congo.

Au plaisir de se rencontrer bientôt.

Paul.

Paul De Bondt
15th Dec 2018 1:22pm
Antoine

Thanks for the report, yet another place I'm unlikely to visit, so thank you for sharing.

Cheers

Keith Compton
29th Dec 2018 8:49pm

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