SUPPORT US. If is important to you, click here to donate to our Fall 2019 fundraiser!
Log InRegister
Home PageAbout MindatThe Mindat ManualHistory of MindatCopyright StatusWho We AreContact UsAdvertise on Mindat
Donate to MindatCorporate SponsorshipSponsor a PageSponsored PagesMindat AdvertisersAdvertise on Mindat
Learning CenterWhat is a mineral?The most common minerals on earthInformation for EducatorsMindat ArticlesThe ElementsBooks & Magazines
Minerals by PropertiesMinerals by ChemistryAdvanced Locality SearchRandom MineralRandom LocalitySearch by minIDLocalities Near MeSearch ArticlesSearch GlossaryMore Search Options
Search For:
Mineral Name:
Locality Name:
The Mindat ManualAdd a New PhotoRate PhotosLocality Edit ReportCoordinate Completion ReportAdd Glossary Item
Mining CompaniesStatisticsUsersMineral MuseumsMineral Shows & EventsThe Mindat DirectoryDevice Settings
Photo SearchPhoto GalleriesNew Photos TodayNew Photos YesterdayMembers' Photo GalleriesPast Photo of the Day GalleryMineral Photography

Minerals at the 1853 New York City Crystal Palace Exhibition

Last Updated: 3rd Feb 2008

By Daniel Russell

Crystals at the Crystal Palace:
The Mineralogical Display at the 1853
Crystal Palace Exhibit in New York City

by Daniel E Russell

The New York Crystal Palace, 1853
In July, 1853, the New York Exhibition of the Industry of All Nations (better know as the “New York Crystal Palace”) opened its doors to an eager public.

The Exhibition contained a dizzying array of objects, ranging from fine European paintings to house paint, from the newest farm implements to precision steam engines, from . Goverments from around the globe used the exhibition to showcase the best their nation had to offer , be it raw resource of finished product. Manufacturers also displayed their wares. The Crystal Palace Exhibition was, more than anything else, a celebration of the fruits of the Industrial Revolution.

One of the key areas of the exhibition was to be a large mineralogical display which would showcase the rich resources possessed by the United States. The display would consist of specimens of ores and minerals from the four corners of the nation to create a detailed catalog of America’s wealth. It was intended that the “mineralogical department” of the fair would also show examples of foreign minerals.

The New York Exhibition was closely, almost slavishly, patterned after the Crystal Palace Exhibition held in London in two years previously. The London Exhibition is usually marked as the first World’s Fair. Formally known as “Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of all Nations”, it became better known in the minds of the public as the “Crystal Palace” after the enormous, iron-and-glass building in which the exhibition was housed.

The London Exhibition was stunningly successful. Envious American investors wanted the prestige (and profits) of such an event on US soil. Before the London Exhibition had even closed its doors, newspapers were carrying demands that a second World’s Fair be erected in America, with New York City suggested as the likely host. A Boston carriage manufacturer named Edward Riddle created a coalition of New York City bankers and investors (the “Association for the Exhibition of the Industry of All Nations”) to finance the effort. Theodore Sedgwick was elected its President.

After successfully negotiating with New York City for the use of a parcel of land known as “Reservoir Square” (today, the site of Bryant Park and the New York Public Library in midtown Manhattan, at the corner of 42nd Street and 5th Avenue), construction began on a huge cast iron and glass building that closely mimicked the Crystal Palace of London. Sedgwick declared that the New York Crystal Palace would open to the public on May 1st, 1853. More than 15,000 panes of glass and 1,800 tons of iron would be assembled into an gargantuan cross-shaped structure, dominated at the center by a 100 foot diameter dome that that towered 123 feet above the City.

On January 20th, 1853, Sedgwick issued a formal statement to the newspapers that “it is the wish of this Association, in furtherance of the general desire… to render their Exhibition not a mere display of various and attractive objects,” but instead offer a “full representation of the varied and extensive Mineral resources of the United States.”

Calling on the “Proprietors of Mines, Metallurgists, Chemical Manufacturers, Coal Companies and Owners of Cabinets” (mineral collections) to assist with the effort of the New York Exhibition’s mineralogical department, Sedgwick observed that
the value and importance of our mines and ores can be most advantageously show by a series or suite of specimens of moderate size, taken from veins or deposits, so as to exhibit their average quality or richness. This will be effected by taking specimens of the poor or lean ores, as well as those of unusual richness. The series of specimens from each mine should include specimens of the minerals or associates found with the ore, and specimens of each wall-rock of the vein or bed. To make the collection more instructive, it is desirable to have drawings exhibiting the geological formation of the localities from which the ores are taken. It is important that all the specimens be uniform in size and shape, and distinctly characteristic of the part of the vein they are intended to represent…

In addition, the Association invites the exhibition of choice American minerals, possessing peculiar beauty or interest, which may be in public colleges or private collections. Such specimens will be carefully handled and arranged by competent mineralogists, so as to insure their safe return. (New York Times, 2 Feb 1853)
Only five months remained to accomplish such a sweeping proposal.

In mid-March, the “Mineralogical Department” was placed under the management of Benjamin Silliman, Jr., a 37 year old chemistry professor and mineralogist at Yale University. It was an extremely politic choice, as his father was one of the foremost scientists in America, and Benjamin Jr. had strong ties to the eastern US mining industry. Second in command was William Phipps Blake a prominent New York City mineralogist and mining geologist. Regretfully, Blake’s tireless services were lost when he was tapped to serve as mineralogist and map-maker for an expedition under the command of Lt. R S Williamson, one of four by the US government charged with finding a path for the proposed trans-continental railroad.

Blake composed a circular which was mailed to mining companies and foundries across the United States, explaining the needs of the Exhibition’s mineral display and asking them to forward appropriate specimens. Silliman later complained “…that the only way in which specimens were got at all, was by going or sending for them in person, or by special agents. Not one in a hundred of all the circulars of invitation addressed to mine owners and collectors ever received so much as an answer. One who has not himself attempted it, has any idea of the labor, delay, and vexation attendant upon the accumulation of such a collection. The most powerful of all inducements (self interest) was wanting, in a majority of cases in this department, to tempt people to forward their specimens.”

Scrambling to gather the required specimens for display, Silliman asked a former Yale student, George Jarvis Brush, to accompany him on a trip to the “lead and copper mines” of Chester County, Pennsylvania. This was the famous Phoenixville Mining District, the source of fine specimens of pyromorphite, and the French Creek Mines, which produced a host of large, well crystallized chalcopyrite crystals. There they were permitted to select specimens from the cabinet of Charles M. Wheatley, owner of the Wheatley Mine in Pheoenixville, whose personal mineral collection would eventually number more than 6,000 specimens. Brush also paid a call on John Ehlers, a Hoboken, NJ mineral collector, and was permitted to select a “suite of Mexican silver ores which that gentleman's long residence in Mexico had enabled him to collect from fourteen of the most remarkable of the Mexican mines.” Brush would eventually replace Blake as Silliman’s assistant, charged with the critical duty of actually arranging the exhibit.

Before heading west, Blake went to the “iron regions of Lake Champlain, and the phosphorite deposits of the same region; the zinc deposits of New Jersey, and of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania; the chrome and copper works at Baltimore, and a portion of the gold regions of Virginia. Subsequently (in company with J. D. Whitney, Esq.), Mr. Blake made a special journey to the copper regions of North Carolina, and that of the Haiwasse, in Tennessee” (“the Haiwasse” would later become better known as the Ducktown Copper District.)

Other period luminaries who Silliman deputized as official “special agents” of the Great Exhibition to help assemble the collection of ores and minerals included:

Dr. William S. Clarke, noted analytic chemist and botanist of Amherst College, who visited numerous persons and mines in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Vermont on behalf of the Great Exhibition.

Dr. Frederick Augustus Genth, the analytical chemist of Philadelphia who would, a few years after the exhibition closed, become professor of mineralogy at the University of Pennsylvania, traveled through northern New York, Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina, in an effort to secure exhibits. “The cabinet is indebted to him for specimens… with great judgment and care; for suites illustrative of the metallurgic processes of the iron, lead, and copper smelting works of the same regions; and also for the assiduity and tact with which he induced the proprietors of valuable cabinets to loan from them to the Association such specimens as he selected, and often such as could be procured in no other way.”

Oliver Payson Hubbard, M. D., professor of chemistry, pharmacy, and mineralogy at Dartmouth College, New Hampshire (and who has assisted Charles Goodyear in the discovery of the rubber vulcanization process in the 1830’s), was commissioned to make a collection of New Hampshire’s minerals.

• Dr. Charles M. Wetherill, of Philadelphia was a member of the Academy of Science and analytical chemist who, in addition to mineralogy, possessed an interest in agriculture. In later years he would be appointed as chemist to the US Department of Agriculture by President Lincoln and found the laboratory that would evolve into the Food and Drug Administration. Because time was growing short, Wetherill was asked to visit only the mines of the eastern part of Pennsylvania, but enabled the Great Exhibition to display examples of the “ore, fuel, flux, slags, and manufactured products” of 54 different iron furnaces from that state.

Ludwig Stadtmuller, a Bavarian immigrant who served as staff assayer at the Bristol Copper mine in Connecticut, was asked to visit the iron region which overlapped the boundary between New York and Connecticut, the copper, lead and cobalt mines of Connecticut, and the lead mine of Northampton, Massachusetts, “selecting and forwarding specimens from numerous proprietors, and some private cabinets. He also visited and collected the ores of the copper region of the Blue Ridge in Virginia, sixty miles from Alexandria, at Manassas Gap.

Meanwhile, the New York Times reported:
One department, at least of the World’s Fair will not be devoid of interest or value. Measures have been taken for the establishment of a Class in the Exhibition which shall provide a perfect collection of the Mineral and Metallic productions of this country, arranged under the eye of experienced scientific men, and classified in such a manner as to be a daguerreotype of the resources of every State in the Union. The enterprise is just making its way into public notice, and we have received copies of numerous circulars relating to its management. The promise of the Exhibition is fair, and its results are no doubt destined to achieve important in the popular knowledge of such matters. The vast mineral resources of the United States are not generally appreciated as they should be. Our industrious population is half unaware of the riches that yet lie undeveloped. The hand of Science is invoked to bring out the secret, and the approaching Exhibition will afford the first fitting opportunity to accomplish the work.

The World’s fair Association, deeming it an important subject of inquiry to institute investigations into the quality and amount of the yield of the Mines scattered through the country, some time since made arrangements for the exhibition of such products, in a separate department of the Fair. It will be known as Class I of the Exhibition, and is placed in charge of Professor Benjamin Silliman, Jr., and Mr. William P. Blake – two gentlemen well known to the scientific world, and whose names are a sufficient guaranty that the classification and conduct of the Department will reflect credit upon the work. To have placed a Department of this character in incompetent hands would have been but a farcical performance. As it is, we may hope for a satisfactory exposition of an interesting subject.

The requisite completeness of the enterprise has appeared to indicate the necessity of a geographical arrangement of the specimens furnished for exhibition. A purely scientific classification, it was thought, would scarcely impart so satisfactory an impression. The specimens will accordingly be placed that the mines of each State shall be represented, and when a vein intersects two adjoining States, a similar arrangement will be observed at the Fair. The specimens should be of uniform dimensions, as nearly as may be – say five or six inches square, and two inches in thickness – each representing the distinctive characteristics of the vein whence it is taken. The cooperation of directors of mines, of private individuals who possess cabinets, and of scientific Societies is invited. It is very desirable that this department should be very well filled and carefully arranged at as early a day as possible. We understand that several valuable specimens of precious metals are already amoung the contributions… (New York Times 29 March 1853)
Major construction delays resulted in the opening of the Crystal Palace Exhibition being postponed more than two months. Faced with either breaking the mineralogical exhibit up onto fragments displayed in different areas of the building, it was decided to relocate the mineral section to the Machine Arcade. Problematically, the construction of the Machine Arcade was not yet complete, effectively derailing the schedule for installing the exhibit.

The bulk of the Crystal Palace Exhibition was ready to open to the public on July 14th, 1853. On that day, President of the United States Franklin Pierce was on hand to formally inaugurate the New York Exhibition of the Industry of All Nations. Poets sang psalms and philosophers waxed eloquent about the grand accomplishments of the human race as demonstrated by the might of industry. The glass cathedral known as the Crystal Palace was heralded as “The Temple of National Industry.” A single-day admission to the Exhibition cost 50¢ for an adult, and 25¢ for a child; season tickets were $10.00.

The Mineralogical Department was a noteworthy absence, crippled by the incomplete construction in the Machine Arcade.

Towards the end of August, a letter appeared in the New York Herald noting that the mineral exhibit still had not opened, and stating that the reason was that Silliman was “lying dangerously ill” in his home at Yale. One of Silliman’s colleagues – possible Blake – wrote a response in the New York Times, signed only “Veritas,” describing the situation more fully:
The ascribed cause has no connection with the condition of the cabinets. Professor Silliman has been ill, but I am happy to stay is now in a state of well-established convalescence. But his sickness did not, and could not, retard the preparation of the cabinet… Professor Silliman, from an ample knowledge of the whole subject, and of the scientific ability necessary to develop it, has selected a gentleman to make this development, who, within my acquaintance with the scientific men of the country, has no equal. I allude to Mr George J Brush, of Brooklyn. His selection for the arduous duty of arranging the mineral cabinets, on the proper plan, proposed by Professor Silliman, is an abundant testimony to his merits… Professor Silliman has no more thought of interfering with the labors he has assigned to Mr. Brush, than of showing him how to drive a nail; and Dr Silliman’s sickness has not had the slightest bearing on the labors of Mr. Brush.

…The room in which the cabinet is to be arranged was not even partially ready for Mr Brush until last Monday night; and even now the painters are at work upon it. The fault of the backwardness of the preparation of the cabinet of minerals is not, therefore, due to the illness of Professor Silliman, but exclusively belongs to the managers of the Exhibition. (New York Times, 26 Aug 1853)
Workmen were still putting the finishing touches on the Mineralogy Department as of September 6th. Silliman lamented “had this long delay been foreseen at the outset, the collections might have been rendered more complete from the remote sections of the United States, as it would have been practicable to have sent special agents to the most distant mining districts in the Eastern United States, to collect specimens. This system of sending special agents was adopted from the outset in all the Atlantic States, the Association having liberally placed means at the disposal of the Director to employ the services of gentlemen eminent in this department to act for the Association in the collection of facts and specimens illustrating the mineral resources and industry of the United States.”

It was not until late September, more than two months after the inauguration of the Exhibition, that the Mineralogy Department was finally opened to the public. One visitor complained that while the exhibit was finally opened, “at the end of the first week, and even at the end of the first three weeks afterwards the collection still remained unarranged, and no catalogue was to be had.”

The Mining Magazine for November, 1853 reported:
the visitor will see many large and splendid specimens from some of our mines and coal fields, a great number of rich pieces of ore, rare minerals, and petrifactions; also a display of gold ores and bars of a value of more than $28,000 under glass cases, but he will seek in vain for particulars to enable him to form an idea of the geological formations and mineral resources of the different States of our Union. He will see the glass cases with cards attached, bearing the names of “Pennsylvania”, “Maryland”, “New York” etc., and a number of specimens are labelled with the names of mining companies and private individuals, and here and there we were happy to find a mineral with its own name attached. Simple rocks, pieces of the great bulk of our globe, " samples of the country," which the geologist is always looking for in addition to those mineralogical fruits and flowers in the shape of ores and crystals, seem in general to be considered of too little importance to find a place in the collection. What we expected to find was a systematically arranged collection of all minerals of our country, each one bearing its name upon it, for the purpose of information to t lie people and to serve as contributions to science. But what we found was a “fine show”, a splendid display of valuable ores and “rarities”. As to the arrangement, the German collection would have served as an admirable guide to a scientific method. After all, our judgment of the Exhibition may be premature.
Clearly stung by the comments, Silliman responded that “all the most interesting and important specimens had their names attached to cards, placed in front of each specimen, before the 10th of October, or within a fortnight after the room was thrown open to the public.”

Interior of the New York Crystal Palace, 1853

After the dust settled, Silliman had the opportunity to note some of the highlights of the State-level displays at the Great Exhibition:


The display for California contained “two masses of cinnabar from the New Almaden Mines, near San Jose, Alta California, weighing many hundred pounds, were remarkable for their great purity and size giving promise, from what we already know of the surprising extent of the deposits, of an inexhaustible supply of quicksilver, where it is much wanted, and at a point whence it can be easily supplied to the whole Pacific coast.” While the New Almaden mines were, in fact exhaustible, their enormous outpouring of mercury helped fuel the US gold recovery industry for many decades.

The exhibit of California gold, however, excited the greatest attention. This display was coordinated by Adams & Co., a San Francisco company. The company had started in 1840’s Boston as an express company, carrying small parcels and other valuables between that city and New York. They expanded to California in 1849, offering a secure way of transmitting gold from San Francisco to New York City via Panama. The company created subsidiary offices in more than 50 different mining districts in California. They were the perfect choice to speak as the common voice of the gold districts of California.
It was not surprising that nearly all visitors to the Mineralogical Cabinet, should be curious to see the gold of California, of which the world has heard so much of late years. Fortunately, the enlightened zeal of the well known commercial and financial agents, Adams & Co., enabled this inquiry to be answered in the most satisfactory manner. Their collection from the California gold washings embraced not only several nuggets of a remarkable size and great variety of form and complexion, but it included ounce specimens from nearly every washing or place of any note, to the number of over two hundred. It was very curious and instructive to observe the characteristic differences which these samples of diluvial gold presented, both in color, form, and the size of the grains, a difference so marked and constant, as to guide the eye of an experienced person in deciding the origin of the samples. Among the larger specimens, were a few which were remarkable for the beauty of their crystalline structure. One large mass especially, containing about $900 in value, had its gold disposed in large and well formed skeleton octahedra, joined in symmetrical forms by their apexes, the whole sustained on a gangue of clean quartz, and wonderfully well preserved from the wearing effects of water, usually so prominent in all nuggets… Including the ingots and coins, (all struck in California, and mostly by private assayers), the value of this collection of gold was declared at over $80,000.
In addition to the gold specimens, Adams and Co. offered “a specimen of eight or ten ounces of iridosmine, so much valued from its hardness in pointing gold pens, was shown with the gold of Messrs. Adams & Co., being obtained as an insoluble residue at the US Mint, in the process of refining the gold. It was easy to select from among the grains those which retained the hexagonal form and tin white color belonging to this rare mineral.” [“Iridosmine” is today classified as simply an iridium rich variety of osmium]
The Crystal Palace Police Force, 1853


The highlight of this state’s display was, of course the chalcocites (“copper glance”) from the Bristol Copper Mine. A suite of specimens were on provided by the mine agent, Mr. H. H. Sheldon. But even more spectacular were specimens from the cabinet of Union College, in Schenectady NY. “These remarkable crystallized forms of glance copper are now well known by mineralogists, the world over, but such large and fine specimens were never before shown publicly.” The amazing loan from Union College was not surprising, since the school’s President, Eliphalet Nott, was also President of the Bristol Mining Company.

An enormous crystal of columbite, weighing over 2½ pounds, was displayed from Haddam, Connecticut. Silliman noted it was “tabular in form from the extension of the plane M. Most of the lateral planes are preserved, while the lustre and metallic tarnish of the surface are well displayed.” Also from Haddam were two crystals of beryl, “such as have been found only there, with the terminal plane, so perfect in surface and polish, that when one crystal is, placed upon the other the exclusion of air is so complete, that the one crystal lifts the other. These terminal planes are of a transparent light green color, veneered, as it were, upon the summit of the prism, whose shaft is of a milky pale green color; the lateral planes are distinct, and strongly marked with rhombic lines. These specimens were also from the cabinet of Professor B. Silliman, Jr., and fine examples from the same planes were shown by Mr. Vaux and Messrs. Clay of Philadelphia.”


Apparent, the only specimens of note from Delaware were of the “fine cleavable feldspar, from New Castle, Delaware (exhibited by Mr. J. Jones)… well known from the use which has been made of it as a porcelain material.”


As could be expected, Maine’s exhibit highlighted the state’s gem elbaite. Centerpiece of the display were “three crystals of green and red toumaline, discovered many years since at Paris, by Professor C. U. Shepard, and exhibited by him, are probably the most unique specimens of this species ever seen. The color is lively grass green to ruby red, the opposite ends of one and the same crystal presenting these two colors; perfectly transparent in some parts, and again, filled with cracks. The crystals are nearly two inches in diameter, and before being cut, nearly three inches long, and terminated with the rhombic planes. Portions from these crystals have been cut, and form gems of rare beauty and value. These crystals were found loose in the soil, more than twenty five years since, by the exhibitor.”


The products of greatest economical interest” from Maryland “were the chrome ores and manufactured products, and the copper and cobalt ores of the Patapsco Company, as well as the copper ores from Carroll and Frederick counties (and) the iron ores…”


“One of the remarkable mineralogical novelties of the collection” were examples of the spodumene from “Norwich, Massachusetts” (the town later changed its name to Huntington). This is the famous Walnut Hill Pegmatite locality, which produced exceptionally large and well crystallized spodumene crystals – one of which was 16½ inches long and 10 inches wide. “This mineral was first observed in crystals at this locality, by Messrs. Hitchcock, Jr., and Hartwell, in 1850. The former of these gentlemen exhibited several very large crystals of this spodumene, and Professor B. Silliman, Jr., showed the two most interesting forms which have hitherto been observed, one, the same figured in Dana's Mineralogy, 3d ed. p. 693, and another hemitroped [twinned] on the plane M.” The same locality provided “crystallized alluaudite” (triphylite) commonly associated with the spodumene crystals.

Interior of the New York Crystal Palace, 1853

In 1850’s America, Michigan was virtually synonymous with copper. It was one of the few states to directly fund their representation at the Great Exhibition. Centerpiece of their contribution was “a mass of native copper, cut from the lode of one the North American Mining Company's mines, weighing 6,300 pounds. This mass was cut into a rectangular form. Portions of the epidotic gangue or veinstone were adhered to the upper surface, but the sides were clean cut surfaces of pure copper, upon one of which was engraved the locality and weight. Many other very large masses of copper were exhibited by different miners in the Lake Superior region, of which that from the Minnesota Mining Company weighed over 5,000 pounds.”


Missouri offered “an extensive suite of the ores of copper, lead, and iron, cobalt, and zinc, and specimens of coal, marble, glass sands, soils, limestones, etc., in which that State is so productive. Portions of these collections were prepared in a very skilful manner, and did much credit to those by whom they were made. Among the most remarkable specimens from Missouri, were six masses of the specular and magnetic iron ores (weighing many tons), from the well known "Iron Mountain" and "Pilot Knob" of that State.

New Hampshire
The pegmatite quarries of New Hampshire generated considerable interest from the mineralogical community. “The mica plates, from Grafton and South Ackworth, exhibited by George H. Ruggles of Boston, and J. and J. S. Bowers of Ackworth, are well known now the world over, for their size, clearness and strength. An important branch of industry has grown up from the employment of this mica to fill the openings in. the doors of stoves for the combustion of anthracite. The mica of Grafton is remarkable for having compressed in its luminal crystals of black tourmaline, flattened in the longer axis, and often so thin as to permit the passage of light. Two specimens of these natural polarizers were shown among selections from the cabinet of Professor Silliman, Jr.”

A sample of cassiterite the represented “the only example of tin ore in the United States is also from New Hampshire, town of Jackson, and specimens of the ore and metallic tin and bronze made from it were shown by their original discoverer, Dr. Charles T. Jackson of Boston.” This sits is known today as the Eastman Hill Tin prospects

Also on display was a“mass of smoky quartz crystal, penetrated by delicate hair like crystals of transparent red brown rutile” on loan from the personal cabinet of Professor Oliver Payson Hubbard. “This appears to have been part of a larger crystal, and was picked up as a bowlder in New Hampshire. Its sides have been cut so as to illuminate the interior, which exhibits a sight of rare beauty, the dark, but perfectly transparent quartz, being everywhere interpenetrated with the countless fibrous crystals of rutile. Some of the rutile crystals project in points beyond the surface of the quartz, seeming to indicate that they were formed first across a cavity, and surrounded by the quartz in a state of solution at a later period. There is another similar specimen in the cabinet of a private collector in New York, which also came from New Hampshire, and is quite probably part of the same original mass.”

New Jersey

The marbles of Sussex County, New Jersey have excited considerable attention from both mineralogists and mineral collectors since about 1800. “From New Jersey, the zinc ores of Sussex (Franklinite and red oxide zinc) are well known, and were abundantly represented. Some masses of the red oxide, shown by Mr. Blake, were of great purity, and the red corundum crystals, also from Sussex, Shown by the same gentleman, are worthy of notice for their color and size.”

Also on exhibit were masses of brucite from the type locality of Castle Point, Hoboken These were displayed by Mr. Stone, of Brooklyn, New York and were “of unequalled size, being in veins three to four inches in thickness, and in masses weighing many pounds – perfectly pearly.”

Peter Cooper and Abram S Hewitt, two of the leading iron industrialists of that age, also exhibited “iron ores, pig, (and) slags” from Andover, New Jersey.

New York

It is apparent that the display of the Great Exhibition’s “host state” – New York – was the most diverse of all the state offerings. Silliman wrote:
The region of northern New York, including especially the counties of Jefferson, St. Lawrence, and Essex, has long been remarkable for the very fine crystallized minerals which it produces. It is believed that the collection of the species there found was more completely represented in the Crystal Palace, than ever before in any one cabinet. The selections from the cabinet of Hamilton College, by Professor O. Root, that from the cabinet of Mr. Wilder, at Hoosick Falls, that from the cabinet of Judge Dodge of Gouverneur, and many unique specimens from the cabinets of Mr. Vaux and others, gave great beauty and completeness to this portion of the display. The species shown from this region were chiefly apatite, green hexagonal crystals in white limestones, two were over eight inches long, and one doubly terminated, and one fragment of a crystal, believed to be the largest individual of this species ever found, which measured eighteen inches in length, by over six inches in diameter, and when entire, was estimated to have weighed over fifty pounds; large and distinct crystals of phlogopite (one of the mica family); calcite, of rare form, size, and transparency; zircon, in large hair brown transparent crystals; tourmaline, in highly complex forms of brown color; fluorspar, in gigantic cubes; celestine, in clear blue crystals on calc-par; Millerite (sulphuret of nickel), in capillary crystals: and among more common species, but remarkably well crystallized, may be named galena; iron pyrites, highly modified; yellow copper; specular iron, etc., etc.

From the region of Lake Champlain, a large mass of finely crystalline graphite is worthy of remark, from Ticonderoga; several large crystals of allanite, from Crown Point, both exhibited by Mr. W. P. Blake. The allanite is in crystals of unexampled size, and this hitherto rare mineral promises to be abundantly furnished by this locality.

The metallurgical resources of the State of New York were represented by the iron ores and furnace products from Orange county, etc., as may be seen more particularly by reference to the Catalogue. The lead region of St. Lawrence county has been again brought into notice, and the ores from several of the mines were collected, or sent in by their proprietors. The "Ulster Mining Company" exhibited a notable mass of galena, specked with yellow copper (in the Yard), weighing several tons, and some showy specimens of the yellow copper of this mine, in huge well formed crystals, standing upon tables of large and transparent quartz crystals, were shown by Mr. Vaux and others. The specimens of sphene and scapolite, from Lewis county, shown by Mr. Bourue, Mr. Vaux, Mr. Wilder, and others, are among the most memorable mineralogical products of New York, but are certainly surpassed in interest by the monster spinels of Monroe, Warwick, and other neighboring towns of Orange county, which have been brought to light by the exertions of Messrs. Horton and Jenkins, of Monroe. Some perfect and well modified black octahedra have been found, and were exhibited over 4 inches in diameter, and groups of a much larger size. The well known species hornblende, Biotite, and many others, for which this county is so celebrated, were also fully represented. These species were included in the selections from the cabinets already named.
North Carolina

Opened in 1839, the Washington Mine, Davidson county, was “very fully represented by specimens of argentiferous galena, bars of silver, and numerous crystallized salts of lead, particularly pyromorphite and cerucite (sic). Mr. Roswell A. King, the former proprietor, deposited in the cabinet a large collection of the various products of this mine, obtained some years back, when it yielded superb specimens and made its name memorable with American collectors.”

The copper veins of this State have lately attracted much attention, and were fully represented by the collections of Mr. Blake and Dr. Genth, as well as by the larger specimens sent on by proprietors. The copper exists almost solely as yellow pyrites (double sulphuret of copper and iron), in veins of quartz. Dr. Genth states the interesting fact that, in all the cases in which he has examined this ore, it is auriferous; and the circumstance is well known, that nearly all, if not all, the North Carolina copper veins were formerly worked as gold veins. Above water level, the decomposing influences of air, water, frost, etc., have removed the sulphurets, leaving the gold in the oxide of iron, or gossans. The same fact holds true in Virginia, that, in many mines, the gold has apparently run out in depth, being replaced by copper pyrites. The truth is, probably, in all these cases, that the quantity of gold is as great in depth as it was at the surface; but it is in a form not to be procured by washing and amalgamation, and in which it can only be obtained by a circuitous method, involving a furnace process. In North Carolina, the region productive in copper, etc., appears to be confined chiefly to the counties of Guildford and Mecklenburg. .

Silliman wrote that “the district of Pennsylvania… has been a rich field to the mineralogist, and has furnished a number of new species to his science within the last few years, e. g., emerald nickel, euphyllite, pennite, clinochrore, and others, which, although not new, are not elsewhere found in the United States. In addition to these are found there a long list of more common species, often of rare beauty.”

The premier display pieces of the Pennsylvania display were, of course, the suite of minerals from Charles M. Wheatley’s cabinet. The vibrant green pyromorphites were certain to attract the eye of even the least mineralogical inclined spectator.

Justifiably, much of this state’s exhibit was devoted to coal and iron, celebrating the vast reserves that Pennsylvania possessed of both. It was coal and iron that had propelled the United States into the Industrial Age, celebrated by the Great Exhibition.

But Pennsylvania offered even more. A suite of nickel minerals from the Wood’s Chrome Mine, in Texas, Lancaster County, were on hand for inspection. He especially noted the “beautiful emerald green, transparent crust” of a hydrated chromium hydroxy-carbonate (which, of course, Silliamn had himself described in 1847 and which would later be called “zaratite” by Spanish mineralogist Martin Alcibar Casares in 1851.

Corundum specimens from both Delaware County (at Mineral Hilland Chester County (the “Corundum Hill” locality) were placed in the display. Silliman noted that it “has been found in masses sufficiently compact and abundant to dress into emery for manufacturing purposes, although it is doubtful whether the existence of the cleavage of the mineral is sufficiently obliterated to give it the requisite strength and toughness as a polishing agent” Specimens of rutile (also apparently from Chester County) “found loose in the soil, has a considerable commercial value, from its use in giving the yellowish gray tint to artificial teeth. The collection contained remarkably fine examples of this species, in large geniculated crystals of great perfection. We notice especially two crystals from the cabinet of Thomas A. Scale, of Minersville, which are esteemed the finest examples of this species in existence.”

From a metallurgical perspective, Silliman noted:
The crystalline slags from Easton, exhibited by Dr. Swift, and by Professor Silliman, have not yet received a chemical examination, such as they demand. Their beautiful distinctness as crystals, often transparent, produced by art, excites our admiration and invites an extended investigation into the circumstances of their origin. It is worthy of remark in this connection, upon the statement of Dr. Swift, that of two furnaces, in different sections of the same district, but supplied with the same materials and ores, the one produces crystalline, and the other amorphous slags. These furnaces are represented in the Exhibition by the proprietors, Messrs. Cooper & Hewitt, Dr Wetherill, in his researches among the slags of a great number of iron furnaces in Pennsylvania, found but few which furnished distinct crystals, and but one among them all that showed the red oxide of titanium (as it has been erroneously called) so common among the slags of some Welsh furnaces.
South Carolina

The display from South Carolina was underwhelming. Outside, in the yard, was “the massive black oxide of manganese, from Edgefield District, South Carolina, exhibited by Mr. Lane, was remarkable for the large size of the blocks (seen in the Yard), and for its freedom from foreign associated minerals.”

There was also a sample of gold from the same district offered by “Mr. Dorn of Oakland Grove”


The display of Tennessee minerals concenjtrated heavily on the newly-discovered Ducktown district, then known as the “Hiwassee region.” “This deposit (for it is a mass conformable to the adjacent strata) offers a singular and interesting example of the fermentation on a large scale of magnetic pyrites, poor in copper, and the separation of the sulphuret of copper from the oxide of iron, resulting from the decomposition of the magnetic pyrites.” Wrote Silliman. “This process is still in operation at the depth of eighty or ninety feet from the surface, where an accumulation of sulphuret of copper, a few feet in thickness, rests upon the bed of unchanged pyrites, while above is a loosely aggregated mass of oxide of iron (gossan), which forms the outcrop of the bed and is entirely free from copper. The temperature in the adits at the bottom of the shaft is said to be about 80°, and the odor of sulphydric acid very decided. The extent of this mass (which is intercalated between beds of gneissic rocks) is the most remarkable feature of the case, being, it is said, forty to fifty feet in width, and traced by exploration between two and three miles.”


“The large crystals of pale colored, smoky quartz, penetrated by rutile, which were found in great numbers a few years since in cutting for a railway in Waterbury, Vermont, were also represented in the collection among the specimens from the cabinets of W. S. Vaux of Philadelphia, and of B. Silliman, Jr., of New Haven.”


Virginia was clearly one of the many states which suffered greatly from the lack of available time to aquire specimens.

The gold mines of Virginia were at least partially represented Dr. Genth displayed a specimen of gold associated with “telluret of bismuth” (tetradymite), “in which the gold presented a surface of the most perfect polish, being evidently the cast, or pseudomorph, in gold, of some other species (probably of spathic iron). The rare telluret of bismuth, from Commodore Stockton's mine in Louisa county, was fully represented.” [This may be an error; none of the Louisa County mines seem to have tetradymite.] And “from Goochland and Buckingham counties were some ores of gold of a remarkable character, especially that from Garnet's Mine, which was associated with garnets.”

A specimen of barite from the Eldridge Mine was “remarkable for the form and finish of its crystals.”

Weyer’s Cave (called “Weir's Cave”), “celebrated for the beauty of its crystalline stalactites, was represented by a large mass of crystals of dogtooth spar, of a delicate yellow color, exhibited by Mr. Robert L. Coote, of Bloomfield, New Jersey.”

The Crystal Palace, 1853

The Foreign Exhibits

General, participation from foreign governments at the Great Exhibition was markedly poor. The one saving grace was the exhibit from Augustus Krantz, the leading German mineral dealer:
“The mineralogical portion of the foreign department was… chiefly indebted for its beauty and attractiveness, in the eyes of scientific mineralogists and collectors, to a brilliant suite of well chosen crystallized minerals, selected from all the great mineral and mining districts of Europe by Dr. Augustus Krantz, of Bonn on the Rhine, who is well known as a dealer in minerals. This suite embraced specimens from Prussia, Saxony, the Hartz, Thuringia, Baden, Hanover, Nassau, Transylvania, Hungary, Bohemia, Tyrol, Switzerland, Italy, France, Scandinavia, and Russia. Many of the specimens were such as are rarely seen even in Europe in such fine condition, and the whole offered much pleasure to mineralogical collectors.

More useful, probably, because within the reach of young students and of teachers, were the select cabinets of well characterized minerals and rocks, designed for instruction. It is one proof of the utility of the Exhibition, that several of these latter collections were sold to students and teachers from those exhibited, the price being moderate and the specimens excellent.
Great Britain

Silliman complained that “there was no systematic collection” offered by Great Britain. The Duke of Buccleuch, owner of many mines in Wanloch Head (today, Wanlockhead) “sent a fine suite of argentiferous galena and its products, illustrating the various stages of the Pattinson process applied to the ores from Wanloch Head. The ingot of silver accompanying this suite was of the value of £100…”

The Mining Company of Ireland, a company founded in the early 1800’s (and which still exists today!) to mine the rich lead ore of the Ballycorus lead mine also showed ore an intermediary products from their lead smelting operation.

The Lowmoor Iron Company, a prominent Yorkshire, England, iron furnace and colliery, “sent a remarkably fine suite of specimens, illustrating the manufacture of iron in all its stages, the fullest and most instructive series of the sort that was exhibited.”

Finally Mr Cowper, of Alston , loaned a “huge crystal of heavy spar, with other minerals”. This is probably the J Cowper who made a similar loan of barite to the Crystal Palace exhibit on London, 1851.


The sundry states which eventually coalesced into modern Germany sent exhibits to New York City.
Saxony – This ancient and almost hereditary seat of mining was admirably represented by a well chosen suite of characteristic specimens, selected by authority of the Royal Saxon Mining College in Freiberg. It embraced the ores of silver, lead, antimony, copper, bismuth, and their associate minerals. The specimens were, many of them, large, showing the character of the entire vein from which they were taken; and these were selected from several of the best known mines. As a suite calculated to convey accurate ideas to the student, with regard to the distribution and character of metallic veins, nothing could be better.

The Royal Bavarian Director General of Mines, at Munich, also sent a large suite of specimens, both mineralogical and geological, illustrative of the mineral resources of that kingdom. Especially worthy of mention in this collection, was that part which embraced the rock salt, gypsum, and anhydrite, from the saliferous region; and the whole series was put up and ticketed with characteristic German exact neatness.

The Directors of the Public Iron Depot, at Gottenburg, in Sweden, sent an instructive suite of the iron ores, pig, and bar iron for which the country had become famous.


The “Great Exhibition of the Industry of All Nations” was, in the end, a financial disaster of epic proportion. By the time Sedgwick resigned in March 1854, a debt of $100,000 had already accrued. The financial backers of the Exhibition took the desperate step of bringing in huckster-showman P T Barnum as the new President. Barnum had accepted the post in hopes that he would achieve the one thing that had eluded him throughout his career – credibility. Instead, handing the helm of the Great Exhibition to the world’s premier hoaxster and master of humbug simply demeaned the exhibit. Barnum was the man who had turned the bogus “Feejee Mermaid” into New York City’s Number One spectacle. Certainly, the man who was unable to understand the difference between a carnival freakshow and a museum was a poor choice to attempt to salvage the New York Crystal Palace. And by the time Barnum retreated back to his Connecticut mansion “weary, fagged, tired, and almost sick” he admitted “I was an ass for having anything to do with the Crystal Palace.”

When Great Exhibition closed, officially, on 1 November 1854, it was more than $300,000 in debt. The Crystal Palace building itself remained standing, at least for awhile, serving as a convention center and concert hall

On October 5th, 1858, at 5:10pm, fire broke out in a storeroom in the northern vestibule, where the wood patterns used by the workmen in construction of the building had been archived. It took only 21 minutes for the iron and glass building – ostensibly fireproof – to be destroyed. Amazingly, no one was badly injured, although hundreds of thousand of dollars of merchandize and machinery then on exhibit at the annual American Institute fair were lost.

The Destruction of the Crystal Palace, 1858


Anonymous (1853) “Mineralogical Exhibition in the Crystal Palace, New York” Mining Magazine, Vol 1, No. 5, November 1853 pp. 497-499.

New York Times “To Proprietors of Mines, Metallurgists, Chemical Manufacturers, Coal Companies and Owners of Cabinets” 2 February 1853

New York Times “Mineralogy at the Crystal Palace” 29 March 1853

New York Times “The Mineralogical Department at the Crystal Palace” 26 Aug 1853

Silliman, Benjamin Jr. A Notice of the Mineralogical Collection in the Crystal Palace
Mining Magazine, Vol 2, No. 6, June 1854 pp. 593 – 609.

Completed: 3 Feb 2008

Article has been viewed at least 34502 times.
Mineral and/or Locality is an outreach project of the Hudson Institute of Mineralogy, a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization. Public Relations by Blytheweigh.
Copyright © and the Hudson Institute of Mineralogy 1993-2019, except where stated. Most political location boundaries are © OpenStreetMap contributors. relies on the contributions of thousands of members and supporters.
Privacy Policy - Terms & Conditions - Contact Us Current server date and time: October 15, 2019 07:27:21
Go to top of page