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The American Museum of Natural History

Last Updated: 14th Jan 2017

By Jake Harper

Visiting the American Museum of Natural History:
Guggenheim Hall of Minerals

August 23rd, 2014

Out of a genuine love for the minerals at the AMNH I felt compelled to write this short article. The mineral hall display issues will not be discussed here. Only the good stuff. That's all I want to share. And contrary to the consensus, there's plenty of good stuff to be seen in the hall.

We arrived on a unusually cool, cloudy August day with the anticipation of spending a few hours in the Guggenheim hall viewing some of our nation's finest mineral treasures. We had visited the museum on a previous trip to New York, However, this trip we decided to focus on just the mineral hall, allowing us to examine it in detail and without the distraction of being rushed. Attendance was extremely heavy and there was excitement in the air as people from all walks and all nationalities were looking forward to exploring of one of our nations finest museums. On arrival, all of us were packed in the the Roosevelt Memorial Hall like sardines and the roar of the masses was so loud you had to shout to speak to anyone close by. Eventually we all ended up filing through the small ticket line in a fine stream. I've got to say this overwhelming attendance must surely be a testament to the popularity of the museum and its holdings. The world knows about this great institution - and the world was certainly here today. Once past the Roosevelt Hall we bee lined directly to the Guggenheim Hall of minerals, quickly bypassing all of the anthropological and biological exhibits along the way. We had viewed these sections on a previous visit, and so with a loose schedule and a strong bias toward earthy, crystallized non biological specimens, we decided to focus on the mineral gallery. Along the way, we did make a brief stop in the newly renovated "Grand Gallery" to view the large, 1000 pound stibnite recently donated by Marc Weill, and then it was off to the hall of minerals.

That sure is a lot of antimony!
A Stupendous stibnite!
Steely Prisms to 10 inches!

Wuning Mine (Wuling Mine; Qingjiang Mine), Qingjiang, Wuning Co., Jiujiang Prefecture, Jiangxi Province, China

On display in the newly renovated 77th Street Grand Gallery is one of the Museum's newest and most spectacular mineral specimens. A 1,000-pound Wuning mine stibnite with hundreds of sword-like metallic blue-gray crystals! The piece is nearly flawless with huge, flashing prisms to 10+ inches, some of the largest of these sporting complex, face rich terminations. The AMNH boasts that this dramatic specimen is the largest stibnite on public display in the world. Donated by Marc Weill, founder and CEO of City Light Capital and world-renowned mineral collector. Thank you, Marc!
To read more about this stibnite and its discovery see this thread: http://www.mindat.org/forum.php?read,6,154644,158202

Choice California gold!
California Gold Leaves!
Sharp Gold Octahedrons!

Gold from classic California localities!
Once in the Hall you are first happily greeted by a gleaming, brightly lit display case that is adorned with fine crystallized gold that beckons you forward and whets your appetite for the mineralogical goodies that await you in the hall. This gold case is a fairly new display that features some truly amazing crystallized pieces. Each one is of highest quality, brightest luster and most are of them are from well known California localities. You will see flattened leaves, dendritic spongy masses, branching arborescent sculptures rising from matrix and even a choice, 2 1/2 inch cluster of sharp octahedrons! I had to wait for a hole in the crowd to view this case but it was sure worth it!

AMNH Systematic Display
AMNH Systematic Display

A well arranged systematic display

The AMNH systematic display is wonderfully organized and aesthetically arranged. The specimens are suspended by metal rods that give the impression of each piece popping out at the viewer. Each piece is accompanied by a species label as well as locality text and periodic charts at the bottom of the display.

The Caplan Topaz at the AMNH
Touch specimens on the floor
That's a fine topaz!

Killer tactile specimens are everywhere!

The number of fine, crystallized specimens out on the floor that we visitors are allowed to touch is staggering. Huge smoky and amethyst quartz crystals, a gem blue Vergem da Lapa topaz, a giant beryl crystal (collected by Ed Swobodda!), fossil wood stumps and of course that enormous 596 pound "Caplan" topaz crystal that will take your breath away. This particular piece is sharp, lustrous and lit up at the base, allowing the viewer to closely examine its limpid translucency featuring wispy veils and other beautiful internal details that easily draws us into the specimen. Even further, this amazing crystal sports a clean, sharp, modified termination with lots of extra pyramidal forms that can be tactilely explored for as long as you wish.

These large touch specimens are everywhere at the Mineral Hall. Out on the floor, along the walking paths and even on the stairs! If your not standing in front of a display case of minerals, well I just bet your standing close by a large, touchable mineral specimen!

AMNH Displays at kid level!

Just for Kids!
This is one of the most satisfying sights in the mineral Hall - children viewing minerals at their own height without any effort at all. I have seen a few museum mineral collections in my years, but none that put more thought into our children than this one does.

Japanese Stibnite!

What a Japanese Stibnite!
A choice display of worldwide stibnites. That large steely group at center is an Ichinokowa piece and wow what a killer!

A Choice Wulfenite Case!

A brightly lit case of wulfenite!
A case of fine wulfenite from mostly Arizona and Mexican localities. As can be seen, these pieces appear to be suspended in midair. With this very effective display tactic and the fact that the cases are shallow, the viewer is able to "nose tip" the glass and really see every detail of each piece. Also, these cases are all low to the ground, allowing kids easy, effortless viewing.

Fine Worldwide Cuprites!

Worldwide supergene perfection!
Another Case of choice worldwide cuprites! As can be seen, the vast majority of displays in the hall are bathed in excellent lighting. Those three Ongonja mine pieces, one etched, one malachite coated and one on matrix were, in my opinion as good as they come.

A Case of Classic Pyromorphites!

Lot's of lead!
A lovely display of old American and European pyromorphites. You know your viewing a case of genuine classics when there's not one single Bunker Hill mine piece represented! There is a couple of Ems pieces here that I would love to have, not to mention that phoenixville killer!

The Renowned Newmont azurite

Finest mineral specimen known?....maybe
Please accept my apologies here, as just could not get a decent photo of this piece. Considered by many to be the finest mineral specimen in existence is the "Newmont azurite". Deep electric blue prisms with pure glass luster to 5 inches(!!!) rising from a buff colored matrix. The flawless aesthetic arrangement of the piece and absolutely insane quality of each and every individual crystal on it makes this a world beating azurite! If only a decent photographer would have shot it…sigh…

The Aztec Club

One wicked lagrandite!
Sharing space withe the Newmont azurite in the large well lit case is the equally famous "Aztec Club" legrandite. This is one of those iconic mineral specimens that every collector ought to see at least once. Don't stare to long though, like the sun, this glistening divergent 9" long spray might just burn your retinas - like it did mine!

A face rich amethyst!

Can't keep my hands off!
After spending a little time at the Guggenheim Hall you'll soon start to notice that specimen quality is not just reserved for the delicate and valuable specimens in the cases but is also found out on the open floor. This towering, deep purple amethyst group with alternating prism and pyramid faces was a favorite of mine.

A Giant Boleite Crystal!
A huge blue cube!
OK, so I can easily admit that I'm no big Tucson/ Denver dealer. Nor am I a mineral collector that is all knowing all knowledgeable about the best of the best when it comes to fine, classic minerals. But man, I must admit, the hair rose on the back of my neck when I saw that lustrous 1+ inch Boleite crystal!

The Caplan Topaz crystal
The Caplan Topaz crystal
The Caplan Topaz crystal

The 596 pound Caplan Topaz crystal

My favorite specimen in the hall is the Caplan Topaz. Keeping watch over the Hall at the top of the stairs like a glowing sentinel, this remarkable crystal has a rich and interesting history dating from the 1930's. Allen Caplan was a pioneering mineral dealer in Brazil during those years and brought out several of these giant Topaz crystals, the largest of them all being the AMNH piece. There is a fascinating interview with Allen Caplan in an old MR issue that records his discovery and eventual deposition of these remarkable topaz crystals with museums. Upon arrival at the AMNH, this whopper, 596 pound topaz crystal received a particularly humorous reception as it was first unpacked upside down as Allen Caplan describes here:

"Finally they arrived and I had the crates opened at the customs office. I was shocked to find that the big crystal had no termination; it was just a big, 596 pound cleavage! And I thought, well, I really got clipped here. Permission was given to move the crates to the basement at the American Museum, and I was a lot happier when I opened them this time, right side up. There I saw the termination and realized that the crate had been opened upside down at customs. So I felt pretty good."

To read the rest of this highly entertaining and educational interview with Allen Caplan see:
The Mineralogical record, Vol. 11, No. 6, November - December 1980.

A brief history of the mineral and gem collection as quoted from the AMNH
Minerals and gems have been part of the Museum since it opened in 1869. The AMNH purchased its first major mineral collection in 1874 from S.C.H. Bailey, a New York lawyer. In 1889, George F. Kunz, the gemologist nonpareil of Tiffany and Company, prepared a collection of "Gems and Precious Stones from North America" for the Exposition Universelle in Paris. The collection of 382 entries won a gold medal, and after 5 months of haggling over a price, Museum Trustee J.P. Morgan came up with $15,000 to purchase the collection. The Norman Spang mineral collection, purchased by the Museum in 1890, eclipsed the older Bailey collection in quality and quantity. J.P. Morgan's generosity extended into the 20th Century. In 1900 Morgan commissioned Kunz to acquire fabulous specimens from around the world. This collection, the second Tiffany-Morgan collection, along with the first consisted of 2,176 specimens and 2,442 pearls. In 1901 Morgan paid $100,000 for the extraordinary 12,300-specimen collection of Clarence S. Bement, a Philadelphia industrialist who collected the finest of the mineral kingdom during that period. In 1930, William Boyce Thompson, founder of the Newmont Mining corporation, willed his extensive collection of minerals and gemstone carvings to the AMNH.

I had written a small thread on mindat.org a few years ago complaining about the poor condition of the AMNH mineral Hall. Burned out light bulbs, missing text, dusty cases etc…blah blah blah...my last sentence being,"what can we do to help?" However, words serve little purpose without action behind them. And so this article. I sincerely regret my previous post.
AMNH Tourmalines are awesome!
After viewing this collection more closely a second time this year, and giving it much more thought than before, the way I see it now is pretty darn simple. OK sure, so there might be dim lighting, dirty carpet and dropped letters in the signage. Who cares!
To me, these become trivial issues when I take into account the historical importance, regal provenance and sheer quality and beauty of the mineral specimens on display at the hall. When I walk around viewing all of these spectacular specimens, I am in the presence of greatness. Truly. These are regal specimens once handled and curated by renowned men such as Clarence S. Bement, Norman Spang, Martin Ehrmann , J.P. Morgan and George F. Kunz to name a few. Anyhow, did I really come here to the American museum for a room inspection? Or did I come here to see its wonderful minerals? I just need to lighten up a bit. From now on I am going to enjoy this remarkable collection as it is displayed today and hope that someday in the near future funds will be made available for repairs, renovations and improvements. We have all witnessed the sad fate of the Philadelphia Academy collection and the scattering of a once great U.S. mineral collection. Well, the American collection is no less great. I do not want that same fate to befall the AMNH mineral collection. These minerals deserve to be appreciated as they are and where they are.
It was my goal with this article to try and feature some of the best attributes of the AMNH mineral collection and show some of the fine points which there certainly are many. I am sure there are dozens of other noteworthy specimens that I missed here, so if anyone has a photo and description, I would love to add it here to this article with credit given.

Simply put, the AMNH mineral collection is truly a National Treasure. A treasure that deserves to remain in its rightful place at the AMNH forever.

The Museum is open 10AM to 5:45PM daily
Closed for Thanksgiving and Christmas

Visit and learn more about the Guggenheim Hall of Minerals here at the AMNH website:

Article has been viewed at least 9004 times.


Nice article. The AMNH minerals are ab-fab, no doubt about it. It's just the room that needs upgrading. In any case, I remember when the Newmont Azurite first appeared on newly-acquired, separate display, like the amazing stibnite you photographed. It gave me a new appreciation for azurite, which I had mostly seen as small blue crystals until that piece. Dont fret over the photo, it is difficult to shoot museum display specimens well because you have no control over the lighting. Having collected at the Sterling Mine in Ogdensburg, NJ many times, I love going through the AMNH display about it. My favorite is a big molybdenite crystal sticking out of a big black mica crystal. Been looking through the mica there ever since (no luck so far).
Harold Moritz

Harold Moritz
19th Dec 2014 1:04pm
Thx Harold. I missed the big molybdenite xl will have to search for it next time. If you (or anyone else) have a better photo of the Newmont azurite, would love to add it here.

Jake Harper
19th Dec 2014 5:22pm
I do not have a photo of the azurite, but I just posted the moly: http://www.mindat.org/photo-654026.html
Next time you go please take some measurements as best you can, mine are from memory of several years ago.

Harold Moritz
19th Dec 2014 7:52pm
You got it, Harold - will do. BTW, that's a sweet molybdenite specimen!

Jake Harper
20th Dec 2014 2:44am
Harold you need to change the locality attribution in your photo. the moly is from the Edison Mine which is near the Sterling Hill Mine but it is still a few miles away. That is why the AMNH labels the piece Ogdensburg.

James Zigras
23rd Dec 2014 8:56am
No wonder I cant find any at SHMM! Will fix and have to start looking up at the Edison, thanks!

Harold Moritz
24th Dec 2014 12:19pm

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