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My Father's Thumbnails

Last Updated: 12th Oct 2015

By Tony Peterson

I did not know that my biological father collected minerals, until nearly two years after his death. How could I? My adoptive parents had both been deceased for over ten years before I found my birth mother, and I’m happy to report that the mutual rediscovery was entirely positive – that isn’t always the case. But Walter Frey had been laid to rest in his home town months before, and Mom was preparing to move out of her west coast home and return to Medicine Hat herself.

Before we first met, she had already sold off (well really, given away) his collection of cabinet specimens, and it is striking that his interests and mine were so similar. It doesn’t strain credibility that two young men from southern Alberta, separated at one’s birth, would both come to have an interest in geology – the Badlands and the nearby Rockies can explain that – but he also had a passion for astronomy which, like mine, came later in life (it probably has something to do with the time and disposable income that come with maturity).

So I lamented when I learned that his collection was beyond my reach. Except that, well, there was this big box in the basement that was filled with miscellaneous curation kit, including about 100 samples in plastic thumbnail boxes and other small containers. There were also a few miniatures, carefully reinforced and wrapped against damage. No one else in the family wanted them (the cabinet specimens would of course have been kept first), and it was a perfect match – me, a mineral photographer, and this rich source of old, and often rare specimens gathered by my father.

He had modest means, but good taste. I have encountered several examples from important locales that were poorly represented on Mindat, if at all. There are many zeolite, etc. specimens from volcanic rocks in the NW US and western Canada, some self-collected and others acquired from shows within reasonable driving distance from southern Alberta. He had a thing for uranium minerals. Many of the “thumbnails” are really micros, a centimeter wide or less, and challenging to handle and orient in front of a camera. I hope you will agree that the effort is worthwhile. A few of them have been picture of the day. I’ve organized them a little for this article, starting with my 5 favorite specimens. There are many more to come.

So Dad, we were never within sight of each other in our lifetimes, but I have come to know you pretty well through your collection – where you were, and what caught your fancy. Here are your thumbnails.

Five Favorites

Chalcophanite and hetaerolite, Mohawk Mine. Easily my favorite of all. There is no damage; the crystal forms are beautifully developed, and my sense is that there aren’t many specimens from this mine in circulation.

Torbernite puffs, Moctezuma.
Torbernite plates, Moctezuma.
Torbernite puffs, Moctezuma.
Torbernite plates, Moctezuma.
Torbernite puffs, Moctezuma.
Torbernite plates, Moctezuma.
This is an exceptional specimen of Moctezuma torbernite – a miniature.

Metacinnabar, Mount Diablo Mine. This is such an oddball mineral – so different from the commoner polymorph!

Hydrozincite, Mina Ojuela.
hemimorphite and plattnerite, Mina Ojuela.
Hydrozincite, Mina Ojuela.
hemimorphite and plattnerite, Mina Ojuela.
Hydrozincite, Mina Ojuela.
hemimorphite and plattnerite, Mina Ojuela.
The hydrozincite is a glorious mess, but I think the quality of the crystals is exceptional for this mineral. The hemimorphite rosettes are a beautiful addition.

Callaghanite, Gabbs District. I need a setup that gives me high resolution at greater magnification to do this specimen justice, but I love the deep color and sharp crystals.

Uranium Species

Autunite, Mount Spokane.

Torbernite, Chalk Mountain.

Metauranocircite, Davier Mine. Another miniature with fairly sparse coverage, but excellent crystals.

Carnotite with weeksite, Anderson Mine. There are two specimens like this in the collection. The other has some nicely contrasting patches of a black mineral (uraninite?) but I have yet to photograph it to my satisfaction. Both have bulbs and buttons of chalcedony with intense green UV fluorescence.

In Volcanic Rocks

Phillipsite and chabazite, Ariccia, Italy.

Siderite, Clackamas County.

Analcime from Flinders, Victoria.

Thomsonite balls on heulandite, with colorless chabazite, from Goble, Oregon.

Heulandite and mesolite, Douglas Lake Road. A second sample (following) has strongly colored mesolite in much smaller, discrete tufts.

Heulandite and mesolite, Douglas Lake Road. I don't know what causes the orange color in this mesolite.

Fayalite and cristobalite, Coso Hot Springs. It’s hard to tell but I think one of the thin fayalite plates has been snapped. Nevertheless, a neat cluster.

Mordenite with heulandite, Stevenson, Skamania Co.

Goethite, Monte Lake. Misidentified as rutile, but one can see why. Personally collected.

Levyne-Ca, Beech Creek Quarry. A small cabinet specimen.

Notable Oddballs

Melanophlogite, Mount Hamilton. It’s hard to do this specimen justice because the crystals are SO transparent, but not elevated.

Glaucophane and almandine, Laytonville Quarry. Free-growing glaucophane? REALLY?? Outstanding! But I need higher magnification for this specimen.

Miscellaneous Mexico

Rosasite, Ojuela Mine.

Fluorite, Chihuahua. More than one of Walter's specimens was simply labeled “Chihuahua”, which is not enough information to satisfy, and I can’t trace this one's locality through other examples on Mindat. But what color!

Aurichalcite with hemimorphite, Mapimi.

Miscellaneous USA

Chalcophanite plates, with minor hetaerolite, Mohawk Mine. This chalcophanite is quite spectacular but a powdery brown coating on the edge detracts somewhat.

Tunellite, Death Valley. Detail on the first of two thumbnails.

Tunellite, Death Valley. Detail on the second of two thumbnails.

Chalcoalumite, Grand View Mine.

Perovskite and melanite, San Benito. Perovskite is one of my favorite minerals, I’ve seen lots of it, and this is unusual for color, transparency, and simple forms.

Dioptase, Mammoth-Saint Anthony Mine.

Chlorargyrite, Blue Bell Mine.

Bromargyrite, Headley Mine.

and finally……

Descloizite and dolomite, Berg Aukas.

Article has been viewed at least 2777 times.


Great article ! Thanks for sharing your finding, these excellent photographs and your story.

Antoine Barthélemy
16th Sep 2015 8:40am
Thanks, Tony! We appreciate your story and the great photo's.

David K. Joyce
17th Sep 2015 12:35am
Really great photographs.

Ben Grguric
17th Sep 2015 11:21am
Tony, I enjoyed reading your article very much. The story of how you acquired this collection is amazing. You have found out where your “collecting DNA” came from. Your father’s selection of mineral species was very interesting. Many, not so common, choices. My favorite is the Mordenite. I remember taking a long look at that one when you first posted it. Well done!

Larry Maltby
17th Sep 2015 11:56am
Thanks for sharing your story. Great photos!

Reiner Mielke
17th Sep 2015 5:53pm
Your photos are really good. The "Mesolite" from Douglas Lake has the curved crystals characteristic of Thomsonite from that area of British Columbia. Have a look at the Thomsonite from Yellow Lake and you will see a very similar style of crystal aggregate.

Richard Gunter
18th Sep 2015 6:09pm
Many thanks for all the kind comments. It's a journey!

Tony Peterson
19th Sep 2015 3:00am
Awesome specimens, and a nice story!

Kyle Beucke
24th Sep 2015 3:32pm

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