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The Smithsonian

Last Updated: 27th Sep 2019

By Larry Maltby

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The first building in the Smithsonian complex was the “The Castle”, constructed between 1849 and 1855. As the collections grew several buildings were added to make room for new displays.


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This domed building is the National Museum of Natural History that houses the mineral collection in the Janet Annenberg Hooker Hall of Geology. It is located north of “The Castle” across the Mall.


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This photo shows the proximity of the two buildings. "The Castle" is in the foreground and the National Museum of Natural History is the domed building above. (Photo courtesy of the Smithsonian.)


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Upon entering the lobby of the Smithsonian, National Museum of Natural History, you will see this magnificent African elephant. It stands 13 feet high at the shoulder and weighs 11 tons. It will stop you in your tracks on your way to the mineral galleries.


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The “Candelabra” Tourmaline, Queen Mine, Pala, California. Collected January 1972 by Ed Swoboda and William Larson.


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Tourmaline, Golconda Mine, Governador Valadares, Brazil
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Beryl (Aquamarine), Palmital, Minas Gerais, Brazil, (30.0 x 17.5) cm. Acquired in 1951 with Roebling funds. Featured in Peter Bancroft’s book, The World’s Finest Minerals and Crystals, 1973.
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Tourmaline, Golconda Mine, Governador Valadares, Brazil
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Beryl (Aquamarine), Palmital, Minas Gerais, Brazil, (30.0 x 17.5) cm. Acquired in 1951 with Roebling funds. Featured in Peter Bancroft’s book, The World’s Finest Minerals and Crystals, 1973.
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Tourmaline, Golconda Mine, Governador Valadares, Brazil
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Beryl (Aquamarine), Palmital, Minas Gerais, Brazil, (30.0 x 17.5) cm. Acquired in 1951 with Roebling funds. Featured in Peter Bancroft’s book, The World’s Finest Minerals and Crystals, 1973.


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Calcite crystal with copper inclusions, Lake Superior District, Michigan.
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Spodumene, (Kunzite), Pala, California, Roebling collection.
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Calcite crystal with copper inclusions, Lake Superior District, Michigan.
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Spodumene, (Kunzite), Pala, California, Roebling collection.
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Calcite crystal with copper inclusions, Lake Superior District, Michigan.
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Spodumene, (Kunzite), Pala, California, Roebling collection.


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Gold in quartz, Grass Valley, California.
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Topaz crystals collected at “Devil’s Head”, Colorado by the legendary Edwin Over probably in the 1930’s.
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Gold in quartz, Grass Valley, California.
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Topaz crystals collected at “Devil’s Head”, Colorado by the legendary Edwin Over probably in the 1930’s.
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Gold in quartz, Grass Valley, California.
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Topaz crystals collected at “Devil’s Head”, Colorado by the legendary Edwin Over probably in the 1930’s.


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Millerite, Sterling Mine, Antwerp, New York (12.7 x 15.3)cm. Featured in Peter Bancroft’s book, The World’s Finest Minerals and Crystals, 1973.
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Natrolite, West Patterson, New Jersey. (Fredrick A. Canfield collection)
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Millerite, Sterling Mine, Antwerp, New York (12.7 x 15.3)cm. Featured in Peter Bancroft’s book, The World’s Finest Minerals and Crystals, 1973.
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Natrolite, West Patterson, New Jersey. (Fredrick A. Canfield collection)
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Millerite, Sterling Mine, Antwerp, New York (12.7 x 15.3)cm. Featured in Peter Bancroft’s book, The World’s Finest Minerals and Crystals, 1973.
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Natrolite, West Patterson, New Jersey. (Fredrick A. Canfield collection)


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Emerald, Vega de San Juan Mine, Gachala, Colombia. (5.0 cm., 858 carats)

“The Gachalá Emerald, one of the most valuable and famous emeralds in the world, was found in the year 1967, in the mine called Vega de San Juan, located in Gachala, a town in Colombia.” (Wikipedia)
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Spessartine with schorl, Hercules Mine, Ramona, California.
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Emerald, Vega de San Juan Mine, Gachala, Colombia. (5.0 cm., 858 carats)

“The Gachalá Emerald, one of the most valuable and famous emeralds in the world, was found in the year 1967, in the mine called Vega de San Juan, located in Gachala, a town in Colombia.” (Wikipedia)
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Spessartine with schorl, Hercules Mine, Ramona, California.
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Emerald, Vega de San Juan Mine, Gachala, Colombia. (5.0 cm., 858 carats)

“The Gachalá Emerald, one of the most valuable and famous emeralds in the world, was found in the year 1967, in the mine called Vega de San Juan, located in Gachala, a town in Colombia.” (Wikipedia)
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Spessartine with schorl, Hercules Mine, Ramona, California.


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Topaz, Nerchinsk, Siberia.
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Stibnite, Saijo Mine, Ichinokawa, Ehime, Japan.
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Topaz, Nerchinsk, Siberia.
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Stibnite, Saijo Mine, Ichinokawa, Ehime, Japan.
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Topaz, Nerchinsk, Siberia.
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Stibnite, Saijo Mine, Ichinokawa, Ehime, Japan.


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Druzy Quartz on Malachite, Tsumeb, South West Africa.
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Mimetite, San Pedro Corralitos, Chihuahua, Mexico
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Druzy Quartz on Malachite, Tsumeb, South West Africa.
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Mimetite, San Pedro Corralitos, Chihuahua, Mexico
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Druzy Quartz on Malachite, Tsumeb, South West Africa.
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Mimetite, San Pedro Corralitos, Chihuahua, Mexico


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Wulfenite, Glove Mine, Amado, Arizona.
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Amethyst, Guerrero, Mexico.
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Wulfenite, Glove Mine, Amado, Arizona.
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Amethyst, Guerrero, Mexico.
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Wulfenite, Glove Mine, Amado, Arizona.
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Amethyst, Guerrero, Mexico.


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Azurite, Bisbee, Arizona.
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Rhodochrosite on Malachite, Sweethome Mine, Alma, Colorado.
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Azurite, Bisbee, Arizona.
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Rhodochrosite on Malachite, Sweethome Mine, Alma, Colorado.
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Azurite, Bisbee, Arizona.
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Rhodochrosite on Malachite, Sweethome Mine, Alma, Colorado.


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Mimetite, Tsumeb, South West Africa.
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Fluorite on Celestine, Muzquiz Coahuila Mexico.
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Mimetite, Tsumeb, South West Africa.
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Fluorite on Celestine, Muzquiz Coahuila Mexico.
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Mimetite, Tsumeb, South West Africa.
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Fluorite on Celestine, Muzquiz Coahuila Mexico.


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Rhodochrosite, Argentina.
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Anglesite, Tsumeb, South West Africa.
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Rhodochrosite, Argentina.
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Anglesite, Tsumeb, South West Africa.
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Rhodochrosite, Argentina.
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Anglesite, Tsumeb, South West Africa.



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Azurite on Malachite, Copper Queen Mine, Bisbee, Arizona.
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Smithsonite, Tsumeb, South West Africa.
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Azurite on Malachite, Copper Queen Mine, Bisbee, Arizona.
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Smithsonite, Tsumeb, South West Africa.
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Azurite on Malachite, Copper Queen Mine, Bisbee, Arizona.
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Smithsonite, Tsumeb, South West Africa.




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Azurite, Tsumeb, South West Africa.
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Smithsonite, Tsumeb, South West Africa.
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Anglesite, Tsumeb, South West Africa.
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Azurite, Tsumeb, South West Africa.
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Smithsonite, Tsumeb, South West Africa.
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Anglesite, Tsumeb, South West Africa.
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Azurite, Tsumeb, South West Africa.
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Smithsonite, Tsumeb, South West Africa.
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Anglesite, Tsumeb, South West Africa.


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Black Opal, Australia.
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Moss Agate, Montana, Isaac Lea collection.
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Black Opal, Australia.
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Moss Agate, Montana, Isaac Lea collection.
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Black Opal, Australia.
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Moss Agate, Montana, Isaac Lea collection.


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Megaloceros, Giant deer of Europe.

“This giant deer lived across northern Eurasia from Siberia to Ireland, and like other deer, shed its giant antlers every year. It is the Smithsonian’s oldest mounted fossil skeleton, having been on display since 1872.” (Wikipedia)
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Saber Toothed Tiger, La Brea Tar Pits, Los Angeles, California.
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Mylodon, giant sloth, South America.
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Megaloceros, Giant deer of Europe.

“This giant deer lived across northern Eurasia from Siberia to Ireland, and like other deer, shed its giant antlers every year. It is the Smithsonian’s oldest mounted fossil skeleton, having been on display since 1872.” (Wikipedia)
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Saber Toothed Tiger, La Brea Tar Pits, Los Angeles, California.
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Mylodon, giant sloth, South America.
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Megaloceros, Giant deer of Europe.

“This giant deer lived across northern Eurasia from Siberia to Ireland, and like other deer, shed its giant antlers every year. It is the Smithsonian’s oldest mounted fossil skeleton, having been on display since 1872.” (Wikipedia)
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Saber Toothed Tiger, La Brea Tar Pits, Los Angeles, California.
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Mylodon, giant sloth, South America.


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In the center is a fossil “Belemnites” associated with coiled fossil ammonites, “Perisphinctes” From the Frankische Schweis Mountains, Germany.
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Diceratherium bone slab, Agate Fossil Beds National Monument, Nebraska.
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In the center is a fossil “Belemnites” associated with coiled fossil ammonites, “Perisphinctes” From the Frankische Schweis Mountains, Germany.
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Diceratherium bone slab, Agate Fossil Beds National Monument, Nebraska.
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In the center is a fossil “Belemnites” associated with coiled fossil ammonites, “Perisphinctes” From the Frankische Schweis Mountains, Germany.
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Diceratherium bone slab, Agate Fossil Beds National Monument, Nebraska.


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Diamond Tiara, includes 950 diamonds with a total weight of 700 carats and 79 cabochons of Persian Turquoise.

“Napoleon gave the Diadem to his second wife, the Empress Marie-Louise, on the occasion of their marriage. Originally the diadem, commissioned in 1810, was set with emeralds, which were replaced in the mid-1950's with turquoise.”
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St. George and the Dragon.

“In 1882 the Gracheb Brothers, jewelers to the Russian Czar, created this masterpiece of gold, platinum, diamonds, rubies, malachite and other precious materials.”
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Diamond Tiara, includes 950 diamonds with a total weight of 700 carats and 79 cabochons of Persian Turquoise.

“Napoleon gave the Diadem to his second wife, the Empress Marie-Louise, on the occasion of their marriage. Originally the diadem, commissioned in 1810, was set with emeralds, which were replaced in the mid-1950's with turquoise.”
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St. George and the Dragon.

“In 1882 the Gracheb Brothers, jewelers to the Russian Czar, created this masterpiece of gold, platinum, diamonds, rubies, malachite and other precious materials.”
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Diamond Tiara, includes 950 diamonds with a total weight of 700 carats and 79 cabochons of Persian Turquoise.

“Napoleon gave the Diadem to his second wife, the Empress Marie-Louise, on the occasion of their marriage. Originally the diadem, commissioned in 1810, was set with emeralds, which were replaced in the mid-1950's with turquoise.”
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St. George and the Dragon.

“In 1882 the Gracheb Brothers, jewelers to the Russian Czar, created this masterpiece of gold, platinum, diamonds, rubies, malachite and other precious materials.”


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The Chalice of Abbot Suger of St. Denis displayed at the Smithsonian Art Museum. It is shown here because of the very old agate carving thought to have been crafted at Alexandria, Egypt.
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Information about the Chalice of Abbot Suger of St. Denis.
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The Chalice of Abbot Suger of St. Denis displayed at the Smithsonian Art Museum. It is shown here because of the very old agate carving thought to have been crafted at Alexandria, Egypt.
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Information about the Chalice of Abbot Suger of St. Denis.
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The Chalice of Abbot Suger of St. Denis displayed at the Smithsonian Art Museum. It is shown here because of the very old agate carving thought to have been crafted at Alexandria, Egypt.
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Information about the Chalice of Abbot Suger of St. Denis.

This article is linked to the following museum: The Smithsonian Institution (DC)




Article has been viewed at least 1872 times.

Discuss this Article

26th Sep 2019 15:34 BSTDavid Von Bargen Manager

The "castle" was built between 1849 and 1855.

26th Sep 2019 16:20 BSTBob Harman

Very nice LARRY, but my only complaint is that your photos of most of the minerals shows the colors to be far from true.     The Candleabra specimen, for example doesn't look remotely like that in real life.     BOB 

26th Sep 2019 18:40 BSTLarry Maltby Expert

Thanks David, I see that I used the date that the Smithsonian Institution was founded. I will correct the date.



26th Sep 2019 19:59 BSTLarry Maltby Expert

Bob, these photos were taken 40 years ago using film and an electronic flash. I would never use an electronic flash to photograph minerals today but back then it was all that I had. It was a lot of work carrying the tripod through the crowds to get these photos. My wife, Virginia, would follow me with a notebook writing down all of the labels. When I looked at the Smithsonian in the Museum section on Mindat I noticed that it didn't have any photos so I thought that these would be better than nothing. It was a lot of work again trying to restore the photos for this article. I feel bad that you don't like them.  

26th Sep 2019 18:00 BSTScott Rider

Thanks Larry for the article!  I was at the Smithsonian when I was a teenager, when I wasn't as much into minerals when I visited like I was when I was a kid or now... I was, however, still amazed and was in awe the whole time I went through the mineral section...  I will have to visit it again now that I am more into minerals!

The Devil's Head Topaz is pretty cool!  I think that some of his pieces may have been left out in the light and lost their color, as from what I personally found (and read about Ed's finds) is that DH topaz can have good sherry color but the color doesn't last in light, the color fades eventually; I have 1 on display that was deep sherry color and now is a light sherry shade...  

27th Sep 2019 03:18 BSTLarry Maltby Expert

Scott, I remember that you collected at Devil's Head and I thought that you would notice the Topaz from there. Ed Over is one of my favorite field collectors mostly because he collected when nearly every location was wide open. I like to imagine what that must have been like. In the 60's we camped in Monument, Colorado and I drove up to Devil's Head and photographed the diggings. I will eventually post the photo.      Larry, 

26th Sep 2019 20:57 BSTDon Saathoff Expert

Larry, Having retired from a career in photofinishing I know how difficult it can be to translate color from film, be it slide or negative, to digital media.  Note some of Rock Currier's images from slide film!  I think the color rendition on your images is admirable!!!  Don't get put off by comments made by some who don't appreciate the difficulty of the endeavor

Don

26th Sep 2019 21:34 BSTBob Harman

LARRY and EVERYONE else, I should have made myself more clear.   LARRY has done a very admirable job with his article.  I just was disappointed that the mineral photos.....Larry noted that they were 40 year old.... were not of today's hi quality standards to show off the museum's great mineral treasures.   For me, the same as looking at old Min Recs from the 1970s or Peter Bancroft's 1973 book on Mineral Treasures. Disappointing that all those 40 year old great mineral photos are just not up to today's hi quality photos.   BOB

27th Sep 2019 03:41 BSTLarry Maltby Expert

Don, In the early 70's I did a lot of research on film. Kodachrome 25 was considered to be one of the best for color accuracy and durability over time. I used it for 30 years before I switched to digital. It was a slow film and was designed for use in sunlight. That is what drove me to use an electronic flash indoors. Most people went to faster films as they cane out and I don't think they were as durable over long periods of time.    Larry,

26th Sep 2019 21:36 BSTRoger Curry

Excellent article Larry!
I was there 40 years ago, and your photos are spot on! Great job mate, ignore any rude comments by BOB.
Thanks for the memory jolt,
Regards
Rog

27th Sep 2019 01:12 BSTTama Higuchi

Larry, I personally love the aesthetic that the older gear you used gave to the photographs.  Its almost like they have a vintage filter, very pretty from an artist's point of view.  Thank you for the effort, the lovely article, and the documentation!

27th Sep 2019 01:20 BSTKevin Conroy Expert

I marvel at the Antwerp millerite every time that I see it!

27th Sep 2019 13:29 BSTLarry Maltby Expert

Yes Kevin, the color contrast between the millerite and the hematite matrix is outstanding. I took another look a Peter Bancroft's book and found out that the Smithsonian has another very fine millerite specimen. Perhaps someone will photograph that one so we can make a comparison.

27th Sep 2019 02:32 BSTGareth Evans

Some quite stunning photos – great work! 

But one criticism of Museums in general - yes we see what nature has done, and nature does wonders, but where are the chemical elements. 

It is a question I often ask some collectors – yes you have shown me what nature can do – your mineral collection, but what have you done to compliment nature. 

In my opinion a superb Museum mineral collection without a well-organized collection of the chemical elements is like a yacht without a rudder.

27th Sep 2019 03:32 BSTKevin Conroy Expert

Museums and private collectors often have a LOT more than they can put on display.   They usually have what are the most interesting and/or visually appealing to the majority of people (or themselves) out, while the vast bulk is held in storage.   Let's face it, while a limestone collection may be fascinating to some folks, I doubt that a large display hall full of these specimens would be a wise use of space.   The same is true with elements.   A museum display of some is warranted but to display all of them just for inclusion doesn't make sense.

27th Sep 2019 04:50 BSTGareth Evans

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Kevin: 

It makes a lot of sense. The only reason for mining and mineral processing is to supplement technology. And without mining there would be very few mineral specimens to display. 

I know there are folks who do mine for specimens but when compared with those folk who mine for technology the number of the latter are several orders of magnitude greater than the former. Specimen mining will always be an activity of little use to the broader community.  

The chemical elements are not only important to technology they provide us with the materials to develop a deeper understanding of reality, and a deeper understanding of chemistry, physics and cosmology. And yes even a deeper understanding and appreciation of mineralogy. 

At the moment I am looking at a flask that contains 700 grams of Europium metal. According to the cosmologists my Europium is the product of colliding neutron stars. These stars collided long before our solar system was created some 4.3 billion years ago.

A Museum lacking an innovative and creative display of the chemical elements is akin to a mineral library from which you can only borrow books on the metaphysical properties of Quartz. 

There are many reasons why Museums do not display the chemical elements – lack of creativity is one of the main reasons. It takes a lot of hard work to assemble an element display - a lot harder than building a mineral display. And I speak from experience!

Gareth

27th Sep 2019 13:34 BSTChris Rayburn

I grew up in the Washington DC area in the 1960s and 1970s.  Some of my fondest memories are of ditching classes, riding downtown on a bus, and haunting the halls of the Smithsonian, particularly the mineral hall.  I probably learned more from doing that than I did in school.  Thanks for the memory jolt and the beautiful photos.

27th Sep 2019 23:56 BSTDana Slaughter

The Sterling millerite is by far my favorite of the group---will never tire of seeing this piece. Hell, I should have it transferred to wallpaper to adorn my mineral room. Will have to leave much space for the MO hemi ps. calcite in the Carnegie though.

28th Sep 2019 03:19 BSTJake Harper Expert

The millerite is my favorite too, Dana!Larry, I really enjoyed this article and photography.Your skill is quite evident:Highlighted xl faces on that Tsumeb mimetite. Brilliant interior color on the Tsumeb azurite with crisp, reflected striations. The anglesite xl rises out of the shadows and is a VERY dramatic photo! Heck, I guarantee Jeff Scovil couldn’t have done better with the same equipment — wow!

28th Sep 2019 14:44 BSTLarry Maltby Expert

Thanks, everyone, for the comments. I have already started on another project. In 1974, I had the opportunity to work with David Lowrie the curator of the Wayne State University collection. We photographed about 160 specimens. It looks like I will be able to restore at least 100 of them. Most of the collection at that time was acquired in the 1950’s or prior, providing a cross section of what was coming out of the mines in those days. Something to do when the snow flies!

28th Sep 2019 20:58 BSTEd Clopton Expert

As an addendum to the text accompanying the final photo (Abbot Suger's agate chalice), the renovation of the abbey church at St-Denis that Suger commissioned in the 1140s is regarded as the first instance of what came to be known as Gothic architecture--the first time the essential elements of the Gothic style (pointed vs. semicircular arches; ribbed vaults; stained-glass curtain walls made possible by concentrating the load from the vaults on narrow piers instead of being spread along load-bearing walls) were brought together in one structure.  The style caught on and dominated ecclesiastical architecture in Europe for a good 400 years.  To a student of Gothic architecture, Suger's name and chalice are very familiar, and it is surprising not to see architecture mentioned whenever he is.

29th Sep 2019 00:07 BSTLarry Maltby Expert

Ed thanks for the added info. Virginia and I have always been interested in history. She worked as a Historical Interpreter at Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Michigan. When we were younger doing our road tripping, we made many stops at Historical Museums as well as Natural History Museums.



28th Sep 2019 22:27 BSTKelly Nash Expert

Really nice article! The minerals are interesting to me because except for a few (like the millerite), I didn't see or notice them in more recent visits. In 2016 I spent part if a a day at the museum and later uploaded about 46 specimen photos on Mindat,  with no duplication of yours.

29th Sep 2019 00:10 BSTLarry Maltby Expert



Kelly, I just enjoyed looking at all of your Smithsonian Collection of photos. I went to your home page photos and did a “key word” search on the word “Smithsonian” and all of your photos appeared as a group. The search engine is working well. Great selection of specimens and a “Photo of the Day” to boot.

 
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