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Zincite...That must have been one HUGE Smokestack in Poland!
Posted by Justin Zzyzx
Justin Zzyzx February 28, 2007 05:16AMHello fine people of Mindat,
I offer to you the subject of the classic "Zincite" clusters from Poland.
In the mid 70's these specimens started entering the marketplace, sold to dealers under the guise that they were from a rare mine accident, formed on the inside of a smokestack that crumbled open and revealed all of these beautiful mining by-products.
How wonderful, right, these glassy multicolored clusters that are seen at every single mineral show in the world, coming from just that one single funky smokestack accident...
This leads me to wonder...how is possible that one, or two, or even a half dozen smokestacks could produce so many specimens that over 30 years of being sold, cut, broken, placed into collections...how is it that more and more still seem to keep popping up?
Far be it from a Polish smelter accident, I believe that these Zincite specimens are lab grown or as a constantly producing by-product of the mining process.
However, when I present this theory to people they ask me for proof.
Does anyone out there have some "Facts" for me?
How about anyone out there from Poland who can provide me with some direct evidence?
Dominik Schlaefli February 28, 2007 06:35AMYou got me curious, and after a bit of googling around, I stumbled upon a website targetting the "energy" market segment. This market segment seems less discriminating about the origins of the specimens, as the sellers are hopeful to sell "One of the very best remaining Zincite clusters in the world!" (650 g) for the symbolic amount of $4444.
If you are a bit less well off, you can settle for a single crystal pendant ($69, sold ??). The kind of single crystals that usually break of the larger zincite clusters, and the dealers don't even bother picking up when leaving the show .
MRH February 28, 2007 03:09PMJustin,
I can't find any info on these either, and not for lack of trying. Like you, I became suspicious of the story, some time ago, after seeing the preponderance of pieces which supposedly emanated from this one time incident (give me a break).
I do own an actual specimen of recrystalized zincite, collected from the slag dumps at the original smelter facility at the west end of Palmerton, Pennsylvania, which processed ore from Franklin NJ. (newer facility is at the east end of Palmerton, next to Aquashicola). The specimen is top coated with tiny, opaic orange zincite xtls, but NOTHING compared to those gemmy, georgeous "Polish?" Zincites.
I am guilty of buying one of the "Fatties" (looks more like the pyramidal models drawn by Palache in 1935 from crystalographic data observed at Buckwheat mine), in a sleeper auction (reasonable $), for use as a "crystal model" of Zincite (can't justify the cost of acquiring an actual Zincite CRYSTAL from Franklin $$$$!), but I label it only "ZINCITE (Man Made)". I too don't buy into the Myth of the Polish Smokestacks, and like you have tried to track it down with so success.
Jenna Mast February 28, 2007 05:49PMI believe it was supposed to be from the Olkusz mine in Sileszia, Poland. The website www.the-vug.com states that these are lab grown.
Maybe the original ones did come from a smokestack and they were so profitable they decided to re-create them.
John Sobolewski February 28, 2007 07:53PMI talked to a Polish dealer at the Tuscon Minerals Show several years ago about these and he said that they did come from the flues of zinc smelter chimneys because of a faulty design which has been corrected years ago. He and another dealer purchased all the material produced and had only a couple of tons left. Because they have been a hot seller, he was trying to find the original russian engineers who designed the smelter so that he could replicate the conditions to make more of the material but as of that time he had been unsuccessful in his efforts.
My personal observation is that this material is not nearly as readily availbale as it was in the past. Ten years ago large clusters of these were readily available at Tuscon but in the past few years I have only seen small miniatures and individual crystals but no large clusters.
Paul L. Boyer February 28, 2007 08:53PMThe zincite clusters still appear with regularity on ebay, many with the smokestack story attached. The clusters appear in different colors as well (yellow, green, and red at least), making me marvel at the "miracle of the smokestack". Perhaps we should get the "MythBusters" of the Discovery channel working on this.
MRH March 06, 2007 03:38PMPretty much my experience with anyone who would "talk", the same "Round Robin" of someone who knows someone, quickly leading to "some guy/dealer" or Polish dealer "X" (unknown). Granted, my "seeking" was far from exhastive (was getting nowhere fast, and I've got better fish to fry).
I would have thought at least a few of the dealers might have been a bit more curious as to their origins, but alas! None expressed any real curiosity for additional "Fact-Checking".
I might understand sellers not wanting to reveal a source of material which was particularly profitable for them, but it's odd that even now with "supposedly" all the material now "out-there", no one I've spoken to can remember this "Polish" dealers name, or whomever the original source of this material was? (collective memory loss?). So, of course my doubts presist, as they should.
Perhaps this "smokestack" lay on an expansion joint between universal dimensions, which could explain how so many xtls could come from one stack?! ;)
Good luck Justin
Kristi Hugs March 11, 2007 02:47AMInteresting! I just met with a vendor who had huge zincite specimens for sale. One was at least a foot by a foot, small red crystals on a matrix of some sort. He also had smaller clusters with color combinations of green, yellow, orange, etc. Also some that were so dark that they were not even semi transparent. Heavy too! I did ask him where these came from and he said that he had had them in storage for many years and due to the popularity of late, he had brought them back out. WHen pressed as to if these were lab enhanced or lab grown, he said absolutely not.
So.....how does one tell????? I know they were expensive, but after readings Justins info on The Vug...i decided to shy away from them. Any tips?
Matt K March 11, 2007 08:56AMI am not sure how the smoke stack story got started as the only source but that is not true. Yes, some of these specimens come from a zinc refinery chimney in Olkusz but the majority were made during a fire at the Tarnowskie Gory mine in the 1970s. The reference for this is Mineraly Polski, W. Heflik, L Nowak, Antykwa, Krakow, 1998, ISBN83-909173-1-9.
Colin Robinson March 17, 2007 10:59PMBy what strange chemistry was the zincite formed in a mine fire. there's not much that's combustible in a mine apart from the timbering and certain gases such as methane, unless it was a coal mine. I know there are coal mines in Silesia but do these also produce lead/zinc ores. Having explored lead/zinc mines in the U.K. and seen the oxidation products produced I'm at a loss to imagine how all this zincite came into being. Surely this would have required very high temperatures sustained over a long time and with an almost limitless supply of feed material. I've seen lumps of zincite 30cm across consisting of masses of individual crystals. Did they form on the mine walls, in cavities, or elsewhere? My guess is elsewhere, ie. in a laboratory.
Chester S. Lemanski, Jr. March 18, 2007 04:35PMZincite (zinc oxide) is produced when sulphide ores "burn" or oxidize. Pyrite is more prone to "burn" in a mine fire, which may have been started by the cumulative heat generated by the slower oxidation of the pyrite itself (reference the gigantic pyritic ore body fire at the United Verde Mine, Jerome, Arizona, USA). Once ignited, the pyrite can involve the less-prone sulphides, such as sphalerite to oxidize, liberating zinc oxide, which then precipitates from vapors onto cool surfaces, forming crystals. This same process can occur in the stacks of smelters.
The non-sulphide ores of zinc (mostly hemimorphite), but also willemite, franklinite from the New Jersey mines, are/were roasted to liberate zinc oxide, which is caught in "bags" above the furnace. The slag heaps at the Palmerton, Pennsylvania, smelter (processed the ores of Franklin & Ogdensburg + Friedensville, PA) often contained still burning residual charcoal and ground ore residue, resulting in pockets lined with zincite coatings and crystals in the dumps.
The list of secondary minerals formed by the United Verde fire resulted from the various oxidation products sublimating onto cooler surfaces, such as the the steel fume/smoke diverters installed to divert the fumes to allow continued mining at surface.
Interestingly, a problem at the Palmerton smelter involved the boro-silicate glass that accumulated in the stacks from the sussexite content of the North Ore Body ores of the Sterling Mine. Obviously more than a few substances can accrete in this manner, or a similar, manner.
Colin Robinson March 18, 2007 10:26PMI can understand the process taking place in a smelter but I have seen numerous references to a "mine fire" as a source of these zincite specimens. That implies a singular event when all the specimens were produced. Usually the seller has held on to them for many years, thus furthering the impression that it was a one off event. My assumption is that this is just hype. I know a wholesaler who has some big lumps of the stuff which he breaks down into smaller, saleable pieces. The wastage rate is about 50 percent but such is the mark up that he is happy to do this. he maintains that the zincite was formed when a smelter chimney sprang a leak, allowing an excess of oxygen to mix with the fumes, resulting in the superb multi-coloured crystals we see. This gives rise to another query. How come the stuff is so pure? Most slag minerals and by-products are a bit of a mixture contaminated by whatever is floating about at the time.
Chester S. Lemanski, Jr. March 18, 2007 10:40PMThe purity doesn't bother me since the zincite formed on the Palmerton heaps in pockets is rather pure as well. The zinc oxide caught in the "bags" during the roasting process is also quite pure, thus the use of that process. Frankly, the aspect of this material that I question is the relatively super extrordinary gigantic size of the crystals!
Paul L. Boyer March 19, 2007 08:58PMBeing a bit of a cynic, have these actually been tested to see if they are all (or even a majority) indeed zincite? I can imagine at least some of them being some other compound that is easier to make. If anybody knows, I would appreciate my curiousity being slaked....
Maria March 22, 2007 07:42PM$1,080 Zincite from a reputable ebay seller, crystalarium, check this out !!
MAJOR FRAUD ! what do you think ? or reputable US sellers cant go wrong ??
Alfredo Petrov March 22, 2007 08:07PMI think it worth repeating here something Alan Plante has pointed out in another forum: It is our duty as a scientific hobby to educate the general public, and avoid misleading anyone. This material is NOT "zincite". Zincite is a mineral name, and artificial substances are not "minerals". It ought to be sold as "zinc oxide crystals", not zincite. If anyone needs REAL zincite, they can find it easily on the dumps at Franklin.
Jolyon & Katya Ralph March 22, 2007 09:02PMYou know what, I'm not too fussed whether they say it was created in a smoke stack, or in a temperature-controlled special furnace or whatever. As long as they make it clear it's an industrial product and not a mineral specimen.
At that point, of course it's up to the dealer to be as honest as they can about the origin of their material - but remember - all they are doing is reporting what is told to them by the people who make it. And if that company for whatever reason wants to be secretive about their industrial processes - then that's up to them.
It's not a mineral, it's an artifact, it's out of our jurisdiction really in this case!
David Aldridge March 24, 2007 10:31PMI completely agree with Jolyon. I think the main thing is that is important for the dealer to be honest with the specimen. I find them a convenient source for chemistry experiments, as extracting Zinc Oxide from sunscreen takes quite a while, they were able to crystallize, so they are pretty pure, so unless I'm doing something analytical, I just go up to a "metaphysical" shop, buy one, and powder it. The result: Powdered Zinc Oxide, made from the exact source that it is made from by many industrial companies.
Chris Wright March 25, 2007 01:02AMJustin,
Yes, I did see some photos of a smokestack with the "zincite" (this was in the 70's
in Europe). I do know that the many are from the Original "deposit". I bought about 1,000 lbs of the pieces with the largest being 35".
I inspected my lot in Vienna and also purchased superb pieces at Prague.
Later, I purchased a few of the lab grown pieces and was told that they were lab grown - these were mainly facet rough.
Could I prove that the of the smokestack were the majority, no. But it was supposedly about three tons.
Little is available except at very high prices.
The colors range was tremendous and the green were often lab grown.
Justin Zzyzx March 25, 2007 11:51AMHi Chris,
That's really interesting. I'm glad you could serve as the source of information about this! I'm going to pick your brain a bit in Dallas then! =)
Well, 3 tons...6,000 pounds. From the 70's. They are not exactly fragile, but they do break. People like to facet them, don't they? How many pounds have made it to the big garbage dump in the sky?
I would still feel confident that a large amount of material available for sale is lab grown.
There are several variables in formation and apperance in the specimens. It would be interesting to be able to find out more information about these.
Anonymous User May 01, 2007 01:11AMHi Maria,
Once again as before well observed and stated, but one thing you must remember my friend is that it's ok for some and not for others or so this forum will have you believe....but you are correct this is a very fraudulent act and it's being carried out by some supposedly reputable and trustworhty dealers.
Chester S. Lemanski, Jr. May 01, 2007 02:02PMSelling this stuff as a "mineral" is misrepresentation at least, fraud at worst. It is a chemical that is artificially (or anthropogenically) crystallized, no less so than the potassium alum crystals so often sold as legitimate minerals. The difference is that zincite, which so very, very rarely is found as crystals in nature, makes these gigantic crystals a curiosity more so than with similar creations of some other synthetics.
Janiece Senn December 22, 2010 09:11AMThe mining accident zincite is distinguished from other zincite by it's melted quality. Most zincite is made up of pointed crystals where as the polish mining zincite is bubble like. I wish I had batteries for my camera and I would show you the difference. If it is pointy crystals it is not rare. If it looks melted it is very rare. Because zincite is pointed though does not mean it is worthless. As with all minerals and stones there are quality and rough examples.
Tomasz Praszkier December 22, 2010 01:59PMPolish "zincites" were growing during many years in smokestacks which were low quality and because of cracks air was entering in them. Once on some time smokestacks were cleaning to prevent completely "blockage" of them by "zincite". After cleaning "zincites" went to dumps and later were selling. "production" was hundreds of kg each year. Now smokestacks are repaired and zincites do not grow any more. There is no Polish zincites connected with mining accidents.
I hope that helps.
"Spirifer" Geological Society
reddeer May 15, 2015 03:32AMWe also have met this gentleman from Poland from the Tucson rock show many years back. His name is Janusz Gradowski and we purchased a large specimen probably 5 plus years ago. I will try posting photo. We try to stop by his booth each year that we return to Tucson and he has stated that there is no longer peices as large as he had many years back when we purchased ours. I would assume that if he was creating them in a lab which he has lab grow crystal which I must say look lab grown he would continue to do so. The piece that we have is approximately foot long and extremely heavy.
Rock Currier May 16, 2015 06:59AMI was told that they were formed in a big smoke stack in a refinery at the point where there was a crack in the smoke stack that causes the crystals to form there and that periodically they had to go in and break them out to keep it functioning. Has anyone heard this approximate story or can give a more accurate description of how the crystals were formed?
Crystals not pistols.
Ralph Bottrill May 17, 2015 08:14AMRe formation in a mine, about 100 yrs ago the Broken Hill Ag-Pb-Zn mines in Australia had some large fires in their underground mines, largely due to abundant timbering, though its possible that abundant sulphides like pyrrhotite may have enhanced it. The fires converted the ores locally into abundant fine grained masses of minium, but despite plenty of zinc there was no zincite formed. I suspect that to from big crystals of zincite you would need to sustain a very high and constant heat for an extended time, maybe months or years?
cascaillou May 25, 2015 06:23PMmany companies growing crystals for laser applications are also producing synthetic zincite. However, these crystals are often grown by hydrothermal method and thus might not show the same crystal habit than the ones which were accidentally grown from smokestacks (which is linked to vapor phase or sublimation growth).
Edited 7 time(s). Last edit at 05/27/2015 11:56PM by cascaillou.
Terry Colbert July 11, 2016 03:23PMI have two very large Zincite specimens I purchased about 18 years ago. One is a beautiful red and the other is a very colorful green. The large green specimen is 8 pounds and the red is 14 pounds.
To be sure the specimens you are looking at are real you can buy an inexpensive microscope and look at any small piece of the specimen you are looking at. Set the scope to 40X to 100X you can actually see small slivers of ash in the crystalline structure.
I purchased a few small pieces off of eBay to see if they were man made and ever one of them I purchased was man made. Under the microscope you will see very symmetrical crystalline growth with is not seen in the real Zincite. Also there are no ashes in the man made Zincite, so it is very easy to tell real from fake with inexpensive equipment.
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