Bill Long 10/27/04
Minerals and Gems have Stories Too
Lawrence Conklin is New York gemologist and founding editor of Matrix, the journal of the history of minerals. He tells the story that as a young student at City College of New York in the early 1950s he was shown samples of an early find of Kunzite from the White Queen mining claim in San Diego County in 1902. No doubt that experience stimulated him not simply to embrace mineraolgy as a career but also to see that its history was replete with all the human drives of competition, misstatement and ambition as any other human endeavor. A little part of that story is retold here, supplemented with other material gleaned from my (beginning) study of gemstones.
The Discovery of a New Mineral
Two nearly adjacent mining operations, the White Queen and the Pala Chief, were in place in San Diego County at the turn of the last century. Early in the Fall 1902 a find was made at White Queen by a certain Frederick Sickler (and perhaps his wife) of a pale pink or lilac colored stone, which was first thought to be an example of pink tourmaline. Exemplars of this stone were sent to Dr. George F. Kunz, one of America's leading gemologists, in the employ of Tiffany & Co. in New York City. While he was examining the gem, another gem very nearly identical to the pink stone was found (early summer 1903) in the nearby Pala Chief mine by a Frank Salmons. Others also were seemingly responsible for both of the "finds." When both samples were analyzed, it was learned that they were indeed a new stone, a kind of spodumene. Both Salmons and Sickler claimed priority for the find.
Naming of the Stone
I cannot go beyond Conklin's treatment of the issue in his helpful online article, linked above. Suffice it to say that by 1903 we have Professor Charles Baskerville, of the University of North Carolina but subsequently of City College of New York (was the following statement instrumental in getting him a job at CCNY?), writing in the September issue of Science, "On account of this unusual and characteristic phosphoresence [of the discovered rock--phosphorescene is the capacity of a stone to continue to radiate light after a source of light trained on it is taken away], as well as the other properties, I propose the name Kunzite." However, the name didn't catch on immediately. In its early days it was alternatively known as Sicklerite or Salmonite, after the two finders of the mineral. Yet, Baskerville's designation triumphed, and it was henceforth known as Kunzite.
But Conklin's treatment leaves a few questions unanswered. We know that Kunz was sometimes hired by the financier JP Morgan, who had the largest private collection of gemstones in the world at the time. Was the operation of either of the San Diego mines, or Kunz's role in analyzing the stones, in any way under the auspices of Morgan? Then, did they send the rocks to Kunz because he was an authority or there was some kind of agreement or obligation to do so? In addition, I read somewhere along the line (I think Baskerville says it) that JP Morgan should have been consulted about the naming of the stone, but he was seemingly unavailable. What does that mean? Did JP Morgan expect to have the stone named after him?
Indeed, to what extent and for what reason did Kunz seek the naming of the stone for himself, since he was not active in the "find"? In addition, was Morgan upset (do we know?) when the mineral was named Kunzite? And, as I recall, Kunz suggested that another mineral discovered (was this other mineral also discovered in San Diego County?) a few years later be called Morganite. Was this naming done in any way to "make up" to JP Morgan for not naming the pink spodumene after him? Actually, the stone later named for Morgan was a pink beryl, and beryl is not only a very common stone but is also quite beautiful, so ultimately Morgan did not seem short shrifted. But these are my lingering questions about the history of the stone. Any help?
And so you can go online today and buy beautiful pieces of kunzite. You learn that it is pleochroic, which means that the color intensity varies based on whether you look at it lengthwise or crosswise. It has what is called "splintery fracture," which means that it shatters easily if a cutter tries to slice it. Thus it is known as a "gem cutter's challenge." However it is a pretty hard stone (6.5-7 on the Moh's scale), and has a "perfect cleavage in two directions" (this has nothing to do with looking down the front of women's dresses).
And then, for those who are inclined to see metaphysical properties in stones, it is reputed to have a powerful love energy. It gets wilder from there. In addition, here is what one online source says about it:
• Peace and purification.
• Protects aura and dissipates negativity.
• Excellent for meditation.
• Heals core soul damage and damage from past lives, reunites fragmented soul parts.
• Helps soul retrieval and emotional body healing, aligns and balances energy.
• Promotes astral healing, brings astral twin self into physical aura, resolves karma.
All for less than the price of flying to San Diego to pick up one for yourself!
How fascinating are the stories whose "tips" only appear in the OED.
Copyright © 2004-2010 William R. Long