Year in Review: Mineralogy Publications

Never one to miss out by more than a week on a good idea, I thought that as 2013 begins it would be a good time to look back at some of the best moments in mineralogy publications in 2012. To do that, I will be looking back to three publications specifically: the Mineralogical Record, Rocks & Minerals, and Rock & Gem. I apologize to readers from abroad for the Americo-centric approach, and invite anyone who has suggestions for mineralogy publications outside of America to send me those journals’ name and contact information, and I’ll subscribe when I can, if the rates are at all reasonable. I also apologize for not reviewing the American Mineralogist, but frankly this is a highly technical journal which has little in it for the amateur (and it’s incredibly expensive to subscribe).

Mineralogical Record, July / August 2012, Volume 43, Number 4

Mineralogical Record, July / August 2012, Volume 43, Number 4

In the Mineralogical Record this year, we had the expected number of quality articles and special issues on particular localities. This year’s specials included the Herodsfoot Mine in England (Volume 43, Number 4), and the fourth issue devoted to localities in China (Volume 43, Number 5). Other stand-out articles included the article on discoveries of crocoite (qv.) in Adelaide (Volume 43, Number 6), and Renato Pagano and Wendell E. Wilson’s article on the sulfur mines of Sicily (Volume 43, Number 2). Despite the continued high quality of the journal’s writing, worryingly, the publication information reproduced in the November / December issue gives the circulation figures show a slight gradual decline in the numbers of subscribers and the issues published. Whether this is due to a declining readership, the cost of the publication, the economic downturn, or other factors, to me is unclear. I hope to do a more comprehensive analysis of those figures soon, so please watch for that. In the meantime, if you can, support mineralogical publishing, and subscribe to any (or all!) of these fine journals. You can subscribe to the Record here.

Rocks & Minerals has weathered yet another year of publication, and like the Record, has produced a number of quality articles on interesting subjects. Under Managing Editor Marie Huizing, it continues to be a worthy complement to the Record (or vice versa, since R&M does have primacy by some forty-plus years). Over the last decade or so, it has morphed from the chatty, sometimes scatty digest founded by Peter Zodac eighty-five years ago into something quite different: a serious publication for the interested amateur mineralogist. This year’s issues have included a special devoted largely Arizona (Volume 87, Number 1), published just in time for the Tucson Show; and an issue featuring copper from Colorado and Michigan (Volume 87, Number 4); and a further issue featuring southern African minerals (Volume 87, Number 5).

Rocks and Minerals, September / October 2012, Volume 87, Number 5

Rocks and Minerals, September / October 2012, Volume 87, Number 5

Unfortunately, Rocks & Minerals also mirrors the Record in terms of publication figures. If anything, the self-reported numbers are slightly lower than the 5200 copies reported printed by the MR. Again, I would urge you to support mineralogical publishing if you are interested and have the cash. At the end of the day, companies don’t understand anything except for the bottom line, and that translates to subscriptions. You can subscribe to Rocks & Minerals here.

Finally, a quick look at Rock & Gem. Something of a different animal from the two previously discussed journals, Rock & Gem tries, and often succeeds, to walk the hybrid line between popular lapidary articles and general-interest mineralogy pieces. Because it is published monthly, but remains cheaper to subscribe to than either the Mineralogical Record or Rocks & Minerals ($27.95 for twelve issues, versus $65 to $70 for six issues of MR or R&M), it could easily be a more popular choice for a general readership. And there have been some good articles in the last year. One short piece on the mineral crocoite (best known as “red lead”) from Siberia and Tasmania from November, 2012 dovetails nicely with a more detailed article in the November / December issue of the Mineralogical Record. Also published were articles which I find useful when planning future travel, featuring various mineralogy-related museums and attractions around the United States. This year, some of those included articles on the Denver Museum of Natural History (August, 2012), and the A.E. Seaman Mineral Museum in Houghton, Michigan. Additionally, Rock & Gem is the only one of the “big three” magazines which includes a section for younger readers, “Rock & Gem Kids”, which includes a short article or two, and a quiz with prizes on offer. Again, support is everything, so please consider subscribing to Rock & Gem here.

Rock & Gem, December, 2012

Rock & Gem, December, 2012

The hobby of mineral collecting and the amateur mineralogist have always been a somewhat rarified province, although it’s hard to say why. This rarification is reflected by the magazines that we read. Somewhere along the way, the childhood interest in things like interesting rocks and minerals, like fossils, like digging in the rocks in a pleasant quarry on a warm late spring day, this joy dies in many people, or at least is not sufficiently nutured. Then, it seems, those people who are no longer interested in their collections drift away, to eventually become accountants and telemarketers and double-glazing salesmen. This seems tragic to me, but perhaps it will always be the way of things.

Just for fun, let me know what you read! Here’s a quick poll (if you’re running Ghostery or another script blocker, you may have to turn it off for this site to see the poll!):

Reviews of Mineralogy Titles 2012: a Catch-all

I’ve been remiss this year of 2012, for a variety of reasons, in keeping up with writing about new events in mineralogy and mineralogical publishing. This is not helped by the fact that I’ve written a number of articles in drafts, and simply not finished them due to other committments. My ongoing projects pile has grown steadily worse, but the only place that I’ve actually done any regular writing is in my book reviews over on Goodreads, it seems. I’m trying to review everything that I read as I finish it, as an aide memoire for those days in the future when I have no idea what in the hell a book that I know I’ve read might have been about. Since those books reviewed include several publications of possible interest to people who might stumble across this blog, I’ve provided links to my reviews here:

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These reviews are strictly off-the-cuff and are based on my opinion immediately after reading or examining these titles. In some cases, particularly in the instance of the book by Peter Zodac, they are a part of my broader question to understand and learn more about something which I find interesting in the world of mineralogy. They also really aren’t intended to sell anything: as far as I am aware, only two of these books are currently in print, although you should be able to find the others on sites like ABEBooks, among others, if you’re genuinely curious.

Collecting the Literature: Rockhound Magazine (1972-80)

There is a lot of mineralogical literature in circulation, both current and classic. For the professional, there are journals like American Mineralogist, which cater to hard-core researchers, educators, and scientists. Journals like AM are daunting for the most part. Less technical but still devoted more to the scientific aspects of mineralogy is Elements, published by the American Geophysical Union.

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The cover of the premier issue of Rockhound magazine.

Publications like The Mineralogical Record and Rocks and Minerals fill a different niche. Although technical, these are both more friendly to the interested, but less specialised reader. In magazines like these, the reader is taken to locales around the world, and exposed to high-quality, glossy photos of the finest specimens that locations worldwide have to offer. Although both magazines have undergone some metamorphoses in their respective histories (over forty years for the MR, and over eighty for R&M), they are now positioned as the standard American sources on contemporary mineralogy. Rock & Gem, another venerable title in search of a niche, has become more of a general interest magazine in the last few years – it, at least, is the sort of journal that one can imagine finding in the magazine section of a Barnes & Noble, for instance, and includes not only articles on localities and museums, but also some lapidary arts. Rock & Gem is the only title which boasts a kids section, encouraging younger enthusiasts (which when done well is vitally important to the continuation of the hobby).

Rockhound was like none of these.

Recently, while looking for something else on a certain web bookstore (all right, it was ABEBooks, where much of my booky madness is played out), I discovered a publication which I only faintly remembered from my early childhood. It was called Rockhound: How and Where to Find Gems and Minerals. I ordered a couple of single issues, curious to see what it was which made this title seem vaguely familiar.

As it turns out I needn’t have bothered. When I dropped by my parents’ house to proudly show my finds to my father, he scoffed and produced a box full of them. He thought that he had nearly the whole run. As it turned out, he had about half.

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Rockhound, June, 1973

In the 1970s, my father recounted, he would go to one of the old-style news-stands downtown, before such animals became extinct in this city, and pick up the latest issue of Rockhound, whenever he remembered. Then he would read of potential locations for hunting, although, as far as I can tell, he rarely carried through beyond imagining the trip. The exception to this was a 1980 family vacation to Minnesota and Canada, where we visited amethyst mines at Thunder Bay in Ontario, as described in the June, 1978 issue of Rockhound. I imagine that he shared them with his father, another rockhound, as well, much as I share current journals and books with him. Rockhounding was something that started in our family with my grandfather and his brother, my great-uncle. Both collected for years and were influential in my growth as a collector. Indeed, apart from specimens, one of my most treasured possessions is a copy of Frederick Pough’s famous field guide, inscribed by my great-uncle to me.

Rockhound was an odd duck. It was a bit of everything: part location guide, part history, part specimen lore. Reminiscent of Rocks & Minerals under the editorship of Peter Zodac, It was a bit like belonging to your local rock club and talking with a group of widely travelled collectors, in magazine form. Articles were chatty, pragmatic, and helpful. Some lamented the passage of the “good old days” – to me, the time at which they were writing was “the good old days”.

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First published in February of 1972 (when I was not quite one year of age), Rockhound began ambitiously. A double issue, with color photography and good quality paper and coverstock, the first issue cost a whopping $2.50 (the cover price of the less widely-circulated Mineralogical Record, by contrast, was $1 in 1970, though colour wouldn’t appear for another two years in its pages). Subsequent issues would cost less, at 75₵ each, for several years. Rockhound was launched. Billing itself as “How and Where to Find Gems and Minerals”, it promised a good deal. The first issue’s cover even trumpeted: “He Found an Emerald Worth $100,000 in North Carolina!”, implying that if he could make $100K (in 1972 dollars, at that), then couldn’t you do it too?

One of the things that attracts some people to rockhounding is the notion of finding something precious and valuable, either for ones collection or for gloating rights, or for eventual sale. This was an idea which seems to have been attractive to the minor publishing mogul responsible for most of the eight-year run of Rockhound, John H. “Long John” Latham (1917 – ? )[1]. Clearly a pirate or an adventurer at heart, Latham published several magazines, with which Rockhound was loosely connected. Latham’s interest was in the Old West and in treasure hunting, to which end he published magazines like Treasure World, Western Fiction Magazine, and True Treasure. The only surviving publication created by Latham, Lost Treasure, continued into the online age.

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The final issue of Rockhound, August, 1980.

There is no internal evidence in those last issues that Rockhound‘s star was waning. The final issue, from August, 1980 [2], makes no mention of any impending demise, and even advertises for new articles. Subscriptions are also – humorously, one assumes – offered. Interestingly, this issue also included an article discussing the extremely recent (May 18, 1980) eruption of Mt. St. Helens in Washington state.

Rockhound was often biased in the favour of those things which were more of collectable value, rather than mineralogical interest (although there’s no denying that those two vectors often intersect). But its articles often presented good and useful guides to collecting on what may even today be publicly accessible locations.

Why read Rockhound any more? I view it as a set that one can collect fairly inexpensively (individual issues found online typical sell for five dollars each or less), and as a unique piece of memorabilia, a place where the sciences of mineralogy and geology cross into the world of collecting. Some of the articles are still of use, particularly as the collecting locations discussed were, like Topaz Mountain in Utah, to pick but a single example, almost as remote now as they were forty years ago, and are therefore relatively unchanged. Some, though certainly not all, of the information in those eight years of Rockhound is still good, and can now serve to point a new generation of rockhounds, amateur lapidaries and curious mineralogists to some of the beauties and wonders that are still there to be found in the natural world.

Publication Breakdown

  • Publication Title: Rockhound: How and Where to Find Gems and Minerals
  • Dates Active: January, 1972 to August, 1980
  • Publication Frequency: Bi-monthly
  • Total Issues Published: 52
  • Illustrations: Colour in a few early issues, afterward black-and-white photos and drawings
  • Cover Price Range: $0.75 to $1.25, special introductory issue $2.50
  • Current Prices: average between $3 and $5 per issue, sometimes cheaper if bought in volumes
  • Purchase Sources: I filled in my collection using ABEBooks and eBay

NOTES
[1] A WorldCat reference does not include a death date; were Latham still alive he would be 95 in 2012: http://www.worldcat.org/identities/lccn-n85-180664

[2] “Final” as far as the limited information I have available indicates, I welcome any corrections that readers may have.

Gem and Mineral Shows… Thoughts in advance

I was thinking of live-blogging, or at least tweeting, the upcoming Kansas City Gem and Mineral Show. It’s the 50th anniversary, and maybe there will be cake. Not that there will be time for me to enjoy cake: probably, there will be very little time to blog or tweet, even assuming that I’ll have a signal there on which to enjoy my new iPhone’s awesomeness. I’ll be working the science store booth, and probably watching to make certain that no miscreants light-finger the merchandise.

As a result of working the show, I have largely stopped enjoying it, though. While I suppose that I and my magpie mind should be pleased to be employed at all, I look forward to the time – in the near future – when I have changed jobs and can go back to being a civilian, or maybe even fulfill my vague and diffuse ambition to be an exhibitor, rather than being stuck in a booth. I’d like to take in a few lectures, or just have the leisure of wandering. Instead, once again I’ll be walking that fine line between telling the metaphysical types that no, I’m not aware of any particular vibational quality in that piece of wavellite and completely losing it on the anti-scientific nonsense peddled by unscrupulous swine preying on the hopeless and the gullible. Which is fun.

This is a lesson that I should have remembered from my youth, when I worked the show with my father. He used to like to take turquoise, jewelry, and a selection of Arizona minerals that he could part with – for a price – and set up in a space on the non-retail “swap side”, which currently means “dark and cramped back table ghetto”, if recent memory serves, but when we were going in the 80s, it was just as brightly-lit and welcoming as the “retail side” of the convention center. Of course, these days, what with being older and all, it seems a bit more of a hassle, and eBay is just as easy a way in which to sell his wares, albeit in a smaller, steadier stream. As far as selling off his vast reserves of turquoise goes, he has learned his lesson.

Maybe one day I will learn mine.

Roadside Geology of Missouri Published!

Ironically… when I last wrote, it was to briefly rhapsodise on my fondness for the Roadside Geology books. It was a paean, perhaps even a tiny bit of a love letter.

One of the things that has been missing from that series, however, has been a volume for the state in which I reside, Missouri. I have known for a couple of years now that a volume was in the works, but, like trying to see the Ring Nebula in the eyepiece of a six-inch reflector, I assumed that by now, if you looked too hard for it and tried to stare directly at it, the book would remain stubbornly invisible.

Spencer-Roadside Geology of Missouri

Roadside Geology of Missouri, by Charles Spencer. Image Credit: Mountain Press

No more. It’s officially listed on Mountain Press’ website. Don’t just take my word for it: look.

The author, Charles Spencer, is a local consulting geologist and regular fixture at the Kansas City Gem & Mineral Show, among other places. I’ve spoken with him a couple of times about the book, and he was always wryly humorous about the prospect of it ever seeing the light of day. However, now it’s out, and, assuming that it is actually shipping, Roadside Geology of Missouri will be just in time to be a big hit at the Kansas City Gem & Mineral Show, which is just two weeks away.

My copy is already on order, so I haven’t read it yet, but expect a thorough review as soon as I can get my hands on it.

Roadside Geology

Slightly off-topic, but I wanted to write something quickly, since I’m still stuck writing about talc. It’s harder than it looks, this lark.

Following some links and ending up at Geology.com, I saw something that I hadn’t seen before which made me smile. An imbedded link, for Mountain Press’ long-lived series, Roadside Geology. Awww.

Roadside Geology of Arizona

Roadside Geology of Arizona, published by Mountain Press.

Not wanting to appear to be just a vulgar shill for the publishing industry, let me just say that my memories of these books, with their bright, primary-coloured covers, go back to when I was fairly young, and my father was reading through an early edition – probably of the Arizona volume, if I had to guess. I’ve been around these books for a long time, and have grown to like them very much.

If I had one complaint about the series, it would be summed up in four words: more volumes, more quickly. The volume on Missouri has been promised for at least a year now, with the publication date continually being pushed back. I know that times are difficult, economically, but I’d really like to be able to drive around and read that book (and put a couple of dollars in author Dr Charles Spencer’s pocket, he’s a decent sort who I’ve bumped into for years now at the Kansas City Gem & Mineral Show). It’s also my habit now to pick up volumes, if they’re available, for states that we’re going to drive through on holiday. Last summer, that meant my copy of the Nebraska volume (now oddly out of print, it seems), Wyoming, Utah, and Colorado. I may not necessarily read everything in advance, but the books are a great sort of general reference whether you’re planning your trip or find yourself parked along the road somewhere, staring at the cut, and wondering “what the hell is that?”, in that way that the geologically-minded tend to do.

Do you live in a state for which one of the volumes has been published? How useful is it? Is there a better option? I’d like to know, as I suspect that there will be more driving holidays in my future, starting this summer, with a return trip to the San Francisco area that may include one or two lengthy detours…