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.

Letter to the Editor

My original intention with this post was to just post a quick, informational link to the current issue of Rock & Gem magazine. Then, however, I was distracted. So distracted, in fact, that a letter seemed warranted. It will explain everything:

 

To the Editors,

I have subscribed to Rock & Gem for roughly two years now. As a science writer, avid mineral collector, and sometimes geology educator, I have found your magazine’s more conversational tone and more generalist stance to strike a good balance between publications obviously inclined toward professionals in the geosciences and the community of interested amateurs.

 

One of the features which I have generally been pleased with has been the ‘Rock & Gem Kids’ section, which I have shared with my own children. Obviously, interesting and educating the potential next generation of amateur lapidaries, mineralogists, and geologists is an important task. Kids are naturally interested in these things, as I always find when I give talks to school-aged children (which, in fact, I did just yesterday). They are often hungry for knowledge that they simply don’t get in school.

 

That is why I was frankly appalled to read the current ‘Rock & Gem Kids’ section discussing ‘Kansas Pop Rocks’ (February, 2011). No, it was not author Greg Sweatt’s line about throwing them into the fire until they exploded, although that was certainly questionable. Nor was it even the remark about how the pyrites are believes to have formed around fossil shell, bone, or tooth (I could find no citations for this, but it would be conceivable in some cases). Rather, what I am referring to is this:

“Rare, perfect pop rocks sell for big dollars as metaphysical stones, as they do emmanate energy, and people sensitive to that energy value them as healing stones.”

 

Who, precisely, proof-read this article? If you hold to any pretense of being even a remotely scientific publication, they merit a stern talking-to, if not outright sacking. And your author, Mr Sweatt, should be cautioned against putting nonsense like this in his articles.

 

Claims of “energy emmanation” are often made by those with more metaphysics than science in mind, without any clear understanding of what that “energy” might be, or how it is “emmanated”. Funnily enough, when materials which do “emmanate energy”, such as uranium and thorium-based minerals, or fluorescent minerals exposed to UV radiation, are discussed, these same people are often strangely silent.

 

Pyrite Concretion, Niobrara Chalk Member, Western Kansas

A pyrite concretion. Watch it closely. Did it move? Wait – did it wink at me just then? No, it didn’t. Photo Credit: Personal Collection.

Let’s be clear: these pyrites don’t emit energy. Not at all. Not one iota. I have one sitting on my desk right now. It is roughly ovoid, about three centimetres in diametre, and a sort of dark bronze colour. It doesn’t glow in the dark. It doesn’t trigger a Geiger counter. It refuses stubbornly to fluoresce. It is not magnetic. It is neither unexpectedly warm nor unexpectedly cold to the touch. It interferes with neither my computer, my mobile, nor my landline telephone. In short, it emmanates no energy whatsoever in any expected sense. If you want to claim that there is an “energy emmanation” from one of these stones, then you’d better be prepared with your data. Show me your experimental method. Demonstrate your hypothesis, quantify and qualify the “energy” being emitted. Why? Because that is how science works.

 

Why does this bother me? Simply this: because as a publication dealing with rocks, minerals, and gemstones, Rock & Gem sets itself up as a trusted source for science information. And in that single statement cited above, your editorial stance has been shown not to be scientific. That makes it very difficult for me to be confident in your publication as a trusted source. Remarks like the one above about “energies”, even if they are just meant as “a bit of fun”, have no place in discussions of the real world.

 

I would point readers interested in further clarification to the recently revised Second Edition of Rex Buchanan’s Kansas Geology (University of Kansas Press, 2010) and to D.E. Hattins 1982 paper ‘Stratigraphy and depositional environment of the Smoky Hill Chalk Member, Niobrara Chalk (Upper Cretaceous) of the type area, western Kansas”, Kansas Geological Survey Bulletin 225 (which sadly doesn’t appear to be available online at this time). Kansas County Bulletins published by the KGS can be found here, and Gove County, as well as other counties where the Niobrara chalk is in evidence, is represented in past publications which are free for all to read.

 

Sincerely yours,
Hexagonal Dipyramidal
So that’s how I spent my morning. Nothing like a letter to the editor to make one hungry for a bit of breakfast and the wine of the vanquished.

Mineralogy in the Science Museum?

I found that I hadn’t even opened my latest issue of The Mineralogical Record when the new one turned up in my mailbox this afternoon. As may be evident from the infrequency of blogging here, it’s been that sort of season. I wanted to take a moment, though, to review a couple of – admittedly quite minor – points which occurred to me in light of the most recent issue.

The Mineralogical Record, November/December 2011The first thing that struck me was how nicely this issue fell in with a number of my own recent activities. The cover features a red beryl from the Wah Wah Mountains, Beaver County, Utah. While I didn’t quite make it that far in my own travels last July hunting trilobites west of Delta, UT, I did get to the Topaz Mountain Rockhounding Site, in Juab County, which was beautiful, rugged, and, unfortunately, entirely beyond the hand tools that I had brought with me. Having already dragged my family that far out into the desert (and to nine year olds, an hour’s drive seemingly into nowhere is a long way, I have it on good authority), I elected to turn back, and made certain to get a pretty topaz and a nice little red beryl from the rockshop in Delta instead. Not as satisfying, but sufficient, especially considering the number of trilobites which we had come away with. Aside from which, it was either that or miss Moab and Arches National Park on the way back toward Colorado, and I had really set my hopes on that (by the way, I can’t recommend Arches National Park enough: it is amazing and awe-inspiring, whether you have geological inclinations or just like gorgeous, unexpected scenery which seems almost otherworldly).

Specimens from the California Academy of Sciences

Specimens of Kunzite and Rose Quartz from the California Academy of Sciences, April, 2010

Then, immediately inside, in the Notes from the Editors column, was a piece about the newly refitted California Academy of Sciences, in San Francisco, which I had visited in April. The letter was not exactly a favourable one, lamenting a note published in the San Francisco Chronicle on 3 September 2010, regarding the recent remodelling of the Academy. The updating of the facility saw the removal of its “fabled gem and mineral hall” (I’ve searched, but I haven’t yet located any images of the former mineral hall; if you have one, feel free to drop me a line), which has – and here I entirely agree with the author’s point – wrong-footed a lot of collectors who have donated what are, judging from what I saw, some remarkable mineral specimens. The article further claims, inaccurately, that the mineral collection is secreted “in the basement” (it is actually positioned on the second level, among what appeared to be administrative offices, next to a very impressive set of megalodon jaws). Unfortunately, this particular room on the second level is only accessible to guests of the Academy who spring for the – pretty expensive – VIP Tour. Essentially, the point of contention is between the mineralogy community, and donors like San Franciscan Jack Halpern, against the Academy, is that all of these donated specimens should be out for public viewing, a point with which I would agree.

During my visit last April, my wife and I were fortunate enough to go on the VIP tour, which included the mineral room on the second level. I’m assuming that this is only a small part of the Academy’s collection, but, for what was there, it was impressive. As this was my first visit, I had nothing against which to compare the relative success or failure except for other science museums that I’ve visited in Kansas, Missouri, Colorado, and Minnesota.

There was a very important point made in the article cited, which was that the California Academy of Sciences is focused, among other things, on evolution education. “Our message is the evolution and sustainability of life on Earth,” according to Academy spokeswoman Stephanie Stone, who went on to say that there simply wasn’t room for everything.

What the Academy does, they do very well. The Morrison Planetarium is phenomenal, even though during our visit some of the experimental presentations did not perform entirely as expected. The exhibits of ocean life were incredible, and my wife, who has some experience with marine life, was very impressed. The evolution and sustainability components are also competently and well-represented, and knowing the poor state of evolution education as I do, I must applaud the Academy’s efforts to counter the lunacy of endeavours like the Creation Museum in Kentucky.

Benitoite in the California Academy of Sciences, April, 2010

Benitoite in the California Academy of Sciences, April, 2010

Does that mean that I don’t want to see more mineralogy represented, for public viewing? Absolutely not. I would hope that the academy can utilise the vast space available to them to find a home for at least some of their collection. Mineralogy should fit into the sustainability message quite well: there are questions of the availability of mineral resources, the environmental impact of their extraction, and their use and re-use as we move further into the 21st century – it will only take a creative mind to work out the best way to make the link.

New Issue of the Mineralogical Record hits the stands!

It’s that time again, when the smell of fresh UV coating emerges from the polythene shipping bag, heralding the arrival of the new issue of the Mineralogical Record. It’s a special time, a six times a year pleasure in the mineral enthusiast’s calendar.

This issue features an article by Editor in Chief Wendel Wilson on the beautiful blue-grey Celestines of Mahajanga Province, Madagascar, collector’s reminiscences of Minas Gerais, Brazil, and a remembrance of the Munich gem and mineral show by the founding editor of the Record, John S. White. As always, an issue to savour, then add to your permanent collection…

Waiting, Impatiently

Do you know how it is when you form an idea in your head, when you know that there is something that you need or want, and then find that suddenly, without warning, it’s taking longer than it should to actually physically put your hands on the thing that you know that you want / need / unreasonably desire?

That’s the position in which I find myself now. I’m waiting for a small parcel containing some old issues of Rocks & Minerals, so that I can write up a brief entry about American popular mineralogy literature. And it’s driving me mad, because, by rights, the parcel should have come by now. Therefore I’m left in the position of doing something which I don’t do well – being patient. I know that it’s supposed to be a virtue and all of that, but I can’t help thinking that even the people who say “patience is a virtue” know, empirically, that the very sentiment to which they’ve just given tongue is a load of dingoes’ kidneys.

So the post is delayed, because I’ll have some reading to do once I finally get the materials for which I’m waiting. In the meantime, I may have to tackle trying to write something more about crystallography, which is difficult, but will ultimately be useful. And I’ll just have to keep telling myself that…