New York Mineral Collection History

In 1836, Governor William Marcy appointed Lewis Caleb Beck Mineralogist of the Geological Survey of the State. Beck visited, from year to year, most of the important mineral localities in New York. He collected, in his words, "many suites of specimens for the General Cabinet...and devoted the rest of my time to arranging the materials collected, and to the analysis of such rare and useful products as seemed worthy of particular examination". Beck was, without benefit of title, the first curator of mineralogy of what was to become the New York State Museum. His collection, and those of his colleagues working on the Survey of New York, provided the foundation for the State Cabinet of Natural History, later to become the New York State Museum.

The published Reports to the Director of the Museum chronicle the important acquisitions of the Museum. The following summary of acquisitions notes only major additions either in terms of size or geologic significance. A host of individuals have donated, exchanged or sold mineral specimens to the Museum in the past 150 years. For example, in 1847, 1848, and 1849, specimens were donated to the State Cabinet by many people including such well known families as Howe and Barton. Their contributions and those of other individuals cannot all be documented in this short account.

The collection amassed by Beck during the course of research leading to the publication of the Report on the Mineralogy of New York in 1842 formed the nucleus of the mineral collection of the New York State Museum. Much of Beck's collection was transferred to Rutgers university and currently resides there. It appears that he continued to add specimens to the collection for several years after the original survey of New York was completed. In 1851 and 1852 minerals and geological specimens from Franklin B. Hough were added to the collections. These were mostly specimens from St. Lawrence County. Silas Horton sold a small suite of Monroe, NY minerals to the museum in 1853. This suite included spinel specimens from his famous Monroe site. In 1868, the collection of Professor Pickett was acquired by the Museum. This collection was principally of fossils but did contain minerals of the Lockport Formation and from New England localities.

In 1870, specimens from Herkimer, NY were purchased from George W. Pine. In addition, some 400 additional specimens were purchased in one lot but the source was not identified. Among these latter specimens were some beautiful formations of flowstone from Ball's Cave in Schoharie County. A small number of pieces were added to the collection that year by Museum Director James Hall. Also in that year, 182 specimens of minerals, fossils, and historical relics were added to the Museum's holdings from Jeptha Simms. It is reported that few of the specimens from that collection were up to the grade of the Museum's mineral collection as it existed at the time. Finally in 1870, the collection of Dr. Ebenezer Emmons was purchased by the Honorable Erasmus Corning and presented to the Museum as a gift. This collection consisted largely of specimens of New York minerals and some foreign occurrences. Among the former was a suite of calcite specimens from Rossie, NY.

The collection of John Gebhard was purchased in 1873. This collection was, in the main, a local one. It consisted chiefly of fossils from the Schoharie Valley and minerals of the "water lime" formations i.e., minerals from the rocks used for natural cement. This collection also included specimens of calcarious minerals recovered from the caves in Schoharie County. In this same year the Van Rensselaer collection of fossils, rocks, and minerals was received by the Museum, however it was in poor condition having been loosely packed in boxes and barrels.

An extensive general mineral collection was purchased in 1886 from Dr. George F. Kunz and a smaller but significant collection of minerals from Westchester county was purchased from him in 1888. Included in the 1886 purchase were the gem materials that formed the nucleus of the Museum's current gem collection. Also at this time, Kunz sold to the Museum several large fluorite cryatal groups from Macomb, NY.

In 1891, a collection with significant historic value was presented to the New York State Museum by the Albany Institute of History and Art. Among the contributors to this collection were Stephen Van Rensselaer, DeWitt Clinton, T. Romeyn Beck, John Gebhard, Lewis Caleb Beck, and Erastus Corning. Some few dozens of minerals were purchased from Mr. George English in 1896. A sizable exchange of specimens occurred in 1902 with the Egleston Mineral Museum of Columbia University. This same year is noted in the records as a very active collecting year for Dr. H.P. Whitlock of the Museum staff.

A donation of 286 specimens from Dr. Joseph Simms was received in 1903. A small but locally important collection of minerals from Ulster County was presented to the Museum in 1904 by P. Edwin Clark. This collection included many fine quartz and ore specimens from Ellenville, NY. In 1907, approximately 400 specimens from Lyon Mountain, NY were donated by H.H. Hindshaw. The collection of Chester D. Nimms was purchased in 1908. This collection comprised over 4000 specimens, a large portion of which were collected in New York State. The bulk of the New York material was from occurrences in St. Lawrence County. In 1909, an outstanding collection of minerals from the Sterling Mine in Antwerp, NY was purchased from R. S. Hodge. The materials were collected by Hodge during the many years that he was superintendent of that mine and, at the time, represented the best material from that locality.

In 1914, the collection of Dr. Silas Young was purchased. These specimens represented world-wide localities but were mainly from Orange County, NY and northern New Jersey.

A hiatus exists in the collection records from the early part of the twentieth century until the late 1940's. During this time period, Museum staff members charged with responsibility for knowledge of minerals were involved in studies of the mineral industry and did not concentrate on mineral specimen acquisition per se. For example, Dr. David Newland of the Museum staff brought in many New York ore specimens during this general time period and many individual specimens were recorded by Dr. H.P. Whitlock.

Chronologically, the next major collection to be accessioned was received in 1949 from John N. Trainer. This was an extensive collection of minerals from the Tilly Foster iron mine in Brewster, NY. A further Egleston Museum exchange of New York State minerals is recorded in 1951. A further suite of minerals, including important Ellenville specimens, was donated to the museum from the estate of P. Edwin Clark in 1957. In 1969, the Museum purchased a suite of New York minerals from Wards Natural Science Establishment, this material was acquired by Wards from Williams College.

The Adam Geer collection of New York minerals was purchased in 1974. This was a large collection containing material from many exhausted localities. Of particular note are the celestine specimens from Chittenango Falls, NY. The new mineral geerite was described from material contained in this collection. A very important collection of minerals and gems was donated to the Museum in 1979 by Elmer B. Rowley. The collection included approximately 1000 New York specimens and 4000 samples from localities world-wide. This collection added greatly to the number of species held by the Museum as well as contributing a large number of display-quality specimens.

The late 1980's saw a renassiance take place in the mineral collections, with the addition of staff, computers and several dedicated volunteers. This allowed the detailed work of databasing and reorganizing the collection to move forward. It also allowed staff to go into the field and visit the numerous mines and quarries throughout the state on a regular basis.

In 1991, a large suite of minerals from the zinc and talc mines of St. Lawrence County was accessioned. The minerals were collected by miners working in those mines and were presented to the Museum via Vernon Phillips. A large further addition of minerals from the zinc mines of St. Lawrence county were donated by William deLorraine and John Johnson, geologists with Zinc Corporation of America in 1992. These specimens included fine examples of rare cubic magnetite crystals as well as type locale donpeacorite. A fine suite of albite and quartz crystals from Rhinebeck in Dutchess county was donated that same year by Edward Dunlap, as well as a small suite of southeast New York minerals from the family of AW Rittershausen of Nyack. A fine suite of minerals from the diabase quarries of Rockland county as well as some notable Adirondack material was donated by Harry Miller in 1993. A sizeable collection of Adirondack material was donated in 1994 by the family of Spencer Cram of Keene, it included very large scapolite and amphibole crystals from Cascade Slide.

In 1995, the Harvard Mineralogical Museum donated many specimens from New York City that were formerly in the collection of Charlotte Avers. The museum received a small but important suite of Staten Island minerals donated by the family of Donald & John Epifania and purchased a small suite of pyrite crystals from Poughkeepsie from Alwin Fogg.

The year 1995 also saw the creation of the New York State Academy of Mineralogy, whose goals included financial support for the purchase of specimens for the New York State Museum. These funds, along with donations from the Capital District Mineral Club, the Mid-Hudson Valley Gem & Mineral Society and the Gem and Mineral Society of Syracuse allowed the Museum to acquire specimens in the increasingly competitive economic environment of mineral acquisition.

In 1996, the Museum acquired a fine suite of minerals, especially fluorite crystals, from the Lockport Group collected over a period of 40 years at the Penfield Quarry from Donald "Butch" Beyrle of Dolomite Products. That year the Museum also received, via exchange with the Canadian Museum of Nature, a large suite of minerals from the Benson Mines in Star Lake. These were collected in the 1950's and 60's by Carl Lashway of J & L Steel. The Museum arranged an exchange with the Morris Museum in that year. Also in 1996, a small collection from Robert Baker who worked for the New York State DOT on road cuts in the 1950's and 60's in the Mid-Hudson area was donated to the Museum by Dutchess Community College.

In 1997, the Museum received a large collection of several hundred specimens from Frank Kurowski collected in the Adirondack region since the 1960's. The collection included fine specimens of fluorite from Lowville, NY, abundant crystals of "peristerite" from Macomb, NY and many other specimens from St. Lawrence County.

1998 saw the addition of over 50 New York specimens obtained by exchange with the Carnegie Museum of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, these specimens were primarily from the William W. Jefferis Collection and in the year 2000, the Museum received a small donation of select New York specimens from RPI in Troy, NY.

The new millennium saw the growth of the collections continue to accelerate. The Schuyler Alverson collection of several hundred important Adirondack Lowlands specimens was purchased in 2001. Many of these specimens were self collected over the previous decades. A small suite of Queens water tunnel specimens was also donated that year and the following year by Charles Merguerian of Hofstra University who consulted on the tunnel project. The early years of the new millenium saw continued purchases of important specimens of Celestine from Chittenango Falls and Sphalerite from the Clinton area from Adrian Labuz, a local collector. Those years also saw the purchase of Adirondack lowland specimens, including gem diopside crystals from Dekalb, from Robert Dow. 2003 saw the beginning of the transfer of the Geoff Palin collection to the State Museum by purchase from the Jamesville Museum. A larger portion of his collection was subsequently purchased from the Clarksville Preserve in 2009.

The years 2004 & 2005 were important years for the State Museum’s mineral collections as four large and important collections were acquired during those years. Two large important collections were donated starting in 2004 by David Zobkiw. These were the William S. Condon Collection and the Ronald Waddell Collection, both men were important field collectors from the Syracuse mineral society and collected extensively in the Grenville areas of New York and Canada. A third collection was acquired in 2005 from the estate of Kenneth Hollmann, following his untimely death. It consisted of hundreds of important specimens from the Balmat-Edwards mining district, including many fine cubic magnetite specimens from Balmat. The estate of Martin Friedlander donated a large collection of important worldwide specimens in 2005, many of display quality. A suite of minerals from the Manhattan water tunnel was donated by a project geologist, Eric Jordan in 2005. A further small suite was purchased from tunnel worker, James O’Donnell.

The year 2006 saw the beginning of the ongoing donation of the Steven C. Chamberlain collection to the New York State Museum. Dr. Chamberlain possesses the largest collection of New York State specimens in private hands.

A large collection of “Herkimer Diamond Quartz” and calcite, primarily from the St. Johnsville Quarry, was donated by William & Viki Hladysz starting in 2007. The New York State portion of the historic Philadelphia Academy of Sciences collection was purchased in that year from Collector’s Edge. It contained many important 19th century specimens. A small suite of Adirondack lowlands minerals was donated in 2008 by the estate of Edmund “Sam” Chase and a small suite of Lockport and Adirondack minerals was purchased in that year from James and Marion Wheaton.

A large collection of minerals from Benson Mines was purchased in 2009 from the estate of Howard C. Rowland, the mining engineer there from 1947-1976.

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