History: Mineralogy at Carnegie Museum of Natural History

One of the first mineralogy exhibits at the museum was produced by Professor Gustave Guttenberg, a curator at the Academy of Art and Science, who loaned his entire personal mineral collection of 550 pieces to the academy. After his death in 1896, the museum purchased these pieces and they became the core of the permanent mineralogical collection.

As early as 1897, the museum accessioned its first world-class mineral specimen—a pseudomorph of hemimorphite after calcite. This Joplin, Missouri, specimen was aimage6 gift of A. L. Means.

During its first years, the mineral collection expanded principally through gifts. The museum acquired ores and metals representing the industries of the Pittsburgh region—the ores and manufactured products of tin, lead, copper, antimony, and bismuth. Local examples of steel products, specimens of oil-bearing rock and crude petroleum, and of coal, coke, and graphite also were included.

Carnegie himself added to the growing collection with several gifts, the most important in 1904 when he purchased the extraordinary mineral collection of William W. Jefferis of West Chester, Pennsylvania.

Jefferis had started collecting in 1837 and for sixty years had devoted himself to developing one of the finest private collections in the country at that time. A friend and constant correspondent of noted mineralogists such as George J. Brush, James D. Dana, Isaac Lea, and Benjamin Silliman, Jefferis furnished specimens for illustrations in many mineralogical publications and textbooks, in particular, James D. Dana’s famous System of Mineralogy.

Jefferis’ large collection contained countless calcite, fluorite, and barite specimens from classic English localities as well as particularly fine suites from other EuropeanImage7 locales and from New York and Pennsylvania. After 1900, important collectors and institutions maneuvered to obtain his collection before it was put on the market. But Carnegie was not to be denied, and in 1904 he purchased the collection for Carnegie Museum for approximately $20,000.

The records show that another institution offered more at the last moment, but Jefferis, a banker, honored his previous agreement with Carnegie. Two boxcars transported the approximately 12,000 specimens by railroad to Pittsburgh. With the acquisition of the Jefferis Collection, the museum attained stature as a mineral museum and repository. In 1906, Jefferis died shortly after having expressed in a letter to George F. Kunz his pleasure and gratification that the Carnegie Museum of Natural History had acquired his life’s work.

During the first part of the twentieth century, the museum’s mineral collection grew largely through donations, with some purchases. Between 1900 and 1905, Douglas Stewart (the presiding caretaker of the mineral collection, 1901–1926) acquired a donation of 2,600 gem specimens from John L. Lewis,  owner of Lewis Foundry and Machine Co. Ltd. in Pittsburgh, and purchased a systematic collection of more than 1,000 mineral specimens from noted mineralogist and dealer George L. English.

Between 1906 and 1908, the prominent Pittsburgh collector Norman Spang donated approximately 100 specimens, one being a 75-pound, perfectly terminated quartz crystal from Switzerland. By 1907 Stewart had installed exhibit and storage cases allowing 4,500 specimens to be exhibited in a Hall of Mineralogy and 9,000–10,000 specimens to be stored systematically for reference. In 1919 the pioneer of petrographic microscopy in the United States, Dr. M. E. Wadsworth, Dean of the School of Mines at the University of Pittsburgh, gave his collection of rocks to the museum.

Douglas Stewart’s sole position at the museum for many years was as Custodian of Mineralogy. In 1923 he also became director of the museum, a position he held until his death in 1926. gemFor decades after Stewart's death, responsibility for the mineralogical collection fell to several professional and amateur mineralogists. For years, in a pattern unfortunately familiar to many natural history museums, no need was felt for a separate curator of mineralogy; the mineral collection was administratively grouped with related areas such as geology and paleontology.

In 1927 geology professors Charles R. Fettle of Carnegie Institute of Technology and Henry Leighton of the University of Pittsburgh were appointed Honorary Curators. In 1937 invertebrate paleontologist Dr. I. P. Tolmachoff was named Acting Curator of Mineralogy and then Curator of Geology and Mineralogy in 1943. David M. Seaman, an assistant to Tolmachoff, succeeded him 1945–1949 and invertebrate paleontologist E. R. Eller followed Seaman until 1969. During these four decades, the collection developed very slowly, with the addition of specimens acquired through field collecting, trading, and purchase.

Although upgrading the exhibit specimens and the gallery space (Mineral Exhibition Hall) had been the primary focus during Seaman’s tenure in the 1940s, his successor dismantled the exhibit hall in the early 1950s and most of the specimens were placed in storage. A decade later, under the same curator, the collection's emphasis shifted back to the acquisition of exhibit-quality specimens as well as gem materials. Some specimens were placed on public exhibit. In the latter part of the 1960s, geologist Delbert L. Oswald, working as a research associate under Eller’s guidance, assisted in the development of a small exhibit of minerals. Also during this time, the museum administration began discussions about establishing a major mineral exhibit.

Next: Hillman Hall of Minerals and Gems