Tom Gressman Recap
Dallas Mineral Collecting Symposium 2011
A gathering of mineral enthusiasts met in Dallas, Texas on August 27th, 2011 for a day of “mineral immersion.” Nearly 200 signed up for the symposium sponsored by Southern Methodist University, the University of Texas at Dallas, the Mineralogical Association of Dallas, and The Arkenstone.
Within the comfortable and modern lecture hall at SMU’s Cox School of Business, Dr. Robert Lavinsky began the Saturday morning program by explaining the overall themes and goals of the event: To bring collectors and museums together; to make the world aware of the wonderful objects we collect; and in so doing to “grow the hobby” by inspiring people to collect minerals. It was a symposium centered not just on science but on the collecting process itself, helping attendees become more skilled and knowledgeable in all aspects of collecting, from historical appreciation to collecting concepts to legal aspects.
The first three presentations were given by curators of three American museums that are home to world-class mineral collections. Dr. Jeffrey Post of the Smithsonian Institution spoke on the “Mission of our National Museum and the Role of Donations and Philanthropy in Building the National Collection.” The Smithsonian maintains a collection of over 375,000 mineral specimens and over 10,000 gems; Dr. Post took the audience through a fascinating tour of the public and non-public parts of the collection. He also spoke of the historical significance of philanthropy in building the museum’s collection, beginning with the contributions of its founder, James Smithson, (after whom the mineral smithsonite was named), and continuing up to the present with a recent gift from the Peter Megaw family of over 500 specimens from the old American Philosophical Society collection.
Joel Bartsch, President of the Houston Museum of Natural Science, then spoke on “Expansion of the Houston Museum, Collections, Acquisitions and Other Tales.” He related how the museum’s attendance grew dramatically following the acquisition of the Perkins Sams collection and continues to this day with 2.6 million visitors in 2010, of which 509,000 were school children. He emphasized that great mineral collections bequeathed to public institutions have a great impact on making the public aware of the beauty of crystals. His candid discussion covered collecting for investment as well as for pure pleasure, and what strategies increase a collector’s chances of success. As an example he quoted the late Julius Zweibel: “Make money when you buy, not when you sell.” He also emphasized the need to educate yourself by seeing collections and developing standards before you buy. Buy the best of what is coming out today, for these pieces will be the classics of tomorrow. Buy fewer specimens but buy the best you can possibly afford because prices for the best pieces are only going to go up in price. Above all collect with the key premise that “Beauty is King”!
Marc Wilson, Curator of the Mineral Section of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, then spoke on “The Legacy of Your Collection: A Dream or a Nightmare.” He discussed the importance of having a focus for your collection – asking the audience “What will be their legacy of your collection?” For example, will it be built on the principles of aesthetics or on the basis of scientific interest? He took the audience on an interesting tour of the deep historical dimensions of the Carnegie’s collection and described how current research (often resembling a Sherlock Holmesian process) is working to identify individual pieces from donated 19th-century collections. Marc shared ideas for how to preserve important information pertaining to your own collection, for the interest of future generations and in turn to enhance the ability of your collection to retain its legacy well into the future.
Francis Allegra, Federal Appellate Judge and Mineralogical Record legal columnist, spoke on “Tax Implications of Donation and Philanthropy.” He addressed the very practical implications of making a donation of a mineral specimen or an entire collection to a museum and the associated IRS requirements. Francis used an effective teaching method by taking a hypothetical case of a “tax deductible donation gone bad,” following an ill-conceived donation from inception to the potential negative IRS consequences. His talk provided an understanding of donations as seen from the viewpoint of the IRS.
Following an exceptionally tasty Texas barbeque lunch, two additional talks were given on the science of minerals. These talks were designed for mineral collectors of all educational backgrounds. The first speaker, Dr. George Rossman of the California Institute of Technology, is regarded as the foremost expert on the origin of color in gems and minerals; he gave a mini-course on how minerals get their color. Dr. Rossman, a winner of the Richard P. Feynmann Prize for Excellence in Teaching at CalTech, showed why he is regarded as a gifted teacher. His visual aids and the advantage of decades of teaching experience made a highly technical subject less mysterious, and he did so in an entertaining manner.
Dr. Barbara Dutrow, Louisiana State University Dept. of Geology, then spoke on the “Origin of Collectible Crystals – The Tourmaline Group.” Dr. Dutrow is regarded as one of the world’s leading experts on tourmaline mineralogy, and her presentation was of interest for the layman collector as well as the professional mineralogist and curator. Many of the physical, chemical and crystallographic properties were discussed, as well as the range of geophysical environments that can accommodate tourmaline formation.
For the neophyte as well as the experienced collector, the free-flowing discussions (in and outside of the lecture hall) alone made the trip to Dallas worthwhile. Following the series of talks, the attendees moved on to a reception at the impressive mineral galleries of The Arkenstone. There the crowd of enthusiasts had a great time, consuming an endless series of tasty hors d’oeuvres with wine while talking to old and new friends, totally focused in their mutual passion for minerals. Buying was also brisk, and by the end of the evening numerous fine pieces had been spoken for (no recession evident here!). The inventory at The Arkenstone consists of literally thousands of fine minerals offered in a series of tasteful cabinets and drawers (see the description of The Arkenstone’s grand opening held there in August 2010; vol. 41, p.551). Evaluating the scene from a purely subjective point of view, it seemed that there was a high degree of positive energy of the kind we used to see back in the 1970s at the Desert Inn.
Of course, there is no such thing as seeing too many fine minerals, and the Dallas area boasts many excellent private mineral collections. Gail and Jim Spann, for example, are two of the most enthusiastic collectors anywhere. Attendees at the Symposium were cordially invited to visit the Spanns’ home, where they could admire and contemplate the Spanns’ world-class collection. Minerals form the focal point of almost every first-level room in the house. Excellent food, conversation and an atmosphere of warmth greeted all who attended. The Spann gathering, along with the talks, the good food, and the evening spent at the Arkenstone Gallery, made for a mineral weekend that no one wanted to end!
Plans are already being finalized for a Dallas 2012 symposium. Based on this year’s success, you will not want to miss this total mineral immersion experience! Up-to-date information on the next symposium can be found at the official website, www.DallasSymposium.org.