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ANATOMY OF A MINERAL SALE:
THE Dohrmann COLLECTION

by
Lawrence H. Conklin
2 West 46th Street
New York, NY 10036

212-382-0304

email lhc@lhconklin.com

N.B.:  This article appeared in Mineralogical Record, volume 23, January-February, 1992.

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One of the few significant auction sales of mineral specimens to take place in America occurred on December 13th, 14th and 15th, 1886, at the Davis & Harvey Art Gallery at 1212 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It was catalogued and conducted by the prestigious and venerable firm of rare coin auctioneers, S. & H. Chapman,1 also of Philadelphia. The collection was listed as the property of "A. Dohrmann, Esq., of San Francisco, Cal.," and for the time being, at least, except for the fact that an "Important Coin Collection," the property of "A. Dohrmann," was sold at auction in New York City by W. Elliot Woodward, from March 6th through the 11th, 1882, nothing has been uncovered about Mr. Dohrmann himself.

I had long known of this Dohrmann sale, and over the years two copies of the sale catalogue had passed through my hands. But what made me consider writing about it was my learning, several years ago, from George Kolbe2 of the existence of the bid book of this sale, a very rare survival. For those not acquainted with the term, the bid book is that copy of the catalogue used and retained by the auctioneers, and which has inscribed within its pages, among other things, the bids that are left by absentee bidders, the prices realized by each lot, the auctioneer's estimates, the reserve prices, if any, and, most im-portantly, the names of the successful bidders. The thought of all this early mineral collecting information in one place was very exciting indeed. George had already sold the book when I heard about it, but he did promise that he would ask the new owner to consider my request for access to the information it contained. Happily, the present owner of this treasure, Armand Champa of Louisville, Kentucky (owner of the finest library on American numismatics ever assembled), telephoned me several months ago and then later, most generously, sent me a complete photocopy of it, the high points of which I share with you here.

Many well known mineral collectors and dealers of the period are included in the list of purchasers, such as Foote (Albert E. Foote, M.D., 1846-1915), Jefferis (William Walter Jefferis, 1820-1906), Roebling (Washington A. Roebling, 1837-1926), English (George Letchworth English, l864 - 1944), Kunz (George Frederick Kunz, 1856-1932), Vaux (George Vaux, Jr., 1863-1927) and the German dealer B. Sturtz of Bonn.

Conspicuous by his absence, considering the fact that this sale was held in his home town, was the greatest of all mineral collectors, Clarence S. Bement, whose magnificent collection was given to the American Museum of Natural History by J. Pierpont Morgan in 1900. It is all the more curious when one remembers that the Bement collection was particularly weak in golds, especially those of American origin. Louis Pope Gratacap, in the chapter on the Bement Collection in his book A Popular Guide to Minerals (New York, 1912), in which he discusses the outstanding individual specimens in the collection, did not mention even a single noteworthy specimen of gold!

Many unfamiliar names are also recorded in the bid book, sometimes in abbreviated form, as purchasers of mineral specimens, and they are listed here in the hope that some reader can shed further light on them. They are: Beadle, Becket, Bruce, Chapman (one of the Chapman brothers?), Day, Decker, Drowne, Esser, Frick, Gee, Hall, Harvey, Laws, Lowe, McCole, McFeb., Magee, Morton, Noble, Osborn, Pastor, and Sheldon.

Surprisingly, George Kunz bought very little for Tiffany & Co., most notably a specimen of turquoise for one dollar and a piece of coal for fifteen cents. Perhaps it was considered poor form, in those days, to bid against one's clients. The American Museum of Natural History, on the other hand, acquitted itself most respectably through the efforts of its Chairman of the Department of Geology, Robert Parr Whitfield (1828-1910), whose tenure at the museum lasted from 1877 to 1909. Whitfield purchased "Lot 11. Gold. Thick sheet with small crystals on large surface of Quartz crystals. 40 x 72 [sixteenths of an inch for a total of 6.35 x 11.43 cm]. Exceedingly fine, rare and beautiful. Near Byrd's Valley, Placer Co. [California.] See Plate II." Whitfield got it for the sum of $25 against an estimate of $90 to $100 so, presumably, it was a bargain. He also purchased other golds -Lot 38 from the Grit mine [Spanish Dry Diggins] for $23 against an estimate of $50-$75; Lot 59 for $18, estimate $35-5O; Lot 60, also from the Grit mine for $162.50 against an estimate of $100-150; Lot 62, same mine, for $18 against an estimate of $25~0 and finally, a gold nugget of 627 grains (approximately 1.25 oz. Troy) from the Gravel mine in Oregon for $30 against an estimate of $35-5O. He also purchased five silver specimens for a total of $160. The grand total spent, $469.50, was a considerable sum for the year 1886.3

Dohrmann's suite of gold specimens was by far the best part of his collection, and the single largest purchaser of these golds is listed simply as "Bouglise." This refers to Georges de La Bouglise, a French mining engineer, after whom the mineral "bouglisite" was named in 1892 by his associate, Edouard Cumeng‚ (1828-1902), who himself had been previously honored with the naming of "cumengeite." Bouglisite was found at Boleo in Baja California, Mexico (the same locality that produced the cumengeite), but was discredited by the mineral-chemist Frederick A. Genth only one year later, in 1893, as being merely a mixture of anglesite and gypsum.

After his death, Bouglise's considerable collection of gold specimens was offered for sale at public auction on December 14, 1911, by the Parisian mineral dealer Alexandre Stuer, and it was purchased in toto by Albert C. Burrage of Boston, Massachusetts. The collection subsequently found its way into the Harvard Mineralogical Museum in 1948 as a bequest of Burrage, who was a member of the Harvard class of 1883. The treasure remains there to this day. One lovely specimen whose history can be traced quite accurately, is number 60 of Plate I of the Dohrmann catalogue. It was bought by Whitfield for the American Museum of Natural History and was exchanged out of the collection approximately 100 years later. It is in a private collection today. Harvard, of course, can identify several Dohrmann specimens within its vast collection of golds. Number 61 on Plate I of Dohrmann especially stands out. Other gold specimens now in Harvard's collection are Dohrmann numbers 29, 49, 54 and 55, with number 55 occupying the place of honor on the cover of the Bouglise auction catalogue.

In this "bid book," inscribed at the rear, is some very interesting information, presumably written by one of the Chapmans, that relates to the economics of the sale. The gross receipts were $2870. The Chapmans charged a flat 25% for handling the sale, printing the catalogue, mailing it, etc., which amounted to $717.50. Their expenses (which included a fee of 5% of the gross or $143.50 to the auctioneer) amounted to $418.33. The largest single expense, $219.83, was for the production of the catalogue, and the Chapman's net profits amounted to $299.27. There is an entry on the plus side of this accounting of $20 for sales of the catalogue, and if the listed price of the catalogue of $1 is correct, then only 20 catalogues were sold and their rarity today is easy to understand; but it should be remembered that auctioneers distribute free catalogues (sometimes without plates) to regular customers and to those whom they believe this 56-page catalog is more in line with the statement in the preface that 100 copies had been prepared and offered for sale "at cost," implying that the total production cost for the catalog was about $100. One hundred is therefore the maximum number of copies that could have been distributed; the actual number is probably less, the remainders having been discarded. There is also one entry for an advertisement in the Min.(ing) J.(oumal) of $6.

The Dohrmann collection consisted of 1,687 mineral specimens, including 372 golds and 212 silvers. There were also 105 gemstones, 98 fossils and nine Indian stone implements. As mentioned, nothing certain is known about Dohrmann himself although he must have been a long-time resident of the American West, because his collection was largely composed of Western minerals. His gold specimens were almost entirely Californian, from many different mines and prospects (see Table 1). His silvers included over a hundred specimens from the Batopilas district, Chihuahua, Mexico, 73 of which were specifically identified as having come from the Pastrana mine. Other silver localities represented include the Stonewall Jackson, McCracken, Mineral Park and Silver King mines in Arizona (56 specimens), Silver Islet in Canada (5 specimens), the Bell mine in the Butte district, Montana (1 specimen), and the Gould & Curry mine in Virginia City, Nevada (2 specimens). Other specimens of note include a 656-gram slab of the Shingle Springs, California, iron meteorite, discovered in 1870; hessite crystals, native antimony and tellurium specimens from Hungary; fine polybasite crystals, silver and octahedral crystals of argentite from Mineral Park, Arizona; cinnabar crystals from the New Almaden mine, California; crystalline proustite, pyrargyrite and miargyrite from Batopilas; miargyrite, stephanite, pyrargyrite and silver from the Tuscarora mine, Elko County, Nevada; many polybasite crystal specimens from Virginia City, Nevada; no less than 174 specimens of chlorargyrite from various Arizona, California and Nevada mines; and a number of wulfenite specimens from the Red Cloud mine (listed as "Yuma County") in Arizona.

With the mineral specimen market and dealerships as limited in development as they were in 1880's California, Nevada and Arizona Territory, one can speculate that Dohrmann may have been a mining engineer or consultant. Only by actually visiting a great many mines in those states could he have acquired such a large number of gold, silver and silver-containing specimens. The specimens in his collection from other states and around the world are comparatively limited in number and were probably acquired through some of the very dealers who attended his auction. We may never know all of the details. But we may be certain that Mr. A. Dohrmann, Esq., of San Francisco was a man who knew and appreciated minerals.

FOOTNOTES

1.  It was the Chapman Brothers who auctioned Clarence Bement's superb coin collections early in the twentieth century.

2.  George Frederick Kolbe, P.O. Drawer 3100, Crestline, California 92325, is the preeminent purveyor of antiquarian numismatic literature, and has the writer's thanks for information on Mr. Dohrmann.

3.  According to American Museum of Natural History records, Whitfield took advantage of this trip to Philadelphia to visit the shop of Dr. Albert E. Foote on December 14th, to spend $64.80 on five mineral specimens.

FIGURES &  CAPTIONS

anat1t.gif (2125 bytes) Figure 1 (lef). Title page of the Dohrmann auction catalogue (1886). (Mineralogical Record Library)

Figure 2 (right). Plate I from the Dohrmann auction catalogue (1886), showing California gold specimens

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anat3tn.jpg (13504 bytes)Figure 3. Gold from the Grit mine, El Dorado County, California: shown on the facing page as no. 60 on Plate I of the Dohrmann catalogue. Originally purchased by the American Museum of Natural History, it was traded a century later to William Larson.  Photograph by Wendell Wilson.
anat4tn.jpg (13502 bytes)Figure 4. Gold from the Grit mine, El Dorado County, California: the same specimen as no. 61 on Plate I of the Dohrmann catalogue. It was purchased at the Dohrmann auction in 1886 by Georges de la Bouglise. When the Bouglise collection was auctioned in Paris in 1911 it was purchased by Albert C. Burrage of Boston, and was later bequeathed to Harvard.  Photograph by Wendell Wilson.
anat5tn.jpg (16090 bytes)Figure 5. The Grit mine gold specimen, 8.26 cm, shown as no.55 on Plate I of the Dohrmann catalogue, and also shown on the cover of the Bouglise auction catalogue (1911). It was purchased by Albert C. Burrage and bequeathed to Harvard in 1948.  Photograph by Wendell Wilson.
anat6tn.gif (9531 bytes) Figure 6 (left). Silver crystals in calcite, 9.5cm, from Batopilas, Mexico. The Dohrmann catalogue describes it as "One of the gems of the collection."  Photograph by Wendell Wilson.

Figure 7 (right). Plate IV from the Dohrmann auction catalogue (1886) showing mostly California gold specimens.

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Figure 8 (left). Wire silver, 4.29 cm, one of 16 silver specimens from Mineral Park, Arizona.  Photograph by Wendell Wilson.

Figure 9 (right).  A page from the American Museum of Natural History accession ledger for 1886 showing Dohrmann specimens purchased (courtesy of Joseph Peters).

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anat10tn.gif (2240 bytes)Figure 10. Cover of the Bouglise auction catalogue (1911), showing the Grit mine gold pictured as no. 55 on Plate I of the Dohrmann catalogue. (Courtesy of the Harvard Mineralogical Museum)

Table 1. Specific gold localities represented in the Dohrmann collection (number of specimens shown in parentheses).

Arizona Territory
Dos Cabezas (5)

Black Warrior mine (1)

California
Empire mine, Grass Valley, Nevada Co. (4)

Massachusetts Hill quartz mine, Grass Valley, Nevada Co. (6)
Mamaluke Hill quartz mine, nr. Georgetown, El Dorado Co. (1)
Byrd's Valley, Placer Co. (3)
Cedarbury mine, nr. Spanish Dry Diggins,
El Dorado Co. (2)
Cornish mine, nr. New City (1)
Amador mine, Amador Co. (3)
Oaks and Reese quartz mine, Mariposa Co. (4)
U.S. Grant mine, Calaveras Co. (2)
Blue Ledge mine, nr. Placerville, El Dorado Co. (1)
Jackass Gulch, Calaveras Co. (1)
Williams quartz mine, Mariposa Co. (2)
Cedarburg mine, El Dorado Co. (2)
Grit mine, El Dorado Co. (8)
Seaton mine, Amador Co. (1)
Diamond Creek, Nevada Co. (1)
Ford and McDonald mine, Grass Valley (2)
Forrest Hill, Placer Co. (2)
Placerville, El Dorado Co. (21)
IXL mine, Calaveras Co. (1)
Coloma, El Dorado Co. (3)
Ophir, Place Co. (7)
Sutter, Amador Co. (10)
Black's mine nr. Coulterville, Mariposa Co. (2)
Enterprise mine, nr. Meadow Lake, Nevada Co. (6)
Bodie, Mono Co. (4)
Mormon Bar, El Dorado Co. (1)
Ramon quartz mine, Calaveras Co. (1)
Mosquito Gulch, Calaveras Co. (1)
St. P. mine, Placer Co. (3)
Empire Flat, Colorado River (1)
Gold Run, Placer Co. (12)
Scott River, Siskiyou Co. (1)
Pilot Hill, El Dorado Co. (3)
Dry Town, Amador Co. (4)

Colorado
Bassic mine (1)
Central City, Gilpin Co. (1)
Leadville (1)

Nevada
Herbert & Sheald mine, nr. Silver City (1)
Pratt's mine, 46 miles S.E. of Carson City (1)
Grand Prize mine, Tuscarora, Elko Co. (1)
Virginia City (1)
Comstock Lode (1)
Silver City (1)

Oregon
Gravel mine (1)

Wyoming Territory
Prospect mine (7)
Cock Robin mine, Saline group (10)

Also specimens from Alaska, British Columbia, Idaho, the Black Hills in South Dakota, and Mexico (exact localities unspecified).

 

 

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