HUGH ALEXANDER FORD
(Revised March, 2000)
Lawrence H. Conklin
Hugh Ford, a diplomat by profession, was born in London. He served in many posts throughout the world as a member of the Consular Service of Great Britain, a career that culminated in his being appointed Consul General to the United States of America in Boston, Massachusetts. He was also a lifetime collector of mineral specimens.
He lived comfortably in retirement on his pension until the Pound Sterling was drastically devalued by the British government. Forced to find a way to supplement his income, he chose to become a dealer in mineral specimens. So, after a few years of business in Cambridge, Massachusetts and with the help of his companion, Clarence B. (Bert) Travers, he opened a showroom at 110 Wall Street in New York City in April, 1946.
What collector will ever forget the long climb up the steep, rickety stairs (the building dated to the 1830s and has been long demolished) to that showroom and the mineral treasures that awaited him behind the glass doors of Fords showcases? The quality of his stock, which was extremely high, his knowledge of minerals accumulated over a lifetime was so complete that he quickly became the preeminent mineral dealer of his time.
Fords personal collection was superb and he was quite avant-garde in his special fondness for loose (free of matrix) gem crystals. Occasionally, when he considered his stock to be a bit dull, he would brighten it with a few pieces from this collection. It was a procedure that he followed for many years and by the end of his business career he had quietly and efficiently disposed of much of his collection. This action left the residue of his minerals more and more select.
Ford had a unique and perhaps dubious honor bestowed on him in 1979 when his full page monthly advertisements were made the subject of an anonymous and unauthorized reprinting in a neatly bound volume by Makeshift Publications, who point out that Hugh Ford...published no catalogs. Consequently, his advertisements in Rocks and Minerals magazine constitute the only surviving record of his transactions. These advertisements ran from April, 1946 to June, 1957.
In 1957 Hugh A. Ford was in poor health. He closed his shop and ended his mineral business. I was given the privilege of first refusal of what was left of his stock but, more importantly, I was allowed to purchase Fords private collection-those favorite specimens that had been held to the end. I also purchased one of his glass-front display cabinet that served me well for years.
That collection of about fifty pieces included two very fine Over-Montgomery period, Red Cloud mine wulfenites that Ford had purchased directly from Arthur Montgomery on April 18, 1938 for $55. When they were finally sold by me at retail in 1959 they brought $85; not too great an increase in price over a period of twenty years. The collection also contained the finest small miniature crystallized native copper that I have ever seen (still treasured in 2000 by the collector who got it from me some forty years ago) and a magnificent specimen of green pyromorphite from Broken Hill, Rhodesia that had been a gift-of-state to Ford during his diplomatic tour in Africa. I sold it to Joaquin Folch-Girona of Barcelona and was quite pleased to see it
singled out by Ulie Burchard during the discussion of the Folch Collection in Mineral Museums of Europe (Burchard & Bode, 1986.)
At that time I was also able to purchase many books (my choice), from Fords private library and his stock. On work that I remember vividly was a five volume set of Sowerbys British Mineralogy (1804-1817), a rarity then as now. I kept it for several years and sold it for $90- what it was worth at that time. It lacked the last six plates, but the price today, considering its 544 hand-colored plates of minerals would still be around $10,000.
There can be no higher praise for a man than he left his chosen field better than he found it. Hugh Alexander Ford was not a trained mineralogist, but the professionalism that he displayed in describing and labelling minerals, (in my forty-five years in business I have never seen an incorrectly labeled Ford specimen!) and the diplomacy he showed in the buying and selling of his minerals set a high standard that influenced many who came after him. There are very few great collections that do not boast at least one fine specimen with a Hugh A. Ford label.
Note: An earlier version of this article appeared in MATRIX, Volume 1, number 2, 1988.
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Lawrence H. Conklin
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