Lawrence H. Conklin
Figure 1. Fred M. Sickler, discoverer of kunzite at the White Queen mine, Pala, California.
|The pink or lilac-colored
variety of spodumene is today universally known as kunzite, in honor of George Frederick
Kunz. But it might well have retained any one of several other names instead. It is
generally agreed that pink, gem-quality spodumene was first discovered by Frederick M.
Sickler. At least it was Sickler who sent the first specimens to George Kunz at Tiffany
& Company in December of 1902, thinking that they were possibly a variety of
tourmaline. The exact locality was not furnished to Kunz at the time, but it was later
revealed to be the White Queen mining claim on what was later known as Heriart or Hiriart
Mountain, near Pala, San Diego County, California.
At that time credit for the discovery was disputed because coevally with the Sickler discovery, Frank A. Salmons, another miner from that area, made an independent find of the same material nearby at his Pala Chief mine, and many considered him to be the discoverer. In a letter to Kunz1 dated September 26, 1904, Sickler states:
|The pink or lilac-colored variety of spodumene is today universally known as kunzite, in honor of George Frederick Kunz. But it might well have retained any one of several other names instead.|
|Kunz must have had a bit of trouble with this message because Salmons and the Pala Chief mine were Kunz source for the really fine, large and gemmy crystals of kunzite that yielded the beautiful, giant-sized faceted stones which had so impressed the jewelry fraternity. In his report Kunz wrote a few paragraphs on the discovery of kunzite, but finished by stating only that Sicklers discovery seems to be entitled to priority. Oh well, commerce, as well as science and history, must be served.|
Figure 2. Left to right: S. McLure, Bernardo Heriart, Frank A. Salmons and Pedro Peiletch at the Pala Chief mine, San Diego County, California, one of the localities where kunzite was first found. Photo ca. 1900, H.C. Gordon
|H.C. Gordon, who was an
important long-time correspondent of Kunz and who supplied Kunz with much data and
many photographs for the report, wrote to him on October 24, l9O2: 3
Here were two more discoverers, perhaps the real ones. Kunz was wise to hedge his bet.
Obviously confusion reigned, as exemplified by a photograph of Sickler,4 on the back of which is written (in Sicklers hand) the following inscription:
|Thinking you may like to know the history of the gem spodumene Kunzite I will let you know its location in this country, where first found, name of discoverers, etc...|
Figure 3. George Kunz examining what may be the crystal of kunzite shown here in Figure 4. From the Mineral Collector, Vol. X, No.8, October, 1903, pp. 113114.
|Presumably he should have added
the names of Peiletch and Heriart to his list of honorees!
Charles Baskerville, a chemistry professor at the University of North Carolina and later the City College of New York, named kunzite in honor of George Kunz in 1903, but not without much input from Kunz himself. Exactly how the whole matter originated has not been recorded; nevertheless we can be sure that it was Kunz who began it. There is much reference to the matter in the Kunz-Baskerville file of correspondence at the American Museum of Natural History library in New York, from which I quote below.
Baskerville was still working on the analysis of kunzite when he wrote to Kunz on November 24, 1903:5
Baskerville got much more than small refuse pieces for analysis from Kunz, for in the early 1950s I was shown a fine cut and polished prism of kunzite while attending an optical mineralogy course at City College of New York. Professor Kurt E. Lowe stated that it was the very same specimen worked on by Charles Baskerville in 1903. I certainly hope that it has survived the years with its history still attached.
|In a somewhat later off-print of his original published work on kunzite in the American Journal of Science in 1903, Kunz warned us twice of what was to come. After describing several small crystals of pink spodumene, he said, As this is an entirely new gem of peculiar beauty, a name will be given to it shortly. And also, If sufficient differences are found to exist between this spodumene and the other known varieties a new name will be given to it. When the official publication (Kunzite: A new gem, Science, September 4, 1903) finally came out Baskerville states: The observations of Dr. Kunz sufficiently characterize this mineral of peculiar beauty as a new gem, which he has not named... I propose the name Kunzite, for reasons unnecessary to give to American and European scientific men. This publication (which included ten lines quoted from Sir William Crookes on the phosphorescence of kunzite) initiated the following exchange:|
Figure 4. Superb crystal of kunzite from the Pala Chief mine; 14 cm. Photo by Harold and Erica Van Pelt. It was originally sold to J.P. Morgan by Kunz around 1903, then was donated to the American Museum of Natural History in New York. In the 1960s it was traded out to Peter Bancroft, and is now in the collection of William Larson, who in 1987 valued it at $250,000. This photo first appeared in Letters to George F. Kunz (Conklin:1986)
|Kunz to Baskerville,5 December 19, 1903:
Baskerville to Kunz,5 January 13, l904:
Kunz to Baskerville,5 January 16, l904:
Somewhere in the correspondence is a reference to Crookes acknowledging a faceted kunzite for his wife.
Things were obviously handled (perhaps manipulated is a better word) very carefully as again is shown by a note from Baskerville to Kunz5 in l903:
In the Mineral Collector, April 1906, W. S. Valiant, a professor of geology at Rutgers College in New Jersey, wrote the following somewhat cryptic comments, in which I have inserted some clarifying notes (in blue):
|Long stories have been published, one in the Mineral Collector, about this matter, but the question as to who first discovered it is still at large.|
|Nor was Valiants reason
ever given. What would he himself have chosen for a name if he had published promptly? No
As late as 1915 controversy still surrounded kunzite, when George Otis Smith, director of the United States Geological Survey, wrote to Kunz6 as follows:
Please note that kunzite is not mentioned once in Smiths letter, and imagine how George Kunz must have felt upon hearing kunzite called a trade name! Surely an affront was meant.
The report that originally upset Kunz started out satisfactorily enough:
Then it goes on to discuss Frank Salmons report of two large kunzite specimens with measurements and descriptions. Kunz was certainly pleased. But then:
George Kunz was no doubt angered by all this disrespect, and found little to soothe his feelings as promised by Smith in the bound volume for 1914. Here California iris was deleted, but so was kunzite. Only the species name spodumene was retained.
|Please note that kunzite is not mentioned once in Smiths letter, and imagine how George Kunz must have felt upon hearing kunzite called a trade name! Surely an affront was meant.|
|By 1919 things had obviously
cooled down, and Frank Salmons, as president of the Pala Chief Gem Mine, wrote6 Kunz that he had
a half dozen fine specimens of kunzite. If you will be interested in same, I will be
glad to send them on for your inspection.
Kunz felt quite secure, as well as casual, about his beloved kunzite when he said the following in his memorial to kunzite collaborator, Charles Baskerville, in 1922:
It seems amazing to me what self-serving remarks can be made by a person even allowing for some dimming of recollections of events 17 years past. I have often thought that the above quotation might instead have read:
In fairness, it must be pointed out that in
1911 Kunz had the opportunity to name the recently discovered pink variety of beryl, and
he called it morganite after his distinguished patron.
The name kunzite for the pink
variety of spodumene, like all varietal terms, carries no scientific weight. The
acceptance or rejection of such terms is, in the end, determined solely by popular usage.
It is, however, still a universally recognized varietal term along with others such as
hiddenite, tanzanite and emerald that will surely survive. Sicklerite and salmonsite are
today valid species unrelated to spodumene and J. P. Morgan is remembered in morganite.
But California iris is long abandoned, and Messrs. Heriart, Peiletch, Valiant,
Giddens and Nichols have yet to be honored with any mineral names. The spirit of George
Frederick Kunz can rest easy his namesake is secure.
A New Lilac-colored Transparent Spodumene
By Dr. George Frederick Kunz
Reprinted from Science, September 4, 1903
The mineral spodumene is generally known in large opaque whitish crystals, but occasionally it appears in small specimens that are transparent and richly colored. Such are the clear yellow gem spodumenes of Brazil,7 the green variety Hiddenite, or little emerald, of North Carolina,8 and the lilac or amethystine pieces rarely found at Branchville, Connecticut.9 These last are plainly remnants of what must once have been elegant specimens; but spodumene is extremely subject to alteration, and has generally lost all its transparency and beauty of tint.
A notable discovery has just been made, however, of large splendid crystals of transparent unaltered spodumene, of rich lilac color; in connection with other lithia minerals, in San Diego Co., Calif. The locality is a mile and a half from the famous rubellite and lepidolite mine at that place. Pala is already one of the most remarkable lithia localities known; amblygonite has been found there by the ton, and the lepidolite is estimated to occur by thousands of tons; while the pink rubellite crystals in the lilac lepidolite are familiar ornaments in every fine mineralogical cabinet.
At the new locality spodumene crystals occur up to the size of a mans hand, entirely clear, and of a rosy lilac tint, varying with tile spodumene dichroism from a very pale tinge when looked at transversely, to, the prism, to a rich amethystine hue longitudinally.
If cut and mounted parallel to the base, these will undoubtedly yield gems of great beauty. No such crystals of spodumene have ever been seen before, and the discovery one of extreme interest. A marked difference in color is noticeable also in these crystals, according as they come from some depth in the rock or lie nearer to the surface. The former having a deeper tint.
This difference is doubtless due to the effect of air, water and light, which so frequently affect the color of minerals for some little distance into the rock.
The material is exceedingly pure, with a hardness of about 7, and specific gravity (average of three crystals) of 3.183. The crystals are somewhat etched and corroded, and have a twinning, like the Hiddenite variety, about the a (IOO) face; this is strikingly shown in the etched crystals, where the etching extend to the twinning plane, and there stops.
Close to the opening, also, a splendid occurrence of colored tourmaline was found, some of the crystals being a foot long and three inches across, of rich pink rubellite with an exterior coating, or terminal capping, of dark blue indicolite.
Some similar, though smaller, crystals of transparent lilac spodumene were brought to the writer last winter, ostensibly from Hermosillo, Mexico; they were, however, found near Menchoir, California.
As this is an entirely new gem of a peculiar beauty, a name will be given to it as soon as its characteristics are definitely determined.
Since the above article was written, the name Kunzite has been given to this beautiful and interesting American gem, and we congratulate Dr. Kunz on having such a handsome namesake Editor
1 Letter in the library of
Richard Hauck. (back to text)
The Original Specimens of Kunzite
by Lawrence H. Conklin
The following article was originally printed in the May-June 1988 issue of Matrix magazine as part of their series on historic mineral specimens.
It is generally assumed that the
first specimens of kunzite were sent to George Kunz and Tiffany by Frederick M. Sickler
from his White Queen mining claim in 1903. Kunz lost no time in supplying pieces to
Charles Baskerville who then named the new pink variety of spodumene kunzite
in Kunz honor.
In 1952, during my sophomore year at the City College of New York, my professor Kurt E. Lowe, showed me a cut prism of kunzite that had been the property of Charles Baskerville, a City College chemistry professor, and had been used in the original determination and naming of that species back in 1903.
The specimens depicted here are more examples of this type material from Baskervilles collection. The label is in the hand of Daniel T. OConnell, and is initialed by him. OConnell probably never met Baskerville (who died in 1922), as he arrived on the C.C.N.Y. scene in 1928.
However, he recognized the importance of these specimens, and saw to it that their history was not lost.
In a letter from Charles Baskerville to George F. Kunz, dated November 24, 1903, Baskerville states: Perhaps it may be necessary for me to have a little more of the kunzite. I prefer the colored pieces, the small refuse from the cutting will answer. Those small refuse pieces are also here.
When and how they left City College is not clear, but they were in the famous O. Ivan Lee collection, thence to John Albanese, a dealer from New Jersey and finally went to Clifford Frondel and the Harvard Mineralogical Museum, before coming into the hands of the writer.
© 1999 Lawrence H. Conklin
Lawrence H. Conklin
Wallingford, CT 06492
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