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Accounts of the Discovery of the Kunz Garnet

by John H. Betts, All Rights Reserved

In the past I wrote about the significance of the Kunz garnet that is part of the seal of the New York Mineralogical Club. By all accounts this is the largest garnet discovered on Manhattan Island, New York City. Recently I had an opportunity to review several accounts and published articles and found some interesting differences in the accounts given as to how the garnet was found. Following are the most relevant articles about this garnet specimen.

The first article was found in the Transactions of the New York Academy of Sciences Transactions 5, p. 80 from December 7, 1885:

 

Regular Business Meeting. The President, DR. J. S. NEWBERRY, in the Chair.

Forty persons present.

Prof. Lazarus Fletcher, curator of the mineralogical department of the British Museum, and Prof. Valentine ball, Director of the Science and Art Museum, Dublin, were elected Corresponding Members.

In behalf of Mn. G. F. Kunz, Mn. B. B. Chamberlin presented for the notice of the Academy a large almandine garnet, seven inches in diameter, and nine and one-half pounds weight, found during the past week in an excavation on 35th street, between Broadway and Seventh avenue. Mn. Kunz regarded the crystal as the largest of the kind ever reported from the Island. It is in good condition, showing twenty faces of the trapezohedron and nearly half as many faces of the dodecahedron. The combination of the two forms gives it additional interest. The edges of the rhombic faces are truncated. The general color of the garnet is a reddish brown modified by olive-green spots of chlorite. The fractured portion of the crystal shows dodecahedral cleavage.

 

On pages 264-266 of the same New York Academy of Sciences Transactions 5 for May 31, 1886 we find the next entry with a full page engraving of the garnet:

 

The President, Dr. J. S. Newberry, in the chair.

Twenty-five persons present.

Mr. George f. Kunz presented the following description and illustration of the large garnet which was exhibited at the meeting of December 7, 1885.

The finest large garnet crystal ever found, perhaps, in the United States, was discovered, strange though it may seem, in the midst of the solidly-built portion of New York City. It was brought to light by a laborer excavating for a sewer in West 35th Street, between Broadway and Seventh Avenue, in August, 1885. A quartzite vein, traversing the gneiss, contained the crystal. The laborer took it to Mr. J. J. King, from whom I received it.

The accompanying plate, engraved by our fellow-member and mineralogist, MR. B. B. Chamberlin, is a faithful representation of this interesting garnet.

In form the crystal is a combination of the 2-2 tetragonal trisoctahedron (trapezohedron), the predominating form, and I-dodecahedron, and 34 hexoctahedron.

It weighs nine pounds tea ounces (4.4 kilos), and measures fifteen cm. (six inches) in its greatest diameter, and six cm. on its largest trapezohedral face.

Twenty of the trapezohedral faces of the crystal are perfect, while the remaining faces were obliterated in the formation of the crystal by pressure against the quartzite matrix.

On the surface the color is a reddish-brown, with an occasional small patch of what is apparently chlorite, which greatly enhances its beauty. On a fractured surface, however, the color is a light almandine, and the material in the interior of the crystal is found to be very compact.

Illustration of the Kunz garnet from the New York Academy of Sciences Transactions 5. (1886)

The location is more specific in this reference, on Thirty-fifth Street between Broadway and Seventh Avenue. Also Kunz claims he obtained the garnet from Mr. J. J. King. This is reinforced several years later when the garnet was described in the Appendix of George F. Kunz' Gems & Precious Stones of North America, on page 347:

Garnet (see page 78).- The finest garnet crystal ever found in the United States was discovered, strange though it may seem, in the midst of the solidly built portion of New York city, by a laborer excavating for a sewer in West Thirty-fifth Street, between Broadway and Seventh Avenue, in August, 1885. A quartzite vein, traversing the gneiss, contained the crystal. The laborer took it to Mr. J. J. King, who lived in the vicinity, from whom the author received it, and it is now deposited as a loan in the cabinet of the New York Mineralogical Club, at the American Museum of Natural History, Central Park, New York.

In form the crystal is a combination of the tetragonal trisoctahedron (trapezohedron), the predominating form, with the dodecahedron and the hexoctahedron.

It weighs 9 pounds and 10 ounces (4.4 kilos.), and measures 15 centimeters (6 inches) in its greatest diameter, and 6 centimeters on its largest trapezohedral face.

Twenty of the trapezohedral faces are perfect, while the remaining four were obliterated in the formation of the crystal by pressure against the quartzite matrix.

On the surface the color is a reddish-brown, with an occasional small patch of what is apparently chlorite, which enhances its beauty as a specimen. On a fractured surface, however, the color is a light almandine, and the material in the interior of the crystal is found to be very compact.

Detail of the signature of the illustration from the New York Academy of Sciences Transactions 5. (1886)

 

This last entry was probably lifted directly from the earlier references as was apparently common in many of Kunz's writings. On page 80 of Gems and Precious Stones of North America was the same engraving created by Mr. Chamberlin except for one small change - The Chamberlin signature was removed from the engraving. Presumably this was done with Chamberlin's knowledge and approval, though it is difficult to imagine why it was necessary.

Detail from Gems & Precious Stones of North America by George Frederick Kunz, p..82 (1890).
Note the lack of Chamberlin's signature.

 

Then in 1908 an article mentioned the Kunz garnet, almost 20 years after the discovery, in The Mineral Collector, Volume 15, p. 64 (1908)

 

Garnets Dug Up In Subway.

Ralph e. Morgan, a young English mineralogist who is stopping at 145 East Fifty-second Street, New York City, was walking up Sixth Avenue, when in passing the subway excavation at Thirty-third Street, he stopped to look at the great pile of rock that had been removed, and then suddenly picked up one of them.

"A perfect garnet," he exclaimed.

Investigation proved that the rocks were filled with beautiful red garnets. Morgan learned that rock and earth taken from the subway excavation have been dumped at Sheepshead Bay, so he went there. He found that the rocks were filled with mica schist, in which the garnets are deposited. He gathered several good specimens. He says there are millions of garnets in the rock under New York, but, as the stones are mostly small and fractured, they are of little value except a~ specimens.

Dr. George F. Kunz, the noted gem expert, told him he had found a garnet specimen, about a year ago, at Thirty-fifth Street and Tenth Avenue, that weighed ten pounds.

 

The location has moved to Thirty-fifth Street and Tenth Avenue now. Presumably this is the failing memory of Kunz or inaccurate reporting by the author. But it is one more inaccuracy in the literature about this unique specimen.

The final article about the discovery of the Kunz garnet can be found in Rocks And Minerals , Volume 5, pp. 73 (1930) in an article by William Niven:

 

My Mineral Discoveries Since 1879

by William Niven, Director, Houston Museum of Natural History, Houston, Texas

In 1885, at the close of the Exposition in New Orleans, the entire exhibit from Arizona, over twenty tons, was shipped by freight boat to New York City, where for a number of years I carried on a regular mineral business and my explorations in and around New York City kept me constantly and plentifully supplied with mineral specimens, many very important discoveries of fine species and varieties were made. One of these was a huge garnet crystal, said to be the largest ever found, weighing nine-pounds nine ounces, and six inches in diameter. It was unearthed by a laborer making an excavation on 35th Street near 3rd Avenue, eight feet below the surface and flung up on the dump, when I happened to be passing along. After a careful cleaning it was found to be a perfect dodecahedron crystal of an Almandite Garnet and was placed in the window of my mineral store at 246 West 23rd Street, for sale, with the price marked $100.00. Next day it was bought by a well-known gem expert of Tiffany & Company and is now on display in a loan exhibition of the Mineral Department, American Museum of Natural History, New York City.

 

Now we have a very confusing story. Where did Kunz get the garnet? Why would Niven lie about such a thing. It was over 45 years after the discovery, could he have made a mistake? Kunz was prone to exaggeration in his reports. It is tempting to believe Niven and discount the earlier reports by Kunz. Why would Kunz lie? Perhaps he was ashamed at obtaining the specimen with cash. The discrepancy will never be resolved now that both are long deceased.

What everybody can agree on is was a wonderful discovery. We are fortunate that it was preserved for posterity. The garnet is currently on view at the American Museum of Natural History, at 79th Street and Central Park west. It is located in one of the center, circular cases and not prominently displayed.

As a point of interest for the mineral collectors that want to collect at Manhattan Island locations, the same article by Niven included the following description of a mineral site uptown:

 

One of the best localities in those years was along Washington Avenue, from 165th Street to 181st Street, where I prospected from 1886 to 1889, finding thousands of crystals, including Garnets, Tourmalines, Topazes, etc.-one Xenotime crystal, the phosphate of yttrium, honey color, translucent-was said by Professor S. L. Penfield to be the second finest crystal of that rare mineral lie had ever seen.

At 181st Street and Washington Avenue, with the official written permission from the Chief of the Board of Public Works, New York City, I hired a number of laborers for several months and with drills and dynamite, blasted many tons of rock, securing hundreds of fine crystals of different minerals-the largest being a black Tourmaline crystal ten inches long, and four inches in diameter, on a quartz matrix, which weighed sixty pounds and which was purchased by the American Museum of Natural History. Next morning the New York Herald had a picture of it with the heading:

"Largest Sale of Real Estate ever made on Manhattan Island. William Niven sells to the American Museum, a specimen of rock from 181st Street, with a Tourmaline crystal, weighing sixty pounds, for $250.00; said to be the largest crystal of that mineral in the world."

© John H. Betts - All Rights Reserved


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