All photos, text & graphics copyrighted 2000 - John Veevaert

During the Summer of 2000 I had the opportunity to visit the Smithsonian Institution.  While there, I spent a fair amount of time at the relatively newly refurbished mineral exhibit in the National Museum of Natural History.   One word more or less sums this display up: WOW!   I spent the better part of 3 hours carefully viewing every display and then meandered on to the adjacent planetary and lunar display.   You can enter the exhibit from two directions: either through the front where you see a fabulous jewel and cut gemstone display which features the Hope Diamond or from the lunar and planetary exhibit where you enter into a room full of geological displays followed by a mining and mineral display.

Most of the displays are systematic in nature.  The curators have carefully selected specimens to adequately describe the various classes of crystal systems and also they have prepared a number of displays based on the chemistry of the various mineral families.  Also to be found are locality displays for such notable localities such as Tsumeb, the Zeolite deposits in India, Copper deposits of Bisbee and many others.

Besides rocks there is everything else one could imagine on display in the Smithsonian's various museums.  While in Washington this past summer Colleen and I also spent a considerable amount of time in the Museum of American History.  There was a particularly appealing exhibit on the life and music of Woody Guthrie.  Any kid in America knows the music of this folk musician: "This land is your land, this land is my land...".  Well worth the visit!  Also in the American Museum of Natural History, as of June 2000, is the Star Spangled Banner (the flag that inspired our National Anthem).  It is currently being restored - you can't see it hanging but you can still watch the restoration work being performed first hand.

One of the other benefits of paying your taxes is that the admission cost to the Museum of Natural History as well as the many other museums along the National Mall is free!

Several people have pointed out to me that the museum does allow, under certain conditions, researchers or others preparing papers to view the rest of the collection that is not on display.  I have not seen it but those that have say to buckle your seat belt before venturing in!

These photos provide a small glimpse of the mineral exhibit and to really appreciate the full impact of the remarkable specimens you simply have to visit the Smithsonian.  I hope that these photos will inspire you to pay a visit to our Nation's Capital to see one of the finest collection of mineral specimens there is.  On to the museum!

Here is a shot taken near the entrance to the mineral exhibits.  The very large gem golden topaz crystal 
on the right is from Brazil. It measures about 45 cm in height and is gem quality.  There is another topaz 
behind the large one that is mostly colorless.



Here are two shots showing the interior of the exhibit - one showing a broader view of the interior 
and the other of some superb specimens of calcite and other species such as scolecite and aquamarine.



The exhibit is a feast for the eyes with special displays for such species as rhodochrosite from various world 
locations as seen on the left and then there are  random assorted species selected for their obvious ocular 
appeal such as this one on the right with large cabinet sized specimens of rhodochrosite from the N'Chwaning 
Mine in South Africa and wulfenite from the San Francisco Mine in Mexico.


Of the many theme displays here is one on minerals with inclusions.   The Quartz from Brazil in
the top center of the display is an eye grabber well over 15 cm across with long slightly bent 
acicular crystals of included rutile. 


Two more of the many theme displays - the one on the left is dedicated to phosphates and the 
one on the right to varieties of beryl.  Needless to say the vast majority of the beryl specimens are gem quality... 


This is easily one of the most impressive displays in the exhibit (in my humble opinion!).  Three of the world's finest specimens of crystallized tourmaline are found here.  The specimen on the far left is from Brazil and features a fine 12-15 cm crystal of elbaite on quartz and feldspar matrix.  The other two are mind blowers!  The center specimen is the famous "Steamboat" Tourmaline from the Tourmaline King mine in the Pala District of San Diego County, California. The two large rubellite crystals with green caps are perched on a flat lying quartz crystal with a very pleasing amount of cleavlandite.  The third specimen is an unbelievable three crystal specimen of blue cap tourmaline with the finest lilac color known for tourmaline and inky indigo blue caps denoting the pinacoidal terminations.  This is likely one of the (if not the) finest specimen of tourmaline in existence.  It was found in the Tourmaline Queen mine in San Diego County, California in the mid 1970s.  I spent damn near 20 minutes with my mouth wide open gazing at these marvels of nature.


Adjacent to the superb tourmaline display is a reconstructed "gem pocket" from the Himalaya mine in 
San Diego County, California. This display accurately portrays the appearance of a gem pocket of tourmaline, 
quartz and other pocket minerals.  Actually, this was the only display I found with an error on the labeling. 
The caption stated: Himalaya Mine, Pala, San Diego Co., California.  The Himalaya mine is actually in the 
Mesa Grande District in San Diego County about 20-25 km to the east of Pala.  It is actually closer to 
Palomar than Pala... Small oversight considering the many natural and interesting minerals present!


Just around the corner from the three tourmalines is a knockout display of native gold specimens. 
The majority are specimens from the California "Mother Lode" country.  These pictures are merely 
a fraction of the more than 100 superb specimens on display.

From this point forward I will present individual specimens from the exhibit.
These are all world class specimens for the various species.

These two specimens are each cabinet sized pieces.  The cuprite is from Bisbee and 
consists of brilliant ruby red crystals of cuprite.  The specimen on the right is of covellite 
with bladed crystals reaching 6-7 cm across. 


Here are four specimens from Mexico.  The specimen on the left is of Scorodite with crystals 
to 1.5 cm across!!! The specimen on the top right is wulfenite with mimetite from the San Francisco 
Mine.  The specimen on the lower left is also a wulfenite specimen - a very large one at over 25 cm 
across from the San Francisco Mine and the specimen in the lower right is a perfect sixling of 
cumengite from Baja California which measures just under 2 cm across. 


Here are two interesting specimens:  a crocoite on the left with crystals to 4-5 cm and 
on the right is a picture of a "cut and rough" group of  gem phosphophyllite pieces from Bolivia. 


These two are both spectacular: The kunzite specimen on the left, from Brazil, is over 40 cm! in
height and the rhodochrosite from N'Chwaning on the right is a gorgeous blood red specimen that is 20+ cm across. 


Moving through the museum you encounter some really remarkable specimens such as this 20 cm 
Smoky Quartz specimen with a ring of rose quartz crystals wrapped around it and a superb specimen of 
stolzite from Australia with crystals to 1 cm across. 


These are yet two more of the many treasures in the exhibit: a 3 cm crystal cluster of veszelyite from 
Montana and a 20 cm specimen of white barite with two rich lavender colored crystals of fluorite from Spain. 


As you wander through the exhibit you'll encounter theme areas as mentioned earlier in this page.
One of the interesting theme displays is the one on minerals from Tsumeb. There are over 20 world
class specimens on display.  The four here clockwise from top left are: 4.5 cm specimen of
ludlockite, a 6 cm specimen with stottite crystals about 0.5 cm across, an 8 cm specimen of
stalactitic cupriansmithsonite and a 9 cm crystal of azurite partially pseudomorphed to malachite.


One of the "John Veevaert"* measures of the quality of a mineral museum's exhibit is the presentation
and aesthetics of its benitoite specimens.  The Smithsonian has the largest cut (6.5 ct) stone of benitoite I am
aware of.  The two other specimens on display have impressive sized crystals but they are kind of busy looking 
to me.  The specimen on the upper right is a crystal about 3 cm across which is enormous for the species. It is a 
great specimen but would be a sensational specimen if it were not cluttered by the smaller crystals. The piece on 
the upper left has some rather heavily fractured crystals.  The cut stone is the best of the display in my opinion. 
It would be nice to see the museum track down a truly superb specimen of benitoite.  Here is a request from a US
Taxpayer to the US Government:  Please take the money I pay in taxes and save it up for 2 years and get a 
GOOD TRIPLY TERMINATED BENITOITE for the nation. Thank you! 

(*My opinion is, of course, only mine and means something only to me.)

Moving through the mineral exhibit you enter a hall devoted to planetary information.  There are displays on the geologic history of the earth and some other displays on the earth's closest neighbor - the moon and some of the debris from space which finds its way through the earth's atmosphere - meteorites.

These two shots are of a very small percentage of the meteorites on display.  In addition to the metallic 
specimens there are numerous stony meteorites and stony irons as well as many other solid metallic 
specimens.   There's enough iron on display here to damn near build a Sherman tank!


The last item for display here on this page is a small chunk of the moon gathered by 
Apollo 15 in 1972.  Imagine what the moon must have tucked away in its interior. 
Obviously, the chance for oxidation minerals is remote due to the lack of water and 
atmosphere like that found on earth.  But somewhere there's got to be a pocket of 
some interesting silicate minerals like tourmaline and maybe something blue and triangular(?)...

This concludes this VERY brief overview of the Smithsonian Institution.  This museum is one of the finest there is for mineral specimens.  I found it to be an aesthetically and informatively laid out exhibit.  Well worth the time to visit!


The Firenze Mineral Museum
Florence, Italy
The Smithsonian Institution
Washington, DC
The Milan Museum of Natural History &
The Federico Pezzotta Elba Island Collection
The California Mining & Mineral Museum 
Mariposa, California
The Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History
Los Angeles, California

Trinity Mineral Co Tsumeb Mineral Shows Mineral Books Mineral Auctions Mineral Museums Benitoite Mine Rare Minerals

All text, specimen images, and graphics are copyrighted © 2001-2006 - John Veevaert