About the Collection


The Gem and Mineral Collection of the Department of Geosciences, Princeton University, consists of approximately 6,000 cataloged mineral specimens, the majority of which were collected between the 1820s to the 1970s.

Specimens from the collection

1.) #5952 - Quartz, Rose quartz from Minas Gerais, Brazil;  2.)  #4399 - Liroconite from Wheal Gorland, Cornwall, England;  3.)
#6112 - Variscite from Fairfield, Utah ;  4.) Pyrite and Dolomite are on loan from the extensive collection of Carl ’64 and Edna Heimowitz;  5.) #5947 - Andalusite from Lancaster, Massachusetts;  6.) #4008 - Beryl from Amelia Courthouse, Virginia;  7.)  #5958 - Gold from California;  8.) Barite and Cerussite are on loan from the extensive collection of Carl ’64 and Edna Heimowitz;   9.) Malachite are on loan from the extensive collection of Carl ’64 and Edna Heimowitz;  10.) #797 - Quartz, Smoky intergrown quartz with Feldspar. Location unknown ;  and 11.) Selenite (Desert Rose) are on loan from the extensive collection of Carl ’64 and Edna Heimowitz.


The Collection includes specimens from the Franklin Mining District, appropriately reflecting Princeton’s long connection with this important locality.  New Jersey zeolites and related species are well represented, as well as historic specimens from long-closed mines in England, Germany, and Eastern Europe.  Also included are historic documents, crystal models, and rare specimen labels from early mineral dealers, recording the growth and development of mineral collecting and its interaction with the scientific community. The department houses a collection of hundreds of historical wooden crystal models. A number of these are from collection produced by the Krantz Company in Germany in the 19th and early 20th century.  Others are homemade having been fashioned by Professor Alexander H. Phillips from the wood of a pear tree in his backyard.


Crystal model, labels, and a gem specimen with label.

1.) A historical wooden crystal model used to teach crystallography. 2.) A vintage label with Victorian ornate border. 3.) A label for exhibiting a corundum sapphire specimen during the 1900 Paris Exhibition. and 4.) A mineral specimen with hand-written label attached.

The earliest recorded donation of mineral specimens to Princeton University was from Dr. David Hosack (1769-1835).  Dr Hosack was a prominent physician and mineralogist who is most remembered today for being the surgeon in attendance at the 1804 duel in which Aaron Burr, Jr. fatally shot Alexander Hamilton.  Dr Hosack’s mineral collection, which he brought to the United States from England in 1794, was the first mineralogical cabinet exhibited in the U.S. Hosack donated the collection of approximately 1000 minerals to the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University) in 1821.  The history of the mineralogy collection at Princeton thus spans 200 years.  During much of that time, the best specimens were on display in the former Elizabeth Marsh Museum, later the Museum of Natural History in Guyot Hall.  A number of oxide minerals were prominently on display at the Exposition Universelle of 1900 in Paris. 

Illustrations of Dr. David Hosack and Prof. Alexander H. Phillips by Daniel Hertzberg

Shortly after the formal establishment of the Department of Geology (as it was known then) in 1904, Professor Alexander Phillips led the effort to greatly expand the collection through purchases, assembling a comprehensive teaching and reference collection consisting of nearly all known minerals at the time.  An emphasis was placed on acquiring minerals from type localities, those places where specific minerals were first discovered or studied.

The Collection also grew through finds during historic expeditions to the western U.S., such as the Colorado Expedition of 1877, and generous donations from alumni and faculty.  Over the years, many faculty and alumni have contributed to the collection including Cleveland H. Dodge, class of 1879; Archibald MacMartin, class of 1868; Arthur Montgomery, class of 1931; Alexander Phillips, class of 1887 and 1899, professor of mineralogy 1905-1936; Edward Sampson, class of 1914 and 1920, professor of economic geology 1925-1959; and Carl (class of 1964) and Edna Heimowitz.  A detailed history of the collection can be found at Blackman, H. (2019)  Mineralogy at Princeton: A Narrative History, 143 pp.

Beginning in the summer of 2008, an effort to revive the Gem and Mineral Collection was initiated. The renovation included organization and preservation of the specimens, as well as development of a digital catalog and webpage.

The E. M. Museum of Geology and Archaeology’s main hall, circa 1886.

The E. M. Museum of Geology and Archaeology’s main hall, circa 1886.  The upstairs gallery was ornamented with the vast mineral collection of 2600 pieces bequeathed by Archibald MacMartin Class of 1868, many of which are retained in the collection today.
Guyot Hall circa 1909. Home of the Department of Geosciences and the Mineral Collection.

Guyot Hall circa 1909. Home of the Department of Geosciences and the Mineral Collection since 1904.   Plans to move the Department to a modern new building are under development at the time of this writing (summer 2020).

Figure credits:

Illustrations by Daniel Herzberg.
The Duel Doctor at WeehawkenPrinceton Alumni Weekly (March 18, 2020)
Mister Mayor, The MineralogistPrinceton Alumni Weekly (September 27, 2019) The illustration of Professor Phillips is based on a painting by Robert Bruce Horsfall (American, 1869–1948), Princeton University Art Museum  

Princeton’s Lost Museum: Arnold Guyot’s E. M. Museum and the Great Juncture of American Natural History Museums in the Late 19th CenturyPrinceton Historical Review (Fall 2017)