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.
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.
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.
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.
Illustrations by Daniel Herzberg.
“The Duel Doctor at Weehawken” Princeton Alumni Weekly (March 18, 2020)
“Mister Mayor, The Mineralogist” Princeton 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 Century” Princeton Historical Review (Fall 2017)