Mineral Collecting in Wales
Mineralogy, in the context of collecting minerals for their own sake, is an activity with a relatively short history in Wales. This is in stark contrast to the many centuries during which minerals were sought after as metal ores. It fell to the gentleman naturalists who flourished in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries to begin assembling together the jigsaw that, although still incomplete, constitutes the Mineralogy of Wales. This is incomplete, because almost every year, records of species new to Wales are made and published.
In contrast to other mining districts, such as those of Devon and Cornwall, the orefields of Wales were not greatly frequented by mineral dealers and specimen hunters. However, there were some exceptions including the noted eighteenth century naturalist Thomas Pennant (1726-1792) who was particularly active in his local area (the Halkyn district of north-east Wales). The famous mineral collection of his Cornish contemporary, Philip Rashleigh, contains specimens from this area: interestingly a Mr Pennant was one of Rashleigh’s specimen suppliers.
Welsh mineralogy had a useful boost in the early twentieth century when much important material was collected by the then Chief Inspector of Mines for North Wales, G.J. Williams. His was a job of which many modern mineral enthusiasts would dream. During his tours of duty around the then working mines throughout North Wales, the opportunities to obtain fine contemporary specimens would have been legion. In 1927, the National Museum of Wales obtained Williams’ material.
Despite the gradual decline in the Welsh mining industry, interest in Wales’ minerals grew steadily throughout the twentieth century, with the 1960s onwards seeing a massive expansion in the numbers of active amateur collectors. Access to microscopes has enabled the study of microcrystalline (but often stunningly beautiful under magnification) minerals resulting in the discovery of many rare mineral species in Wales by the dedication of several amateur mineralogists.
This was reflected by the fact that, when the first edition of A Mineralogy of Wales was published in 1994, a total of 340 mineral species were included. Thus, in the 136 years since Greg and Lettsom’s work, the number of species known to occur in Wales had increased more than sevenfold. But, perhaps the most dramatic statistic of all is that 161 (i.e. almost half) of the 340 mineral species listed in the first edition were discovered in the period 1960-1994, through the work of academics and amateurs alike.
Bevins, R.E., 1994. A Mineralogy of Wales. National Museums and Galleries of Wales, Geological Series No. 16.
Greenly, E., 1919. The Geology of Anglesey. Memoirs of the Geological Survey of Great Britain, 980pp (2 volumes).
Greg, R.P. & Lettsom, W.G., 1858. Manual of the Mineralogy of Great Britain and Ireland. John van Voorst, London, 483pp.
Sowerby, J., 1804. British Mineralogy. Volume I, Richard Taylor, London.
Sowerby, J., 1806. British Mineralogy. Volume II, Richard Taylor, London.
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