Historic Gems

Last update: 10 September 2016

This gallery displays a selection of historic gems (raw or cut), replica of famous gems, as well as rare books. Objects are separated into the three following categories: Precious stones, organic gemstones and other gemstones. This section is still under construction with so far information on: diamonds, amber, ivory, pearls and precious opal. An antiquarian archive related to John Sinkankas is also presented.

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Sinkankas, John

Part of bookseller Lillian Cole's archive related to John Sinkankas' library and bibliographical work, including signed/inscribed articles and books, letters and ephemera.

The most renowned mineralogist, mineral author and gemologist since George F. Kunz

John Sinkankas (1915-2002) was a Captain in the U.S. Navy, and after 25 years of service, retired with his wife Marjorie in San Diego where he devoted his time to work in the earth sciences. As a self-trained lapidary, he began cutting gems in 1947, ultimately excelling in faceting large gemstones, 3 of which - a 7,000 carat rock crystal egg, a 4500 carat smoky quartz egg, and a 2,054 carat golden beryl - are in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution. In 1955 he wrote his first book, "Gem Cutting. A Lapidary's Manual", which he said was "the first amateur lapidary handbook to provide detailed descriptions of lapidary properties of many rare and unusual gemstones as well as numerous innovations in gem cutting and its associated equipment and accessories". His next book, "Gemstones of North America", with colored illustrations and line drawings reproduced from his original watercolor drawings of specimens from his collection was published in 1959 [1]. This highly regarded work is said to be the first comprehensive book on the subject since the publication of G.F. Kunz' 1890-1892 work "Gems and Precious Stones of North America". Sinkankas' personal library of some 14,000 books, reprints, pamphlets, illustrations, including virtually all the major works related to the study of gems and jewelry, amassed over some 40 years, were combined with the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) library in 1989. A few years later, Sinkankas published his monumental "Gemology, An Annotated Bibliography", which remains nowadays the main bibliographical reference on the subject [2]. A celebration of Sinkankas' 85th birthday was held on the grounds of Pala International in Fallbrook, California in 2000, in conjunction with the GIA, The Geo-Literary Society, Pala International/The Collector, and the Friends of John Sinkankas [1]. Just two years later, Sinkankas passed away. As a lasting tribute, the Sinkankas Symposium was established as an annual Symposium, co-hosted by the San Diego Mineral and Gem Society and GIA, featuring experts on precious stones and minerals [3].

Figures: [1] Gem books (L. Cole archive) | [2] Library & bibliographical work (L. Cole archive) | [3] The Sinkankas symposium (L. Cole archive)

Precious stones

Beryl variety

Not yet in collection.

Corundum variety

Not yet in collection.

Corundum variety

Not yet in collection.

Organic gemstones

Organic mineral

Polished slabs of Baltic amber showing a large spectrum of colours, part of our 1921 Staatliche Bernsteinwerke Königsberg / M. Behr Special Collection (SBMB).

Baltic Amber: The Gold of the North
Staatliche Bernsteinwerke Königsberg / M. Behr Special Collection (SBMB)

Full description coming later.

Figures: [1] Baltic Amber collection (SBMB spe. coll.) | [2] Polished slabs (SBMB spe. coll.) | [3] Box & rings (SBM)

WANTED: Erichson, U. (1998), Die Staatliche Bernstein-Manufaktur Königsberg : 1926 - 1945.

Tooth (hydroxylapatite)

"Ivory and the Elephant in Art, Archaeology, and Science" by George F. Kunz in 1916, rare copy of forty from the Hobby Club edition.

Full description coming later.

Figures: [1] Kunz, 1916 (Hobby Club ed.)

Other gemstones

Precious Opal
hydrated amorphous silica

Polished "Rainbow Wood" opal slab from the Petrified Forest of Arizona, prepared by the Drake Company in the 1880s and sold at the 1889 Paris Exposition Universelle.

Summary coming later

Figures: [1] "Rainbow Wood" (Drake Co., 1889 Paris Expo)