Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Follow Meteorite Manuscripts on Facebook too!

Meteorite Manuscripts now has a fan page on Facebook that can be accessed at:

Meteorite Manuscripts!/pages/Meteorite-Manuscripts/152949358073543?v=wall

Be sure to check the page to see what's up or to make any suggestions or comments.

Thanks to everyone for their interest in Meteorite Manuscripts, and best wishes for the New Year.


Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Correspondence of the Sydney Mining Museum - Part III - Rocks

The study of very thin sections of rocks with polarized light was developed by the British scientist Henry Clifton Sorby (1826-1908) who presented a key paper on the subject in December 1857 before the Geological Society of London.  In his paper, entitled “On the microscopical structure of crystals, indicating the origins of minerals and rocks”, he laid the foundations for the modern study of petrology.   The paper was subsequently published in the Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society in November 1858.  By 1860, Sorby was corresponding with French scientist Daubrée about his petrographic technique, and in the early 1860s, Sorby was studying meteorite samples in this manner.

But British scientists were slow in following his lead, and it fell to the German scientists Ferdinand Zirkel (1838-1912) and Harry Rosenbusch (1836-1914), the latter residing at  Heidelberg University for most of his academic career, to cement the accomplishments of Sorby into the foundations of geologic investigation.  Zirkel wrote his text Lehrbook der Petrographie in 1866, and Rosenbusch wrote Mikroscopische Physiographie der Mineralien und Gesteine in 1873, and their publications, which underwent many editions, established the two men as prominent petrologists of the time. 

 Harry Rosenbusch (1836-1914)
(click once or twice to enlarge)

A letter found in the correspondence of the Sydney Museum was written on August 6, 1902 by Rosenbusch apparently to George W. Card, who had just become curator.  A partial transcription follows, and the reader can note the difficulty in deciphering Rosenbusch’s handwriting from the images of the letter below.  The letter reads in part:

Mineralogisch-geologisches Institut
Univeristät Heidelberg , August 6th, 1902

Dear Sir,

You have bestowed upon me a great favour by sending such interesting rock chips of Australian rocks and I want to thank you very much.  I had hoped to study these rocks and then communicated what I observed but the load of official work toward the end of our semester was overwhelming and did not leave me an hour of leisure. 

Rosenbusch then indicates that he is about to head to the country for geological surveys and will be back in Heidelberg at a later date to study the rocks and will write again at that time.

As you offer so kindly sending specimens of your rocks, I must say I should be happy for every one of them and for all you can spare.  I am very fond of our petrographical university collection, and I dare say, is the richest in Germany in foreign rocks, given by all the students from abroad. 

Rosenbusch then states that he is looking forward to the results of studies on the Barigan rocks, discusses some technical details and then concludes:

I congratulate you finally from all my heart that you intend to give analysis to your rocks.  Studies of rocks without analyses are similar to the study of money without a knowledge of the metal from which they are made.


H. Rosenbusch

Page 1: 1902 letter from Rosenbusch to Card
Copyright © Mark I. Grossman
(click image once or twice to enlarge)

Page 2: 1902 letter from Rosenbusch to Card
Copyright © Mark I. Grossman
(click image once or twice to enlarge)

The correspondence further illustrates the interest of scientists abroad in obtaining Australian specimens through the assistance of the Museum, and C. S. Wilkinson and George W. Card appear to have had an active correspondence with some of the most noted scientists in Europe.

One footnote of interest – Die Meteoriten in Sammlungen und ihre Literatur was one of the early bibliographies on the history of meteorites and meteorite falls which is still useful today, although it was published in 1897.  The book was written by E. A. Wülfing, who was a student of Harry Rosenbusch.

And a last note - Best wishes to eveyone for a healthy and happy New Year!



Davis A. Young, Mind over magma: the story of igneous petrology, Princeton University Press, 2003.

Norman Higham, A very scientific gentleman: the major achievements of Henry Clifton Sorby, Pergamon Press, 1963.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Sydney Mining Museum - Part II - Fossils

One of the early letters to C. S. Wilkinson, the founder of the Sydney Mining Museum collection, was written by Baron Constantin Ettingshausen in 1886.  Ettingshausen was a noted professor of botany at the University of Graz in Austria who studied the fossil floras of Australia and New Zealand.  One of his important works was his 1888 publication Contributions to the Tertiary flora of Australia.

Wilkinson, Geological Surveyor-in-Charge, and T. W. E. David, Geological Surveyor, collected plant fossils from tin mining areas in the Vegetable Creek and Elsmore regions of New South Wales and sent them to Ettingshausen for examination, who responded with the following letter to Wilkinson:

8 Laimburggasse
Graz, Austria
the 3rd August 3, 1886

Dear Mr. Wilkinson,

As I have promised you, I send you close by the list of numbers and names of species of your collection.  You will see that a great number of Fossils have been described and figured, and only a small number of them are not determinable.  As it was necessary to prepare some of the Fossils, I have found some new specimens, which I have carefully kept and numbered with the following numbers.  I enumerated them in a supplementary list close by and have forwarded them to you with the others all.  I packed the Fossils very carefully and hope that they will arrive well preserved at Sydney.

I am, dear Mr. Wilkinson,
Yours very truly
Baron C. Ettingshausen

Page 2 of the letter is displayed below (single click on image to magnify; single click again on magnified image to enlarge further).

Copyright © Mark I. Grossman

Several species of fossils were named after Wilkinson, such as Fagus Wilkinsoni, which is figured on Plate II of Ettingshausen's Contributions to the Tertiary flora of Australia (upper left hand corner of image below; single click to magnify; single click again to enlarge further).

Be sure to check the next few posts which will cover correspondence related to the mineral and meteorite collections of the Sydney Mining Museum.


Thursday, December 9, 2010

Early Correspondence of the Sydney Mining Museum Uncovered

A few years ago I was fortunate enough to purchase at auction a lot of letters that once belonged to the Mining Museum, The Rocks, Sydney, Australia.  At the time, I didn’t fully realize the significance, because I was primarily attracted by the letters written by the likes of European scientists Daubrée, Berwerth, Brezina and Lacroix to C. S. Wilkinson and George W. Card of the Museum.

But I am still kicking myself, because I had to let a second lot of correspondence go to another bidder – correspondence that included letters from several noted British mineralogists, if I recall.

In any event, I was not aware of the history of the museum until fairly recently.  C. S. Wilkinson,  Geological Surveyor-in-Charge, started the geological collection in 1875, which would eventually include not only rocks and minerals, but fossils and meteorites as well.  The magnificent Garden Palace constructed for the Sydney Exhibition of 1879 became its home, but on Sept 22, 1882 the museum caught fire and an estimated 50,000 specimens were destroyed.   

George W. Card became curator and published a handbook of the Museum's collection in 1902.  It appears that he assembled the letters into an autograph album, unfortunately using a bit too much glue and pasting one or two of the letters down in rather precarious positions, but preparing manuscript labels for each one just the same.

In 1996, the Mining Museum was closed and the contents were dispersed in various ways, some rather unfortunate.  It appears that some items were discarded, others put up for auction, and perhaps other specimens donated or lost.  A history of the Museum which I found on the web indicates that early records have not been found.  

That is, until now.  In the next few posts, I will include samples from some of the Museum's correspondence. 

In the interim, a picture of part of the Museum’s collection that is included in Card’s Handbook is displayed below (single click on the image to view a larger one; click again to enlarge further).  


Source:  Card's Handbook, Google Books


History of the Mining Museum: 

George W. Card, Handbook to the Mining and Geological Museum, Sydney, Geological Survey of New South Wales (1902).  Available for view on Google Books.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Wilhelm Haidinger's Other Job

The Austrian scientist Wilhelm Haidinger (1795-1871) is often referred to as the curator of the Vienna meteorite collection during the late 1850s and early 1860s.  However, Haidinger was actually the first head of the Imperial Geological Survey of Austria, a position he assumed in 1849 and held until he retired in 1866.  It was Moritz Hörnes (1815-1858) who was the “official” curator of the mineral cabinet, assuming the title in 1856 when Paul Partsch died (1791-1856), and holding it until 1868.  But in practice, Hörnes and Haidinger were essentially joint curators of the meteorite collection.

Wilhelm Haidinger (Source: Wikipedia)

Haidinger became interested in meteorites after a sample of the Braunau iron was acquired by the Vienna cabinet, and it was the subject of his first meteorite paper, published in 1847.  As head of the Geological Survey, he had considerable influence, and was able to obtain numerous meteorite samples for the collection, such as the Kakowa stone which fell in Romania in 1858.  The Romanian authorities sent it to Haidinger and the Geological Survey, not to the mineral cabinet.

I recently acquired two documents, one from 1853 and the other from 1855, signed by Haidinger with some short notes, written as head of the Imperial Geological Survey.  The images are listed below (single click for a larger image and single click again on the larger image to magnify further).  Both are receipts, one addressed to Director Karl Karmarsch, for the published communications of the Hannover trade association.  For more information on Karmarsch, who was an officer of the Hannover trade association as well as a noted technological educator, see:

Karl Karmarsch (Source: Wikipedia)

Both documents clearly show that Haidinger had other, more mundane, items to attend to besides acquiring meteorites.  Alas, don’t we all!

Copyright © Mark I. Grossman
Receipt signed by Haidinger in 1855 as
Director of the Imperial Geological Survey.
Addressed to Karl Karmarsch.

 Copyright © Mark I. Grossman
Receipt signed by Haidinger in 1853 as
Director of the Imperial Geological Survey


J. G. Burke, ‘Curators and Collectors’, in Cosmic debris, meteorites in history, pp. 174-212 (University of California Press, Berkeley, 1986). 

F. Brandstätter, ‘History of the meteorite collection of the Natural History Museum of Vienna’, in The history of meteoritics and key meteorite collections:  fireballs, falls and finds (Geological Society of London Special Publication no. 256), (ed. G. J. H. McCall, A. J. Bowden and R. J. Howarth), pp. 123-133 (Geological Society London, 2006).

Saturday, November 20, 2010

What is Chladni's "Catalogue" of Meteorites - Part II

As noted in the last post, Chladni published a catalogue of his own personal meteorite collection in 1825 in Kastner’s Archiv fuer die gesamte Naturlehre  However, a year later, a listing of meteorite falls — not specimens — was issued in Annales de Chimie, the scientific journal started by Antoine Laurent Lavoisier, the father of modern chemistry.  The complete reference is:

E. F. F. Chladni, ‘Nouveau catalogue des chutes de pierres ou de fer; de poussières ou de substances molles, sèches ou humides, suivant l’ordre chronologique’, Annales de Chimie et de Physique 31, 253-270 (1826).

The Annales catalogue is available online at Google books:

But similar to Kastner, the Annales de Chimie listing is not a stand-alone work.  Some of the references to the literature on the falls are abbreviated, and unless one is familiar with Chladni’s previous reports on meteorite falls and his book, E. F. F. Chladni,  Über feuer-meteore, und über die mit denselben herabgefallenen massen, (Vienna, J.G. Heubner, 1819), critical information might be missed, and at least one researcher in the nineteenth century was led astray in this manner, and perhaps a few more.

So when one sees a citation to Chladni’s “catalogue” in a historical paper dated after 1827 with no other details provided, more than likely it’s a reference to the Annales paper and not the Kastner work.  This conclusion is based on two considerations.  First, the Annales work has the word “catalogue” in the title unlike the Kastner paper.  And second, in the early part of the nineteenth century, German works were not widely distributed in England and Ireland, and they became known after they were translated into French publications.  It is likely that Kastner did not enjoy the widespread distribution in England and Ireland that Annales did.


Monday, November 15, 2010

What is Chladni's "Catalogue" of Meteorites?

There are really two answers to this question, which became apparent after I had the opportunity to exchange emails with a few people following my November 1 comment on the Lucas meteorite catalogue.

As noted by Dr. Svend Buhl, E. F. F. Chladni prepared a catalogue of his own personal meteorite collection in 1825.  The catalogue appeared in Kastner's Archiv fuer die gesamte Naturlehre IV (1825), 200-240, and has the title 'Chladni's Beschreibung seiner Sammlung von Himmel herabgefallener Massen', which is translated as 'Chladni's description of his collection of masses fallen from the sky'.  According to Dr. Buhl, Chladni went beyond issuing a basic catalogue, which contains sample names and weights, by comparing his personal samples to specimens he observed in other collections. 
Dr. Renaud Mathieu pointed out some references to Chladni’s meteorite collection.  Marvin stated that it included 31 stones, 9 irons and 2 stony irons.  See U. B. Marvin,  ‘Ernst florens Friedrich Chladni (1756-1827) and the origins of modern meteorite research’, Meteoritics 31, (1996), 545-588 (585).  According to Burke, 31 stones and 10 irons were obtained by the Berlin collection when Chladni died in 1827.  The acquisition  represented 18 new localities for Berlin, and according to Dr. Mathieu, 34 samples are still extant.  See J. G. Burke, Cosmic debris: Meteorites in history (1986), 184 and the link to the collection of the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin 

But there is one caveat that I noted.  The 1825 catalogue is not a stand-alone work.  I have researched the Mooresfort and Limerick falls quite extensively, and Sir Charles Giesecke gave Chladni samples of each, yet the Kastner version does not mention the source of these samples.  One has to refer to E. F. F. Chladni,  Über feuer-meteore, und über die mit denselben herabgefallenen massen, (Vienna, J.G. Heubner, 1819) to determine where Chladni obtained his samples.  Chaldni does, however, reference his previous works in the Kastner catalogue. 

So if one wants a fuller picture of Chladn’s collection, his previous work must be consulted.

The link to the Chladni’s catalogue in Kastner is available on Google Books at the following link:

And the second answer to the question “what is Chaldni’s meteorite catalogue”?  Be sure to check the next post!


Thursday, November 4, 2010

Recently Discovered Letter Sheds Light on 1858 Ausson Meteorite Fall

The 2000 edition of the Catalogue of Meteorites mentions the following about the Ausson meteorite fall, which occurred on December 9, 1858:

Two stones, weighing about 9 kg and 41 kg, respectively, fell, the first near Ausson and the other near Clarac, about 3 miles distant.    

The same information is included in the 1985 fourth edition of the Catalogue, and both editions cite F. Petit’s communication that was published in Comptes Rendus 47 (1858), 1053-1055, as the source of the information. 

However, if you check the original paper, Petit said the exact opposite — the larger stone fell at Ausson —  not Clarac. 

His report mentions that M. Fourment, a professor at the Petit Séminaire de Polignan, helped remove the Ausson stone from the ground, which weighed about 40 to 45 kilograms. According to Petit, M. Fourment told him that the stone which fell at Clarac weighed about 8 to 10 kilograms.

I sent an inquiry to the Academy of Sciences in Paris to see if they had a letter from M. Fourment describing the fall. The Academy often has the original manuscript material mentioned in Comptes Rendus, but although there are two letters from M. Petit in the archives, there is no letter from M. Fourment.

At the present time, there seems to be only one letter from M. Fourment in existence anywhere in the world discussing the Ausson fall   —  it is in my autograph collection, the gem of the lot.

The 3-page letter was found in a folder containing other documents addressed to Emilien Dumas, the French geologist and paleontologist, and is dated February 14, 1859, about two months after the fall.  Fourment sent his correspondent, presumably Dumas, samples of Ausson, but the latter wanted samples of the Clarac stone as well. 

Unfortunately, M. Fourment indicated these was nearly impossible to get — the Ausson stone was larger, weighing about 4 to 5 times more, so there were very few samples of Clarac available.  He told his correspondent that based on the appearance of the Ausson stone, the Clarac stone seems to have separated from it, and other than having a darker crust, appears to have been essentially the same.

Thus the letter supports M. Petit’s report that the larger stone fell at Ausson.

Apparently Dumas was quite a collector, and his geological collection ended up at the Natural History Museum in Nîmes. I sent an inquiry to the Museum about the collection the other day, and I am still awaiting a response. If anyone knows the curator, please contact me. It is quite possible that the Museum archives might have other correspondence between Dumas and Fourment.

Below are a few images from the letter, which I hope you enjoy.


Figure 1:  Letter dated February 14, 1859, about 2 months after the fall (Copyright © M. I. Grossman).

Figure 2:  Mention that meteorite found in surroundings of Polignan weighed 4 to 5 times more than Clarac stone, which appeared to have separated from the Ausson stone (Copyright © M. I. Grossman).

Figure 3:  M. Fourment’s signature on the letter, which may be his only correspondence in existence about the fall (Copyright © M. I. Grossman).

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Who prepared the first published meteorite catalogue?

I always thought that in 1837, Pierre Louis Antoine Cordier (1777-1861) prepared the first catalogue of the meteorite collection for the Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle in Paris.  See The history of meteoritics and key meteorite collections:  Fireballs, falls and finds, (London, Geological Society, 2006), 168-169.

However, an associate of mine, Dr. Renaud Mathieu of Toulouse, pointed out that there was an earlier catalogue of meteorite holdings for the Muséum published in 1813 by Lucas and Haüy.  See J. A. H. Lucas, Tableau méthodique des espèces minérales, seconde partie, (Dhautel, Paris, 1813), 369-371.

Renaud informed me that the volume can be viewed on Google Books at:

As noted, 369-371 contain the catalogue.  

I realized after receiving this information that Lucas’catalogue predates von Schreiber’s catalogue of the Vienna collection which appeared as an Appendix to Chladni’s Über feuer-meteore.  See E. F. F. Chladni,  Über feuer-meteore, und über die mit denselben herabgefallenen massen, (Vienna, J.G. Heubner, 1819), 427-434.

Schreiber’s catalogue is usually considered the first published meteorite catalogue for a collection of meteorites.  See The history of meteoritics and key meteorite collections:  Fireballs, falls and finds, p. 140.

Part 1 of Lucas’ work is actually selling on eBay at present, but is was published in 1806, and does not contain the catalogue under discussion. 

The eBay listing (for information only - I have nothing to do with the sale) can be seen at: 

So does Lucas now hold the title for preparing the first published meteorite catalogue?  Looks that way, unless someone out there knows otherwise!


Friday, October 29, 2010

Latest Edition to My Collection - Signed CDV by Benjamin Silliman (1799-1864)

Carte-de-visites, also referred to as CDVs were often used as calling cards, and were collected for display in cabinets as well, and are often referred to as "cabinet photos" for this reason.  This CDV signed by Benjamin Silliman is the latest addition to my collection and the first cabinet photo as well. 

Copyright © Mark I. Grossman

Carte-de-visite (CDV) signed by Benjamin Silliman, 4 x 2.5 in.
Verso reads: "Augustus Morand,
297-Fulton Street, cor. Johnson, Brooklyn."

The photographer, Augustus Morand, was elected president of the the New York State Daguerreian Society in 1851, and his studio was located in Brooklyn approximately during the period 1860-1862.  See P. E. Palmquist and T. R. Kailbourn, Pioneer photographers from the Mississippi to the continental divide: a biographical dictionary, 1839-1865Stanford University Press (2005), 449.                                

Silliman and James L. Kingsley (1778-1852), both professors at Yale at the time of the fall on December 14, 1807, obtained samples of the Weston stone, the first meteorite samples to be recovered in the United States.  For more information about the event and the myth about Thomas Jefferson's statements questioning the veracity of the "two Yankee Professors", see  U.B. Marvin, ‘Meteorites in history: an overview from the Renaissance to the 20th century’, in The history of meteoritics and key meteorite collections:  fireballs, falls and finds (Geological Society of London Special Publication no. 256), (ed. G. J. H. McCall, A. J. Bowden and R. J. Howarth), pp. 51-52 (Geological Society London, 2006).      
Copyright © Mark I. Grossman

Small sample of the Weston meteorite
(0.32 g, H4)