Died, Gilbert Gauthier, 81.
Gilbert had been a mineral collector since an early age, but Katanga was a paradise for mineral collecting, especially if your work kept you close to the mine's working face. The technical staff of the UMHK lived in compounds apart from the miners and residents, but the close association meant that Gilbert was in close contact with the company's geologists, and few among them who were not also mineral collectors. (Gilbert, a particularly fastidious record keeper, kept in touch with his UMHK colleagues and over the years purchased nearly every one of their mineral collections, or at least sold many pieces for them on consignment.)
By the mid-1950's, Gilbert's collection had grown to the point that he decided to make vacation journeys to other great African mining districts including those in Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) and Tsumeb, Southwest Africa (Namibia). He had a mini-van-like truck loaded with minerals and he traded Katanga minerals with everyone that he could. His extensive travels allowed him to become friends with a large population of mineral collectors, many of whom returned to Europe and continued their mineral collecting specialties. By the late 1950's, Gilbert became a consulting drilling authority and worked primarily with oil exploration and frequently worked for the United Nations, mostly in Africa's emerging oil fields. Gilbert never really retired from geological consulting and his field experiences continued well into the 1980's, although he was frequently an advising geologist rather than a working geologist.
Gilbert became a mineral dealer partly to sell some of his duplicate specimens, and he also acquired many duplicates from collections he bought to increase his collection. One of his earliest American collection sales was to Herman Bodson, of Ohio, a deal that took 35 years to complete. Gilbert was actively trading with European museums in the late 1950's and he developed a specialty of dealing in antique specimens which thrilled his friends and customers.
To say that Gilbert was jovial is to diminish the word. Nelly Bariand said you could always find Gilbert at a show; you just had to follow the laughter. He was not particularly a joke teller, but he loved plays on words and was adept at "joking" in six or seven languages. Gilbert first turned up as a dealer at Tucson in the 1970's; he literally had hundreds of flats of antique mineral specimens, mostly stacked in cubic closest packing under his tables and there would always be a small army of enthusiastic shoppers sitting in lotus-like contortions trying to find some rarity from Elba, Iveland, or Ytterby.
Gilbert's stock was phenomenal. At one time, he simultaneously had storage sheds of minerals at Denver, Tucson, Rochester, and Pasadena. His European stashes can only be imagined. Collectors would always smile, particularly when they offered a credit card to pay for their purchases: "Oh no", he'd reply, "I am not a dealer, I am a collector." Often collectors would try to have a specimen shipped to them, but they also got the same reply: "I am not a dealer." As a collector, he was the most international dealer there has ever been. In the U.S., he traveled to shows in Tucson, Denver, Pasadena, Costa Mesa, Houston, Rochester, Franklin, Springfield, Detroit, and other cities. He was also a regular at the Tokyo Show in his later years. There is probably no European show, excepting small ones with very few dealers, where he had not sold minerals at least once.
Because Gilbert's booth was so full of really unusual specimens, collectors usually scampered over to see him as soon as a show opened. Likewise, dealers would hunt him down at the hotels where he stayed and demanded to be the "first" to see his stock and, for many years, many major dealers were the first at each show. However, each visitor was the first to see part of his stock. David New would see offerings in his own specialty or Wayne Leicht would see something in his, and Herb Obodda, again, a third selection, and so on. In the early 1990's, when he showed up at Denver with his fabulous cuprites from the Mashamba West mine, Gilbert only hinted to a few people of his treasures, and when his tiny cubicle finally opened for business, it proved to contain a dazzling array of cuprites.
Because Gilbert thoroughly loved people, he did make a special effort to find a treasure, sometimes only from a hint dropped years before, that would be first offered to a special person, and frequently these acts of thoughtfulness would make a dozen people happy at a particular show. The requests may have been made for relatively modest specimens, a rare book, or a fine cuprosklodowskite or torbernite. Of course, part of Gilbert's fame lay with his near monopoly on uranium minerals. Gilbert was able to purchase nearly every uranium mineral collection of essentially every UMHK geologist, as they were virtually all Belgian (as was Gilbert). Because of the pervasive French conversations at his booth, many naive visitors would comment on his being French, but he was usually quick to retort, "I am not French, I am Belgian." Recognizing this as the same trait as that of a famous character, Hercule Poirot, a detective of the popular fiction writer Agatha Christie, Tom Moore christened Gilbert "the Poirot of mineralogy."
Gilbert was particularly careful about his mineral identifications and was very generous to academic mineralogists who would need research samples of rare minerals. Gilbert recognized that they would be happy to return information on the very expensive minerals he would give to them and his interest in research led to the naming of a number of new species. Several species new to science, still unnamed, were provided by Gilbert to his friend, mineralogist Gene Foord. Gene had intended to name a new mineral in Gilbert's honor, but his research was cut short when he died in 1998, at the age of 51. Gilbert enjoyed particularly good relations with uranium specialist Michel Deliens, and there was hardly a major mineralogist who did not seek his advice about certain rare species they required.
With regard to price, one must acknowledge that he was not shy about "fully" pricing a specimen, but the specimens would actually sell for the price tag he assigned. He had little respect for dealers who had an advertised price and then the discount price: "They are not serious," he would complain. Nonetheless, particularly in recent years, he'd sometimes volunteer a 10% incentive. He would be generous to geology students, however, and they might get a particularly good deal if he recognized the spark of a love for minerals as they fretted among their peers about how they might leverage the purchase of a treasure.
Gilbert was also a gourmet. The mineral business was business and he would try to break even on any international trip, but that was frequently difficult when every evening of the show included an extended visit to a quality restaurant with friends. The wine bill alone was almost always of staggering proportions with $100 per person often achieved in a good night. Californian white wines were a favorite, although he did enjoy a few New York whites he'd discovered on tours through the Finger Lakes. Sometimes dealer and collector friends would try to bring an example of a wine from their local area as a treat, but quite often the gesture would be discovered to be a poor, "undrinkable" table wine frequently shared with less discriminating miners. When in a new town, he'd quickly ferret out the best restaurant with the best wine list and would make repeated visits, as there would be little likelihood of finding a second restaurant of such high caliber.
Gilbert was the exception to the rule: "Never ask a thin person where to eat." He was tall, about 6 feet, and relatively slender; hardly anyone can remember when he had a full head of hair. His charm was truly magnetic, always classically polite, and with boundless energy. Of course, he was not fatuous and he did not suffer fools easily, but he was never the first to be rude if the situation arose and his strength of character made him a formidable trading or selling partner, and a discussion that became an argument might become an event you could sell a ticket to. His notebooks, full of meticulously calligraphed messages, contact information, details of negotiations, etc., were certainly marvels of the diarist's arts. He insisted on using a fountain pen, when the ballpoint had nearly rendered it extinct by 40 years. He had no interest in computers, although it is a little known fact that he finally acquired a fax machine early in the 21st century.
One of Gilbert's tiny quirks included his spending an inordinate amount of time trying to find the absolutely perfect box for a specimen. When Gilbert prepared for a show, when he worked at Dick Bideaux's offices or at home, he would be surrounded, waist deep in his supply of what Dick called "the world's largest collection of odd-sized boxes."
In the 1960's, Gilbert and his wife invested in rare and high-quality antiques and Little Masters (paintings). His advisor was also a friend and they purchased seventeenth and eighteenth century fine furniture, Sevre porcelain, etc. at favorable market prices, although they enjoyed them so much they never sold them. Gilbert's personal mineral collection was rather small and was kept in an equally small antique French glass cabinet. His collection in the last years of his life was down to only a few dozen specimens, so he really did sell from his collection at shows.
Gilbert died June 23, 2006. His life-long wife, Germaine, predeceased him, but he is survived by a sister and two sons, Axel and Cedric, now physicians in France, who several times in their youth served as his assistants at the Tucson Show. Such a rich lifetime and such a rich personality are difficult to capture in just a few pages. He was well-loved and the indelible impression of his personality will continue in living memory for a long time to come.
|Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback|
|Title Annotation:||Notes from the EDITORS; Gilbert Joseph Gauthier|
|Author:||King, Vandall T.|
|Publication:||The Mineralogical Record|
|Date:||Sep 1, 2006|
|Previous Article:||The museum directory.|
|Next Article:||Biographies added to the label archive.|