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Martin Leo Ehrmann, (1904-1972).

Martin Ehrmann rose from the status of poor immigrant to being America's premier dealer in museum-quality mineral specimens. His gentlemanly charm and ethics, Old World manners, and superb sense of taste were combined with an intrepid determination to root out the finest specimens wherever they could be found. Ehrmann's legacy lives on today in the form of thousands of exquisite specimens in museums and collections around the world, and countless friends who recall his gracious nature and legendary exploits.

Once in a while you just get lucky. Perhaps once a year, during the late 1950's and 1960's, while I (Bill) was studying the reference collection at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History (USNM), the Curator of Gems and Minerals, George Switzer, would announce the imminent arrival of Martin Ehrmann. We would gather in George's office as Martin marched in, carrying one or more parcels that contained some of the treasures he had acquired during his latest travels. Since he usually visited a number of countries and made many stops, we would be unsure if we were about to be exposed to the rubies, topazes and peridots of Burma, or a wonderful Central European classic from an historic museum located behind the Iron Curtain.

As we pressed around the table, Martin would unwrap the packages, invariably with a little chuckle of anticipation at what he was sure would be our surprise and delight. While we stared at the latest beauty from Tsumeb, or an incredible kunzite from Brazil, or a choice hessite from an often-renamed central European locality, Martin would step back, beaming with pleasure at our amazement. After a suitable period of appreciation, it would be time to discuss prices. Martin would then often ask the staff members, who through the years included George Switzer, Paul Desautels and John White, to write independent valuations of each piece. Martin would then disclose his prices, which would invariably be lower than any of the estimates. After this, Martin would insist that all of us (including this mineralogical groupie) repair to lunch, so that he could regale us with an account of his travels, and provide us with the stories behind his prizes. His favorite lunch spot in Washington was Hammel's, an old Gerrman-American restaurant on 10th Street, and, needless to say, he always insisted on being our host.

In this day of markets hungry for beautiful specimens, it is common for our suppliers to go to the ends of the earth in pursuit of mineralogical treasure; such mobility was rare in Martin's day, and not just because the market was so (apparently) small. Trans-oceanic air travel was virtually non-existent before World War 11, and was tedious at best before the modem jet engine. Travel in most of Africa and Asia was even more rudimentary than it is today, and travel behind the Iron Curtain provided its own special distresses. Scientists and collectors have pursued specimens in foreign lands since the 16th century, but Martin may have been the first dealer to make a regular practice of truly worldwide searches for fine minerals. It is true that gem buyers from Idar-Oberstein had preceded Martin in Brazil and Asia, but their acquisitions were headed to the lapidary's workshop, and not to the mineral cabinet. It is also true that George Burnham made a six-month Atlantic-girdling mineralogical trek with Jack Jago Trelawney in 1950, but we believe this was, for Burnham, a one-time event. Only John Patrick's repeated Asia-and-Africa trips could be regarded as similar to Martin's, but these commenced in the early 1960's. And not only was Martin chronologically the first truly worldwide mineral dealer. he had also, for his time, the greatest number of the finest specimens. We have found nothing in Martin's early life to suggest that he would end as a gem and mineral dealer; as a young immigrant to our country, settling in the New York City area, he was faced with no job, but infinite possibilities. After a few years, Fortune pointed him down the path that made him the premier dealer of his day.

Early Years

Martin was born to Wolf and Rachel Ehrmann on August 9, 1904, in Rava Russkaya, a town then in the Russian Empire, and now in Belarus (it was incorporated into Poland from 1920 until the Nazi-Soviet division of 1939; until 1939 it was known by its Polish name, Rawa Russka, the name still used in the family). He was originally named Marcus Leo, but sometime after his arrival in the U.S. he Americanized his name to Martin (but some of the older family members continue to refer to him as "Marcus" . His oldest sister moved to Kiel, Germany in 19 1 0, and the family followed, completing their emigration to Kiel by 1913 or 1914; Martin was one of the last to move. In 1921 Martin took a job working as a steward on a German ship; when the ship docked in New York, he decided to be a landlubber again. We have an image of a sixteen or seventeen-year-old Jewish boy, with his birthplace lost in the wreckage of war, and only familial ties to Germany, who is now 3,000 miles from Germany's hyperinflation. What this boy did was in perfect accord with the man we know in his later years: he set out in the New World to make a new life.

In the early and mid-1920's Martin took the young immigrant's usual succession of catch-as-catch-can jobs: he was a waiter at Thwaites' Restaurant on City Island; he sold shoes; he was a waiter at a New England resort. On May 8, 1928, he married Rita Zorn in Hoboken, New Jersey, where she had been born and raised; she was a distant cousin of Martin's, whom he had met at Sissing Lake Camp in the Adirondacks. They returned to Kiel for an extended honeymoon, so Martin must have been making a respectable income; when they returned, Martin was now (automatically) a U.S. citizen.

Fortune smiled on American mineralogy on that wedding day, for Martin's marriage is what led him to the world of gems and minerals. Rita worked as the American secretary for Dr. Ping Wen Kuo (his Chinese secretary was Dr. Eugene Shen). Dr. Kuo headed a corporation which imported gemstones carved in China. In 1928 Martin was hired as the company's only salesman, and since Dr. Kuo was a lover of the arts of China, Martin soon developed a permanent interest. Chinese jade; first came nephrite, then jadeite, and then all the other minerals followed.

First Dealings

In 1929, the year that his first son Sanford (Sandy) was born, Martin started his own business in his apartment at 610 Washington Avenue, Hoboken. (Their second son and only other child, Herbert, was born in 1932.) Martin began by selling carved snuff bottles and small jade discs for one or two dollars (Fred Pough specifically remembers white nephrite "mutton fat" jade discs at $2 each), and he sometimes sold more important jade carvings. Martin soon branched into other gems and then minerals; he joined the New York Mineralogical Club where he met Gilman Stanton, James Manchester, George English, Ernest Weidhaas (who later dressed as Santa Claus for the Ehrmann boys' holidays), and George Kunz, who also lived in Hoboken, and who may have served as Martin's mentor. He soon became well-known to the staff of the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH), and they recorded their first purchase from Martin on January 6, 193 1: for $40 Martin sold them two chalcedony elephants, an agate tray and a turquoise lion, all from China. Martin wrote of those times:

I was a struggling, hard-working young man who passionately

enjoyed his newly acquired profession. I began to sell gemstones

to the museums in New York City, Philadelphia, Baltimore

and Washington, and to many museums and universities

in the East. I later traveled to the Midwest visiting museums and

universities there. I was able to sell fine mineral specimens and

gemstones to these museums. Although restricted in their

budgets during the Depression, they still had some money.

When, at the end of the week, I had earned between $25 and

$30, 1 felt very lucky. Slowly and systematically my list of

regular customers increased.

During these pre-war years Martin developed close friendships with a number of jade lovers; the closest probably was with Herbert Whitlock at the AMNH. Whitlock's personal jade collection is now in the Wadsworth Athenaeum (in Hartford, Conn.); many of these pieces passed through Martin's hands. In 1949, at least eighteen years after they first met, Whitlock and Ehrmann coauthored The Story of Jade. This popular exposition might be found in your local library. Martin was almost certainly instrumental in building the Dr. I. Wyman Drummond jade collection, which was given to the AMNH in 1934, probably with Martin's encouragement. Martin never lost his love for jade; during a 1967 visit to his office in Beverly Hills one of us (Bill) saw a pile of Burmese jade boulders still awaiting sale. Though he was no Sinophile, Martin probably knew as much about jade as any American needed to know.

As was very common in the Great Depression, the Ehrmann family moved constantly from one flat to another, but always in the New York City area. A rough chronology is:

1931--610 Washington Avenue, Hoboken

1932--27 Central Avenue, Hartsdale

1932--3435 Olinville Avenue, Bronx

1933--700 W. 176th Street

1935--25 W. 68th Street

1938--25 Central Park (the Century Apartments)

1940--18 W. 70th Street

Martin had specimen labels printed using some of these addresses. In the later 1930's Martin sometimes operated from leased office and storage space. As early as 1933 he had a post office box at the Williamsburg Station. The size of the Calvert Collection, which he acquired, finally forced Martin to abandon permanently his home as business quarters. This led to his rental of space at Suite 2008, International Building, 630 Fifth Avenue, in Rockefeller Center.

First Major Transactions

Martin made his first major acquisition around 1932; this was the last (absolutely!) Kunz "Collection." After George F. Kunz died in 1932, Tiffany's wished to dispose of a large quantity of material that Kunz had accumulated so as to reclaim space in the basement of their store on Fifth Avenue. We have yet to determine how a small-time operator, as Martin was then, arranged for the necessary financing. All through Martin's life he had a remarkable talent for eliciting major financial support, into the hundreds of thousands, or perhaps millions of dollars, from a number of backers, mostly unknown to us, and often very publicity-shy. These backers were by no means all American, nor was Martin's marketing in any way limited to the United States. Martin's business dealings were in the style of the classical gem merchant: very personal, very dependent on trust, very secretive, very accepting of risk. The members of this fraternity do their best to discount national boundaries in their business, but this is not to say they are devoid of national feeling. Martin in particular, though he was a citizen of the world in his business, deemed it almost his patriotic duty to bring the best of the best (he only dealt in "the best") to the great American institutions.

By the time of the Kunz acquisition Martin had settled on Willy Pfoser as his cutter; he set Pfoser to work on kunzite, of which Kunz had left "several" boxes, with crystals varying from mediocre to fine. According to Louis Moyd, Willy was "a young and very capable lapidary," so Martin told Willy of spodumene's two perfect cleavages, and Willy educated himself by first cutting the less important pieces of kunzite.

Harvard University records show purchases from Ehrmann at least as early as 193 1, for at this time Professor Palache purchased (using Holden Fund money) a magnificent kunzite from the Pala Chief mine. This 24-cm specimen came from the Kunz Collection, and is now in the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County (NHMLAC). In 1933 Martin sold Kunz Collection specimens to the U.S. National Museum; these were purchased with Roebling Fund money and received numbers R6743 through R6783 (but many entries were multiple specimens). The Smithsonian specimens included diamonds from Texas, Indiana and Brazil, a kunzite from Pala, two faceted kunzites from North Carolina (!), two faceted vesuvianites from Italy, a Michigan copper, Siberian nephrite, numerous uraniferous specimens from Czechoslovakia and Germany, and a synthetic emerald from I. G. Farben.

As Martin increased his knowledge, expanded his stock, and strengthened his financial resources., he began to appear at a wide variety of mineralogical events. He attended meetings of the Philadelphia Mineralogical Society with some frequency, mixing with regulars like Harold Arndt, Charles Toothaker and Sam Gordon, and he was elected a member of the Society in 1934. Martin would sometimes set up an evening sale at the old Robert Morris Hotel near the Academy of Natural Sciences. In 1935 Paul Desautels first met Martin at one of the meetings, but Paul was too young (about 15 or 16) and too poor to buy anything from Martin. Arthur Boucot recalls other times seeing Martin at Sam Gordon's offices in the Academy.

By 1936 (if not earlier) Martin had developed both the skills and resources to obtain Tsumeb material, because that year the USNM obtained a malachite specimen (NMNH R7703) from him; this piece is still on display.

One of the ornaments of the gem collection in the American Museum of Natural History is the Edith Haggin de Long Star, a magnificent orchid-red star ruby of 100.32 carats, perhaps second only to the Rosser Reeves star ruby in the USNM. Martin sold this stone to Mrs. de Long, who then gave it to the Museum. In a letter from Roy Chapman Andrews, the director (and a friend of Martin's), to Mrs. de Long, Andrews apologized for not being able to accompany Ehrmann and Whitlock to the meeting that finalized the gift (Andrews had an ulcerated tooth). One of Herbert Ehrmann's most vivid childhood memories is of the night in November, 1937 when the $21,400 de Long Star ruby shared the Ehrmann apartment. This great gem was stolen on October 29, 1964, by the infamous Murph the Surf, and later ransomed, and so returned to the AMNH.

Apparently Martin did not confine his activities to the East Coast, since the Cranbrook Institute near Detroit has records that show a purchase from him of a 10-cm Urals Mountains aquamarine (CIS 34411). This sale was made in 1937, so the piece was probably not from the Calvert Collection.

The Calvert Collection

The next big Ehrmann acquisition was the John Calvert Collection. In 1936 Martin became aware of this very large (100,000+ specimens) and great (he hoped!) collection; by no later than 1938 it was in his possession. Embrey and Symes (1987) have this to say about Mr. Calvert:

Frederick Calvert (d. 1897), amongst other things a mining

engineer, may (or may not) have accompanied [Henry] Heuland

on collecting trips in Europe. Calvert traveled extensively,

obsessed with the search for gold, and has been credited with

finding the Belstone Consols copper mine, Devon. Said to have

been known as `Lying Jack,' almost nothing written by or about

Calvert is free from doubt or exaggeration, starting with his

year of birth (1811, or 1814, or even 1825) and the claim that he

was acquainted with Philip Rashleigh (who died in 1811). Few

specimens survive to support the claim that his mineral collection

was superlative; it was sold off piecemeal. and the residue

was eventually bought by the American dealer, Martin Ehrmann,

in 1938.

Charles Sherborn (1940), in his account of the dispositions of various natural history collections, is even less complimentary:

There were two John Calverts, one a silver miner of Vasi Rupi.

The other was a mining engineer whose life was published in

The Mining Journal about 1905. He was an unscrupulous

blackguard. He seduced two of the Sowerby girls, one of whom

I knew as an elderly woman who eked out a poor living in

Drury Lane by selling shells. I found her later on in Chelsea and

learned that "Jack" allowed her a small pension. He was in

London in 1905 scheming to involve H. P. Woodward in some

rotten mining plans but a cable to Westralia frustrated him. He

was some connection to Lord Baltimore and is said to have had

his collections. His collection was offered to the British Museum

in 1938, and included the W. D. Saull Collection which he

appropriated from the Metropolitan Institute . . . seven van

loads. The bulk was stored for over twenty years in a house

from which cobwebs and dirt had to be swept away (Star, 23

Aug. 1938), and was acquired later, I believe, by H. E. H.

Smedley for Tottenham Castle Museum. A catalog of the

collection in 1905 (?) is in the British Museum.

Calvert undoubtedly had an enormous quantity of other natural history specimens exclusive of his minerals, and it is perhaps these that ended up at Tottenham. Or Sherborn may simply have been unaware of the final sale to Ehrmann. The Calvert family may well have requested confidentiality in selling so important a collection to a buyer outside of England.

The story goes that John Calvert had two sons who were in financial difficulty. Having borrowed as much as they could using the collection as collateral, they were finally forced to sell. The "residue." as Embrey and Symes refer to it, was still very large; it was cased in many superb English cabinets well coated with London coal dust, and in 1936 these were housed in an ancient three-story brick building in east London, having been in storage for many years. Martin hired some students to wrap the specimens; when they were unpacked in New York, Louis Moyd reports they "were absolutely filthy with the settled out London dust and soot."

When the Calvert Collection arrived in October 1938, it was stored in the basement of Rockefeller Center (the location was memorable because it was next door to the Cutty Sark whiskey storeroom). It included a shell collection which was begun in the middle of the seventeenth century by Anne Arundel, wife of Cecil Calvert, second Lord Baltimore (and first governor of Maryland; Annapolis is in Anne Arundel County). All the minerals and shells had to be cleaned, sorted and (often) identified. These tasks fell to the great micromounter Neal Yedlin (later a well-known contributor to the Mineralogical Record and Rocks and Minerals) who was assisted by Martin's recently arrived 18-year-old nephew, Leo Bodenstein (Leo's pay, $10 per week--Neal took his pay in specimens, which Louis Perloff believes "was the core of Neal's very good collection").(1) Perloff recalls that Neal's skills at sight identification were much in demand, because "loose labels had been stacked during packing one behind the other in separate boxes apart from the specimens."

In December of 1939 this work devolved on Louis Moyd; Moyd went on to eventually become a customer of Martin's when, in 1965, he became the first curator of minerals at Canada's National Museum of Natural Sciences (now the Canadian Museum of Nature). Evidently, working with Martin was considered quite a plum; Perloff says "I remember being somewhat envious when Neal told me he was going to help Martin with the Calvert Collection." Moyd remembers the specimens as a very mixed bag: "a mass of loose earthy hematite might be followed by a matrix specimen of excellent anatase." After receiving Neal's and Leo's, and later Louis', attentions the specimens were moved to Martin's showroom on the twentieth floor of the International Building (Suite 2008). Martin marketed the collection directly from his offices, by means of advertisements in the American Mineralogist, and by attending club meetings (New York, Boston, Philadelphia) and scientific conclaves (the Mineralogical Society of America annual meeting). Among the specimens from the Calvert Collection advertised in the American Mineralogist are:

Torbernite .50 to $25 Chalcocite $3 to $25

Liroconite .50 to $20 Chalcosiderite $2 to $100

Clinoclase $1 to $50 Campylite [Mimetite] $2.50 to $30

Childrenite $1 to $40 Pyromorphite $1 to $30

Cassiterite $2 to $40 Fluorite $1 to $30

Bournonite $2 to $50

These are November, 1938 prices and, though we were still in a terrible depression, fine minerals evidently commanded high prices even then. His Calvert Collection advertisement in October said: "Prices range from twenty-five cents to hundreds of dollars"; in the following month he also advertised "No matter whether you pay .25 or $2500.00, you know that you will get the best value." Nor were the advertised pieces the most valuable; one visitor to Martin's office saw a proustite group, "all with terminations, mounted on a block painted Chinese-red and covered with a Chinese, colored leather bag." This was almost certainly a Chanarcillo proustite; it was probably Martin's first Chilean proustite, though certainly not his last. For the account of another great Calvert piece, we excerpt from Switzer's Memorial to Martin in the American Mineralogist:

I first met Martin the following year [1937] when I was a

graduate student at Harvard, and at the time he was making

piecemeal disposition of the Calvert Collection. I have a vivid

memory of an encounter between Martin and Charles Palache at

the 1938 GSA meeting in New York. There was great excitement

on both sides when Martin handed Professor Palache a

treasure he had found in the Calvert Collection, a finger-size

crystal of jeremejevite, the first specimen of this rare aluminum

borate ever to find its way to the United States. Martin had not

recognized the crystal when he had unpacked it, and had placed

it in a tray of beryl crystals, which it closely resembled, priced

at two dollars each. it had been recognized by Frederick H.

Pough, then Curator of the American Museum of Natural

History, on a visit to Martin's shop shortly before the meeting.

And Pough was only able to identify it because three years

earlier he had seen a crystal in the Vesignie collection in Paris.

When Palache was told what it was, no price mentioned, he

snapped, 'I'll give you five hundred dollars for it,' and the sale

was made.

The Moyds report that the Calvert Collection fossils were sold, as a single lot, to the Smithsonian, "except for a lovely suite of Paris Basin fossils that was discovered later among the minerals and shells." These were later purchased by Brooklyn College. The shells were sold individually for some time; later the unsold residue was purchased by Hugh K. Milliken, a well-to-do retired fabric designer.

Late Pre-War Years

Calvert Collection specimens were not the only minerals being sold by Martin in the pre-war years. In 1939 he advertized azurites and malachites from Tsumeb at $10-$15 (Arthur Boucot writes "I still have a little rosette of azurites that I bought for $5.00-real money for a thirteen year old"), dioptase from Guchab ($40), vanadinite from Morocco ($15), as well as Sicilian sulfur, Russian crocoite and Romanian stibnite. More interestingly, one writer refers to "Dr. H. vonKarabacek" material in Martin's stock. We know that Professor Palache purchased for Harvard some of the finest, but by no means all, of the Karabacek Collection in 1935, and Martin seems to have obtained all or part of the remainder on one of his many European trips. Boucot also remarks that "he brought the Karabacek Collection from Prague," and that he was selling specimens from it on trips to Philadelphia. When Louis Moyd went to work for Martin in January, 1940 the Ehrmann office had a "Karabacek Collection" cabinet. Martin's May, 1939 full-page advertisement in the American Mineralogist was limited to Romanian sylvanites, Swedish and German cobaltites. Harz arsenics and dyscrasites, a phosphophyllite from Hagendorf, and a hessite from Colorado; except for the hessite, all of these are good candidates for Karabacek pieces.

We have plenty of evidence to show that Martin had the opportunity to visit Prague; he spent much time in Europe in the later 1930's. Gerd Wappler at Humboldt University, Berlin, observed that in 1936 Martin brought them material that he had obtained from the famous Roman dealer, Roberto Palumbo. Why was an ex-German Jew pursuing mineral business in Hitlerian Germany? Part of the answer is in Willie Sutton's response to "Why do you rob banks?" "Because that's where the money is." But there was a much stronger reason: Martin was attempting to extract his family, especially his six siblings, from what he perceived as impending tragedy. He made trips to Germany in 1936, 1937 and 1938 (the year of the Anschiuss!) during which he rescued sisters Lena and Rosa, brothers Max and Benno, Lena's husband Ira, and Rosa's husband Bernard, Benno's wife Mia, and Max's wife Sophie, as well as numerous nieces and nephews. He also extracted his sister Frieda, but she had to go to Argentina because her husband was already legally blind, and so could not get a U.S. visa. In total, Rita and Martin helped rescue 16 members of the extended Ehrmann family. Sister Regina, however, was sure that "it couldn't happen to her" (a direct quote from both Sandy and Herb Ehrmann); she stayed, and it did.

The Ehrmann sons recall that they made at least five pre-war trips to Florida starting in 1936. These were winter vacations for the family, but some business was conducted; on at least one trip, Martin called on John D. Rockefeller Senior at his home in Ormond Beach. The sons also recall Merle and Bill Foshag (Dr. William Foshag of the Smithsonian) and their son Billy visiting them in New York in 1939, during the Foshags' trip to the World's Fair. In 1940 or 1941, Ehrmann, Foshag and young Billy Foshag made a visit to Mexico, with Martin's primary goal being to obtain fine Mexican opal. Martin and Billy returned to the U.S. together (Dr. Foshag continued his Mexican explorations under the Strategic Metals Program); Bill Junior still recalls Martin driving homeward hell-bent-for-leather in his "huge" Buick.

It was during this period that Martin's visits to Philadelphia resulted in the following charming, and very characteristic tale, as told by Louis Moyd:

Our connections [his and Pauline's] with Martin began in the

late 1930's, when he was a frequent visitor to the Museum of

the Philadelphia Academy of Natural Sciences and the Philadelphia

Mineralogical Society. I was then a volunteer research

assistant to Samuel G. Gordon [and] Pauline was a graduate

student in geology at Bryn Mawr College. In December 1939, 1

was unemployed. Pauline and I were both 23 and engaged.

Martin had arranged for an exhibition and sale of specimens at

a Philadelphia hotel on a weekend in mid-December. We

couldn't afford to buy anything, but wanted to see the specimens.

Martin took us up on our offer to help in the unpacking

and sales. Our attachment was quite apparent, and Martin

wanted to know why we didn't get married. On telling him I

had no job or income, he said he thought I was employed by the

Academy. Then he said "I'll give you a job, starting at the

beginning of the new year." At the time, the annual joint

meeting of the MSA, GSA, and Paleontological Society was

held in the week between Christmas and New Years, and in

1939 it was to be in Minneapolis. Martin said he had not

planned to exhibit there, but offered to cover our expenses and

give us a small commission on sales, if we wanted to do this for

him. We packed up the unsold material in Philadelphia and in

New York Martin selected and packed additional specimens,

plus a jeweler's "wallet" of cut stones. We were married in

Yonkers (Pauline's home town) on the morning of December

23rd, picked up the specimens from the office in New York, and

started driving toward Minneapolis in our unheated convertible

LaSalle. There are many stories connected with this cold trip

and the events at the meetings, but we'll tell only one here: On

the trip, and in the hotel, we referred to the gem "wallet" as "the

baby." One morning, going down in the elevator, Pauline,

noticing that I wasn't carrying anything, asked "Where's the

baby?" My reply was, "it's O.K. I left it in the suitcase," which

provoked some very peculiar stares from the other passengers.

Moyd continued to work for Martin until October, 1940, but then Martin had to reduce expenses. He had invested heavily in Brazilian rough, but the spread of the European War had shattered the gem market. Moyd returned for four weeks in February-March, 1941, to man the Ehrmann show rooms, while Martin and the family made their customary Florida vacation.

In 1940 Martin began his collaboration with Harry Berman at Harvard, on deuteron irradiation of diamonds; though Berman died during the war, Martin pursued their investigations in post-war days. One target of these bombardments had an interesting career of its own, as Clifford Frondel relates:

Fred Pough gave you the correct information. I did indeed give

the irradiated green diamond [set in an engagement ring] to my

first wife, long since divorced and now deceased. The diamond

was a colorless stone weighing about one carat and of good

quality, although poorly cut. Irradiation in a deuteron beam in

the Harvard cyclotron on February 5, 1941 produced a "nice

green color" (as recorded in the cyclotron logbook) as a thin

layer on the table (facing the beam) and somewhat less on the


The Harvard cyclotron began operation in October, 1939.

The director of the cyclotron lab was a physicist interested in

the irradiation of various synthetic and natural materials. In

1940, he contacted Harry Berman in the then Mineralogy

Department at Harvard to provide a number of uncut diamonds.

At the time I was an assistant in the Department and joined with

Harry in this irradiation work. This continued into 1942, but I

left Harvard early in 1942 to take a job with the War Department

in Washington and lost close contact with Harry, who died

in a plane accident in 1944. 1 hence know very little of the later

work on the cyclotron. Martin Ehrmann, who was a close friend

for many years, learned of the irradiation work on diamonds

during a visit to Harvard in 1940. He supplied the cut stone that

I irradiated. My memory is fuzzy, but I believe he got the stone

from a diamond dealer named Baumann (?) who had a cutting

plant on West 47th Street in New York City. When I got the

green diamond back from my first wife I disposed of it to him,

and he or his company may still have it. Martin rented time on

the Harvard cyclotron and in January 1942 irradiated numerous

large cut stones with results I do not recall.

World War II

Immediately after Pearl Harbor Martin volunteered for the U.S. Army, even though he was 37 years old and exempt from the draft. His adult life had bred in him a deep love for his adopted country, and his family's experiences had bred an equally great hatred for our enemies. One of his good mineral friends (and probably also a customer) was Brigadier General Julian Hatcher, who was stationed at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland; Martin, with his family, had visited General Hatcher at APG in August, 194 1, just four months before our entry into the war. One thing led to another, and Martin entered the Army as a Captain, posted to Aberdeen as the Intelligence Officer for the Bomb Disposal School. It is unclear what an Intelligence Officer would do for a bomb disposal school, but we suspect that, among other things, he performed "other duties as assigned." He was promoted to Major in May, 1943, and in January of 1944 was made Commanding Officer, Ordnance Bomb Disposal School; late that year he was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel. It is interesting to speculate on the combination of talents that Martin must have had that would equip him to head a school that taught a martial skill so exacting that the tiniest mistake would lead to instant obliteration.

The anti-submarine warfare program and the developing Manhattan Project made insistent demands for piezoelectric and pyroelectric crystals, and there were many other claimants to such materials. For radio and radar oscillators, quartz crystals from Brazil were highly suitable and easily exploited, but for pressure gauges, tourmaline was the material of choice, and the best supplier of large, homogeneous tourmaline crystals was thought to be Madagascar. Martin was heavily involved in the attempt to recover Madagascar tourmalines for our war effort, and disparate accounts of his participation have been published. Secrecy and time have muddied these waters, and we shall never know the exact truth, but the one we accept as the closest is given in the following paragraphs, whose content was provided by Pierre Bariand. Those of you who saw the Ehrmann display at the 1992 Tucson Show may note that the account here differs materially from the text displayed at the Show; we stand by what is written here:

Before World War 11 the Director General of the Compagnie General de Madagascar was Bernard Amster; in this capacity he had had occasional dealings with Martin. The CGM was primarily concerned with agriculture (Madagascar was the largest rice producer in the French Empire), but the mineral resources of the island are significant. Since the minerals are sometimes beautiful, it was to be expected that they would attract Martin's interest. Since M. Amster was a Jew, the war was not kind to him, and even less so to others in his family, many of whom met their deaths in the extermination camps. After the fall of France in 1940, it was not long before Amster decided that if he were to die, it would be better to do so fighting, so he joined the Maquis. The Maquis was effectively divided into two segments: the Communist-controlled portion (after Hitler shattered the Nazi-Soviet Pact in June, 1941), called the FTPF, and the rightist FFI, under the loose direction of General de Gaulle in London. Though we might suspect that with Amster's background he might opt for the FFI, propinquity outweighed philosophy; since a communist (FTPF) unit was the closest, this is the one he joined (though he never had a party card). In spite of his non-proletarian background, Amster rose to the rank of Captain in this unit, a unit headed by a Colonel "Bernard," with headquarters in an abandoned chateau near Pressac (Vienne), about 20 km from Chabanais (Charente). From here they would torment the local German forces whose Kommandatur was in Limoges (Haute Vienne). After the U.S./U.K. forces landed in Normandy in June 1944, Col. "Bernard's" command attempted to control the entire Charente River region, with headquarters at the former Kommandatur in Angouleme. Needless to say, this effort led to severe fighting near the great U-Boat base at La Rochelle, and along the German lines of communication. At this time Gen. de Gaulle directed that all Resistance forces be absorbed into the French Army; these were now all subjected to military discipline. Readers with combat experience know that military units that fight continuously, without a break, will soon cease to exist. Thus it is not surprising that one day in August, 1944, Capt. Amster was in the local cinema in Angouleme, enjoying a respite in the fighting. What was surprising (at least to Capt. Amster) was that he was paged on the cinema's sound system, to present himself at the theater entrance. No combat officer enjoys surprises, so it was with some trepidation that Amster went to the entrance. To his utter astonishment, there stood Martin, in the full fig of Lt. Col., USA, holding a "machine gun" (perhaps a BAR, Browning Automatic Rifle) in his hands. Nor was Martin alone. According to Amster, he was backed by "about 500" U.S. troops., and several tanks. (This was almost certainly the Twelfth Army Group T-Force, one of the three heavily armed SHAEF(2) units tasked with technical intelligence collection.)

Martin wanted Captain Amster to return with him to England, and then to continue together to Madagascar, so they could liberate stockpiles of tourmaline on the island. Unfortunately, Amster was now under strict military discipline, and by the time papers flowed to and fro, so had time, and the opportunity to visit Madagascar was lost. Amster is now a healthy 83, and recounts this tale with some amusement, according to Pierre. Martin's military career did not cease immediately when the last shot was fired in Europe in May 1945. Because of his intelligence background, and his native fluency in German, he became part of Project PAPERCLIP. The mission of PAPERCLIP was to locate valuable German scientists and engineers, and to attempt their removal to the United States. The operation got its name from the technique used to identify significant items in the German dossiers. In a blow to the self-esteem of our readership, the term "valuable" was not applied to mineralogists and crystallographers, but to particle physicists and rocket engineers; America wanted Wernher von Braun, not Hugo Strunz. Martin had developed a strong technical background (irradiated diamonds, for example), and so, with complete fluency in German, he was made a principal interviewer. Martin's most consequential interviewee was Major General Walter Dornberger, who had been in charge of the German rocket effort (including the notorious V2), and who had been von Braun's boss. Dornberger was surprised to hear such perfect German flowing from an American colonel, so he asked Martin (in German), "Are you German?", to which Martin replied, "No, I am a Jew." The reddening of Dornberger's face terminated this exchange. The end of PAPERCLIP ended Martin's active duty, and just before his release he was awarded the Legion of Merit.

Peace, and the Move to California

In 1942, while Martin was in the Army, his family moved once again, to Graystone Avenue in Riverdale. Shortly after the war Martin had a house built on Delafield Avenue in Riverdale where the family continued to live when Martin began his West Coast sojourns. Martin did not revive his own mineral business when he donned "civvies" again, nor did he accept a suggestion proffered during his exit interview that he become the Dean of a small (unspecified) college. In 1946 he joined the William V. Schmidt company, whose owner was a Mr. "Packy" Paskow, and whose business was colored stones. In 1947 he moved to Lazare Kaplan and Company, whose business was only diamonds, purchased directly from sights. (Diamonds are marketed by the Diamond Trading Corp.--"DeBeers"--solely by "sights" held regularly in London. Attendance is by invitation only. Each invitee receives one or more candidate parcels; each parcel must be accepted or rejected as a lot.) Lazare Kaplan sent Martin, as their representative, to the West Coast, but he did not immediately uproot his family, and in March, 1950, he left Lazare Kaplan to set himself up as a diamond wholesaler.

Martin found the diamond business to be lucrative but boring. After handling Untersulzbachtal epidotes and Burmese star rubies, packets consisting of dozens or hundreds of wee diamonds just could not sufficiently occupy a man with Martin's capacity for life. Thus it was that he ceased, probably gradually, dealing in diamonds. Instead he established himself as an independent gem merchant. His primary business activity was dealing in fine colored gemstones. He loved his work, and gems provided him an excellent income. But much as Martin loved and respected a beautiful (natural!) sapphire, his deepest affection still lay in fine mineral specimens. For the rest of his life he successfully juggled these two vocations. When he returned from a trip his hand baggage might contain a gem such as a ruby, a mineral specimen such as Tsumeb azurite, or a "combination" like a gem tanzanite crystal.

Though Martin had his fair share of self-confidence, he did not suffer from hubris; he knew that unless he had the wisdom of Solomon and the financial resources of Bernard Baruch, it would be smarter, safer and more profitable to team up with someone rather than go it alone, so he first joined William Lowe and Company. After a short time he made his final and most important move: he associated himself with Vartanian & Sons, a firm headed by Nishan (Nish) Vartanian with his partner, Robert Sullivan. Vartanian & Sons were wholesalers of quality stones and jewelry, who purchased from and consigned to fine American jewelry firms. Their signature characteristic was that they were always a firm of opportunity. Though Martin usually operated out of separate quarters (the company offices were at 608 Fifth Avenue, New York; more than two decades later they moved to 680 Fifth Avenue), the association with the Vartanians lasted the rest of his life. The Vartanians provided much of the needed capital to Martin, because no matter how Martin's personal resources grew, he was always capable of finding deals that required even more money. Switzer recalls that many years ago he saw Martin with several letters of credit for $50,000 each. Dennis Sullivan (the son of Robert) says that the firm also paid all of Martin's expenses and that the remaining profits were split, but he does not know how; he also says that the Vartanians did not question Martin's transactions. Dennis recalls that Martin took the Vartanians and the Sullivans to the new gem hall at the Smithsonian in 1966, where Nish pointed to a large cat's eye from India and said "that's my stone--the Idol's Eye!" Nish had expected to get it, but the USNM had won that round.

In 1948 Rita and the family moved to the West Coast, where they remain today, and later that year or early in 1949 Martin established his business address at 448 S. Hill Street in downtown Los Angeles. He did not, however, sever all ties with the East Coast. As late as October, 1950 he still had a business office at 630 Fifth Avenue, and on January 1, 1950 he and his son Herb watched the Rose Bowl game at Switzer's Maryland home. It was about this time, the early part of the Korean War, that the U.S. Army proposed that Martin return to service. Martin declined, but made himself available as an advisor, and on one occasion he did arrive at Switzer's office in military uniform. This is a good place to review Martin's West Coast business addresses. Following his occupancy at 448 S. Hill he moved, by 1958, to an address in the 1100 block of South Beverly Drive. This was followed, by 1962, with quarters at 369 S. Robertson Boulevard. His final move was to the well-known offices at 676 N. Lapeer Drive, accomplished by June, 1966.

After Martin arrived on the West Coast he resumed a collaboration on artificially colored diamonds that had been interrupted by the War and the death of Harry Berman. His new colleagues were Joseph E. Hamilton and Thomas M. Putnam, both of Crocker Laboratory, University of California, Berkeley. The instrument in use here was the 60-inch cyclotron, and the diamonds were bombarded with neutrons and alpha particles, as well as deuterons. The results were informally reported in an article in Gems and Gemology (Ehrmann, 1950), and more formally in the American Mineralogist (Hamilton et al., 1952).

By the early 1950's Martin had commenced his visits to Tsumeb and elsewhere in South-West Africa (as it was then called). He was apparently the first dealer to appear regularly at this mining outpost, making at least one trip with the geologist, John Saul. Martin continued to visit Tsumeb at irregular intervals for the rest of his life. Bideaux recalls seeing, in the early 1950's, many fine pieces from South-West Africa that Martin had sent to the USNM. Bideaux also later acquired a Guchab dioptase that Martin had sold to Arthur Montgomery. Bill Pinch recalls a lunch with Martin and George Switzer in about 1959 or 1960, at which Martin produced a 2.6-carat faceted purple scorodite (now NMNH G3793). This stone was cut from a crystal taken from the back of a magnificent Tsumeb scorodite specimen that Martin had earlier exchanged to the museum. Many fine Tsumeb specimens handled by Martin are scattered at institutions throughout Europe and North America.


Martin made his first trip to Burma in 1955; he returned seven times, on trips following one another by as little as six months, until his last trip in 1962. These trips, including the European legs, usually lasted two or three months. He loved Burma, and his visits would have continued until his death, but General Ne Win seized the Burmese government on March 2, 1962, and the country was soon closed to all foreigners. Shortly after the military takeover, visas were limited to 24 hours. Furthermore, to assure the ruin of the gem trade, all mining was nationalized, and all gem dealings were to be handled by government officials.

Late in his life Martin began an autobiographical memoir of which he completed the first six chapters covering his Burmese adventures; this account deserves publication in its entirety. Martin summarized some of these experiences, and much of what he had learned, in a series of articles in Gems and Gemology (1957a) and another series in the Lapidary Journal (1957b). Arch Oboler also used the material that Martin gave him for an article in Coronet (Archer, 1961). In 1960 Martin invited his best friend, George Switzer, to accompany him on an extensive Burma trip, but Switzer felt that two months or more was too long to abandon the USNM, so Martin then invited another close friend, Victor Meen, of the Royal Ontario Museum. Vic accepted with alacrity, and the results of their extensive trip to Rangoon, Mogok, the jade mining industry near Mogaung, the amber mines of the Hukong Valley, and the cutting shops of Hong Kong are reported in the Lapidary Journal (Meen, 1962).

The primary purpose of the trips to Burma was to purchase rough and cut gems; this is what Martin's capitalization was intended for. Martin also intended to get all the mineral specimens he could lay his hands on, but this goal could not be allowed to dominate his trips. Thus Martin never visited the Bawdwin silver-lead mines developed by Herbert Hoover's group, nor the extensive tin mines. The goal of every Burmese trip was Mogok, with at least one journey to the Moguang jade mines and the Hukong amber mines. Martin began his Burma ventures by hiring, in Rangoon, a young native of Mogok, U Khin Maung, who was to serve as interpreter, guide, agent and driver. One of his outstanding qualities was ownership of a Jeep. When Martin was in Mogok he always stayed in the home of U Khin Maung's parents, which was shared also with other family members. Martin quickly learned all the Burmese courtesies, and adopted such local habits and customs as were necessary for convenient living, though without the ostentatious "going native" style popularized by the hippy revolution. Martin was an American, and never pretended to be other, but along with his beautiful Old World manners, he had a natural respect for, and an interest in, other cultures. To give the flavor of gem dealing in Burma, here is an excerpt from Martin's manuscript; it is the story behind the first significant delivery of Burmese peridots to the West:

The brokers had suddenly become aware of my existence. Sometimes they came in droves without announcing themselves. They stood in line awaiting their turn on the steps leading to my quarters. They were entirely unhurriedly at ease as though they had their whole lives before them and nothing else to do.

U Khin Maung brought the first broker in line to our living room. He carried a large heavy sackcloth which he emptied in front of me. I gazed bewildered at the pile of peridots in front of me, the first important lot of this gem stone that was shown me in Mogok. I estimated the lot to weigh at least seventy-five pounds. . . . There were many fine crystallized specimens of sizes I never believed existed. They had very sharp faces but were etched in forms of very tiny triangles throughout the whole crystals. I could just visualize the faces of our museum curators who had never dreamed that peridot crystals of this size existed.

Not all were crystals. Many were broken fragments but in large sizes, and clean and cuttable. I estimated that I could cut stones weighing from ten to about three hundred carats from this lot. The lot also contained many useless flawed pieces without any value. I wanted to buy this lot. The moment had come to start negotiations with the broker. During our examination I occasionally looked at the broker, who not for one second took his eyes off the lot. He had a nervous twitch which he tried to shake, but couldn't. I finally gave the sign to U Khin Maung that I wanted to buy the entire lot. When negotiations started, I noticed that all anxiety had left the broker and that he was completely at ease again.

Soon I found that he only wanted to sell about a third of the lot on instructions from the miner in Pyaung Gaung.... This town is located, unfortunately, in an insurgent area, only ten miles from Mogok, but no one in Mogok ever dared enter this area. My agent's persuasion was of no avail. The owner didn't need the money and wouldn't sell all until he needed more, which he wouldn't until after the Burmese New Year three months hence. He told us that the owner was quite positive that the price would not go down since all the miners and dealers were learning that prices continue rising, which also made for reluctance in selling. They all believed that it is the better part of wisdom to hold their gems until they needed the money. I just sat there watching the broker in disbelief. I finally made up my mind to enter the insurgent territory and negotiate with the owner for the entire lot. U Khin Maung was against it and so were the other dealers whom we consulted. I finally went to see the S.D.O., the Subdivisional Officer, and asked his advice. He too was against such a daring venture. The only one who didn't think it would be dangerous for me to go to Pyaung Gaung was the broker [for the peridot] who practically guaranteed my safety. The only drawback was the language barrier as no one in [Pyaung Gaung] spoke English. But I felt that I could negotiate by sign language and write figures on paper.

Reluctantly it was finally agreed that I leave by our jeep with the broker early next morning. not taking anything 6f value with me. If negotiation was successful, the broker would return with me and the peridots to Mogok, and he would be paid here.

We started off the following morning, as agreed, and after almost an hour we were about two miles from Pyaung Gaung. The broker asked me to stop there and wait in the jeep until he returned, as he wanted to talk to the chief of the insurgents [presumably the Shan National Army] and tell him the reason for my visit. If he [the insurgent chief] didn't agree, he [the broker! would come back and we would just return to Mogok. if he succeeded, he would bring horses so that we could ride in the two miles to the village and that I would be able to negotiate with the owner.

An hour later a horse and buggy arrived with the broker and the chief of the insurgents [who came with the broker] to either approve or disapprove my entering the village. [The chief] was a short man even by Burmese standards, about 50 years old, paunchy but very compact. He had black hair, very shiny from the hair tonic he had applied to part his hair in the middle. To my surprise he addressed me in poor but understandable English. He had a pleasant, high-pitched voice and a nice, easy manner. "Are you English?" were his first words. When I replied that I was an American, he smiled and seemed pleased. We talked about many things, including politics. He finally asked me if I was afraid of insurgents. I told him he was the first one I had ever met, and added if all insurgents were like him, there would be no need of fear. He then entered the jeep without saying anything further and we drove on to the village which we reached in ten minutes.

It was a settlement consisting of about 30 houses, some were thatched., others had corrugated tin roofs, all built on stilts. There was one big building in the village. This was where the chief of the insurgents lived, and all activities were apparently directed from this building. I was dropped off at one of the houses. The chief bade me an abrupt goodbye, wished me good luck, and left me standing in front of this house. Not knowing what to do, I waited at least ten minutes when finally the broker showed up with his horse and buggy and we climbed the stairs together. It was the owner of the peridots that greeted us when we took our shoes off before entering the living room. He welcomed me with dignity and politeness, all in Burmese which I didn't understand.

Again the sack of peridots were dumped on the floor and the owner, without sorting, divided one-third and said this is what he was going to sell today. The balance he wouldn't sell until he was in need of the money. In sign language I made him understand that I wished to buy the whole lot and would give him a very good price to make sure that even if he sold them at a later date he wouldn't take any losses. Again he indicated that he didn't need the money and therefore would only sell this third, and how much would I bid for it. I said that I never made bids, that he would have to give me a price and if I were satisfied, I would buy it. He wrote a price which seemed rather reasonable, but knowing the Burmese, I knew I couldn't just accept. I wrote the price of the lot and made it about a third of what he indicated. Smilingly he said, "Quare," the usual "We are far apart." I indicated I would buy it all for double the price that I had indicated. At first it seemed to interest him, but a few minutes later he again pointed to the third he had separated and wrote down a new figure. I raised my figure a little bit and finally we came to an agreement on this [portion of the] lot. But I wasn't ready yet to let the balance go. In sign language I tried to explain to him that if I buy the lot I would give him so much more than he actually expected, but that he didn't have to take the money right away. I could give the money to anyone he trusted in Mogok and he could draw from him as he liked, either in one month, two months or even wait until the Burmese New Year. He couldn't resist the temptation of this offer and he finally told me that I could buy the [whole] lot, the broker would take it with me, I could pay him, and he would arrange payments to him as needed. I could not have felt more elated if I had bought a million dollars worth of fine gems when I bought this lot of peridots which in value was nothing like any of the more precious stones like rubies or sapphires. It was a mere pittance but the fact that I was able to buy such an unusual fine lot of such an unusual fine gem pleased me immensely. After much more conversation but with complete dignity and politeness I left. The broker took the lot with him and put it in the jeep and asked me if he could drive with me back to Mogok.

The peridots Martin brought back were of matchless deep grassgreen color, and of a more equant form than the Saint John's Island peridots, which are more often thin and tabular. Probably the largest cut stone from Martin's trip was acquired by the USNM in 1962; this 287-carat cushion-cut stone [NMNH G3705] is on display, and is figured in two of Paul Desautels' books (Desautels, 1970, 1972). John Sinkankas writes:

I also remember seeing the splendid, crude, squarish and tabular

prisms of peridot from the famous Burma deposit which he

brought out for the first time. These were remarkable for their

enormous size, hundreds of carats in some individuals, and their

remarkable clarity and color.

In his Lapidary Journal article Martin describes his dealings with an aged opium smoker, who showed Martin a magnificent ruby that he refused to sell, but "maybe later." The conclusion to this tale may be in a story from Gus Meister:

It was sometime after 1968 that I met Martin Ehrmann and Rita.

When he found out that 1, too, came from Kiel, had gone to

school there same as he, we had a lot to talk about and he

treated me like a long lost cousin. When Dr. [Werner] Lieber

visited here a bit later, Martin invited me and my wife and the

Liebers to a sumptuous dinner at a fancy place in the mid-Wilshire

district. Later at his house in Beverly Hills he told me

the story about this elderly Chinese gem dealer in Burma who

owned a large, perfect ruby. They had done quite a bit of

business over a period of time and were good friends. Martin

had for some time tried to buy this gemstone, but the old

gentleman would not part with it under any circumstances.

Years went by and the business climate had deteriorated to the

point where nothing much happened in the gem business. One

fine day in the late 60's a young Chinese gentleman came into

Martin's office and quietly laid a small package on his desk and

then proceeded to introduce himself. He was the grandson of

this elderly gentleman in Burma, and told Martin that the

grandfather had died but had left specific instructions that

Martin Ehrmann should have first call on this gemstone. He

quoted a specific price (but I don't recall whether Martin

actually mentioned it to me). As Martin told me, he promptly

called the members of his syndicate and in no time had the

money available to make the purchase. The young man had his

money and had honored the wishes of his grandfather. Martin

had the stone, so now what? The stone was of considerable size,

about 2 x 4 cm, and flawless. The group studied the stone at

length, wondering how to make the most of their investment,

and finally decided to cut it into three or four smaller faceted

stones. As Martin told it, they made money on the deal. What

happened to the stones and who eventually owned them, I don't


This stone may be too small to be "The King of the Rubies," as Martin called it, that was purchased by his syndicate for $300,000. The rough finally yielded, after several cuttings, a magnificent 99.99-carat stone. On another of his trips, Martin purchased, with much negotiation, a piece of sapphire rough weighing 1,090 carats; from this piece several stones were cut from the 135-carat unflawed portion. The largest cut stone was 65 carats of a pure and intense velvety blue color, without a flaw.

Martin considered his Burmese collections to be his most important gemological contribution. Very large sums of money changed hands, and many wonderful stones and superb specimens came to the West. Martin also continued to fulfill what he saw as his patriotic duty. We believe that he was regularly debriefed upon return from his Burma visits by an agency of the U.S. Intelligence Community, probably the CIA, but perhaps Army Intelligence, or the DIA. His easy entree into a rather hermetic society, and especially his perennial visits to troubled border regions, could not be easily duplicated by your average Princeton graduate, and he was glad to provide this (unpaid) service.


Burma was the target of Martin's most important travels of the late 1950's and early 1960's, but he certainly dropped his suitcase in many other countries during those years. Martin visited Brazil many times during the last two decades of his life (and probably earlier), and he scored some notable coups. For the story of one that may be familiar to many readers, we quote from Peter Bancroft (1984):

Kunzite was not rediscovered in Brazil until 1961, when a large

pegmatite was entered on the Frigorifico Anglo fazenda near

Sao Jose da Safira, 60 kilometers northwest of Governador

Valadares. The mine was named the Urupuca after the nearby

river. At first a series of pockets was encountered which

contained pink and green tourmaline, mica and quartz crystals.

Next a zone rich in lepidolite was found, and finally pockets

containing deep-colored lavender crystals of a type unknown to

the miners. The area was quite remote and the huge quantities

of lilac crystals found no buyers. Few dealers had heard of the

discovery, and none could identify the new stones.

Shortly after the discovery a buyer for Levon Nercessian, a

gem dealer in Rio de Janeiro, encountered what was being

offered as purple topaz at Galileia. But because it was unlike

any topaz he had seen and because he feared it was a synthetic

stone, he had not acquired any. Nercessian's curiosity was

aroused, and he set out for Galileia. Although he could not

identify the new stone, he liked the material and bought a large

lot at a very low price. The samples he showed to a friend in

Governador Valadares were identified as kunzite, and the rush

to the Urupuca began. Many buyers still purchased the new

stones as topaz, but knowledgeable ones, like American dealer

Martin Ehrmann, knew it for kunzite. Ehrmann bought a large

quantity of gem-quality crystals and used the better pieces to

barter with museums throughout the world. A ton and then

another ton of kunzite crystals were uncovered, making this

strike the greatest of its kind in history. Prices escalated, fences

were built around the mine, armed guards were posted, and

cameras and visitors were prohibited. Wealthy Brazilian gem

dealers bought huge flawless crystals weighing up to 3 kilograms

and retired them to bank vaults as legacies for their


Paolo Nercessian, Levon's father, acquired the greatest crystal

of all, a flawless gem of 31 by 15 by 19 centimeters. It was

of the deepest violet and weighed 7.5 kilograms. This magnificent

crystal was purchased by Ehrmann, who traded it to the

Smithsonian Institution (NMNH 120372).

The comment that Ehrmann bartered these wonderful spodumenes throughout the world is confirmed by former Smithsonian curator John S. White. He noted that on the Mineral Museums Advisory Council (MMAC) trip through central Europe, following the 1991 Munich Show, he saw in most museums, including Freiberg, Dresden, Berlin and Prague, splendid Urupuca kunzites that the institutions had received in exchanges with Martin.

Jack Jago Trelawney adds:

Ehrmann specialized in expensive and beautiful minerals and

did a good job of tracking them down. Some of the best

tanzanites and kunzites came from him. I bought one of his fine

kunzites once. He appraised part of my collection in the 1960's

but did not want any fee for the work. Instead he wanted me to

buy a very good, large kunzite crystal from him, which I did not

particularly want since it was too large for my collection. But in

the circumstances I felt obligated to get it.

Gerhard Niedermayr, curator at the Vienna Museum of Natural History, tells of another of Martin's Brazilian adventures:

Back in the 1960's, Martin came across a quartz dealer in the

Governador Valadares region of Minas Gerais who had a batch

of quartz crystals, some of which had another well-crystallized

mineral growing on them. Martin did not know what the other

mineral was, but to avoid alerting the locals to the possible

importance of this mineral, he bought the whole lot of quartz

crystals. He loaded these crystals on a lorry, drove to a secluded

spot, separated and roughly trimmed the crystals with the

unknown mineral, and drove to another quartz dealer where he

sold the now barren crystals. [This was the first find of the

remarkable Brazilian herderites.! Again, from John Sinkankas:

Martin was also the first, I believe, to import large quantities of

the now well-known rutilated/hematitic quartz from Brazil, and

Marge and I had the pleasure one day of going to the garage

which Martin had rented to store the boxes of quartz, and go

through them to extract choice pieces. One of the best, and here

I speak of world-class specimens, I cut and polished to display

a very large and perfect six-rayed rutile star.

By being in the right place at the right time., I (Bill) and my old friend Bob Highbarger bought 100 pounds of this material from Martin for one dollar a pound, on which we later turned a tidy profit.

In 1968 Martin and George Switzer of the Smithsonian made a tour of Colombia and Brazil. While on this trip Marlin was instrumental in helping the USNM to acquire a fine Muzo emerald matrix specimen, currently on display. From Bogota they flew to Buenos Aires, so that Martin could visit his sister Frieda and her family; from there they went to Brazil, starting at Porte Alegre. They visited the Rio Grande do Sul amethyst mines, then went to Rio de Janeiro (to see Martin's friend and associate Levon Nercessian), to Belo Horizonte, by taxi to Ouro Preto, by small plane with Nercessian to Govemador Valadares, and then to the Galileia mine near Conseilhera Pena. This trip was incorporated into an article by Switzer in the National Geographic: (Switzer, 1971); the Society paid for Switzer's trip, and Martin arranged his schedule to accommodate Switzer's time.

The Crown Jewels of Iran

How would you like to stumble across a jewelry collection that contained (among others) the following pieces?

Darya-i Nur (Sea of Light), a flawless, pale pink diamond, between 175 and 195 carats (not measured because of the setting)

Taj-i Mah (Crown of the Moon), a colorless diamond, finest quality, 115.06 carats

Nur ul-Ain (Light of the Eye), a limpid, strong pink diamond, 60 carats

Nadir Throne: thousands of diamonds, with four emeralds, each more than 100

carats (one 225 carats)

Great Globe, 46 cm in diameter, 109 cm high, made of 34 kg. of gold, set with more than 51,000 gems And for you belt buckle fanciers, a gold buckle set with a 17-carat diamond and 84 Burmese rubies whose total weight exceeds 400 carats.

The world is indebted to Martin for having these, and the rest of the Crown Jewels of Iran, exposed to the light of day. The story is as follows:

In 1968 the University of Toronto Press published Crown Jewels of Iran by V. B. Meen and A. D. Tushingham. This volume was heavily subsidized, and so was printed with magnificent color plates; the text was that of a first-class catalogue raisonne. The second paragraph of Meen's preface begins: "In the spring of 1964, I received my first direct information about the Crown Jewels of Tran from my friend Martin Ehrrmann, a Los Angeles gem dealer. He had seen them during a brief stopover in Tehran between flights a few months earlier. His `thumb-nail' description left me breathless. We decided then and there to try to make a joint study of the collection which could be published." Later in the preface he remarks, "during the months between Mr. Ehnnann's account and my arrival in Tehran I met no other gemmologist who knew anything of them." But later the problems arose: "It had also become abundantly clear, while I discussed the proposal with Bank officials, that a study of even the major items could not be callied out in the three or four weeks Martin Ehrmann and I had originally considered. It could take several months; but this possibility had to be balanced against the disruption to the Bank's operations and the length of time our own staff could spare. Eventually an arbitrary study period of three months was set, from February 1 to April 30, 1966. Unfortunately, Mr. Ehrmann did not feel that he could take so much time from his business, and withdrew." (A preliminary report, made while the study was still underway (Meen, 1966), provided the same reason for Martin's non-participation.

The authors finish their acknowledgments with this graceful sentence: "Finally, to Martin Ehrmann of Los Angeles, gem dealer and friend, whose glowing account of the collection led directly to the project, our thanks are due for what has been an exciting and rewarding pursuit."

Heartfelt and sincere as these thanks are, we do not believe that the entire story behind the Crown Jewels is given in Dr. Meen's book. In Martin's autobiographical notes, he provided this outline for Chapter 18:

I discovered this treasure of jewels in 1959 before it was

displayed in the bank. Tried to get permission from the Shah to

catalog it. Brought this news to the United States. Finally, after

conferring with the Director and Board of Trustees of the Royal

Ontario Museum, permission was granted. But somehow I was

left out of it."

Considering that many, if not most, of Martin's overseas trips were measured in months, not weeks, it is implausible to believe that a three-month stay would automatically exclude Martin. And even if he could only stay two months, why did he not do so? Obviously, late in his life Martin felt that he had been deliberately excluded from the study, but inquiries in Ontario have failed to unearth support for the fact of his exclusion, nor has any plausible reason for such an exclusion been advanced. A. D. Tushingham (Meen's co-author) recalls only warm memories of Martin; if there was a problem between Martin and Vic, it escaped his notice. Whatever the facts may be, we do know that Martin was less happy with Dr. Meen in his later years than he was earlier.

Ehrmann Business Practices

According to George Switzer, Martin rotated first choice of his new material between the AMNH, Harvard, and the USNM. We believe that this was a prewar custom, and that after he relocated to California Martin usually purchased each of his specimens with a specific customer in mind. His marketing was not as stringent as a DeBeers "sight," but the AMNH (for example) was not shown specimens headed for the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, nor vice versa. Furthermore, there were always certain very important private collectors who received Martin's personal attention, even though after the War he was primarily a wholesaler to non-institutional customers. We have seen that a fine Urupuca kunzite was sold to Jack Jago Trelawney, and John White has seen dozens of Ehrmann specimens in the Folch Girona Collection, including a lovely Sardinian phosgenite from Martin that is pictured in Gem and Crystal Treasures (Bancroft, 1973). Finally, it was not unknown for Martin to sell a specimen or two to a nearby minor collector just because he happened to be there at the right time. I (Bill) got a peridot crystal (29.2 carats, $25) in 1955, an Urupuca kunzite (330 grams, $165) in 1962, and a flawless tanzanite crystal (10.1 grams, $200) in 1968, It is obvious that even for those times, these prices were only nominal.

Martin made it his business to know where "the good stuff" was, as the following incident related by Gerhard Niedermayr illustrates:

One time, around 1966, when Martin was visiting Vienna, he went to see the collection of Karl Kontrus (1899-1975), at that time one of Austria's most diligent and thorough collectors. Martin brought with him some beautiful non-European minerals, but Kontrus said that he could not afford to buy them. Martin then proposed an exchange, but again Kontrus demurred, saying he had nothing suitable. Niedermayr continues:

Martin then said, "how about a fine Chanarcillo proustite?"

Kontrus argued that he had no suitable proustite, and none from

Chanarcillo. But Martin, without ever having been before in the

Kontrus house, walked into another room, directly to a showcase

with closed and locked drawers beneath. He asked Kontrus

to open the third drawer from the top on the right side of the

cupboard. The drawer contained sulfides belonging to the fine

systematic collection Kontrus had gathered throughout the

years. In the very last comer of the drawer was a carton, with

the best proustite specimen Kontrus had in his possession.

Martin seized the box, opened it and smiled: "and what is that?"

Kontrus was shocked because he never had shown this part of

his collection to a dealer and only seldom to other visitors at all.

But somebody must have seen this really remarkable specimen,

and rumors about it, and knowledge of his secret place must

have reached Martin, who always was alert to information

about fine mineral specimens. Nevertheless, Martin failed to get

the specimen he was so eagerly searching for.

Not only did he know where the privately held treasures were hidden, he also had a thorough knowledge of the institutional reserves, as shown by the next account, also from Niedermayr:

On Martin's last visit to Vienna, he came prepared to propose an exchange with the Naturhistorisches Museum. When meeting with the director of the mineralogical collection, and Niedermayr (then a young staff member), Martin proposed that the Museum offer some diamonds from South Africa, saying "you have plenty of those matrix specimens." Niedermayr had taken a liking to Martin (he was not unique in this respect), and he did not want to refuse Martin's proposal, but he felt that the Museum should not exchange any of its South African diamonds. So Dr. Niedermayr excused himself to the lavatory, rushed to the nearby study collection, relocated the diamonds, flushed the toilet, and retumed. When the discussion resumed, Martin proposed inspecting their diamond holdings; this agreed to, he marched directly to the drawer containing the diamonds. When Niedermayr overtook him and opened the drawer, Martin was dumbfounded, and in Niedermayr's words, "annoyed that the former director, who had done several fine exchanges with him, obviously just before his retirement must have given away several matrix specimens, which Martin thought he would have the chance to get by exchange for himself." In spite of this subterfuge (motivated by a delicacy of feeling), Niedermayr always counted Martin as a friend as well as an important mineral dealer. These events, together with some others at that time, finally prompted the curators at the Vienna Museum to establish a policy to permit no one, not even another scientist, to see the drawers of the Vienna collection.

John Sinkankas has described Martin's memory this way: "In this respect he had a fabulous memory for recalling who had what, whether a private or institutional collector. On his frequent, prolonged buying trips abroad, this memory served him well because he could gamble on a large and expensive purchase of rough or a mineral specimen knowing quite well where it could be sold."

Hunting for great specimens requires a steely determination, as well as a capacious memory. Bob Jones recalls Marion Godshaw (a close friend of Martin's) telling of Martin's visit to the dioptase locality at Mindouli, in the then Moyen Congo. Before granting collecting permission and providing assistance, the local tribal chieftain required that the path to his residence be paved. Somehow Martin rustled up enough barrels of tar, or heavy fuel oil, to provide a suitable access.

It is part of our mineralogical folklore that Martin only knew, and was only interested in, gems and showy minerals. Arthur Montgomery said, "I liked Martin a lot, and I secured some of my finest specimens from him. But he did not know minerals really well. . . ." Jack Jago Trelawney comments, "He knew nothing at all about the technical aspects of mineralogy, but he knew what was beautiful and would sell well." Dick Bideaux was unable, in 1962, to persuade Martin to negotiate an exchange with the Sorbonne for one of their fine Allevard siderites, nor for a boleite from the Mus6um National d'Histoire Naturelle, and George Switzer said "he didn't know one feldspar from another" (but then, who does?). Nevertheless, Martin dealt with many rare species, such as Bolivian phosphophyllite and argyrodite (John Barlow collection #1607, via Marion Godshaw and David Wilber), and he knew the correct prices too: there are records of his January, 1968 sale to the AMNH of an Andreasburg apophyllite (for $200) and a Walleroo atacamite ($750), both of which were from the Vaux Collection. Martin even pursued Franklin specimens, as Frondel telis us:

My last memory of Martin concerns a trip he made to Harvard

to obtain some large and fine specimens from Franklin, New

Jersey. He did not say why he wanted them. Years later, after his

death, I visited Moscow and the Mineral Museum of the Soviet

Academy of Science [Fersman Museum]. There, lo and behold,

were several of my fine Franklin specimens, mounted on

pedestals. The curator told me that he got them from an

American dealer, and traded fine blue topaz crystals for them.

But Bideaux suggests that this excursion into the exotic did not profit Martin. When an exchange shipment from the Fersman Museum was unpacked (at the USNM, perhaps because it came in under diplomatic seal), it was found to be very poor material, and not all what he had selected (and had been agreed upon). This is a demonstration that your average gem or mineral dealer is more to be trusted than the functionaries of a mighty bureaucracy.

Though mineral specimens received primacy from Martin, he frequently brought home unusual gem rough. Sinkankas reports: "Martin ... did not hesitate to buy large and clean facet rough when he could see his way clear to having it cut commercially, or, in my case, when stones in the hundreds to the thousands of carats were wanted."

The Pawnshop Business

Martin was heavily involved in an arrangement with the USNM that was what is now called a "win-win" situation. The arrangement depended on the law that allows confiscation, by the U.S. Customs, of entire shipments containing dutiable property, on which any part of the duty has been evaded. The law at that time, the late 1950's, had a 10% duty on the value of cut diamonds entering the U.S. There was no duty on uncut diamonds (to encourage our own cutting industry), but in spite of this exception, many confiscated shipments contained uncut stones, proving that smugglers are no smarter, on the average, than shoplifters. These confiscations provided the basis for what Switzer called "the pawnshop business." What follows is a transcript of an interview with Switzer.

We first got wind of it [the diamond confiscations] when one of

our purchasing agents, Glen Shepard, found out that maybe we

[the USNM] could get some of these confiscated diamonds

from the GSA [General Services Administration, the

Government's warehouse]. He [Shepard] had a friend over

there, and they worked a deal, and they [the diamonds] began to

come in, in rather large quantities, in some cases hundreds of

thousands of [pre-1960]] dollars. We normally paid Martin in

confiscated diamonds. One time [in 1958] Martin showed up

with this nice canary diamond, which we acquired from him

through a swap, and we named it the "Shepard Diamond" for

Glen Shepard, and everyone looks at it and says "Oh, is this a

famous diamond? Who is Shepard?" He was a purchasing agent

[but a very good purchasing agent]] He was so proud that he

redoubled his efforts to get [other property useful to the

USNM!. Martin would come down when we would get a

shipment; we would get the trashiest stuff sometimes, costume

jewelry and all kinds of junk, and he would just take it all.

The Shepard Diamond [NMNH G3406] is currently on display; it is an intense fancy yellow, and weighs 18.3 carats.

Paul Desautels commented on these confiscations: "Many of the incredible mineral specimens I acquired from Martin Ehrmann were covered by exchanging junk jewelry from customs scizures, and Vartanian was the middle man for disposing of the stuff in the insatiable New York market." Annani Nercessian (Levon's sister) still has gold jewelry given to her by her father, Paulo, who purchased many of the confiscated pieces from Nish Vartanian, for use as family gifts.

It is difficult to see any losers in these arrangements, unless they are the smugglers; but this unusual bit of bureaucratic serendipity has now been terminated.


In July, 1967, an East African tailor-cum-prospector named Manuel d'Souza pegged some claims about 65 km southeast of Arusha, Tanzania, for what appeared to be bluish brown sapphires. In September of 1967 the firm of Gebruder Bank, Idar-Oberstein, got their first samples of an unknown gem from a "Mr. Wolff"; the stones were labeled as possibly iolite or dumortierite. Hermann Bank and Professor Waldemar Berdesinski of the University of Heidelberg identified them as zoisite. A trial lot was heated, which turned "the nicest blue." The Gebruder Bank firm got a new shipment of about a kilo in October. They then sold some cut stones to Edward Gobelin, and had sold their first stones in the U.S. by November, 1967. Hyman Saul, Assistant to the President of Saks Fifth Avenue, brought the new crystals to the New York offices of the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) in late 1967 or perhaps very early 1968, having seen them in the Nairobi offices of his son, John Saul, who was a shareholder in one of the three major tanzanite mines before they were nationalized. By this time, John had already sent blue zoisite to Gebruder Bank, and perhaps to others as well. Hyman showed them to G. Robert Crowningshield of the GIA, and the GIA had at least one crystal cut; later Hyman gave a number of crystals to the GIA staff.

Although John Saul already had a solid friendship with Martin, Hyman Saul first met him about the time he (Hyman) received the first sizable lot of tanzanite crystals. This meeting took place about 8:30 one morning in front of the main entrance to Saks. Martin had been waiting for Hyman, and the Saks dooftnan was obliged to make the introductions. Martin offered to buy the entire lot of crystals for $5,000, but Hyman dectined the offer, electing instead to take them directly to Nish Vartanian. Vartanian & Sons offices were still at 608 Fifth Avenue, not far from Saks, and this visit is confirmed by Dennis Sullivan. According to Hyman and John, "a very fine early lot of zoisite" was ruined by improper controls of the heating procedure, although many of the early crystals required no heat treatment. Before the new gem became widely known, Nish would keep a very large and beautiful faceted tanzanite on his desk; Dennis says that when visiting traders saw this lovely sapphire-blue stone they would ask: "How much?" to which Nish would respond "$80 a carat." "Is it real?" the visitor would ask incredulously. "Yes, it's real." "Then I'll take it! It's mine!" "Congratulations, you've just purchased one of the finest zoisites I have." "A what?" And the game went on.

Hyman Saul very early on brought tanzanite crystals to the USNM; he believes he was the first to do so. George Switzer reports, however, that his first encounter with the new gem was when Campbell Bridges brought a half-inch, slightly waterwom, beautifully trichroic crystat to the USNM; Bridges had already shown the crystal to Crowingshield, who had verified it as zoisite. Paul Desautels said:

I had already seen and identified a thumbnail-size piece brought

to the Museum by a South African whose name escapes me at

the moment (he later married a U.S. girl and moved to the

States into the gem business). Then suddenly Martin showed up

in my office with a large packet of incredible crystals and

pieces. I leaned on him to have the biggest and best piece cut

into a stone for the Museum. That's how the second largest

(122.7 carats) cut gem came into the collection. It cost $60 per

carat--maybe the best bargain I ever got. At the same time I

acquired two super crystals from him, one of which was on

display in the gem hall (maybe still is). That's all I got of that lot

because I couldn't afford more. Later I got additional specimens

from John Saul by trade.

The "South African" was the East African Campbell Bridges, who had just seen Switzer, and who indeed married a "tall bionde beauty from Illinois, who was my fiancee when we visited the Smithsonian," as Bridges told us recently. They continue to reside in Nairobi, not the United States. Fortuitously, Dick Bideaux was a witness to this exciting encounter.

The lot of crystals, including the two supers," had come to Martin from John Saul (part directly, and part through Hyman); this lot was tumed over to Paul by Dennis Sullivan, following Nish's instructions when he left for lunch. Paul's enthusiasm left a lasting impression on the young Dennis when the famous curator cried out "Look at this trichroism!"

The "second largest (122.7 carats)" gem (NMNH G4876) is shown in Paul's book (Desautels, 1970). Martin had this cut in Idar Oberstein. Incidentally, Smithsonian records show that G4876 was received in an exchange with Walt Lidstrom; Jeffrey Post of the Smithsonian says that "Mr. Ehrmann had something we wanted, Mr. Ehrmann owed Mr. Lidstrom, and we had something Mr. Lidst;om wanted." One of the "two super crystals" is photographed from two different angles in John White's book (1991). This magnificent crystal (NMNH 145148) is also pictured (and very appropriately) in Bancroft's The World's Finest Minerals and Crystals (1973).

Unfortunately, although Martin later handled many more thousands of carats of tanzanite, we have been unable to determine precisely where he obtained the majofity of his crystals. Dennis Sullivan, Hyman Saul and Hennann Bank disclaim any knowledge of his sources. John Saul says that after the one "incredible" packet, the only tanzanite that Martin got from him were some rejects that Martin recognized in Nairobi as having cat's eye potential; one 18.2-carat stone from this lot is now NMNH G4584. Campbell Bridges says "I vaguely recall that he obtained, at reasonable prices, a large quantity of rough tanzanite from either a German source connected with Ali Juyawati and/or the Wolffs." If this is the same person mentioned by Hermann Bank,(it would seem useful to get to know Herr Wolff better.

Hyman Saul took some zoisite crystals and fragments to Walter Hoving, president of Tiffany and Company, who sent him to Henry B. Platt, a vice-president and their chief gem buyer. Platt studied the packet for several days, and then decided to move forward with the new gem, which he christened "tanzanite," because "zoisite" sounded too much like "suicide." It was Tiffany's assiduous marketing that popularized the new name, as opposed to zoisite," or as in another proposal, (tanjeloffite" (Zara, 1970 or 1971). Tiffany's hired Campbell Bridges as consulting geologist; the fiffn got most of their tanzanite from Gebruder Bank. Tiffany's demand was so great, however, that they also bought some cut stones from Martin, through Vartanian Sons.

The Famous Twenty-five

The Sansom-Vaux family of Philadelphia was the greatest dynasty of minerat collectors in American history, probably surpassing even the Canfield-dickerson family of New Jersey. Joseph Sansom (1767-1826) assembled one of the earliest collections in America; it was later given to Haverford College. His nephew, William Sansom Vaux (1811-1882), built a truly magnificent collection; "for a long time it was the finest collection of minerals in the United States, and it was only surpassed, later, by the Bement Collection" (Canfield, 1990). Watching this collection grow captured the imagination of William's nephew George, son of his brother George. (William's brother was actually the eighth Vaux to bear the name George, but late in his life he was often referred to as "Senior," and we shall do so here. Unfortunately William died just as his nephew was entering Haverford College, so, quoting George Vaux III, "perhaps concemed as to whether his [George Jr.] youthful enthusiasms would continue, he adopted the device of leaving twenty-five specimens to his brother [George Senior]. I assume the selection was made by the two Georges." The remainder of this wonderful collection was left to the Philadelphia Academy of Natural Sciences. The consequences of this bequest were too painful to bear repetition here, but the fate of the 25 given to George Sr. was much happier.

George Jr.'s collection had been well-started before his uncle's death and, as it continued to grow, it remained housed in George Sr.'s residence on Arch Street, in Philadelphia, even after George Jr. moved in 1910 to Bryn Mawr. In 1912 George Sr. sold his Philadelphia home and moved to his "summer house" in Bryn Mawr, next door to which George Jr. had built his new home. George III suspects that George Sr.'s move was the occasion for all of George Jr.'s collection to move to a specially built wing of his new home, and also when the 25 specimens from William Vaux were installed there in their own case. This was a small, upright, glass-fronted cabinet with a wooden shutter. Juliet Reed recalls visits to the Vaux house in the mid- 1950's, where "the proustites glowed in the setting sun." Many other important facts, as well as interesting details about George Vaux, Jr., can be found in Sam Gordon's memorial (Gordon, 1928); a more recent article on George Jr. was published in Matrix (Lininger, 1991).

After George Vaux, Jr. died in 1927, all of his collection was left to his sons, George III and Henry James, but the collection remained in George Jr.'s home in Bryn Mawr. When his widow died in 1958 the sons elected to sell their mother's home to Bryn Mawr College. They also decided to give their father's collection to the College, because it had "a bang-up geology department," and because the school agreed to yield the collection to the USNM (which had displayed a vivid interest in it), should the department ever be abolished. But the heart of George Vaux Jr.'s collection, the originally selected 25 from the William S. Vaux Collection, were again excluded from the gift, and remained in the possession of the brothers. We have nominated the cognomen the "Famous 25" for these ancient specimens.

George Vaux III had known Martin for many years. They had met in the 1930s while George III worked as a volunteer assistant to Sam Gordon (who had been originally hired by George Junior). In 1958, after the death of their father, the sons had had Martin appraise the collection that was to be given to Bryn Mawr, so it was natural that George III would tum to Martin for disposition of the Famous 25. Martin had certainly seen them in their setting in George Jr.'s home, and on one occasion he called on George III (and the Famous 25!) with George Switzer. George III says "My brother Henry and I decided that these ought to be in public collections of note, so we thought Martin was the most reliable party to carry this out."

In a letter from Martin to George, dated June 2, 1967, Martin confirmed his verbal offer to George of $18,000 for the "twenty-eight mineral specimens in which I am interested." Twenty-eight? No, 25 is correct; both the 1882 William Vaux will (of which we have a copy) and the 1958 gift to Bryn Mawr specify "twenty-five" as the excluded number. Mr. Vaux explains the three interlopers as follows: whenever the family departed the Vaux residence for extended periods, the Famous 25 were placed in a specially compartmented box, and this box was placed in a secure vault. Over the years three other specimens had sneaked into the box. probably because they wished to share in the reflected Iorx, of the Famous 25. We also believe that several of the oril,inal 25 were replaced during the ensuing 85 years. Unfortunately, in his bid, Martin names (very cursorily) only 20 of these 28 specimens.

Martin's letter candidly described his motivation in purchasing the Famous 25: "I would very much like to have the prestige of handling these specimens; the monetary gain is of little importance to me at this point." (Martin was almost 63 vears old "at this point.") Martin went on to say that the Famous 25 could be appraised "at about $9,000 for the cost of the specimens as of the date when you received them from your father." This presumably means 1927, when George Jr. died. George III says that the terms which were finally agreed to were essentially those spelled out in Martin's letter. Martin closed his letter with an emotional sentence: "I assure you again that I will consider it the crowning glory of my career to have the opportunity of handling your collection."

George III searched his family records for some time without success, attempting to find for us a specification of the Famous 25; finally he thought to look in the basement vault. There he found a small wooden cabinet with trays; this was the container in which the specimens were placed when they were to be stored in the vault. At the bottom of this antique, under the lowest tray, he found a variety of aged documents, including an envelope labeled "the 25"; in this envelope were several papers of which the most important is the list of twenty-five specimens chosen by George Sr. and George Jr., under the terms of William's will. This list is on legal-size paper, with the printed heading "Geo. Vaux, executor of Wm S. Vaux, dec'd." Here is the list, as hand-written:
   (1) Broad crystal [sic] of proustites                     $150
   (2) Cross of proustites                                   $125
   (3) Large mass of proustite                              $1100
   (4) Group of bright scalenohedrons [proustites]            275
   (5) Fine single crystal [proustite]                        150
   (6) Group of dull crystals [proustites]                    550
   (7) Group of yellow anatase Switz                          100
   (8) Rutilated quartz                                       300
   (9) Large topaz                                            500
  (10) Gold group                                             200
  (11) " "                                                    125
  (12) Yellow modified beryl                                  125
  (13) Epidote                                                100
  (14) Epidote                                                 85
  (15) Emerald N.C.                                           450
  (16) Beryl xl on matrix                                     750
  (17) Rubellite                                               50
  (18) Topas [sic] in leather case                            150
  (19) Andreasberg Apophyllite                                100
  (20) Network Gold                                            50
  (21) Tysons Gold xx                                          50
  (22) Atacamite                                               75
  (23) Crystal Rutilated Quartz                               150
  (24) Dioptase                                               200
  (25) Argentite                                              200

The dollar figures assigned to each specimen are presumably estimates of their then-current (1882) values; they are certainly not, in every case, the cost to William Vaux. We believe this because the tray in which "the 25" envelope was contained also held an invoice for eight proustites, and it is virtually impossible to equate the dollar value of the six on William's list with any of the prices on the invoice. Also, we believe that the cost of specimens to William was not always known to other family members, as exemplified by this account from George III, about a specimen that we believe to be #16:

Wm. S. Vaux was on one of his European trips and was

visiting Russia. He was widely known all over as a collector,

and he was sought out by some Russians who had this

specimen for sale. The price they wanted was outrageous (at

least for that time). I have forgotten the figure which my father

used to quote in telling the story. Wm. Vaux refused. The men

followed him all over Europe trying to entice him. They

showed up on the pier as he was embarking on the ship to

return, and at the gangplank he finally bought it, but would

never disclose what he had paid.

Martin's letter to George III says of the 28 specimens: "the outstanding ones of greater value are the four proustites (the best ones of the eight), two golds [presumably #10 and #11] two epidote groups [#13 and #14, both from Untersulzbachtal], one emerald from North Carolina [#151, and perhaps the beryl if it isn't repaired too badly [#16, William's folly]." Among the "lower value group" Martin includes two extra epidotes, so his 28 include at least four pieces, including two proustites, that are not on the 1882 list; to make room for these four, at least one of the Famous 25 had to have drifted away. Speaking of the proustites, George III tells us that:

Dr. L. J. R. Spencer, the celebrated keeper of Minerals at the

British Museum [Natural History] came to see the collection

while on a visit to this country. It was in the summer, and the 25

had been put away in their case in the vault. My father therefore

had to get them out. Spencer nearly had a fit. "You don't

actually handle those, do you?" he asked. The proustites, of

course, were better than anything they had at the British


We have every reason to believe that Martin executed the heir's instruction to distribute the specimens to "public collections of note." In late 1967 and 1968 three great U.S. museums made purchases from Martin that consisted, wholly or in part, of the Famous 25 specimens; the institutions were the Smithsonian, the American Museum of Natural History, and the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. Noticeable absentees from this list are the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia, and Harvard University. There is no positive evidence to explain these omissions, but the course of custodianship at Philadelphia had been established long before the late 1960's, and Martin could not have failed to know of the Academy's dereliction. We speculate that at Harvard the only man really qualified to deal with specimen mineralogy, Clifford Frondel, was swamped by the efforts required to complete the third volume of Dana's System, 7th Edition (a one-man-show), while at the same time he was a Principal Investigator of the Apollo moon rocks, which had only recently arrived on Mother Earth.

Here is the list of acquisitions made by the three fortunate institutions. We have associated with many of these pieces specimen numbers assigned on the 1882 list, but these assignments are our attributions only.

USNM: November, 1967; (billed for $12,750 in December, 1967)

Four Chaharcillo proustites, selected from #1-#6 (NMNH 121828-121831)

Two Untersulzbachtal epidotes, #13, #14

One North Carolina emerald (eight inches long), probably #15

Two golds, presumably #10 and #11

AMNH: January 10, 1968 and August 8, 1968

Chanarcillo proustite (AMNH 37096, $2,750)

Andreasberg apophyllite, #19 ($200)

Walleroo atacamite, #22 ($750)

Golden Beryl, Mursinsk, #12 ($150)

Chanarcillo proustite (AMNH 37556, $1,500)

Hiddenite, NC, Emerald, probably post-1882 ($750)

Beryl, Siberia, probably #16 ($1,500)

NHMLAC: early 1968

One Chanarcillo proustite

Two Russian blue topazes, one large, one small (#9, #18)

One Russian platinum nugget

One Russian dioptase (#24)

One Swiss anatase (#7)

One crystallized Oregon gold (probably #20 or #21)

One Vermont rutilated quartz (#8)

One of these institutions got one of the two extra proustites, and NHMLAC got a "new" platinum nugget. In the "lower value group" Martin also mentioned the rubellite (#17), the apophyllite (#19), anatase (#7), and the rutilated quartz, presumably #8. If we assume that NHMLAC's platinum nugget was in Martin's 28, the breakout of the Famous 25 is:

Famous 25 of 1882 + (two more proustites, two more epidotes, one platinum nugget, one NC emerald) - (one gold, one rutilated quartz, one argentite) = 28 specimens. (This is not the only possible solution to the Famous 25 problem; there is insufficient information to provide a unique solution.) The equation can be interpreted as follows: the two Georges got 25 specimens in 1882; George Jr. added six and removed three, so Martin got 28. The 24 specimens going to the three museums leave four of Martin's 28 unaccounted for: two new epidotes and one of the eight proustites, and the little rubellite from the original Famous 25. We have no idea where they went, nor do we know the destination of the missing gold, the extra rutilated quartz, nor the argentite that apparently departed earlier. In any event, 21 of the Famous 25 can be accounted for today.

In 1987 NHMLAC exchanged their enorrnous rutilated quartz from Waterbury, Vennont (whose exact mate is in a private Boston collection), for the Pala Chief kunzite at Harvard, described earlier in this article. Thus we have an Ehrmann 1931)-for-ehnnann (1968) exchange, retuming these very significant specimens to their homes in New England and Califomia, 56 years after the first move. One of the USNM golds from the Famous 25 was later traded to Bill Larson; this Califomia gold is now in the David Eidahl estate. One of the AMNH Chafiarcillo proustites (AMNH 37096) was sold to the Perkins Sams collection via Paul Desautels; this disposition was made in late 1979 or early 1980, when the Museum was raising 185,000 by deaccessioning 16 minerals and one gem to help pay the half-million dollar cost of acquiring the Columbia University Collection. For this $2,750 specimen, now 4432 at the Houston Museum of Natural Science, Sams paid $30,000. Even though 12 years had passed, prices had not gone up cleven times over; Martin's original price to the AMNH was concessionary, in keeping with the spirit of George Vaux's release. (Unfortunately AMNH 37556, which remained at the AMNH, was later broken; fortunately, it was well repaired.

The purchase and distribution of the Famous 25 was one of Martin's truly great transactions; eight Chafiarcillo proustites is probably more than most dealers get to handle in their entire lives, let alone in one acquisition.

Last Years

As far as we can tell, the tanzanite transactions and the dispersal of the Famous 25 were the gemological and mineralogical highlights of Martin's last years, although he almost certainly continued to buy, sell and donate mineral specimens into his last few months. For example, in 1968 he acquired, apparently in competition with several others, the small but excellent mineral collection of Arch Oboler, the radio, movie and television writer/producer of such programs as Itinner Sanctum and The Shadow. (We have already noted that Oboler had written a sketch of Martin.) Oboler had been building an extension onto his home, to house his growing mineral collection. Heavy rains flooded the excavation and his daughter accidentally fell in and drowned. After that tragedy, Oboler lost interest in collecting minerals. Martin sold much of Oboler's collection to Walt Lidstrom, and also supplied Walt with many other specimens. It is plausible that Martin was responsible, at least in part, for Lidstrom's rapid ascent from an Oregon agate dealer to one of the pre-eminent dealers of classic mineral specimens in the 1960's.

In 1971, through his agent Levon Nercessian, Martin almost certainly acquired the bulk of the great elbaite find at the Cruzeiro mine in Minas Gerais. Among his papers was found photographs of a number of these specimens, including the original of the Lapidary Journal cover of January, 1972. As late as January, 1972, Martin was still crossing oceans in pursuit of specimens, because that is when

Werner Lieber encountered him on a flight from Zagreb to Frankfurt. Martin was traveling first-class, whereas Lieber, "as a poor chemist," A as in coach, so their only chance to talk was in the Frankfurt airport. Martin was returning from Tsumeb, and on his way to Idar-Oberstein; Lieber was returning to Heidelberg. We know of no later overseas trip by Martin.

Martin had always been a heavy smoker, and at least by early 1972 he had developed lung cancer. Probably at a point when he saw time running out, he began a set of autobiographical papers; he prepared an outline of "My Life with Gems and Minerals," proposing to include 21 chapters. Only the first six were completed, and these primarily dealt with Burma. The next 15 chapters were intended to cover such topics as the Kunz Collection, the delong Star, the Calvert Collection, Minas Gerais, and strategic tounnalines. Of extreme interest, because we know little or nothing of his involvement in these topics, were the proposed chapters on Ceylon, the Dresden Green Vault and the Baldauf Collection, Mexican opals, Russia, the Deepdene Diamond (yellow, 104.89 carats), Bolivia and Colombia, and Australia. (Just think how long this article might have been, had the details of these topics been available!) Finally, there is the provocative outline for Chapter 18, "The Crown Jewels of Iran" that was discussed earlier.

It was characteristic of Martin's outgoing nature that in the six chapters he completed., he "wasted" much effort on describing the land, people, geology and history of Burina, instead of concentrating on what he, Martin Ehnnann, was doing. It is probably true that the unwritten chapters of his "autobiography" would have been equally generous to topics other than the author. Martin had little reason to think ill of himself, but he loved the world, and could never abandon his fascination with it.

Capt. Sinkankas tells us of Martin near the end.

My last visit to Martin was in his apartment in Los Angeles

where he entertained a group of friends only months before his

death. The pallor of death was upon his face, but his eyes

retained their sparkle, and his voice remained firm, and the

bravery I mentioned before enabled him to carry on conversation

and exchange anecdotes as if many years were left to him.

The last non-family member to see Martin was George Switzer. His illness came to its inevitable conclusion when Martin died on May 22, 1972.

Final Words

We hope that readers who knew Martin may be able to fit the preceding paragraphs into their private memories of him. But for those who never met him and have, until now, heard little or nothing about him, it may be useful to share our picture of Martin, with a few more illustrations of his character and personality. We do not offer this as a universal assessment, but simply as the view of Martin as seen by someone who knew him only in the last two decades of his life, modified by the testimony of many others.

Martin's generosity was so thorough-going that it was a constant source of concem to Rita, who kept his books. He never flaunted money, but he would not let money stand between friends and a convivial meal. He was famous for the open-door parties that he held in a rented suite at the annual Geological Society of America/ Mineralogical Society of America meetings, where all mineral-lovers were welcome. Like many another impoverished graduate student, Art Boucot recalls that he "sometimes freeloaded at the elegant parties he threw during the annual meeting" of the MSA. Nor was Martin's generosity confined to the festive board. Louis Moyd recalls that "Martin was gregarious, considerate and endearing. He helped relatives, friends and acquaintances by recognizing their special needs and doing all within his means, and sometimes even beyond them. Through his wide acquaintanceship, he was able to find jobs for those who needed them (and this in Depression times). He brought people together who could be of help to each other in scientific or business matters," and further, "if a client had misinterpreted the tenns of a deal, and Martin would stand to lose by completing it, he would still go ahead."

Bob Cook provides this characteristic story: while Bob was a student at the Colorado School of Mines in Golden, he had become friendly with Gordon Nedblake, the owner of the Prospector's Store in nearby Idaho Springs. Bob's habit was to visit Nedblake every other Saturday; on one such visit in 1965 or 1966 Nedblake showed him two lots of rhodochrosite, one from the Sweet Home mine, the other from the Sunnyside mine. The quality of each lot was superb to the point of magnificence; Bob said that they would "knock your eyes out!" at last Bob had found specimens of the quality worth a call to Paul Desautels. Although Paul was extremely interested he was obligated to the Pasadena Show; so he proposed sending Martin to act as the Museum's factotum. Bob ferried Martin from Stapleton Airport to Nedblake's store, where Martin was shown both lots: around 20 Alma pieces including two "huge" ones, the other about 20 or 30 Sunnyside pieces. Martin quickly rejected Nedblake's price of $5,000 for the two largest Alma specimens (and he made no counter offer), but he immediately purchased all the Sunnyside specimens for $2,500. On the retum drive to Stapleton, Martin displayed his pleasure with this transaction by peeling off five $50 bills, and giving them to Bob. (Later Nedblake displayed his pleasure by insisting that Bob accept another 10% of the sale price, so now everyone was pleased.)

But Martin was no plaster saint. Charlie Key relishes the memory of his first meeting with Martin, in Paul Desautels' office about 1968 1970, an encounter where John White was also present. Key and Rick Smith were alleged to have boasted that they were "the new Martin Ehrmanns," though they deny ever having said this. Charlie says, "I was in my usual open-collared shirt when Martin walked in, looked at me (for the first time), and said `at last I have met my nemesis!', and he took a handful of my chest hair and twisted it." John White believes that the aspirations of Key and Smith (expressed through activities) spuffed Martin to new heights of mineral marketing.

The essential feature of Martin's character was that he was a lover. He did not merely deal in gems and minerals. They were not for him only a way to make a living, they were objects of affection, and he loved them. But even more than the beautiful stones, he lovmd people; not just "his kind" of people, but all worthy people. There were Burmese miners and Ceylonese traders that he regarded with fondness; he had permanent and deep friendships with Spaniards, Brazilians, South Africans, and Chinese; he was fascinated by the working miners in many lands, and he counted as friends many of the great professional mineralogists. But beyond the specimens, and even beyond people, Martin loved life. We know that if Martin had had the chance to visit, for instance, the Afghanistan that the collecting world now knows, he would have shared with us not only the treasures he found there., but also the history, the people and their manifold ways, the geography, the food, the geology, everything. He would not force these fascinations on you--he was not a bore--but if the conversational path led that way, you would have soon leamed that there is a lot more to Afghanistan than tourmalines, camels, and Kalashnikovs.

Martin enjoyed sharing with others both his love for minerals and for life. We have seen him on extended trips with Vic Meen, and with George Switzer. During his 1962 visits with Martin in Paris, Dick Bideaux was invited to accompany Martin to Tsumeb. In 1966 Martin borrowed Leo Bodenstein's car in Munich and took Dennis Sullivan to Hannover, Dr. Schilly in Bonn, Dr. Niel in Cologne, Humboldt University, Berlin (where they had dinner with Dr. and Frau Strunz and their daughter and son), Leipzig, Dresden, Prague and Bmo. In 1967 he conducted John White, then at the USNM, on a tour including London, Munich, Vienna, Budapest, Szeged, Spittal, Bologna, Zurich, East Berlin (including dinner with Hugo Strunz again), Dresden, Hagendorf and doubtless many other places. (Behind the Iron Curtain this trip was represented as a "lecture tour," and Martin's specimens, including benitoite and newly descfibed tellurites and tellurates, were "samples" for the "lectures." Other "samples" included cigarettes, nylon stockings, etc.).

Martin's travels were a demonstration of his eclectic love of life. He was fully prepared to travel anywhere, by any means, and live under any conditions, to search out gems and minerals. He frequented locales whose sanitary facilities were non-existent, were not worthy of the name, were worse than useless, but no matter, he got on with the job. When he could live well, however, he did so. In Europe he stayed at the finer hotels; and why should he not, since he had spent so much time in hotel-less towns like Mogok? And speaking of hotels, Piefte Bariand says: "When Martin was in Paris he always stayed at the Hotel Lutetia. [Dick Bideaux met Martin here in 1962.] In later years, Martin's room was always flooded with roses, sent by a collector named Fraenkel; I saw dozens of very expensive dark red roses in the room around 1970 or 1971. Martin told me, `If I was a girl, I could understand [the roses], but for an old man, it is very funny.'"

Sinkankas recalls other Ehrinann trademarks: "dressing impeccably, always traveling first-class, and cating at the best establishments, one of his favorites in Washington, DC being the kosher restaurant, Duke Ziebert's," and also, "no waiter or usher ever put him behind a pillar!"

These pictures of Martin are accurate; he was both adaptable and cosmopolitan, both democratic and possessed of Old-world manners, both personable and honest. In the pursuit of great specimens he was both unrelenting and thoughtful, both energetic and gentle. He was gregarious, egalitarian, and unprejudiced. (It is remarkable how generally free of prejudice the gem and mineral business seems to be; there must be an interesting essay here.

He certainly was well-spoken; possibly this might sometimes have been called glibness. Perhaps also on the negative side, he was unreflective, and unscientific. He was sometimes cavalier with the historical record and, to us, his biographers, he was careless of documentation. He is reported to have applied "Doctor" to his name while on some European travels. We suppose this scholarly distinction was adopted to render his "lecture tours" behind the Iron Curtain more plausible.

He was an honorable man, though his work led him to encounter those whom greed had corrupted. He lived by a maxim of Giorgio Strehler, the Milanese director: "it's better to be cheated than to cheat others." He intended to live life to the fullest, and he did. He intended to leave his family well provided for, and happy, and he did. He intended to bring pleasure, beauty, fun and profit to all he worked with, and he did. Finally, he intended to enrich the great U.S. mineral institutions, and he did that in spades! The USNM cuffently holds at least 499 minerals specimens, 25 gems, and one meteorite that came from Martin, mostly by exchange; NHMLAC purchased more than 500 specimens from Martin, and he donated some specimens to them also. A mineral museum can hardly be called "great" if it has no specimens acquired through Martin Ehffnann.

Let us end with a John Sinkankas quotation:

While it is customary to eulogize someone after his death, we

all knew while Martin was in his prime that here was one of the

most remarkable of all collector-salesmen, a man who lived on

his wits, displayed utmost bravery, followed up leads assiduously,

and to top it all off, was scrupulously honest.


Many people have encouraged us to do a biography of Martin, but the main impetus for this article came, independently, from three successive curators at the U.S. National Museum: George Switzer, the late Paul Desautels, and John White. Without their strong and continuing support this account could not have been written. The cuffent staff at the USNM has supported this impetus by providing much exact data on Martin's prolonged dealings with the Museum.

The Ehrmann family, directly through Martin's sons Sanford and Herbert, and indirectly from Rita and Martin's nephew Leo Bodenstein, were absolutely essential to much of this history.

Many others contributed to Martin's story; some contributions were very large, and others smaller, but all helped fill in a rapidly fading picture. We believe that the mineralogical and gemological communities owe a debt of gratitude to all those whose names follow: Bemard Amster; Peter Bancroft; Hermann Bank; Pierre Bariand of the Sorbonne; F. John Barlow; Joet Bartsch of the Houston Museum of Natural Science; Dick Bideaux; Arthur Boucot; Campbell Bridges; Roy Clarke, Russell Feather, Paul Pohwat, and Jeffrey Post of the USNM; Larry Conklin; Robert Cook; Carole deford of the Cranbrook Institute; Dona Dirlam and Karen Stark of the GIA; William Foshag, Jr.; Carl Francis, Clifford Frondel and Bill Metropolis of Harvard; Si Frazier; Robert Gait and Joseph Mandarino of the Royal Ontario Museum; Kerith and Cal Graeber; Robert Jones, Anthony Kampf of the Naturat History Museum of Los Angeles County; Charies Key; Bill Larson; Luis Leite; Werner Lieber; Gus Meister; Arthur Montgomery; Pauline and Louis Moyd; An-nani Nercessian; Levon Nercessian; Gerhard Niedermayr of the Natural History Museum, Vienna; Louis Perloff; Joseph Peters and William Zeek of the American Museum of Natural History; William Pinch; Frederick Pough; Juliet Reed; Hyman Saul; John Saul; Eugene Schlepp; John Sinkankas; Dennis Sullivan; Jack Jago Trelawney; George Vaux, III; and David P. Wilber.

Wendell Wilson is the epitome of the supportive editor.

Although we have had the help of many people, the writers are solely responsible for all errors of fact, as well as for all eccentricities of opinion. We would be delighted to receive any corrections or additions to this account, and we shall in,,ure that any such communications are, at the very least, preserved with our Ehr-mann files.


(1) This chronology is in conflict with Bentley (1979) which puts Yedlin in Maine in 1937, and Bentley's quotation of Louis Perloff "Neal Moved to Maine in the late 1930's." When questioned about the potential discrepancy, Perloff responded, "Neal Yedlin did indeed work with Martin Ehrmann on the Calvert collection. What I ought to have written about moving to Maine was that it was about the very late 1930's. It may even have been a year past the 1930's when Neal and his father moved to Halliwell, Maine. I know that he was living in Maine when he went into the Air Force in 1942, about the time I went into the Army." (2) Supreme Headquarters, Allied Expeditionary Force, General Eisenhower's command in Western Europe.


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Title Annotation:mineral dealer and collector
Author:Smith, Bill; Smith, Carol
Publication:The Mineralogical Record
Article Type:Biography
Date:Sep 1, 1994
Previous Article:The Orford nickel mine: Quebec, Canada.
Next Article:Minerals from the Topeka-Kentucky Giant and Indiana veins, Ouray County, Colorado.

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