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The mines and minerals of Chester County, Pennsylvania.

by Ronald A. Sloto. Self-published (2009) by Ronald A. Sloto. Softcover, 8.5 X 11 inches, 512 pages. Price $35, plus $5 shipping; order from Ron Sloto, P.O. Box 13, St. Peters, Pennsylvania 19470, or on

To quote from the Introduction to this impressive, massively researched new book, "Chester County has a rich mining and mineral history that spans more than two centuries ... Historical information on Chester County mines and minerals is scattered [in] books, reports, journals, newsletters, and newspaper reports, many of which are now obscure. This book collects the historical information into a single source that documents Chester County's rich mining and mineral heritage."

Yes indeed: more than 400 mines and mineral localities in Chester County are treated in summaries whose lengths range from single short paragraphs to complete "articles" of more than 10 pages. Accompanying the summaries in most cases are (old) photographs of the mines in their working heydays and (newer) photographs of their dumps and remaining structures. Also scattered abundantly throughout the book are topographic maps on which the exact sites of the localities are pinpointed; pictures of old mining stock certificates and other (eminently collectible) documents and artifacts: old-time photos of picturesque towns near the mines; snapshots of field-trippers combing the dumps during times stretching well back into the 1800s; line drawings of orebodies, quarry layouts and mine plans; and hundreds of photos of mineral specimens from diverse private and public collections, some of these being specimens which came out of the ground 200 years ago. Mr. Sloto does not credit most of the specimen photos; presumably they are his own.

The "visuals" just mentioned are all in black-and-white, but wait! there is also a central portfolio of sixteen color plates showing mineral specimens from Chester County. Although these photographs, and the specimens which are their subjects, vary considerably in quality, some of the best of the latter are truly superb--the pyromorphites. anglesites, cerussites and wulfenites from Phoenixville, the pyrites and chalcopyrites from French Creek, the rutile from Parkesburg, such as the apatite-(CaF) from Cornog--while others are quite surprising, even to this Pennsylvania native, e.g. amethysts from the Painter Farm, microclines from the Poorhouse quarry, clinochlore variety kammererite from the Scott mine, and others.

Near the end of the hook, extensive appendices offer cross-referenced lists of localities and of the mineral species occuring in them. In the Bibliography I counted 710 titles, including selections from travelers' journals back to 1788 (the earliest date I saw), technical and hobbyists' articles, newspaper features, letters, industrial reports, and writings of varied kinds by Pennsylvania-minerals luminaries including Charles Wheatley, W. W. Jefferis, Samuel Gordon, Arthur Montgomery ... and Sloto himself, author of the Mineralogical Record's article on the Phoenixville mines (September-October 1989) and co-author of the article on the French Creek mines (March-April 1994).

This self-published, labor-of-love book shows very clearly the author's devotion to Chester County minerals, and more importantly it shows why this geologically complex, richly mineralized corner of southeastern Pennsylvania has what it takes to attract such devotion. Some of the "localities" in the book are simple limestone quarries, kaolin mines, and the like, and Sloto, while describing them faithfully, admits that they never produced any notable mineral specimens: they're here because their histories needed recording. On the other hand, the Phoenixville lead mine and the French Creek iron mine are famous, on at least a national scale, for their wonderful mineral specimens, and you will not find reader-friendlier accounts of these mines anywhere else (save perhaps in Sloto's own articles on them in our magazine). More likely to "educate" most readers are the sections on lesser-known but still mineralogically very interesting places, e.g. the Keystone Trappe Rock quarry at Cornog (exquisite small specimens of Alpine-type cleft minerals), Brinton's quarry at Darlington's Corners (the world's best large clinochlore crystals), the Poorhouse quarry, West Bradford Township (excellent microcline), Corundum Hill, Newlin Township (good corundum and superb diaspore crystals), the fields around Parkesburg where line rutile crystals may still be found loose in the soil. If this list includes places you've never heard of, the book demonstrates that it's about time you did hear of and learn about them.

Just two years ago, a Utah dealer offered a small stash of specimens from Cornog, where the Alpine-type clefts yielded specimens only during the 1950s and 1960s, and where all quarrying ceased in 1968. If you saw these distinctive and pretty "adularia/byssolite" specimens at the time and (being a non-Pennsylvanian) wondered about their source, well, you can now read a fine account of that source, complete with a thrilling collecting story. In the end, all minerals, like all politics, may be called "local," and so we should always welcome good "local" mineralogies onto our library shelves, wherever it is that we ourselves call home. While not one of the splashiest or most expensive, this is one of the best such mineralogies/histories to have come along in a while.
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Author:Moore, Tom
Publication:The Mineralogical Record
Article Type:Book review
Date:May 1, 2010
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