Investigation into the Origin of a Boxed Victorian Mineral Collection

Written by John Cooke, Mineral Enthusiast and Part-Time Volunteer Curator

The Collection and its Origins

Recently, I had the opportunity to purchase a Victorian boxed collection of minerals comprising six mahogany trays with approximately 45 specimens per tray, making a total of 270 specimens. The box is of a mahogany construction with sturdy gilt-plated handles and has been modified to open downwards so that the trays may be accessed horizontally. The dimensions are 355 x 250 x 240 mm (or 14 x 10 x 9.5 inches post Brexit). See Fig 1 and 2.

There is a sheet pasted to the base of one of the wooden trays which appears to be an invoice but the majority of the information has been obliterated with India ink in order to conceal many of the personal details. The invoice date is discernible and suggests it was issued in 1847. The information that is available indicates that the recipient was a ‘Reverend Edward…?’ (surname concealed), and the last line of the address appears to be “Cornwall”. In the collection, some specimens are enclosed in small pill boxes, one of which has a printed label stating “Parr’s Life Pills” (available from the 1830s) and on the invoice is a partial stamp with the letters “RAMPTO” in a curved arrangement. Comparing with examples on the internet, this would suggest that the label is actually “FRAMPTONS” who supplied Frampton’s Pills of Health (available from at least 1843).

The Victorian mahogany box with gilt-plated handles. © John Cooke.

The majority of the specimens would indicate an origin from the South West with suites of specimens including Babel quartz from the Tamar Mines, quartz/apatite from Colcerrow, chalcedony from Wheal Mary Ann, Orthoclase from Wheal Coates, Lizard serpentines, Bovey Tracy tourmalines, fluorites from Wheal Mary Ann and Trevaunance, classic dolomite replacing calcite from Bere Alston, small Lady’s Slipper, Wheal Alfred pyromorphites, Wheal Unity mimetites and the usual vast array of metallic ores.

So was the collection owned or assembled by a vicar (evidently concerned with his health) who was located at that time (1847) in the South West? If any reader, especially those from the South-West area, is able to offer any help in identifying the Reverend Collector, I would be very grateful indeed. Please leave a comment at the bottom of this blog under ‘Leave a Reply’.

Specimen Identification

Unfortunately, the collection was received without a detailed catalogue (as so often happens to these collections, when the catalogue is not kept within or attached to the box) although all the specimens have a sequential number glued onto them. Many specimens are able to be identified from visual experience but many ores within the collection cause difficulty, especially in location. Having cherished and developed good relationships with the local university, I had access to a portable X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) analyser to which many of the specimens were subjected. The analysis was performed within a laboratory environment to improve reliability.

Victorian boxed collection of minerals comprising six mahogany trays with approximately 45 specimens per tray. © John Cooke.

Conclusion

Historical collections appealed to the contemporary as they do today, for example, those that are aimed at the impulse buyer or tourist. Others of a more moderate nature may have appealed to the nobility and gentry to demonstrate their interest in the emerging natural sciences. Then there are those of a higher quality which exemplified regional geology/mineralogy and assemblages showing subtle differences between adjacent mining areas. Some of these scientific collections were a feature of the talented collectors and there were suppliers that could satisfy the market. Such vendors include those from the Freiberg Mining Academy Mineral Dealership who supplied collections from as early as 1765. As mineralogy developed, the labels would indicate relative proportions of the chemical elements within the compound and their valency states. Indeed, such was the quality that these collections were exported all over Europe, including Great Britain.

The many antique collections available represent the minerals that were available in any particular decade and are a snapshot of contemporary knowledge, mining techniques, ore extraction and the importance of the ore constituents. These are not stuffy old collections but repositories of historical knowledge and are available for reinterpretation with regard to current investigative techniques.

Epilogue

For those readers with an enquiring mind and medical bias, and for the sake of completeness, I present below the earliest advertisement to be found for Frampton’s Pills of Health (as per invoice found in the Victorian Box). It appears to be a medical wonder but because of the lack of restorative power for hair growth, I shall not be visiting the local pharmacy!

The invoice adhered to the base of the box containing the mineral collection. © John Cooke.

Newspaper: Carlisle Patriot

Edition: August 26, 1843

Frampton’s Pill of Health

This excellent Family PILL is a Medicine of long tried efficacy for correcting all disorders of the Stomach and Bowels, the common symptoms of which are Costiveness, Flatulency, Spasms, Loss of Appetite, Sick Head-ache, Giddiness, Sense of Fullness after meals, Dizziness of the Eyes, Drowsiness and Pains in the Stomach and Bowels, Indigestion producing a Torpid State of the Liver, and a consequent Inactivity of the Bowels, causing a disorganization of every function of the frame, will in this most excellent preparation, by a little perseverance, be effectually removed. Two or three doses will convince the afflicted of its salutary effects. The Stomach will speedily regain its strength; a healthy action of the Liver, Bowels, and Kidneys will rapidly take place; and instead of listlessness, heat, pain, and jaundiced appearance, strength, activity, and renewed health, will be the quick result of taking this Medicine according to the directions accompanying each box; and if taken after to free an indulgence at table, the [sic] quickly restore the system to its natural state of repose.

Sold by T. PROUT, 229, Strand, London, Price 1s. 1½d. and 2s. 9d. per box; also by C. THURNAM, Carlisle; and by the venders of Medicines generally throughout the Kingdom.

Ask for FRAMPTON’S PILL OF HEALTH, and observe the name and address of “THOMAS PROUT, 229, Strand, London,” on the Government Stamp.


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