A John Vallance Collection of Derbyshire Minerals – A Rare Survivor

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

John Vallance is celebrated for his superb work with Ashford Black Marble and ornamental inlays. The quality of his work resulted in the patronage of the Duke of Devonshire and the Duke of Rutland (Tomlinson 1996). Whilst this was his main occupation, it is a lesser known fact that his establishment sold geological specimens and boxed collections of Derbyshire minerals. Just such a collection came up for auction in February 2021 at Philip Serrell’s of Malvern (of Bargain Hunt fame).

Firstly, who is John Vallance? He worked for and was sole agent at the equally famous, John Mawe. He joined Mawe and Brown as an assistant at The Royal Museum, Matlock Bath in 1811 and worked there until 1831, which was two years after John Mawe died. He, then, established his own Museum in Matlock Bath next door to his previous employer. There appears to have been a degree of rivalry with spar decoration and obelisks adorning the outside of both museums. He sold high quality Black Marble articles and exhibited his wares at the Great Exhibition of 1851, where he was awarded a prize medal for his inlaid marble tables. Vallance died at Matlock on the 13th June 1853 aged 72 years.

Vallance’s Other Products

In addition to all the spar manufacturing, Vallance made and sold fishing tackle and also “choice collections of every specimen of mineral which Derbyshire produces…..50 specimens, scientifically arranged and each separately labelled…….twenty five shillings (Cooper, 2006).

The Vallance collection is displayed within a pine carcass having 49 divisions (Figure 1). On the inside of the lid is the advertising mark of John Vallance (Figure 2). The specimen array shows the usual products of Derbyshire with the first division occupied by a specimen of elaterite in the top left. Other specimens include galena, blende, barytes, fluorites, carbonates, sulphates and some of the contemporary decorative marbles and minerals such as Rosewood Marble, Coralloid Marble, Blue John, Oakstone, Ashford Black Marble and sections of coloured stalactites. Interestingly, some sites are also mentioned, such as Castleton, Bonsall, Middleton and Ashford.

Vallance Derbyshire Collection. © John Cooke.
John Vallance advertising stamp. © John Cooke.

The collection was probably assembled and sold in the late 1830s (Oakstone was discovered in 1832) and represents an early surviving example of a collection of Derbyshire minerals and products. It is interesting to note the similarity of this collection to an example sold by John Mawe which is on display in the Buxton Museum and Art Gallery. This similarity may not be too surprising as John Vallance had once been in the employ of John Mawe and hence took inspiration from him.

Nevertheless, it is well worth checking the auction sites as these gems do come to market, albeit rarely!


Cooper, M.P. (2006) Robbing the Sparry Garniture, p271, Mineralogical Record Inc, Tucson, Arizona

Tomlinson, J.M. (1996) Derbyshire Black Marble, Peak District Mines Historical Society Ltd, Cromwell, Broughton Gifford

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