Letters to George F. Kunz From Lehigh University Personnel 1885- 1919
Scope and Contents
The collection contains 17 letters, one registry return receipt, and one envelope. Two of the letters are typewritten, the remaining material is handwritten. All of the letters have a letterhead either of Lehigh University departments, American Electrochemical Society, Economic Geology and J. B. Mackintosh, E.M. All of the letters are addressed to George F. Kunz (1856-1932), a well-known gemologist and vice-president of Tiffany & Co. in response to inquiries from Kunz. The letters from Kunz making the inquiries are not in the collection. How the original letters from Lehigh personnel sent to Kunz were returned to Lehigh is not certain. According to “The Curious Lore of George Frederick Kunz” by Lawrence H. Conklin, a mineralogist, relates that in 1973 many “letters to Kunz” were offered for sale by the bookseller, Raphael Gould, trading as the American Library Service and marketing groups of “letters to Kunz” to interested parties. Perhaps during this time Lehigh University archive was offered these “letters to Kunz” specifically because of the Lehigh University notation.
- 1885 - 1919
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Collection housed remotely. Users need to contact 24 hours in advance.
Conditions Governing Use
Collection is open for research. Please inquire about copyright information.
Biographical / Historical
The subject of this collection, George Frederick Kunz (1856-1932) was in his day well-known as “gem expert for Tiffany & Co.” He was self-
educated although he took night classes at Cooper Union but never graduated. He was a self-made expert. He was an avid collector of gems and minerals and bought and sold many famous examples. As a young man Kunz introduced tourmaline as a gemstone to Tiffany & Co. and by age twenty-three he was a Tiffany & Co. vice-president and remained so for almost the rest of his life. Kunz had interest in all minerals but especially those that could be classified “precious.” He wrote several fine books (The Book of the Pearl (1908), Precious Stones (1914)) still used as reference to define “precious.” He also wrote papers about and named some newly discovered minerals among them “herderite,” “moissonite” and “morganite” (named for his patron J.P. Morgan).
At an early age he began an interest in geology perusing the excavations of many buildings on Manhattan, Staten and Long Island, the extension of the New York Central Railroad, and “the Elysian Fields” – the excavation for the Bergen Tunnel, N.J. – all offering virgin soil to a collector of minerals. In 1885 Kunz added to his personal collection an almost 10 pound Manhattan Island garnet crystal found by a man digging a sewer on 35th Street between Broadway and Seventh Avenue. Kunz donated the crystal to the American Natural History Museum. Kunz sent many specimens abroad for exchange and by age fourteen he began an “unending stream of correspondence on mineralogy” according to Conklin’s quote of Kunz’s own account.
Conklin states that around 1973 he was offered the privilege of purchasing the largest known segment of the Kunz correspondence, around eight thousand “letters to Kunz.” The letters were offered for sale by the bookseller Raphael Gould who did business as the “American Library Service” in New City, New York. Gould supplied them in small affordable lots which were purchased by Conklin. Gould had bought the letters en bloc from a bookselling firm by the name of De Forest in New Orleans some years before, and had made prior sales of only a few small lots, privately and at auction as the mood suited De Forest. A large number of the letters are in the Library of the American Museum of Natural History, the Hauck Archives, and Conklin’s own collection as discussed in the Conklin book “Notes and Commentaries on Letters to George F. Kunz” privately printed in 1986. It is difficult to understand what Kunz meant by the unending stream of “correspondence on mineralogy” which would have represented a huge number of letters yet many of the letters cannot be located today. Late in his life he was interviewed by Marie Beynon Ray in 1927 for a series in the Saturday Evening Post in which he describes many recollections of his life as a dealer and collector of minerals and gems.
1 folder (19 Items)
Language of Materials
The collection of letters over a quarter century deal with a diverse range of mineralogical topics from Lehigh University personnel in “letters to Kunz” replying to George F. Kunz queries. The letters originated mostly from Lehigh University personnel answering inquiries from George F. Kunz regarding topics on analyses of coal, gold, copper, aluminum, precious stones and pearls. George Frederick Kunz was a very well-known, self-taught gemologist who was for most of his career a vice-president for Tiffany & Co. The Lehigh professors’ observations about aluminum and the possibility of artificially produced precious stones are most interesting.
The collection is organized chronologically from December 30, 1885 to January 16, 1919. Each letter is stored in a mylar sleeve and filed in a folder.
Immediate Source of Acquisition
Existence and Location of Originals
Lehigh University, Linderman Library, Special Collections
- Special Collections Staff
- Description rules
- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
- Language of description
- Script of description
Part of the Lehigh University Special Collections Repository
30 Library Drive
Bethlehem PA 18045 USA