Book Review:
Minerals of California (H. Earl Pemberton)

Reviewed by Stephen J. Bespalko

Lithosphere (October 1993); Fallbrook Gem and Mineral Society, Inc.; Fallbrook, CA

This book was originally published in 1866 as an "Annotated Catalog of the Principal Mineral Species Hitherto Recognized in California and the adjoining States and Territories." The initial publication listed 77 minerals. The current (1983) edition contains 741 minerals. It is the most impressive collection of mineralogical data on a single region I have ever seen. That being said, this monumental work is probably too expensive and is not intended for casual collectors. On the other hand, Minerals of California certainly belongs on the bookshelf of anyone who considers time in the library an integral part of the hobby.

Minerals of California is definitely not a comprehensive field guide intended to help select collecting sites on the night before a weekend trip. Rather, it is a resource to use during a comprehensive research effort -- perhaps to identify locations likely to produce a new occurrence of a mineral. Specifically, the minerals are organized first by chemical class, then by locality within each class. This makes identifying the minerals that occur at a single geographical site very cumbersome; something that will frustrate collectors who choose localities based upon the number of minerals they can expect to find. A further drawback, from the point of view of the casual collector, is that the information in the book is very limited. To extract the potential value from Minerals of California, the reader must be willing to seek out the references in the extraordinary bibliography, which includes more than 1,800 entries. In most cases, this means a trip to the local university research library.

The maps, diagrams, and crystal geometry supporting the mineral entries are all very good. The pictures are clear and large, and usually of museum quality specimens. However, there are two drawbacks with the photos. First, the pictures are all in black and white, which ultimately limits their usefulness. Second, as beautiful as the pictures are, they bear little resemblance to anything the weekend collector could reasonably expect to find in the field or afford to buy at current prices. Since some serious collectors consider representative samples adequate, this seems like a major limitation to all but the previously mentioned specialist.

As a scholarly work, Ferraiolo [The Mineralogical Record; Vol 15, No 1; Jan-Feb 1984; pp. 47-48] points out several substantive problems with the book. First, he finds the glossary to be completely useless. Second, some of the groupings do not reflect the frequency of occurrence. Quoting from the review: "For example, magnetite and magnesioferrite are listed together. Out of 46 occurrences recorded for the two minerals, only one is of magnesioferrite." Third, and finally, he points out that some of the photographs are from sites which are not mentioned in the geographical location listings.

If Minerals of California ever comes out in paperback (hopefully at less than half the price of the hardcover edition), then buy it. Until then, if you decide your collection is sorely lacking without a self-collected specimen of California stibiocolumbite or ferrocolumbite, you should simply use this book at the library since it is unlikely that you would possess the references which contain the bulk of the information anyway.

Minerals of California by H. Earl Pemberton; Von Nostrand Reinhold Company, Inc.; 1983; ISBN 0-442-274882; $52.95.

Copyright © 1993 by Fallbrook Gem and Mineral Society, Inc.

The preceding article was originally published in the October 1993 issue of Lithosphere, the official bulletin of the Fallbrook [California] Gem and Mineral Society, Inc; Richard Busch (Editor).

Permission to reproduce and distribute this material, in whole or in part, for non-commercial purposes, is hereby granted provided the sense or meaning of the material is not changed and the author's notice of copyright is retained.

Last updated: 18 September 2002