Volume 53 - Issue 4 - April 2020

Updated: May 6, 2021

Monongahela Rockhounds

A Pittsburgh Area Mineral, Fossil, & Lapidary Club


The Monongahela Rockhound News is a Monthly Publication of the

Monongahela Rockhounds,

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Volume 53, Issue 4,

April 2020

Visit us on the Web at: www.monongahelarockhounds.org


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President's Message

Hello Friends,

I hope all is well, and everyone is safe. We returned from vacation on the 8th, just as the virus started to really make itself known in the US. I am learning to teach remotely for two different institutions, so have been quite busy. We have yet to spot the elusive roll of toilet paper since returning from vacation, and are becoming concerned that it may be close to extinction. Hopefully you all have had better luck on this front! I was going to turn some of my intended presentation into an article of sorts for the newsletter, but decided to do something a little more fun. I have posted 25 pictures of fluorite from my collection on my Crystal Phase Facebook page (None of these specimens are for sale). I have a prize for the club member who can correctly identify the most locations. I will also have a general drawing from all participants for a prize, so please play even if you do not think you can name a lot of the specimens. The posting on Facebook says that there is a prize for anyone who can correctly identify all the locations, you are also eligible for this prize. Non club members are only eligible for this last prize. So it is really important that when you message or email ( crystalphaseltd@gmail.com ) me, that you identify yourself as a club member to be eligible for the first 2 prizes.

Here is the link to follow to the



The contest is open until the end of the month, and the rules are posted with the pictures. Have Fun!

Cheers, Johanna


Important Notice

The Monongahela Rockhounds executive has made a decision to cancel our planned meeting for this coming Saturday, April 4th due the present instructions from our political leaders addressing the Covid-19 virus risks. Our planned club sale for April 18th & 19th is being postponed until tentatively November 14th and 15th, 2020. We will notify everyone prior to the planned May meeting on the status of that meeting.


April 2020 Meeting

CANCELLED: As much as we'd like to get together for our usual monthly meeting, the responsible decision to ensure our members' safety during the COVID-19 outbreak is to cancel. If all goes well, we look forward to seeing everyone happy and healthy at the May meeting! WHEN

Apr 04, 2020, 7:30 PM – 9:30 PM EDT


Munhall Borough Building, 1900 West St, Munhall, PA 15120, USA


Meeting Minutes

7 March 2020

  • March Presentation by Frank DeWinter on "Shanghai Oriental Mineral Museum".

  • Thank-you March Hosts, Keri & Robin!

  • March's Show-and-Tell was Copper Minerals.

  • The following members presented various malachites, chrysocollas, azurites, and more from their collections:

  • Gerry G.

  • Rosemary

  • Rob

  • Gwynn

  • Frank D.

  • Don L.

  • Bret H.

  • Attendance:

  • Guest(s): Elenita.

  • New member(s): None.

  • Business Meeting

  • Kid's activity: Junior members received Quartz from Brazil.

  • John Simpson has a drop saw for sale. Contact Bret to get the information.

  • News & updates on upcoming:

  • Event(s): The Monongahela Rockhounds Gem, Mineral and Fossil Show is on April 18th & 19th.

  • Set-up will be April 17 in the evening.

  • We have 11 vendors for the show.

  • Need sign-ups for Children's Table, front door, etc.

  • Trip(s): Flint Ridge in June

  • For next month, April's Meeting:

  • Presentation: "Fluorite" by Johanna Burnett.

  • Mineral of the Month: Beryl.

  • Hosts: Jim & Debbie B.

  • Article of the Month: June Epp.


General Information

Monongahela Rockhounds PO Box 18063 Pittsburgh, PA 15236 www.monongahelarockhounds.orgMission Statement

  • To promote, among its members and the general public, an interest in collection of minerals, fossils, and associated items.

  • To promote their use in lapidary work.

  • To promote the study and classification of minerals, gem stones and other items of such nature.


  • Member: Eastern Federation of Mineralogical and Lapidary Societies, Inc.

  • Member: American Federation of Mineralogical Societies, Inc.

Meeting Location Munhall Borough Building 20th Ave. & West Street Munhall, PA 15120


​Club Officers

President Johanna Burnett ​ 1st Vice-President Bret Howard ​ 2nd Vice-President Debbie Braddock ​ Treasurer Tony Orzano ​ Record Secretary Debbie Thompson ​ Silent Auction Debbie Braddock ​ Board of Directors June Epp Donald Laufer Frank DeWinter Webmaster Emmalyn Ilagan webmaster@monongahelarockhounds.orgNewsletter Editor Frank DeWinter editor@monongahelarockhounds.org


We normally meet the first Saturday of every month from September through June at 7:30 pm, in the Munhall Borough Building for a presentation, business meeting and a chance to socialize. There is a major focus on the younger members of our club with portions of the meeting specifically for school aged children.CANCELLED: Our next meeting will NOT be on Saturday, April 4, 2020. The May meeting is planned for the 2nd. Stay tuned. You will get an e-mail as soon as we know further details.


Monongahela Rockhound News is the official newsletter of the Monongahela Rockhounds.

Disclaimer & Release: To the best of our knowledge, all articles and information presented in this newsletter are true, accurate and free of copyright infringement. The Monongahela Rockhounds is not responsible for the usage of the information contained in the newsletter. The Monongahela Rockhounds hereby grants other non-profit organizations the right to republish articles in this newsletter for non-commercial usage as long as complete source credit is given, unless noted otherwise.

Deadline: The editor welcomes any and all contributions to the newsletter. Please provide articles and any other submissions for publication at least 2 weeks prior to the upcoming meeting to be considered for inclusion in that month’s issue.

Please e-mail any newsletter articles to the editor's e-mail: editor@monongahelarockhounds.org


Highlights of the 2020 Tucson Gem & Mineral Show

By June Epp Bret and I made our annual trek out to Tucson for the 66th Annual Tucson Gem and Mineral Show. The gem, jewelry, fossil and mineral extravaganza actually goes on for several weeks from mid-January to mid- February with finale being the TGMS show at the Tucson convention center. This year’s TGMS theme was World Class Minerals. ​ There were some interesting new finds this year. The one that probably got the most attention was the find of pink octahedral fluorites from Huanggang Mine. These are free floating fluorites with colors varying from extremely pink to somewhat green due to fibrous inclusions and ranging in size from miniatures to as large as 6”+ clusters. The displays at the main show that were most memorable to me were a Herkimer Diamond showcase by Rocko Minerals and a skull carved from a 17,000 gram Gibeon meteorite. Of course, there were world class minerals on display from a 921 ounce gold specimen to “POR” tourmalines, aquamarines and fluorites that are so large and so beautiful you just can’t imagine unless you see them in person. I also got to see one of the largest hiddenite crystals from Alexander Co., North Carolina, which is near to where Bret and I spent a number of years collecting. ​ There were also many nice cases that focused on the Young Mineral Collectors of our hobby. ​ Bret and I entered two of our mineral specimens, a Hemimorphite and a Smithsonite, both from the 79 Mine, into the Bideaux Memorial case once again this year and once again, we did not win anything. However, there was a special display case that was sponsored by the TGMS club that was a contest for matching mineral specimens with their worldwide locations. There were about 26 entries and only one winner – and the winner was me! Believe it or not! ​ The other highlights of the trip are the weather, of course, and being able to hike in the desert and observe birds, cactus and other wildlife. We actually saw a deer among the cactus (not too exciting) and we saw a group of coatimundi – these are related to raccoons – much more exciting. The trip to Tucson is definitely worth the time!


History of Selenite /

Gypsum Balls from Spirit River, Alberta

By Frank DeWinter When we were kids, my father had taken us to an old abandoned homestead on the banks of Rat Creek, near Spirit River, Alberta, where his family had spent several memorable years while he was growing up during the peak of the depression. He had told us about the mica, gold dust and fossils he remembered. About 12 years ago my youngest sister, Julie and I were hunting for Ammonites and Dinosaur fossils near by and decided to try to find the place. We found it, along with numerous small shell fossils, but on that sunny afternoon what was amazing was all the silvery reflections on the huge banks of this creek. After investigation it turns out the banks were filled with small selenite crystals slivers less than 1⁄2” long, not Mica. Alas, despite much gold panning up and down the creek, there was NO gold to be found, but we did find some pyrite. ​ We spent all day exploring the creeks in the area, mainly for fossils. From a small spring feeding a side stream spring to Rat Creek, a half mile downstream, I found a large selenite scepter 3” long by 1” x 1⁄2”. It was neat but not that impressive until we found some selenite balls buried in the banks up to 1” in diameter. These` are very similar to the Winnipeg / Red River balls, but slightly more transparent. A couple of hours work delivered a dozen balls. Over the next year and a half, we visited this area and explored nearby creeks and hills, but never found any place with the balls except the original site, which always took hours to get a dozen or so balls. About 9 years ago they closed the municipal road access to the area due to hill slides and built a new road a couple of miles away. With the help of Google Earth, Julie and I located the high potential creek crossings on the new road and explored the fresh road cuts. Bonanza! We found on that had balls, Scepters and sometimes balls with attached huge scepters, washing out of the road cuts and stream bed. In a couple of hours, we could fill several 5 gallon pails with the most prized selenites. After a couple of years, the road cuts grew in, but the constantly eroding creek bottom was productive every spring. ​

Now the next problem.

Selenite is a soft material, but when wet or even moist is extremely fragile and the most beautiful specimens are intricate balls with large “beaks or twin crystals growing out of the ball with a very small contact point. In early spring the creek banks and bottom of clay were soft, and the crystals could be gently lifted out of the mud, or balls alone picked up on mud bars in the creek. The issue in the spring is the creek was about 2 feet deep with a firm bottom and banks a few feet wide of soft mud that you might sink in 3” in one step and then in the next 12” that was a few feet wide before rising vertically 10 to 15 feet. If we waited until later in the year when the banks were stable, the clay hardened and as a result that it was impossible to extract the balls without totally destroying them. Solution was to go in the spring, wear running shoes and clothes that would be one big mud ball by the time we finished and changing before entering the car and forget any thought of boots or trying to stay clean. ​

Next how to clean the crystals.

In order to help the crystals travel home it is best to keep them in the balls of grey clay. Once home and the clay is washed off there is still clay in the crevasses. Any amount of brush work etc. on the wet balls results in damage to the crystal, but always a certain amount of clay remaining in cracks or between crystal terminations. Julie and I each tried numerous unsuccessful methods of cleaning and studied all available literature etc. Everything written said that moisture would damage the crystal and we knew it made them very fragile, but where we found them was in clay that was either damp or very wet 5 months a year and frozen another 5 months. We started washing with water only, no brushing, much of the external mud and then leaving them to dry and harden for a weak or so before trying the next wash. Then the Eureka moment. One of the times when Julie went to do a second wash, she put the very dry balls in a glass container and noticed that for about 1 minute all of the crevice’s spurted out clay and air bubbles as the water displaced the air. The perfect cleaning method was developed. Dry the selenite for 1 to 2 weeks, then immerse in cold water for 1 to 2 minutes, then dry again. This had to be repeated 5 to 10 times to thoroughly clean, so it took months, but very little effort and no crystal damage. I know this goes against every expert in the field of specimen cleaning on selenite, but the results were several orders of magnitude better than their recommendations. ​ Now you know where some of the specimens I have shown come from. ​ ​