DE L'ÉCOLE DES MINES DE PARIS
Michel 60, 75006 Paris, France
NEED TO HAVE LARGE MINERALOGICAL COLLECTION
the other natural sciences, is based on observation ; now, apart from deposits,
only collections can provide the numerous samples which will allow the
study of the diverse properties, associations... of each species. In that
respect, the Ecole des Mines is, in France, a perfect example.
of crystals is currently on the agenda, but the Earth's crust is probably
the synthesis centre offering the richest possibilities. Scientists sorely
lack the time, taken in its geological sense. By want of collection and
conservation means, we let most of these natural productions, resulting
of physico-chemicals processes impossible to reproduce artificially, get
wasted. Moreover, the development of modern mining exploitation methods
makes the safe keeping of samples more difficult during works, and we also
witness the accelerated disparition of the superficial layers of beds rich
in well-crystallized species.
It is even
more illusory to try and keep the minerals in situ, due to the necessities
of mining exploitation, atmospheric alteration and vegetation for superficial
beds, and also to the attraction of protected sites, which call the attention
of "vandal amateurs" to them. Collections therefore constitute the sole
safekeeping method for the samples forming the practical bases of mineralogy
and numerous other related or derived disciplines.
to the spirit mentioned above, a modern public collection must include
of the best pieces, isolated in "jewel cases" or on stands, so as to exalt
their beauty or strangeness, and stir or develop in the visitors the interest
and taste for minerals
a didactic exhibition
allowing the novice to quickly acquire the necessary knowledge for a more
and last, systematic
collections, the working material for mineralogists, chemists and physicists
alike, and reference material for amateurs.
The mineralogy and petrography collections
occupy the first floor of the "Hôtel de Vendôme", which housed
the totality of the Ecole des Mines between 1815 and 1852, before this
superb 18th century residence was defiled by disgracious extensions and
last century's Great Works.
The so-called "Hôtel de Vendôme"
is the main relic of what once was the most popular convent in Paris, the
Vauvert Charterhouse, founded by Saint-Louis and famous for its vineyard,
the Clos de la Forge, on the location of which the School now stands !
From 1706 to 1707, the Carthusians,
"under Le Blond's superintendence" had a great house built at the expense
of Antoine de La Porte, canon of Notre-Dame (despite the legend, the architect
was not Courtonne, but Jean-Baptiste Alexandre Le Blond, 1679-1719). The
Hotel was rented in 1714 by the Duchess of Vendôme who had it modified
to its present condition two years later by Le Blond. The Duchess, granddaughter
of Grand-Condé, killed by alcoholism in 1718, is probably no prestige
sponsor for the residence, better illustrated by the family De Chaulnes
(who dwelt there from 1733 to 1758), and in particular by Michel-Ferdinand
d'Albert d'Ailly (1714-1769), duke of Chaulnes. Member of the Academy of
Sciences, he devoted his life to physics, and in particular to optics (Chaulnes's
method, for measuring refraction indices) and measurement instruments ;
like all scientists of the time, he was interested in the sciences of nature
and his Museum of Natural History was in these surroundings the unfortunately
gone ancestor of the present collections who, alone, let one admire the
renowned suite of rooms of the "Hôtel de Vendôme".
Strollers walking though the South
esplanade of the Luxembourg garden tread the ground of Le Blond's ancient
garden, but unfortunately they can only glimpse, beyond a grille and disgracious
greenhouses, a small and not well individualized part of one of the most
beautiful residence of the Century of Lights.
first floor of the "Hôtel de Vendôme" (where the mineralogy
and petrography collections are presented) offers a setting ideally
suited to the needs of a great modern mineralogic collection ; the
long suite of rooms widely open toward the Luxembourg garden has been reserved
to the systematic collections, as well as several sets of particular interest.
The two anterchambers (Room A and Room B, also called Hauy Room), in which
the elegant XVIIIth century allure has been preserved, have been devoted
to showcase the most beautiful items, in the spirit mentioned before.
THE MISCELLANEOUS TYPE OF COLLECTION
THE SYSTEMATIC COLLECTION
Claude Guillemin who, from 1957
on reorganised and enriched the collection of the Museum of the Ecole des
Mines de Paris, wrote : "One could easily let people believe that I, like
too many curators, consider that the value of a collection lies only in
its most dramatic samples. None of this is true ; I profoundly believe
that, if exceptional items delight the heart of the collectors that, fortunately,
most curators also are, and allow for a better understanding of the possibilities
of the mineral world, yet they are but one of the dramatic and sometimes
aesthetic aspects of the value of our collections, which must above all
be an irreplaceable work instrument, always perfected for the sake of all
scientists needing to refer to natural materials".
This quotation, taken from the preamble
of the work headed "En visitant les grandes collections
" (C. Guillemin, 1972) is especially aimed at the curators who tend to
neglect their museums' scientific value... to exclusively devote themselves
to the hunt for the international collector's item, thereby forgetting
that a museum curator is not only a great private collector. Fortunately,
the persons in charge of the Museum of the Ecole des Mines have been wise
enough, while implementing the necessary means for enriching the contents
of the exhibition's showcases, to enlarge the purely academic patrimony
of the initial set, an essential support for scientific works of all kinds.
Thanks to an effort sustained over the last thirty years, aimed at creating
exchange relationships whith laboratories, museums and collectors throughout
the world, the museum can rightly pride itself for owning one of the most
important systematic collections and one of the largest four collections
of type species.
The systematic collection amounts
to about 25,000 items, including the exhibited specimens. The number of
mineral species explicitly recognized and well-defined can be estimated
to around 3,300, but each species is represented, whenever possible, by
several localities chosen among the most interesting ones. Of course, the
rarest materials are ilustrated by only one specimen, whereas a species
like calcite occupies several storage drawers. On the other hand, the museum
keeps a great number of dubious or incompletely defined varieties and species.
As a matter of fact, during a long part of their history, mineralogists
have published a multitude of new descriptions, based most of the time
on chemical analyses, without any international concertation : the
use of optical properties as an identification criterion only dates back
to 1850, and that of X-rays to the beginning of the twenties, and this
only for the better equipped mineralogy laboratories. As a result, about
20,000 names were given to varieties, mixes, artificial or redundant products.
Only in 1959 the decision was taken to create, among the International
Association for Mineralogy (founded in 1957) a commission in charge of
examining the questions of mineralogic nomenclature. Today, the vast majority
of descriptions of new species is subject to control by specialists from
several countries, who decide by vote of its validity. A new species can
only be homologated if the publication includes sufficient characteristic
elements to justify its idividuality : precise chemical analysis,
optical properties, detailed crystallographic properties. Also, at least
one type sample must be duly indexed in a museum. Three or four new species
are thus described by French laboratories each year, and it is estimated
that, during the period 1962-1983, 86 new minerals have been described
by French authors (or with their collaboration), 23 of which originate
from French deposits, among the 1146 accepted by the Commission in the
same time for the entire world.
It is therefore necessary to keep
and examine with current means the varieties and species insufficiently
studied in the past, which can lead to new definitions, and even to the
definition of new species - as happened already - originating from mines
or deposits now exhausted or inaccessible.
THE TYPE COLLECTION
Whenever a new species is described,
one calls "type sample" the sample(s) which allowed to specify its crystallographic,
physical, chemical properties. Normally, bus alas only since recently,
these samples must be deposited in a laboratory (or, rather, a museum)
so as to ensure future conservation and access. In effect, if new specification
studies needed to be undertaken on a given species, they could yield valid
results only if made on whole type samples or fragments of them,
especially if these studies must lead to discrediting a species because
it appears to be a mix or correspond to a preexistant species.
The categories of type samples
to be used in descriptive mineralogy have been defined for twenty years
or so ; this nomenclature is based on the degree of proximity with the
holotype, which served to characterize the species. One can thus distinguish
cotypes, i.e. samples used to complement the description, and metatypes,
i.e. samples recognized by the author as identical to the holotype.
There are also "authors' samples"
; even today, as a matter of fact, authors sometimes send in samples without
mentioning if these are the very sample(s) used for the description. This
category is obviously more frequent when the date of description
of a species is older ; even if one is sure that a particular sample is
coming from the author, it is often very difficult to attest that it was
used for descriptive studies, except if the author or the person receiving
the specimen wrote it down on the label, or if obvious relics of past experiments
(fragments in tubes labeled "thin slices"...) accompany the sample. Under
the term "dedicatory", we grouped the samples handed by the person to whom
the mineral was dedicated. This category is of smaller interest, since
nothing can prove, a priori, that the sample really corresponds to the
material studied by the author.
A systematic search for type samples
of ancient species was conducted after 1957 in the School's collections.
We also keep most of the type samples corresponding to the species described
in France since World War Two. Last but not least, thanks to a very patient
work of correpondence and exchanges, we obtain very numerous fragments
of type samples of the new species defined abroad.
All these samples, (for a total
of 700 types of species or varieties) are kept separately and with particular
care. The scientific importance of this collection led us to constitute
a detailed catalogue published in 1983 for the bicentenary of the Ecole
THE LOCALITIES COLLECTION
The most important numerically speaking,
this collection is classified in the same way as the systematic collection.
Its aim is to bring together the greatest possible number of different
localities for a given species, partly to cater for the needs of researchers
in the differents fields of science.
This collection, like all natural
science collections, cannot be exhaustive. It would be absurd to try and
bring together all occurrences of common species such as quartz, calcite,
galena, ... but we try to bring together the maximum number of types of
deposit and paragenesis.
THE DEPARTMENTAL COLLECTION
The departmental collection is a direct
outcome of an arrest signed by the Public Salute Committee on July 12th
1794, establishing the Ecole des Mines in the Hotel de Mouchy, since the
Mineralogy Cabinet was to contain "all the productions of the Republic,
arranged in the order of localities", and besides, the arrest signed six
days before (18 Messidor An II) considered that one of the main occupation
of mining inspectors and engineers was "to collect all the fossil substances
like salts, earths, combustible stones, mines and metals that exist in
their district, and to dispatch the propely labelled collection to the
agency of mines in Paris".
An examination of ancien catalogues
shows that this recommendation was very widely followed between 1794 and
the end of the First Empire, several hundreds of samples, "products of
art" and miscellaneous objects being received certain years.
We can mention for instance :
The "statistical" collection remained
thereafter dormant until around 1845, at which date, under Dufrenoy's influence,
the galleries intended for them were restored and furnished ; then, between
1853 and 1864, de Chancourtois sorted it methodically, after having pruned
all samples and objects devoid of interest "which cluttered the School"
; De Launay later took it over. Since 1957, the collection, in which only
the minerals, the ores and a few rocks have been kept, occupy 250 drawers.
"samples from La Garonne copper mine
near Toulon, handed on 17 Messidor An VII";
the same year, "yellow urane oxyde
in groupes, lamelliform, quadrangular crystals from Marmagne, Saone-et-Loire
district... handed by citizen Champeaux, mining engineer, who made their
some "wolfram from Puy-les-Vignes,
sent to the coucil by citizen du Pallaud des Maisons on 23 Pluviose and
7 Ventose An 9" ;
lepidolite "found in rolled blocks
in the fields on Chanteloube granitic plateau, 5 leagues north of Limoges",
sent by M. Alluaud in 1811 ;
the collection of ores from Germany
donated by M. Héron de Villefosse, "Inspector general of the mines
and factories in the conquered lands" ...
THE GEMS AND METEORITE
The museum also keeps a collection
of 700 gems (a part of the cut gems coming from the jewels of the Crown
were attributed to the Ecole des Mines in 1887), 300 meteorites and artificial
As in many museums, the visible
part of the set of items kept is not the sole interest of the museum of
Mineralogy of the Ecole des Mines ; other collections of similar importance
exist, but they need not be presented, being intended to fulfill different
scientific and historical functions. Besides the exhibited collection,
the museum houses the 20,000 samples of the systematic collection ; they
are disposed inside drawers or cupboards, with inventory numbers referring
to a collection-specific file. The 25,000 samples of the "localities" collection,
also listed in a separated file ; a collection of 700 types, cotypes, and
authors' samples, sorted in alphabetical order and recorded into a catalogue
which has been published ; an important collection by French departments,
which will need to be reworked and modernized ; a few hundreds of meteorites,
cut gems and artificial minerals, only a part of which is on exhibition.
It is also necessary to mention the existence of a series of showcases
illustrating, with a few selected samples, the 1:320,000 edition of the
map of France's mineral beds. A few showcases also present the new species
described in France since 1950. Finally, a few shocases present temporary
thematic exhibitions, such as Groenland's mineralogy, barytine in France,
MANAGING THE COLLECTIONS
Such a partitioning as described above
may appear excessive, but obviously all these collections depend on one
another : such sample taken out of the showcases to be replaced by a more
remarkable one will be transferred to the systematic collection, which
contains specimens of slightly lower quality, and many species too rare
or represented by crystals too small to be shown. Similarly, a sample from
the systematic collection can be integrated into that of the "localities".
In all cases, the card corresponding to a specimen includes an inventory
number, the name of the mineral (and of its variety), the place where it
was discovered, as precisely as possible, the analyses (chemical, optical,
radiocrystallographic, etc.) its was submitted to, as well as the date
and origin of acquisition by the museum. A number also indicates its localisation
inside the museum, and another allows to find it quickly in H. Strunz'
precious work (Mineralogische Tabellen), which serves as the base of organisation
for the main collections (exhibition, systematic, localities). The cards
are then collected in folders following that same classification, while
the sample keeps its original label. A manual catalogue groups all the
localities represented for the most important mineral species. The current
numbering of the collections has been in use since 1957 only, at which
date C. Guillemin completely reworked the former presentation, and it is
completely independent of the previous catalogues, which have been kept
for reference. Finally, it can be noted that the collections file is being
computerised, nearly 20,000 samples having been input by January 1st 1998,
which already helped to facilitate some research works in the collection.
A certain number of large private
or public collections acquired by the museum over the centuries have been
incorporated into the general collection, which has itself split in two
since 1957. Thus it is not uncommon to see old samples with two or even
three different numbers and several superimposed labels. One can notice
that certain curators prefer, for certain large donations, to keep the
catalogue numbering given by the previous owner, and avoid scattering the
samples and mingling them with one or several general colections. Such
methods are, in effect, preferable if one wants to favour the historical
interest of a collection and the goals are purely conservation ones, but
they are probably less adapted to the scientific imperatives which also
justify the existence of museums of natural history.
One can say that the complete collections
currently amount to a total of about 100,000 samples, considering that
this number takes into account double samples and the petrography collection,
which occupies part of the exhibition rooms (Rooms F and G). Although it
is difficult to enrich such a museum given a constant volume of work and
a gradually increasing quality, we try to avoid, as much as possible, to
accumulate as we used to do in the past, a large number of identical or
worthless specimens which unnecessarily clutter the limited space at our
AN INTERNATIONAL RENOWN
Although the 5,000 specimens exhibited
in the showcases represent in number only a small part of all the minerals
of the museum of Mineralogy of the Ecole des Mines de Paris, they best
illustrate the diversity and splendor of the mineral world, of which they
are the manifestation to the eyes of the public. They play maybe too important
a part in determining the international renown and importance of a museum.
Among the diverse collections enumerated above, which form the essential
part of the museum of the Ecole des Mines, it is also currently the slowliest
increasing. The increase in value of exceptional minerals (mainly due to
american outbidding), the parcimony with which the State allocates funds,
increasing competition from the other museums and great private collectors,
the increasing difficulties encountered abroad, and even in France, during
on-field collection missions, all this resulted in a certain stagnation
of most great european museums.
In spite of all these obstacles,
the collections of the School keep a foremost rank among the world's great
collections, and it can be said that they currently belong to the first
ten in the world, which are, in alphabetical order :
American Museum of Natural History,
British Museum of Natural History,
Harvard University Museum, Cambridge,
Institute of Mineralogy, Freiberg School
of Mines, Germany
Fersman Museum of the Academy of Sciences,
Museun of Natural History, Prague,
Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle,
Museum of Natural History, Vienna,
Smithsonian Institution, Washington,