In the coffee shop recently I stumbled across an old copy of the Golden Nature Guide to Rocks and Minerals, a small pocket-sized handbook from the 1950s.
At some point, one of these was laying around the house when I was I was about 8 years old and I absolutely devoured it. Just like kids get interested in cowboys or ninjas or space or pirates, I went through a very serious gemstone phase. I begged my dad to take me opal hunting on one of the nearby mountains where there was a mine. He took me to the house of an acquaintance who was a rock hound. He was an old man with his own diamond blades for cutting gems and polishing stones. We also revived an ancient Geiger counter from the back of the shop and for a while I used to haul it around looking for Uranium. (I don’t think it actually worked anymore or it should have gone off in Pop Tart aisle in the grocery store, right?)
That was over 20 years ago. Looking back at the book though (I purchased the used copy on the shelf), I am amazed at how well-presented the information is. Is it just childhood nostalgia, or do they not make books quite like this anymore? I think the thing about this guide that REALLY sold me was how wonderful and artistic the pictures were. It contains no photographs. Everything is a watercolor illustration by a guy named Raymond Perlman. He spent his whole life drawing rocks and they don’t just look great, they look more than great. Through the artist’s eyes, they actually look way cooler than real rocks! Does that make the book inaccurate? Wouldn’t photo’s be more true? Maybe, but not for communicating the care and enthusiasm of the subject. For that, these work much better.
Whenever the next year I imagined the jewels on the hilts of Glamdring and Orcrist (from Tolkien’s Hobbit), these are what came to mind. Seeing the Star of India years later was probably still the highlight of my visit to the Smithsonian. It actually lived up to expectations.
I’ve included a few example pages I scanned in. This thing is old and out of print and not even in Google Books.