John Betts - Fine Minerals, New York, NY
Dealers of Fine Minerals and Natural Crystal Clusters since 1989.
Joe Cilen was one of the best known mineral collectors in the northeastern United States. Not because he wrote articles or promoted his private collection or assembled lots of flashy minerals. Joe did none of these things. But he was ever-present at mineral shows, club meetings and symposiums always getting some new minerals to add to his collection. In his lifetime he assembled a collection of over 23,000 minerals. His collection was uneven in quality but unmatched in breadth. He not only wanted to collect the most species, he wanted the most species from the most different locations.
Joe was also one of the best known collectors because of his jokes. You remembered Joe because of his jokes. Joe was known for his bad jokes. He was the Henny Youngman of the mineral world. His favorite subject to ridicule was mineral dealers. He always had a new joke usually centered around Hell being populated with mineral dealers.
Joe was born July 16, 1916 in an ambulance en route to the Paterson, New Jersey hospital. When he was seven years old his family moved into the house that he was to live in for the rest of his life until he died in 1997. He was a life-long bachelor and lived with his parents. During World War II he served as sergeant in the U.S. Army from 1941 to 1945. After his discharge from the Army he went to work as an inspector at Curtiss-Wright Aeronautical Corporation where he stayed for 40 years.
He started mineral collecting at young age and never quit. His home town of Paterson, NJ was a mineral collectors dream when he was growing up. The towns trap rock quarries produced some of the finest zeolite specimens known in the world and at the time rivaled anything from India. Joe was fortunate to have been collecting before insurance, OSHA, and liability law caused the active quarries to prohibit mineral collectors. Also Joe was able to collect during the great construction projects for Interstate 80, Interstate 95, and the George Washington Bridge through the basalt and diabase flows. As a result a large proportion of Joes collection was a wide assortment of fine New Jersey zeolites.
He also collected mineral books, raised prize-winning chrysanthemums. His mineral collection though was what made Joe unique. It ranged from large to small, top quality to ordinary. But he collected everything from everywhere. When looking through his collection it is not uncommon to find 2000 micromounts sitting next to large tri-state calcite crystals. Though his micromounts far outnumber the larger specimens in his collection, I find the old eastern classics from Connecticut, Maine, Pennsylvania, New York to be the most interesting.
Joes collection was also exemplary of how to organize ands catalog a collection. Every mineral had a number attached to the bottom. A label with corresponding number was stored with the specimen. The original dealers label, if there was one, was stored with the specimen. Especially the old A.E. Foote, Hugh Ford, Lazard Cahn, John Albanese, Enrst Wiedhaas, and other famous old dealers and collectors. Then there were two separate card files cross referencing the number by species and location, just in case the labels were lost. I have seen many old collection and have never seen one so organized as Joes. And Joe did it all before computers.
When Joe died he left behind over 23,000 cataloged mineral specimens (the highest number in the minerals I acquired was #22,733). His species collection topped 3000 separate mineral species. A few of the Franklin-Sterling Hill minerals were donated to a fund raising auction at the Sterling Hill Mining Museum. The rest were offered for sale as one lot. The collection was purchased by a private collector that only wanted the remaining Franklin-Sterling Hill minerals, all willemites, all Tsumeb minerals and all Langban minerals. That left over 600 flats filled with minerals that had to be sold off. The new owner was smart though, he hired a professional mineralogist to appraise the value of the minerals before he sold them. Then mineral dealers were invited to view and buy the minerals by the flat. They are still coming onto the market though, because they have only appraised about half of the minerals. As a dealer, I was fortunate to obtain many of the best minerals from the collection, especially the New Jersey zeolites.
When I show my collection of minerals to casual acquaintances, I occasionally get the question: Why do you collect rocks? Or What do you do with them? These questions arise so often I that I have answered many different ways through the years.
Recently, I heard a story that summed up why I collect minerals. The story was told to me by Doug Wahl of Washingtonville, New York.
As he tells it, he was visiting the home of Joe Cilen. At the time, every room had boxes of minerals in them. There were mineral flats on top of the refrigerator, under the bed, on every shelf in the house. Everywhere. You could not move from room to room without bumping into some flats of minerals.
Doug was most interested in local New Jersey minerals. He recalls that Joe showed him over 20 flats of pectolite alone. It was truly an amazing collection of every size and quality level. And, typically, Joe was willing to share his collection with anyone.
About six months after his visit to Joes house, Doug ran into Joe at a mineral show. Joe was buying a $3.00 pectolite specimen. Doug could not restrain himself, "Joe, why in the world, with all of the thousands of minerals you have, and the hundreds of pectolites you have, would you want to buy that $3.00 pectolite?" he asked.
Joe looked up and said "Because I like it."
Joes simple response summed up his years of collecting in four words. And it summed up why I collect minerals. Minerals are beautiful to look at. The best are unrivaled by anything that Man can make. It certainly makes more sense - at least to me - to collect minerals instead of Barbi Dolls or stamps. Those are mass-produced items, all alike. But every mineral is unique, no two minerals are alike. Perhaps it is the natural perfection of a fine crystal that makes them so attractive. I dont know. I do know I collect minerals because I like them.
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