Quest for state mineral faces a rocky road
Pennsylvania has neither state mineral, nor state rock nor state gemstone. Amateur geologists suggest some beauties for a state mineral. Jim Hook / Public Opinion
HARRISBURG -- The Pennsylvania legislature has a lot on its plate this year, including rocks.
Lawmakers have introduced bills to designate a state mineral. Quartz and celestine are in the running.
School children have been behind the lobbying efforts.
Pennsylvania is the only state that does not have a state mineral, rock or gemstone.
Let’s explain. Minerals are naturally occurring chemicals. Rocks are made of minerals. A gemstone is a mineral crystal, rock or organic material that can be displayed on jewelry. Yes, it can be confusing.
About 300 of the world’s 5,100 minerals are found in Pennsylvania, according to geologists. At least eight were found in Pennsylvania before they were found anywhere else.
Most rock hounds attending the South Penn Rock Swap in Arendtsville on Saturday said they preferred the ice blue crystals of celestine. Brian Cole of Orrtanna was among them.
“A state mineral should be fairly unique to the state and should make the state standout,” Cole said. “The biggest problem is that people don’t know anything about minerals. Look around. Most rock collectors are older. You’ve got to get the kids involved.”
Kids have been driving the quest for a state mineral and a state rock.
As the result of the work of a first grade class at Pennell Elementary School in Delaware County, Sen. Tom Killion, R-Chester and Delaware counties, introduced legislation (Senate Bill 610) to designate quartz as the state mineral, according to his Chief of Staff Mike Stoll. Sen. Tom McGarrigle, R-Chester and Delaware counties, is a co-sponsor. The bill was referred in April to the Senate State Government Committee.
The children actually lobbied for quartz to be the state rock, not the state mineral, in their YouTube video.
Many rock collectors say quartz is too common for Pennsylvania to claim it as a state mineral. It’s the state mineral of Arkansas, which has better quality examples than Pennsylvania. Four other states name it as their state rock or gem.
Celestine has been the darling of several school classes.
About five years ago Royce Black, then a sixth-grader at the charter cyber school Commonwealth Connections Academy, drummed up support for celestine as the state mineral. Black rallied geologists and lawmakers, before his family moved to North Carolina.
“Without a student or group of students to lobby for a state mineral, the issue has subsided,” said Peter J. Heaney, Penn State professor of mineral science.
About five years ago Heaney testified before a legislative subcommittee in favor of naming celestine the state mineral for two basic reasons – the mineral’s history in Pennsylvania and its beauty.
“State objects fundamentally are symbols of celebration – of a region’s heritage, its natural resources, and its economic foundations,” Heaney had said. “They also provide a powerful means for educating students about the contributions that a state has made to science and industry.”
Naming a state symbol also educated students about their state’s democratic institutions.
A fifth-grade class in northern York County in the 1990s lobbied for celestine as the state mineral.
“It was a wonderful experience for the kids,” said Mary Ann Charles, the retired fifth-grade teacher at Wellsville Elementary School. “They did the research. They made several trips to Harrisburg. They held a news conference.”
The House passed the bill, but it never got out of a Senate committee, Charles said. The chairman who was sitting on the bill refused to meet with the children.
“The kids were crying because he wouldn’t come out,” Charles said.
The hoopla over naming a state mineral has soured some amateur geologists.
“I don’t care,” said Tom Smith of Shippensburg. “I don’t believe in state minerals. It’s all political.”
Rep. Tina Pickett, R-Bradford/Sullivan/Susquehanna, has picked up the torch for celestine. Her legislation (House Bill 278) has been in the House State Government Committee since January.
She is responding to efforts by the Che-Hanna Gem and Mineral Club, located in her district.
“Many states they visit have a state mineral to display to the ‘rock hounds’ and to entice them to spend time in their state,” Pickett said. “These club members then ‘hunt’ the mineral in that state to add to their collections. As a result, this designation would have a positive impact on tourism and attracting even more visitors to our state.”
Rock collectors, however, say that quarry owners increasingly have limited access to sites because of potential liability. A few remain open to collectors.
Celestine was first discovered in 1791 near what is currently Bellwood in Blair County. Mandata in Northumberland County is the current hot spot for collecting celestine. A sample found in the Shippensburg area is part of the mineral collection in the Carnegie Museum, according to Smith.
Andreas Gotthelf Schütz, a German-born naturalist, collected and described celestine 1791, but it was not until 1798 that Abraham Gottlob Werner gave the mineral is formal description and name. Celestine comes from the Latin word for sky.
Martin Klaproth - the discoverer of titanium, uranium, and zirconium – in 1797 published the first chemical analysis of celestine, a sulfate mineral containing strontium and known as SrSO4.
The history of science has only so much curb appeal, even to rock collectors.
“Celestine was hot,” said Kerry Matt, a rock collector from Lancaster. “Today everybody has wavellite fever. That’s what’s hot now. They wanted celestine because it was the eye candy of the day."
Wavellite is green-colored mineral forming small spheres, revealing pinweels when broken. It was named after its discoverer William Wavell in 1805. Pennsylvania and Arkansas are known for their beautiful specimens.
Neither celestine nor wavellite is hard enough to make quality gems.
Quartz would face competition to be make the official state rock. Rep. Thomas Murt, R-Montgomery County, introduced legislation in 2015 to make hard coal the state rock. Coal is technically an organic mixture and not a mineral.
The General Assembly has come to recent agreement on two state symbols.The legislature in 2014 adopted the Piper J-3 Cub as the state aircraft and the Pennsylvania long rifle as the state firearm.
Jim Hook 717-262-4759
Symbols of Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania recognizes 21 official symbols. The state symbols and the dates of their adoption:
- Aircraft -- Piper J-3 Cub, 2014
- Animal -- White-tailed deer, 1959
- Beautification and conservation plant -- Penngift crownvetch, 1982
- Beverage -- Milk, 1982
- Coat of arms -- Coat of Arms of Pennsylvania , 1778
- Dog, Great Dane -- 1965
- Electric locomotive -- GG1 4859, 1987
- Firearm -- Pennsylvania long rifle, 2014
- Fish -- Brook trout, 1970
- Flag -- Flag of Pennsylvania, 1799
- Flower -- Mountain laurel, 1933
- Fossil -- Trilobite (Phacops rana), 1988
- Game bird -- Ruffed Grouse, 1931
- Insect -- Pennsylvania firefly, 1988
- Motto -- "Virtue, Liberty and Independence", 1778
- Nickname -- "Keystone State", circa?1800
- Seal -- Seal of Pennsylvania, 1791
- Ship -- US Brig Niagara, 1988
- Song -- "Pennsylvania", 1990
- Steam locomotive -- K4s 1361 and K4s 3750, 1987
- Tree -- Eastern hemlock, 1931