A quarter millenium of morphological Crystal Models – the makers, the materials, the collections – a current project on retrieving their history.
Crystal models (CM) and crystal model collections (CMC) made of paper, wood, clay, metal, glass, etc. have been manufactured, developed, and used as an aid in the fields of mineralogy and crystallography from the 1760’s to 1920’s (Figure 1). CM have for example been used to display ideal morphology of different mineral species or relationship between crystal forms; visualize different crystallographic and physical concepts, e. g. symmetry, crystallographic and optical axes, twinning, etc. Earlier geometrical models, such as platonic and archimedian bodies, known since Antiquity and perhaps originally inspired by natural crystals, were often present in the art and the curiosity cabinets of the Rennaisance era. In the early 20th c. the progress in crystal structure determination shifted the focus in crystallography and crystal modelling from outer morphology and symmetry to inner structural relations. Still, morphological CM were produced and used throughout the century.
Apart from a few attempts to describe special CMC, drawing on the collections in the BMNH in London and Teylers Museum in Haarlem, very little has been written about CMC (Tandy 1998; Touret 2004).
CMC could and should be complimentary research objects of early crystallography. In their time some CMC conveyed new concepts, many times under direct supervision of the inventor, and by studying them new aspects, blind alleys or pitfalls in the history of crystallography may come to light. The locations of CMC from different schools, may reflect scientific connections and influences, etc. But without any precise knowledge about the different sets and makers no such research can be made, they will remain just CM. The two main institutional uses of CMC – exhibit and education – can also pose potential threats to them, those of being worn in crystallography class or being dispersed both in education and exhibits. Banalized descriptions, e.g. “antique models” or “Krantz models”, is typical if such CM are marketed, ultimately then often losing their institutional provenance.
The aim of this study is to provide the mineralogical community with a deeper knowledge of the old CMC: their makers and scientists, when, where, and what of the sets were made, and how many models they contained. And not the least, where we can see typical sets of the different CMC.
How can this work be done? By a synergetic approach from three directions: (i) by studying literature, both primary books and catalogs listing/treating CMC, and different kinds of secondary literature, (ii) by Internet searches, especially utilizing the facility of searching words in OCR scanned texts, e.g. Google Books, Gallica, an effective tool for finding information which else would be almost impossible to retrieve; (iii) by surveying important collections and their archives, some of which are digitized.
In this presentation I will give a few examples of what I have accomplished so far by this method.
Tandy, P. 1998. Crystallography and the geometric modelling of minerals: a reflection on the models in the Natural History Museum, London. The Geological Curator 6(9): 333 – 338.
Touret, L. 2004. Crystal models: milestone in the birth of crystallography and mineralogy as sciences. pp. 43 – 58 in Dutch Pioneers of the Earth Sciences. Ed. by R.W. Visser and J. Touret, Koninklijke Nederlandse Akademie van Wetenschappen, Amsterdam.
M&M7, 7th International Conference on Mineralogy and Museums, Dresden, Germany, 27-29 August 2012