The Mineralogical Record
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Alfred Chester Beatty
(1875-1968)

Sir Alfred Chester Beatty was born in 1875 in a New York neighborhood that is now the site of Rockefeller Center. Even as a small boy, he was an avid collector. He made his first major salesroom killing at the age of 10. "At one auction," he recounted, "I fell in love with a beautiful specimen of pink calcite. I was sitting in the front row [with my father] and bid 10 cents. The auctioneer was disgusted and all the men laughed, ... [but] not a single one would bid against me." The auctioneer finally had to knock down the prize specimen to young Beatty. A distant relative after whom Beatty was named, the Reverend Alfred Chester, had a mania for collecting minerals, curios, tiny chips of rock from the Pyramids, bits of wood supposed to come from Captain Cook's ship and samples of lead and copper ore, and it was his example that fired Beatty's own enthusiasm for collecting.

Beatty pursued his childhood interest in minerals at Columbia University's School of Mines and graduated as a mining engineer. Spurning an allowance from his wealthy stockbroker father, he bought a one-way ticket to Denver. In Colorado, Beatty began his career with the only job available: as a "mucker," shoveling rock 10 hours a day for 25 cents an hour in Boulder's Kekionga Gold Mine. (Years later he was to give that name to his yacht.) He was hired for this position by none other than T.A. Rickard, later to be a leading mining historian and one of the founders of mining journalism. In three years Beatty worked his way up from mucker to manager of the mine, and in another two to assistant general manager of the Guggenheim Exploration Company, helping acquire and develop many of the company's richest mines. In 1908, however, Beatty decided not to renew his five-year contract with the Guggenheims, even though they asked him to name his salary. Instead he chose to open an office in New York at 71 Broadway under the title of “A. Chester Beatty, Consulting Mining Engineer.”

By the age of 38, Beatty's mining career had brought him a million dollars and a serious case of silicosis. He decided to leave mining--and the United States--and in 1913 moved to England, homeland of his mother's ancestors. While in London, he became acquainted with fellow mining engineer Herbert Hoover, later to be the 31st President of the United States of America; together they developed mines in Burma and Russia. He also bought a house in Cairo, from where he explored the Middle East and its treasures. There in the market place Beatty found hundreds of beautiful illuminated Islamic manuscripts. "Nobody had recognized their importance at that stage," said his biographer, "but Beatty had a great eye for color - probably due to his work with minerals." Over the next 50 years he assembled a collection of illuminated Islamic manuscripts rivaled in quality and scope only by the collection of the Topkapı Museum. When he died in 1968, he bequeathed his collection to the Irish nation, home of his father's parents.

After World War I, Beatty embarked on the development of mining businesses throughout the world, including lead and zinc mines in Siberia, diamond mines in Sierra Leone and copper mines in Zambia. The extraordinary feature of Beatty's work in these territories is that, as far as is known, he never actually visited any of them--sending out instead teams of geologists and mining engineers with very specific instructions where to explore. His judgment seldom proved wrong. Beatty became a naturalized British citizen in 1933. During World War II, he helped Britain obtain vital mineral supplies--a service for which he was later knighted.

References:
LAWTON, J. (1987) The miner and the manuscripts. Saudi Aramco World, 38 (2).
Irish Parliamentary Debates: Seanad Éireann, Vol. 110--11 December, 1985; Chester Beatty Library Bill, 1985: Second Stage.
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[Citation format for this entry:
WILSON, Wendell E. (2017)
Mineralogical Record
Biographical Archive, at www.mineralogicalrecord.com.]
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The Mineralogical Record - Alfred Chester Beatty 35 x 68 mm,
A label dating probably from 1908-1913, during Beatty's years as a consulting mining engineer in New York City.
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