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The Mineralogical Record Bookstore: Cavradi - Christian Hager, Jochen Mattis, Patrick Reith and Theodosi Venzin

Hardcover, 216 pages
Published by Jochen Mattis
Dimensions 9.5 x 13 (inches)
Price $110.00


by Christian Hager, Jochen Mattis, Patrick Reith and Theodosi Venzin

To quote from the Foreword to this book by a group of Swiss mineral adepts, “The Cavradi Gorge is certainly one of the best-known mineral localities of Switzerland, and among the most important hematite localities worldwide. Cavradi hematite in its combination with host rock is so characteristic that it can hardly be mistaken for hematite from other localities.” Yes: the brilliantly lustrous, metallic black, platy hematite crystals of the Cavradi Gorge, many with red epitactic rutile crystals, are distinctively different from the “iron rose” hematites of other Alpine localities, and, especially when accompanied by limpid quartz crystals, make breakthtaking collector pieces. This last proposition is amply proved by the photo-portfolio section, which occupies about 150 of the book’s 216 pages. The photos, all by Christian Hager, are nearly all rendered in half-page or full-page size—which is saying a lot, as the book is 9½ inches wide and more than a foot tall. The authors say plainly in their Foreward that their major purpose was indeed to show photos to represent the full range of minerals from Cavradi, and Hager’s expert photography gets the job done, well, expertly.

The book also offers much valuable information about the geology and cleft mineralogy of the Cavradi Gorge, about Strahler who have haunted it since (at least) the late 18th century, and about one great 19th –century collection of Cavradi minerals. The text is laid out in roughly parallel columns, one German, one English, and although these columns sometimes get out of alignment such that following and inter-relating them can get a little confusing, the English translation of the original German is good, with very few dubious idiomatic constructions and generally a clear, straightforward style.

After the Foreword a 4-page “Geography” chapter shows, with the aid of four panoramic photos and a detailed map, where exactly the Cavradi Gorge lies: in the westernmost part of the Canton of Graubünden, in a region which was once called Tavetsch but is now called Tujetsch, and in the northernmost segment of the Curnera Valley, just south of the Vorderrhein (uppermost Rhine). Next, an equally short “Geology” chapter tells us what I, anyway, hadn’t known: that in the tectonically tortured crystalline and metamorphic rocks of the Gorge two mineralogical “zones,” a Hematite Zone and an Anatase Zone, are distinguishable. We learn more about these zones and their minerals in the next chapter, “Mineralogy,” where, besides brief discussion of cleft morphology and descriptive lists of minerals, there is information about early researchers and writers on Cavradi minerals, back to the collector D.F. Wiser (1802-1878) and the mineralogist Adolf Kenngott (1818-1897), author of “the first comprehensive compilation of Swiss minerals.” Then, the better to set us up for the photo portfolio coming next, there is a 20-page chapter, “Strahler and Clefts of the Cavradi Gorge,” with stories of collecting history, more panoramic pictures with overlain notations to show locations of clefts, and photos of “raw” clefts and of their happy exploiters who grin at the camera while holding up giant, muddy crystals just now taken from their (formerly) secret recesses.

As I’ve said, the photo portfolio chapter is the heart of the book. Its two very unequal sections, “Pictures Hematite Zone,” 143 pages, and “Pictures Anatase Zone,” 5 pages, are separated by a 7-page chapter on the collection of the aforementioned D.F. Wiser, whose 40-year program of visiting Strahler throughout Switzerland resulted in a collection of 8,000 well-documented Swiss specimens; this chapter features photos of some of Wiser’s best Cavradi Gorge pieces and of some pages from his catalog. But back to “Pictures.” Oddly, the photo captions do not identify the specimens’ present owners, but they do give specimen sizes. The majority are miniatures, as the authors’ “special concern,” they write, is “to document the fascinating beauty of small specimens from Cavradi, which often have been overshadowed by spectacular cabinet-size specimens.” In fact, Cavradi hematite crystals and quartz gwindels rarely exceed a few centimeters, and in most of the pictured specimens there is excellent aesthetic harmony among the crystals and/or between crystals and matrix. Besides quartz and hematite, there is strontianite in snow-white crystal sprays; blocky white barite crystals; lustrous chocolate-brown siderite; floater sprays of bladed red-brown rutile crystals; greenish white adularian orthoclase; yellow scalenohedral calcite; skeletal pyrite; and, most surprisingly, very sharp 1-cm crystals of djurleite with malachite skins. The short chapter on the “Anatase Zone” in Cavradi shows sharp, bipyramidal, blue-black anatase crystals to 5 mm on quartz, and rare, gemmy yellow crystals of monazite to 6 mm. Technically these photographs are of very high quality; the only reservation I have is that their backgrounds are all very dark—solid black or dark blue—and not always best for “foregrounding” the lustrous black hematite and transparent, colorless quartz. But the specimens themselves, in all of their Alpine beauty, come through in exquisite, pristine detail.

In the final three pages, 19 Strahler, dealers and other people are credited for their helpfulness, and a Bibliography lists 27 printed sources with dates from 1836 to 2006.

Lithographie’s asking price of $110 for this book doesn’t seem in the least unreasonable for a book which amounts to a Last Word (and a luxuriantly illustrated Word, at that) on one of the great classic mineral localities of the world.

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