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Joseph and Randolph Clay

Although the brothers Joseph and Randolph Clay of Philadelphia are not well known today, they built one of the country's largest and most important private mineral collections in the 1830's to mid-1880's.

Joseph Ashmead Clay was born in Philadelphia on June 3, 1806, the son of the Hon. Joseph Clay (1769-1811) and Mary Ashmead. He graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1822, and was admitted to the bar in 1827, serving in the front rank of Philadelphia lawyers in Orphan's Court practice. He was a member of numerous religious and secular societies including the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia and the Academy of the Fine Arts, among others, and was one of the founders and first President of the Social Art Club. He was unusually well-informed in matters of travel and geography, and was an accomplished art critic and connoisseur. For years he conducted religious services at the Episcopal Hospital in Philadelphia, as lay-reader, by authority of Bishop Alonzo Potter. He managed his brother Randolph's affairs in Philadelphia and influenced his diplomatic appointments in Washington. Joseph married Cornelia Fetcher in 1835, and died in Philadelphia on March 18, 1881.

The Hon. John Randolph Clay was born in Philadelphia on September 29, 1808, the son of the Hon. Joseph Clay (1769-1811) and Mary Ashmead. He was named after John Randolph of Roanoke, his father's intimate friend, who was his godfather; after his father's death he lived with Randolph in Virginia, and was educated there. He entered the bar in 1828 but never practiced law. Instead he served as a career diplomat on behalf of the American government. He went to St. Petersburg, Russia, with Minister Randolph, as Secretary of the American Legation there in 1830-1837. He was Secretary of the American Legation in Vienna, Austria in 1838-1845, was again in St. Petersburg in 1845-1847, and served as Minister to Peru for 13 years, from 1847-1860, until finally leaving the diplomatic service in 1860. He drew up the Articles of the first treaty of commerce between Russia and the United States, had the Amazon River thrown open to commerce, spoke six languages with fluency, and was one of the most accomplished diplomats ever to serve the United States. He named one of his sons William Vaux Clay, after his friend and prominent fellow mineral collector in Philadelphia. In 1861 he moved to England where he lived for the rest of his life, although in 1865 he returned to Philadelphia for a visit. Randolph was married twice (first to Frances Ann Gibbs in 1835, and second to Jane MacKnight in 1845); he had two sons, Harry Gibbs Clay and Randolph Clay, and a daughter, Mary Frances Clay. He died on August 15, 1885 in South Kensington, London, England.

Joseph and Randolph developed an interest in mineralogy in their youth and collected avidly throughout their lives; in later years they were aided in their collecting activities by Thomas Nuttall. Randolph sent home many specimens during his extensive travels abroad, while Joseph collected American specimens for their cabinet and for exchange. Apparently, both secured specimens exclusively by exchange and purchase--while complaining incessantly about specimen prices. Joseph maintained the mineral cabinet in Philadelphia, which grew to become one of the most impressive collections of minerals in the country. The brothers were good customers of the British mineral dealers Bryce Wright (1814-1875), James Gregory (1832-1899)and Richard Talling (1820-1883); in return they supplied Talling with lead minerals from the Wheatley mine in Pennsylvania, and with fragments of meteoritic iron. While Randolph was based in Weymouth in the 1860's he was a regular customer of the British mineral dealer Robert Damon (1814-1889), shipping large numbers of Damon's mineral specimens home to his brother Joseph in Philadelphia. Some went into the Clay cabinet while others were sold on Damon's behalf to collectors such as William S. Vaux, Henry A. Ward and J.C. Trautwine. The Clay Collection catalog, dated 1873, lists 621 specimens total.

The Clay mineral collection was held intact by their descendants for many years before finally going to the University of Pennsylvania. It was an old-time, general collection, which originally contained many choice specimens. The University has periodically sold specimens from the collection. In 1992, Illinois mineral dealer David Crawford was allowed to purchase several thousand "duplicates" from the University collection (the better ones remaining), including many Clay specimens, as well as specimens from the collections of Frederick Genth, George Koenig, and John Cardeza--the funds generated were used to support the graduate program in geology. Mineral dealer Carter Rich purchased the Pennsylvania specimens from Crawford, and Cornwall dealer Nick Carruth purchased the British specimens; the northern England and Scotland specimens were then purchased from him by British collector/dealer Lindsay Greenbank.

CANFIELD, F.A. (1923) The Final Disposition of some American Collections of Minerals. Privately printed by the author, Dover, New Jersey. Reprinted in Mineralogical Record, 21 (1), 39, 41-46.
GORDON, S.G. (1919) The History of Mineralogy in Pennsylvania (abstract of a lecture before the Philadelphia Mineralogical Society). American Mineralogist, 4, 16-17.
CLAY, C. (1895) The Family of Clay of Newcastle, Delaware and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Gibson Bros., Washington, DC., 51 pp.
OESTE, G.I. (1966) John Randolph Clay: America's First Career Diplomat. University of Pennsylvania.
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The Mineralogical Record - Joseph and Randolph Clay Joseph Ashmead Clay
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