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Herbert P. Whitlock

Herbert Percy Whitlock served for 23 years as Curator of Minerals at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, home of one of the world's great mineral collections. He was born on July 31, 1868 in New York City, the son of Caroline Vermilyea Hull and Thomas Whitlock, a dealer in woolen goods. His parents must have been reasonably well to do, as he was able to attend private school despite having five older siblings; he graduated from the Charlier Institute in 1884, then attended the School of Mines at Columbia University, where he studied engineering primarily, with classes in geology and mineralogy. Following his graduation in 1889 with a degree in Civil Engineering, but having developed a love of minerals, he took a position at Columbia as Assistant in Mineralogy to his former professor, Alfred E. Moses. He was never to use his C.E. degree, but instead made mineralogy his life. In 1901 he left to take a similar position at the New York State Museum in Albany, and was promoted to Mineralogist there in 1904, remaining for another 12 years and being appointed State Mineralogist in 1916. During these years he learned mineralogy, crystallography and goniometry on his own, pursued various mineralogical studies and worked with the mineral collection and mineral displays at the museum.

Whitlock married Julia Jacques Gardner of Albany in 1904; she died childless in 1919, and Whitlock never remarried. He took in a boarder as a roommate for a few years thereafter but was later joined by his unmarried sister Florence.

In 1918, following the death Louis Pope Gratacap at the Department of Mineralogy of the American Museum of Natural History, he accepted an appointment there as Curator and Chairman of the Department. With a new sense of duty to the public he turned from his mineralogical studies to lecturing, popular writing and public education about minerals. Having no family responsibilities, he regularly spent Saturday mornings in the Morgan Hall of Minerals and Gems, answering questions from visitors, and gave heavily attended lectures in the spring and fall, and on Saturday afternoons. Though he rarely collected in the field (he disliked car travel), it was his habit to give away "surplus" minerals he had purchased at his own expense to young visitors who could identify them. During his tenure the museum received numerous important donations, including the Dr. Isaac Wyman Drummond Collection, the Boyce Thompson Collection, the Schettler emerald, and the Delong ruby.

F.H. Pough wrote of him, "He was very popular among his fellow curators and, though he often seemed a little strange, with his courtly old-world manners, he was generally admired throughout the Museum for his charm and friendliness." He served as Secretary of the Mineralogical Society of America in 1920-1922, and President in 1933; and he was elected a Fellow of the Geological Society of America and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He retired in 1941, becoming Curator Emeritus; in that year the mineral whitlockite was named in his honor by Clifford Frondel. Whitlock had a real passion for minerals and was excellent at sight identification. He lamented that young upcoming mineralogists we so narrowly specialized and so devoted to microscopical and X-ray studies that they had little chance to become acquainted with mineral specimens or develop a love for them. He died at his home on February 22, 1948.

ANON. (1910) Obituary notice - Julia Whitlock. New York Times, October 14, p. 17.
POUGH, F.H. (1948) Memorial of Herbert Percy Whitlock. American Mineralogist, 34 (3-4), 261-266.
ZODAC, P. (1948) Herbert Percy Whitlock (Obituary Notice). Rocks & Minerals, 23 (4), 311.
U.S. Federal Census, 1870, 1880, 1900, 1910, 1920, 1930.
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