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John Mawe

John Mawe, prominent British mineral dealer and author, was born in Queen Street, Derby, England in 1726, the son of Elizabeth and Samuel Mawe, a baker and flour merchant. He was orphaned at a young age and joined the merchant marine around 1777, eventually rising to become a ship's officer, but when war broke out with France in 1783 he returned home and joined the Brown & Son lapidary company in Derby. He married Sarah Brown (daughter of mineralogist Richard Brown) in 1794, and together they later had one son and one daughter.

In 1794 Mawe became manager and partner of Brown, Son & Mawe's new shop and "Petrifaction Warehouse" at 5 Tavistock Street, Covent Garden, selling mineral specimens and various manufactured lapidary items. The 1797 Brown & Company catalog of "Mineral Substances" ran to 16 pages, offering minerals, mineral analyses, and boxed collections, including "elegant crystallizations in the greatest variety." Minerals were acquired from local suppliers and also on collecting trips to mining districts. Mawe's extensive tour of Scotland in 1800 yielded many specimens and led to his first book: Mineralogy of Derbyshire: with a description of the most interesting mines in the North of England, in Scotland, and in Wales (1802). By that time he was boasting of a sales stock of over 20,000 mineral specimens, "the most extensive variety on sale in the Kingdom."

Mawe visited Paris in 1802, exchanging specimens with the various mineral collectors and mineralogists there and attending the lectures of Rene Just Hay. He was listed in fashionable London directories as a "collector of minerals," and was regarded as one of the best and most successful mineral dealers in London. In 1804 he embarked on a six-year tour of South America, especially Brazil (he complained of being unable to find even one doubly-terminated topaz crystal among "at least a cart load" at Ouro Preto), and later wrote his Travels in Brazil (1812) to recount his experiences and collecting discoveries.

He returned to England in 1810, and in 1811 his Covent Garden shop was transferred to 149 Strand, London's busiest shopping thoroughfare, and remained there for the next 70 years. He developed an extensive network of connections in Brazil, Europe, North America and even Ceylon which provided a regular flow of specimens. His shop on the Strand soon became extremely successful, and he also opened shops in Matlock Bath and Cheltenham in Gloucestershire. Mawe and his wife were important collectors and suppliers of shells as well as minerals. Sarah built her own collection of minerals, some of which she loaned to James Sowerby for illustration in his British Mineralogy (1804-1817) and Exotic Mineralogy (1811-1820).

John Mawe wrote several highly successful works on mineralogy and conchology, including A Treatise on Diamonds and Precious Stones (1813), Catalogue of Minerals (six editions under various titles from 1816-1827), and Familiar Lessons in Mineralogy and Geology (12 editions from 1812 to 1830). He died on October 26, 1829, leaving his wife Sarah in charge of his chain of shops. She became a highly successful and respected mineral dealer in her own right, and was named "mineralogist to her Majesty" Queen Victoria in 1837. Her employee James Tennant purchased the Strand business in 1840, and continued operating it until his death in 1881. Sarah Mawe died in 1846. Tennant kept her collection intact for many years, finally advertising it for sale in 1876 as:

"A collection of recent shells, minerals, rocks and fossils, in a large and well made cabinet of 108 drawers, with Glass Bookcase on the top. The Cabinet was the property of the late Mrs. Mawe, and contains her Private Collection of Recent Shells and Minerals. Among the latter are some crystals of gold, figured in Mawe's Travels in Brazil, and supposed to be unique." Its final disposition is unknown.

COOPER, M.P. (2006) Robbing the Sparry Garniture: A 200-Year History of British Mineral Dealers. Mineralogical Record, Tucson.
TORRENS, H.S. (1992) The early life and geological work of John Mawe, 1766-1829, and a note on his travels in Brazil. Buletin of the Peak District Mines Historical Society, 11 (6), 267-271.
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WILSON, Wendell E. (2020)
Mineralogical Record
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The Mineralogical Record - John Mawe Title page from John Mawe's Descriptive Catalogue of Minerals (1816)
The Mineralogical Record - John Mawe Label on a boxed set of minerals.
(Courtesy Paul Hamilton)
The Mineralogical Record - John Mawe Boxed set of minerals prepared by Sarah Mawe, dated April 27, 1836.
(Courtesy Paul Hamilton)
The Mineralogical Record - John Mawe Trays of minerals from the 1836 set prepared by Sarah Mawe.
(Courtesy Paul Hamilton)
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