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Morrell G. Biernbaum

Morrell Goldsmith Biernbaum was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on April 26, 1895, the son of Sadie Goldsmith and Max H. Biernbaum, an iron machinist. He became "an enthusiastic mineral collector" in 1911, at the age of 16, and began taking courses in Geology at the Wagner Free Institute (with fellow students Samuel G. Gordon and Harry Trudell, among others); he received his certificate in Geology-1 in 1912 and in Geology-2 in 1913. He attended Penn Charter School in Philadelphia and went on to earn a BS in Civil Engineering from the University of Pennsylvania in 1917. He then took a position with the American Bridge Company in 1917, as assistant foreman in the construction of a manufacturing plant in Torrington, Connecticut. In 1920 he was working as an engineer for a shipbuilding company in Philadelphia.

He was an avid mineral collector, a member of the Philadelphia Mineralogical Society, and was donating mineral specimens to the Academy of Natural Sciences (under the name of Biernbaum) as early as 1918. On account of being persecuted as a Jew and originally not allowed to join the Philadelphia Mineralogical Society, he is said to have and converted to Episcopalian (probably ca. 1920 because he had been admitted to the Society by 1921), and changed his name to Baldwin in late 1935 or early 1936. A brief report in Henry Dake's The Mineralogists states that the November 1936 meeting of the Frankford Mineralogical Society of Philadelphia featured a talk by the "noted gem expert" Mr. Morrell G. Baldwin, owner of "a most magnificent private collection of gem stones." Again, in 1937, he gave a talk to the Philadelphia Mineralogical Society as Morrell G. Baldwin, on "Ancient and medieval gemology."

He registered for the draft in 1942 as Morrell Goldsmith Baldwin.

He took numerous mineral collecting trips to localities on the East Coast and in Nova Scotia. He assembled several mineral collections over the years, including some outstanding specimens. He acquired a major portion of the Charles Hoadley collection, and built a micromount collection of particularly attractive crystal specimens mounted in small custom boxes for viewing under a microscope. He also contributed a number of particularly attractive specimens to the Smithsonian Institution.

Biernbaum was a good friend of Rocks & Minerals founder Peter Zodac. He wrote an article on how to arrange a small collection in the June 1927 issue of Rocks & Minerals, and another in the December 1927 issue describing a 1924 collecting trip to Nova Scotia; in 1928 he was made "honorary president" of Zodac's "Rocks & Minerals Association," and was elected "honorary vice president" in 1929. He published an article on "where and how to find minerals" in December 1928, and another article in June 1931 listing himself as "Morrell G. Biernbaum, B.S., C.E." indicating that he held a bachelor's degree in Civil Engineering. It also confirms that his legal name change took place after 1931, leaving the mystery of why he cannot be found on the 1930 censuses (his mother had died by that time, but his father was still working as an ironwork contractor). The title of the 1931 article was "Are the 'good old days of mineral collecting gone?"

He is also mentioned in a 1921 issue of the American Mineralogist, under Miscellaneous Notes, a report of the Meeting of the Philadelphia Mineralogical Society on June 9, 1921: It states: "Mr. Biernbaum reported a three-day trip with Messrs. Frankenfield, Trudell, and Wills, to Falls of French Creek, the Birdsboro trap quarry, and Phoenixville, which resulted in turning up excellent chalcopyrite crystals at French Creek. Dr. Hawkins and Mr. Knabe reported sallies to Paterson, N. J., and O'Neills quarry, Pa., respectively, with negative results."

He is also acknowledged in a 1925 article in the American Mineralogist, (Volume 9, pages 203-252) by Edward F. Holden of the University of Michigan, in his article on "The cause of color in smoky quartz and amethyst." "Grateful acknowledgement is made of the following assistance rendered during this investigation ... M. G. Biernbaum, of Philadelphia ..." His last published article appeared in The Mineralogist in March 1935, titled simply "Micro-mounts."

Around 1936 Baldwin started a "boutique" jewelry shop ("M. G. Baldwin, Unusual gems and jewelry"), located at 1631 Locust Street in Philadelphia. In a May 1937 ad in The Sketchbook (published by the Pennsylvania Museum School of Industrial Art) he offered "Jewelry, all of special design and exquisite craftsmanship, [and] Unset gems suitable for mounting or collection." He exhibited much of his mineral collection in three large display cases in the shop. He engaged Edmund Poppy and Edmund's soon-to-be wife, Toodie Helmer. Toody designed custom jewelry and Edmund was the craftsman jeweler. The business focused on wealthy patrons, and became profitable about the time of the outbreak of World War II, when his clientele suddenly no longer wanted to spend the kind of money that was needed to support such a business. He then returned to the shipbuilding industry where he had been employed during World War I. But at age 50 he found it difficult to gain employment. He was forced to sell his entire mineral collection to private collectors, among which was Worth Acker, who was also an ardent member of the Philadelphia Mineralogical society and the second husband of Toodie.

Morrell Goldsmith Baldwin married Grace Luft (died 1991), and together they had two children: Diane (born 1930, married Joseph W. Packer and lives in Westchester, Pennsylvania) and Max (born 1933, married Beverley Carter and lives in Savannah, Georgia). Morrell died of cancer in 1948 (information obtained from his son, Max Baldwin).

DAKE, h. (1936) Philadelphia meetings. The Mineralogist, 4 (12), p. 8.
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WILSON, Wendell E. (2019)
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The Mineralogical Record - Morrell G. Biernbaum
The Mineralogical Record - Morrell G. Biernbaum 36 x 70 mm
The Mineralogical Record - Morrell G. Biernbaum 40 x 60 mm,
(A label loaned from the collection of Kreigh Tomaszewski)
The Mineralogical Record - Morrell G. Biernbaum Label for a Biernbaum specimen acquired by (probably donated to) the Philadelphia Academy of Natural Sciences in 1920.
The Mineralogical Record - Morrell G. Biernbaum Ad in the May 1937 issue of The Sketchbook.
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