John Meeks Shannon was born in Pampa, Texas, on October 12, 1931, the son of Cleo Almyra Olive and John Edwin Shannon. Although most in the mineral community knew John for his expertise in mining history and assay balances, and as a museum curator, mineral show manager, and mining historian, he was also an accomplished musician, talented in oboe and clarinet, among other instruments. John fit perfectly the definition of a "Renaissance man," with expertise in musical endeavors, earth sciences, and mining history; in short, he excelled in everything he tackled.
He earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in music education in 1955 and soon thereafter served in the military (from 1955–1957) as a 1st Lieutenant artillery officer at the 5th Army Headquarters in Chicago. Following his military service, he undertook a career as a band director in several Louisiana high schools. After John obtained a Master's degree in Music Education in 1962, the family (now including two daughters, Vina and Nancy) immigrated to Sterling, Colorado and shortly thereafter to Northglenn, Colorado, where he again directed high school bands. He continued his education at the University of Colorado at Boulder, receiving a Master's Degree in Basic Science there in 1975 with an emphasis in geology.
His early interest in mining history and minerals was manifested in the many weekends that were spent with the family exploring areas along the Front Range and central mountains in Colorado where old mining districts were located. The family moved to Lakewood, Colorado in 1977, and John accepted a position as Director of the Geology Museum at the Colorado School of Mines, while continuing musical activities as director of the CSM Orediggers band in addition to local choirs.
As director, John oversaw the construction of the "Guild Mine Tunnel," a recreation of an underground mine, the concept of which was later replicated in the museum when it was moved to a new facility in the General Research Laboratory building. He was also responsible for placement of outstanding exhibits of mining artifacts and scientific instruments in the museum, a reflection of his own knowledge and interests.
John had a special interest in the mining history of Leadville, one of his favorite haunts. Extensive research, utilizing his own substantial library to support his work, resulted in a benchmark article on the district that appeared in the Colorado-III issue of Mineralogical Record (May-June 1985). A companion article in the same issue, highlighting the Colorado School of Mines collection and co-authored by John, featured scientific instruments and mineral specimens from the School of Mines collection. The cover photo of the Colorado-III issue, which illustrated many of the instruments in John's private collection, set an artistic precedent that was imitated even as late as 2014, when an exhibitor at the October, 2014 Pacific Northwest Mineralogical Symposium recreated the layout of minerals and instruments depicted on the cover.
Following his tenure at the School of Mines, in 1987 John embarked on a new opportunity as the curator at the Leadville National Mining Hall of Fame. To accomplish this, he commuted to Leadville, spending 2-3 days each week in a local motel. In that capacity he played an instrumental role in organizing the mining and mineral exhibits to the level that they are today. The museum's Director at that time commented about John's in-depth knowledge of minerals and rocks, as well as his being a talented writer and enthusiastic history buff. His tenure there extended for several years, ending by about 1990.
More than anything, John excelled at the history, manufacture, and construction of the assay balance, having written and published with Gerry Shannon an iconic 1999 book on that subject: The Assay Balance: Its Evolution and the Histories of the Companies That Made Them. This magnum opus was a years-long effort and is widely considered an indispensible and expert resource on the subject that is recognized as the definitive publication on assay balances; the rare hardback version now commands a high price on the Internet.
John was also an expert restorer of assay balances, developing skills that included the complete disassembly and demanding task of re-lacquering the wood with a French polish. He was also a member of the International Society of Antique Scale Collectors. He assembled arguably one of the world's finest suites of assay balances, ranging from European makers to Denver companies, and from portable to full-size balances, all of exquisite quality and construction. John's passion for collecting did not end with balances; he also assembled an extensive collection of outstanding blowpipe outfits, including an important Freiberg multi-drawer compendium.
John and Gerry established their own business in the late 1980s, which they named "The Irish Rovers." They concentrated on mining artifacts, antique scientific instruments and minerals, with assay balances being a specialty. A remarkable trait of John was his business model that did not entail extracting the highest possible price for his merchandise – he was satisfied to make a fair, but not exorbitant mark-up. Pursuant to their business, he was a fixture at both the Denver and Tucson mineral show venues for many years. In addition to that activity, he was a longtime show manager for Marty Zinn's Executive Inn Show in Tucson from 1991 to about 1998, where he was set up in the easternmost suite that was adjacent to Uli Burchard's room.
In later years following his retirement around 1990, John continued his musical pursuits, playing in the Denver Pops Orchestra (also known as the Mostly Strauss Orchestra), where he also served as assistant conductor, Board Director, and President of the Board of Directors. He was considered by his fellow musicians to be a mentor and role model for other orchestra members. Although he primarily played the oboe, he also remained fluent with the clarinet and English horn.
John passed away in Lakewood, Colorado, on March 4, 2015. He is survived by his wife Geraldine ("Gerry", whom he married in 1953), and daughters Vina Bridge and Nancy Kathleen Kalix, and grandson Collin Bridge.
KILE, D. E. (2015) [Obituary] Died, John Shannon. Mineralogical Record, 46 (5), 767-768.
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WILSON, Wendell E. (2019)
Biographical Archive, at www.mineralogicalrecord.com.]
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