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William Pinch

William Wallace (Bill) Pinch was born in Hornell, New York, on August 15, 1940, the son of Frances Foster, a nurse at Strong Memorial Hospital, and Wallace Pinch, a lifelong employee of the Eastman Kodak Company. After his parents separated, Bill was raised by his mother in Rochester, New York; he credited her with greatly encouraging his intellectual pursuits, in particular his passion for minerals.

Bill's first interest in the earth sciences was fossils, after finding a trilobite when he was 7 years old. After receiving a box of mineral specimens from the Cooperstown Museum, he began, still as a small child, to focus on mineral collecting. His mother's gift of a Japanese stibnite for Christmas opened Bill's eyes to the difference in quality of mineral specimens as well as the importance of crystallization, an understanding that was enhanced by a trip to the Smithsonian Institution when he was 12. There he met the curator of minerals, Dr. George Switzer. The acquisition of the first two volumes of Dana's System of Mineralogy began his life's preoccupation with the serious study of minerals, and with the purchase of mineral books.

Of course, Bill also decided that he should have examples of all the species he read about in Dana, and set about doing just that. As a result, Bill took many trips to the Smithsonian, where, with Switzer's guidance, he learned what the species he had read about looked like. Ultimately, Bill became extraordinarily adept at the sight identification of mineral species, including the very rare ones, which in turn led to his ability to recognize that something he was examining might be new to science. (Bill eventually was largely responsible for the identification of at least 20 new species, and contributed to the first descriptions of the crystal structures of many more.)

In his quest to build a species collection he made the acquaintance of mineralogist David Jensen at Ward's Natural Science Establishment in Rochester. Jensen taught Bill what to look for in minerals for purchase, including the importance of accurate locality information, and was instrumental in Bill's purchase of his first major acquisition: at the age of 16, with his mother's help, he purchased the Robert Vance micromount collection, including a microscope, and significant pieces from the H. B. Hanley collection, all for $300. These specimens gave Bill an appreciation for the importance of examining minerals under magnification, and he never acquired another mineral specimen that he did not examine carefully at a microscopic level. Because the collection also included the cotype specimen of the rare mineral gratonite, which had been discovered by Vance, Bill also learned the importance of the preservation of type and other scientifically important samples.

Bill also collected at many famous eastern US and Canadian localities. As a teenager, his paper route proved to be an inadequate source of funds for buying new minerals, so he began dealing in gemstones, and became a well-known expert. Bill enrolled at the University of New Mexico but, despite tremendously enjoying the mineralogy class, he left after one year. Returning to Rochester, he accepted a job in the research division of Eastman Kodak Company, where his role was using X-ray diffraction to document the identity and crystal structure of new compounds grown in Kodak's solid-state research facility. He was also allowed to use the equipment after hours to study minerals, giving him experience with mineral identification techniques far beyond those available to the average collector, and setting the stage for his scientific collaborations.

In 1967, Bill met Jacquelyn (Jackie) Dean in the Kodak cafeteria, where she was working part time while in college. They married, and although Jackie never shared Bill's passion for minerals, she became the stabilizing force of his life, always the loving partner and gracious hostess, as well as the mother of their two children (Megan Frances and Michael William).

In 1974, Bill founded, along with the Jensens, the Rochester Mineralogical Symposium. In 1979, Bill decided to leave Kodak and devote his full attention to mineralogical pursuits. He worked for Ward's and later for World of Science as a buyer, and was a buyer of major gemstones for Investment Rarities in the early 1980s. In those days he would be accompanied by a bodyguard carrying a briefcase handcuffed to his wrist. He also consulted for the Russian (then Soviet) government, visiting mines in the Urals and Siberia, to discuss how to market Russian gems and minerals.

Bill built a collection that rivalled all but the most major museums in scope and quality, and by the late 1980s had decided that it belonged in a curated museum, and sold it all to the Canadian Museum of Nature. Despite Bill's other collecting interests (coins, stamps, shells, fossils, books, and even model trains), however, the mineralogical itch remained, and he began to assemble another great collection, emphasizing specific suites from Tsumeb, other Namibian localities, South Africa, China, Transylvania, and others areas.

In 1974 the mineral pinchitea new species he found on a Terlingua specimen at Ward'swas named in his honor. And in 2001 the Pinch Medal was established in his name by the Mineralogical Association of Canada. This medal is awarded biannually at the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show "to recognize major and sustained contributions to the advancement of mineralogy by members of the mineral collector-dealer community." It was named for Bill "in recognition of his enormous and selfless contributions to mineralogy through the identification of ideal specimens for study and through his generosity in making them available to the academic community."

His contributions to science, included his major role in numerous mineralogical papers, and his many donations to major museums and universities, such as the RRUFF Project at the University of Arizona, the Smithsonian Institution and the Canadian Museum of Nature, among numerous other recipients.

Bill Pinch died April 1, 2017. A book on his collection is in preparation by Gloria Staebler at Lithographie LLC.


FEINGLOS, M. (2017) Died, William W. Pinch, 76. Mineralogical Record, 48 (4), 477-479.
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The Mineralogical Record - William Pinch
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