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George Burnham

George Edward Burnham was born in Lake Elsinore, Riverside County, California on July 16, 1914, the son of Lois Lee and Charles Burnham, a grocery store clerk and later a rancher. Their home was not far from the pegmatite deposits of the Pala District. Burnham was about 9 years old when he first discovered his interest in minerals, via his Aunt Lillian who would take him on field collecting trips. Soon he was collecting pegmatite minerals regularly with his pal Leslie Merrifield. He attended San Bernardino Valley College briefly in the early 1930s, and studied mineralogy and geology; it was there that he met and married his wife Mildred in 1938. They settled in Monrovia, where he found work at first as manager of a Safeway grocery store; together they had four sons.

On January 1, 1946 George and his brother Wayne opened a mineral business out of George's three-car garage at 128 S. Encinitas Avenue in Monrovia, California, calling it the Burnham Mineral Company, or "BURMINCO" for short. Their first ad that month in Rocks & Minerals advertised Los Lamentos wulfenite (square tabular and prismatic) at 45˘/square inch of crystal-covered matrix, and diaboleite at 50˘/square inch, up to 16 square inches (for $8). A few issues later he offered well-formed benitoite and neptunite crystals on natrolite for $1 to $2.

By 1947 Burnham was sending out a catalog. In February he offered spectacular, self-collected vanadinite from the Apache mine in Arizona, in exceptionally large and dazzling crystals for the locality, at up to $40 (fairly pricey in those days) for an 8 x 14-inch cabinet specimen. He also announced his intention to have his first sales booth at a show, the Convention of the California Federation of Mineralogical Societies in Santa Barbara on May 23-25, 1947. Shortly after that show Burnam went on a collecting trip through the Southwest and Mexico, coming back with specimens of wulfenite and mimetite from the Ojuela mine, boasting that "advanced collectors who have seen this [material] have enthusiastically acclaimed it, without exception, to rank with the world's finest specimens." He also offered tetrahedrite in large (half-inch and up) crystals with brilliant pyritohedral pyrite from Utah, in cabinet-size specimens to $25.

In 1948 Burnham offered brazilianite crystals (no doubt from the type locality at Corrego Frio, Brazil) in crystals to 2 inches, priced at $15; pink morganite beryl crystal groups from Brazil; and Paravauxite from Llallagua, Bolivia, among many others.

In 1950 he announced that from June 19 to December 31 he would be on a buying and collecting trip to Europe, Africa, Madagascar and South America. His wife stayed home and kept the shop open on weekends only. George visited Iceland and Scandinavia as well, and had to extend his trip to July 30, 1951--13 months total, covering 41,000 miles, during which time he shipped many tons of lapidary rough and mineral specimens back to California. His ads in November-December began to list the many minerals he obtained, including dioptase from "French Equatorial Africa," tarbuttite crystals on matrix from Northern Rhodesia, and many others. It required the better part of a year for all of his various shipments from foreign countries to arrive in California. He also announced the acquisition of the 10,000-specimenm collection of O. Ivan Lee in January 1954. The minerals from his long trip and from the Lee collection must have kept him in selling stock for a long time.

In May 1956 Burnham hired a full-time assistant, Willard J. Perkin (who would become famous for inventing the "Perky box"); Perkin remained with him for three years. The Burminco ad in the November-December 1958 issue of Rocks & Minerals announced that he had been appointed distributor for one of the largest gem materials importers in the country.

Burnham was assisted for about 10 years beginning in the mid-1980's by Casey Jones and his wife Jane, who now operate independently as Geoprime Minerals. In 2003 George sold a substantial portion of his stock to Tony Jones (q.v.) of California Rock & Mineral Supply, but still worked in his business on a daily basis, with the help of his protégé, Anthony Arreola. George Burnham died on November 28, 2008, at the age of 94. The Burminco shop closed on January 1, 2009, and reopened on April 1, 2009, under the management of Anthony Arreola and his wife Lailani.

George's brother Willis Burnham became a prominent groundwater geologist with the USGS; his brother Wayne C. Burnham became a geochemist and was recently awarded the Roebling Medal; and his son Brian Burnham is the owner of Burnham Petrographics, a thin-sectioning service.

PALMA, C. (2008) Burnham, man of rare finds, dies at 94. Pasadena Star-News, December 11.
WILLIAMSON, G. (2006) Best place to get your rocks off. L.A. Weekly, October 5.
California Birth Index, 1905-1995.
U.S. Federal Census, 1920, 1930.
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[Citation format for this entry:
WILSON, Wendell E. (2019)
Mineralogical Record
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The Mineralogical Record - George Burnham George Burnham
The Mineralogical Record - George Burnham 42 x 72 mm,
Specimen from the Don George collection.
The Mineralogical Record - George Burnham 32 x 63 mm
The Mineralogical Record - George Burnham 41 x 76 mm,
Specimen from the collection of Stark O[lan]. Ivan Lee (1888-1950's).
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