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Lazard Cahn

Lazard Cahn was born in St. Joseph, Missouri on May 23, 1865, the son of wealthy French-immigrant parents. The family moved to New York City when he reached school age, and in 1880 he traveled to Stuttgart, Germany for schooling and remained there for several years. He had intended to return to New York for his college studies but his sister's illness prompted him to moved to Colorado Springs in 1885 to be with her (he never married). He maintained a residence there more or less for the rest of his life, except for time spent tending his business affairs back East (he maintained offices in New York) and time at college and in Heidelberg, Germany studying crystallography under Victor Goldschmidt. Cahn became a passionate student of mineralogy, and an enthusiastic mineral collector (and micromounter--a specialty learned from George Fiss) with a special interest in crystal morphology.

Though of independent means thanks to his inheritance, real estate holdings and stock market investments, Cahn began dealing in mineral specimens for pleasure in the mid-1890's, from his offices in New York. Cahn's first advertisement appeared in the Exchange Column of the July 1895 issue of The Mineral Collector. He wanted to buy or exchange for "very choice, well crystallized American minerals," and offered for sale Colorado amazonite and orthoclase twins, rhodochrosite crystals on matrix, bastnasite pseudomorphs, arfvedsonite crystals and pyrite crystal groups. He must have been a well known and respected mineral collector/dealer, because in 1896 he was invited to join the Board of Directors of the George L. English Company. He came to know the other important collectors, dealers and mineralogists of his day, including Charles Palache at Harvard, under whom Cahn studied goniometry and crystal drawing in 1914-1915. Cahn is said to have cataloged over 70 species pairs that exist in epitactic overgrowth relationships. In 1927 Palache named the new species cahnite in his honor, in recognition of Cahn's indefatigable efforts to preserve, study and distribute rare Franklin minerals. Though not a college professor (he had turned down an offer to chair the Mineralogy Department at the University of Nebraska), Cahn nevertheless had a coterie of his own devoted students whom he taught mineralogy, crystallography and micromounting informally in his Colorado Springs office twice a week. But despite his technical accomplishments and status as one of the top crystallographers of his time, he authored only a single published paper (on the replacement of garnet by topaz at Thomas Mountain, Utah).

His labels give the addresses of several of his New York offices including 143 East 21st Street (Gramercy Park)(1897-1903); 36 Stuyvesant Place, New Brighton, New York, where he moved from his Gramercy Park address ca. 1903; 103 East 19th Street (ca. 1905); and 258 West 73rd Street (ca. 1910); and his Colorado Springs home (6 North 8th Street)(ca. 1908-1940) and Colorado Springs offices (510-512 Exchange National Bank Building) -- the dates based on dated labels in the Archive and in the Natural History Museum, London.

Lazard Cahn died of heart failure on May 22, 1940, a day before his 76th birthday. His students had a now-famous granite headstone prepared for him which was carved in the shape of a giant twinned cahnite crystal. His collection of over 4,000 micromounts was given to Yale University (after his friends and students had taken their choice of the better specimens), and his larger specimens were dispersed by public sale in 1944 and 1946, as part of the disposition of his estate. A number of small collections of Cahn micromounts exist in various institutions, most of them presented by Cahn himself (Harvard, the Paris School of Mines, Colorado School of Mines). However, a selection of 2,400 Cahn specimens went to Northwestern University, where they were kept together with their original labels and ultimately offered for sale to the public by Richard Kelly and Eugene Schlepp in 1978. Lazard Cahn was inducted into the Micromounters' Hall of Fame in 1982.

TURZI, U. (2001) Lazard Cahn, "scientist, teacher and friend." Matrix, 9, no.3, 118-127.
PALACHE, C. (1941) Memorial of Lazard Cahn. American Mineralogist, 26, 174-177.
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[Citation format for this entry:
WILSON, Wendell E. (2019)
Mineralogical Record
Biographical Archive, at]
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The Mineralogical Record - Lazard Cahn Lazard Cahn in 1928 (photo courtesy of the Pikes Peak-Carnegie Library)
The Mineralogical Record - Lazard Cahn Lazard Cahn
The Mineralogical Record - Lazard Cahn 30 x 64 mm
One of Cahn's earliest labels, showing his Gramercy Park address in New York. A code on the back, "myx 97," is probably a purchase-price code like the one Carl Bosch (q.v.) used. The thee letters are probably part of a 10-letter cypher key, and the "97" probably indicates 1897. Labels with this address date from the late 1890's to ca. 1903. Cahn must have been specializing in West Paterson, New Jersey specimens, considering that he had a rubber stamp made for the locality name.
The Mineralogical Record - Lazard Cahn 40 x 70 mm
Gramercy Park address, dated 1901 on the back.
The Mineralogical Record - Lazard Cahn 54 x 92 mm
Cahn's business card, showing the Gramercy Park address scratched out in favor of his subsequent address in New Brighton, New York, ca. 1903.
The Mineralogical Record - Lazard Cahn 42 x 70 mm
Label in Cahn's handwriting; New Brighton address, ca.1903 to ca.1905.
The Mineralogical Record - Lazard Cahn 44 x 70 mm
Label showing Cahn's New York address at 103 East 19th Street, in Cahn's handwriting, ca.1905 to ca.1910.
The Mineralogical Record - Lazard Cahn 44 x 70 mm
Preprinted label for material Cahn must have had in substantial quantity; 19th Street address, ca.1905 to ca.1910.
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