The Mineralogical Record
The Mineralogical Record - Join us on Facebook!  The Mineralogical Record - Sign up for our newsletter

Lucian M. Zell

Lucian Mitchell Zell was a New York City mineral dealer specializing in the highest quality specimens for elite collectors.

Zell was born in Reading, Pennsylvania on September 15, 1873, the son of Josephine Patterson Thompson and Thomas Zell, a mine superintendant. Lucian married Annie Cunningham in Philadelphia in 1898, and they had two children: Dorothy (1903) and Lucian Jr. (1906). In 1900 he and Annie were living in Winthrop, Massachusetts and he was earning a living as an importer of precious stones and pearls. He worked for the American Gem Company, which advertised as follows in the December 3, 1901 issue of the Landmark newspaper of Statesville, North Carolina:

"Highest Cash Prices Paid for minerals suitable for cutting, such as Amethysts, Beryl, Rutilated Quartz, etc. American Gem Co., 14 Church Street, New York, N. Y."

Pratt's Mining Industry in North Carolina (1901) mentions that in 1900 the American Gem Company of New York was mining rhodolites in Macon County, North Carolina. The American Museum of Natural History noted that, for the year 1903, the American Gem Company (through Lucian M. Zell) donated one specimen of quartz, large crystallization, and hiddenite, from North Carolina.

From December 1901 to May 1902, the American Gem Company, 14 Church Street, New York City ran an advertisement in the Landmark: “HIGHEST CASH PRICES Paid for minerals suitable for cutting, such as Amethysts, Beryl, Rutilated Quartz, etc.” The American Gem Company was incorporated in 1900 and capitalized at $25,000. The company was managed in New York by Louis Kahn, president, and Meyer Goodfriend, secretary with Boston employees Edwin Passmore, a cutter; Robertson Duff, the treasurer; and Lucian Zell. Previously, Louis Kahn and Meyer D. Rothschild were partners in the Azure Mining Company, the company that Lippman Tannenbaum had previously sued for reputedly cheating him out of being a partner. Perhaps, the American Gem Company was investigating if Tannenbaum had cheated himself out of a profitable opportunity in Alexander County.

Passmore the cutter and Meyer D. Rothschild in 1901 already had a working relationship. Previously, in May 1895, Edwin Passmore, Meyer D. Rothchild, Meyer Goodfriend and Arthur H. Pray had formed in Boston, “The American Gem Cutting Company, Incorporated” to specialize in cutting diamonds and colored gemstones (Jewelers Circular, 1895). During 1900 to 1903, Meyer D. Rothschild, a former business partner with Louis and Moses Kahn, practiced law in New York City.

In June 1901, Edwin Passmore sold his interest in the American Gem Company (Jewelers Circular, 1901) to form his own company, the Passmore Gem Company, in September 1902. In April 1903, the Jewelers Circular announced the incorporation of a new company, the American Gem and Pearl Company, with a working capital of $150,000. This new corporate entity was composed of Meyer D. Rothschild, president; Louis Kahn, vice-president; and A. A. Kahn as secretary and treasurer. The American Gem and Pearl Company had purchased and retained the entirety of the former American Gem Company, its offices and its employees. Its goal was to continue the business as before but on a larger scale, reflecting the energy of its new president, Rothschild. In the new company, Lucian Zell was to manage all the cutting facilities.

In later years, the company became active in exploiting various deposits for raw gemstones, such as at the Wiseman Aquamarine mine (a property where the mining rights had already been purchased—not leased—by Edwin Passmore) in North Carolina; the Rutherford Amazonite mine in Virginia; and the Crabtree Emerald mine in North Carolina. The company does not appear to have ever been commercially successful at Hiddenite, North Carolina. In 1903, the American Gem Company, through its employee, Lucien M. Zell, donated to the American Museum of Natural History two specimens from Alexander County: a hiddenite and “a striking specimen of quartz.” The quartz specimen consisted “…of parallel growths of smaller crystals made up of the prism and the pyramid. Many component small crystals stand out in high relief. The specimen is about 20 inches across” (The American Museum Journal, 1904). In 1903 the Financial Red Book of America listed Louis Kahn as president and Moses Kahn as director of the American Gem Company. Both Louis and Moses were longtime business associates of Meyer D. Rothchild, starting prior to 1891 with Rothschild's employment at L & M Kahn Company and later with Azure Mining Company where Rothschild was president. In 1903, Meyer D. Rothschild obtained "personal control" of the American Gem and Pearl Company of New York at 14 Church Street. The evidence suggests that after Rothschild joined or purchased the company, the company name was changed by adding "and Pearl." The U. S. National Museum in 1906 received from the American Gem and Pearl Company "twenty-two gems through Mr. Lucian M. Zell, manager; gummite from Mitchell County, North Carolina, also specimens of topaz and amethyst."

The 1907, 1909 and 1911 editions of Trow's New York City Directory of Copartnership and Corporations listed Lucian M. Zell as a director of the American Gem and Pearl Company, with Meyer D. Rothschild, Arthur Kahn and Louis Kahn. Zell also held the position of secretary of the corporation, with Rothschild as president.

Lucian and Annie had moved to East Orange, New Jersey by 1910; in 1917 they were living in Glen Ridge, New Jersey, and were still there at the time of the 1930 census; he probably commuted to his office in New York City. He first began advertising from his office on Fifth Avenue in the September 1932 issue of Rocks & Minerals. The March 1933 issue mentions that he handled the sale of the opal collection of T.C. Wollaston. His ads continued through 1938.

Zell also served as vice president of the Signatelle Corporation of America in New York--manufacturers, or at least promotors, of a signaling device ("stop," "right," "left") for cars. Dr. M. Joseph Mandelbaum was president and Hy Green was secretary-treasurer, as listed in the 1916 New York City Directory.

Lucian Zell died in New York on March 20, 1945, and was buried in Philadelphia.


ANONYMOUS (1945) Obituaries: Lucian M. Zell. New York Times. March 21.
U.S. Federal Census records.
World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918.
To contribute more information please E-mail us at:

[Citation format for this entry:
WILSON, Wendell E. (2019)
Mineralogical Record
Biographical Archive, at]
Click on thumbnail picture to see larger image.
Number of labels found: 1 | Labels being viewed: 1 to 1

The Mineralogical Record - Lucian M. Zell
Contents copyright © 2019 The Mineralogical Record, Inc. All rights reserved.  
Graphic design of this website by Wendell E. Wilson. Website programming by