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Peter Bancroft

Peter Ashley Bancroft was born May 5, 1916 in Tucson, Arizona, the son of Lillian N. Haddon and Roy Francis Bancroft, a draftsman and architect. His family moved to Glendale, California in 1920 and Pete grew up in there. Around 1930 he met another young local collector, Ed Swoboda (q.v.), and they teamed up to work a number of central California localities for specimens. On family vacations to the Rincon pegmatite district in San Diego County Pete and Ed explored for minerals and made many interesting discoveries. They also spent seven vacation trips from 1935 to 1939 digging benitoite and neptunite in San Benito County.

Pete graduated from the University of California at Santa Barbara (then called California State Teachers' College) in 1941 with a degree in Education, and studied geology and mineralogy under C.D. Woodhouse. While still in school he also began dealing in mineral specimens and gemstones, especially from Brazil (see 1942 ad shown here). He went on to attend graduate school in geology at the University of Southern California, the University of California at Santa Barbara, and at Stanford University. His doctorate, in Education Administration, was awarded by Northern Colorado University at Greeley in 1957. During his long professional career he has served as teacher, principal, and superintendent of schools in California; as a White House consultant on education, as a professional photographer; as a gemstone buyer, as Curator of Mineralogy at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History; and as Director of Collections for the San Diego Gem and Mineral Society. He worked for Bill Larson (q.v.) in the early 1970's as Marketing Director of Pala International.

Pete is best known in the collector community as the author of two extraordinary, beautifully illustrated books on fine minerals and their localities. The first was The World's Finest Minerals and Crystals (1973), and the second was Gem & Crystal Treasures (co-published by the Mineralogical Record in 1984). He has also written for many publications in Europe, Australia and the United States, and is a well-known lecturer on mines, minerals and gemstones. Unlike many "armchair authors" who merely recycle what has appeared in other books, Pete has spent years traveling the world like a modern-day Herodotus, visiting hundreds of remote and fascinating mineral and gem deposits, and interviewing miners and local inhabitants. In the process he has uncovered a wide range of information for his books, some of it never before published. In 1984 he was selected as an Honorary Awardee for the American Federation of Mineral Societies' Scholarship Foundation.

Beginning in the 1950's Pete concentrated his collecting activities on acquiring world-class cabinet specimens, and assembled one of the world's finest private collections. Pete was the first person in the modern era to publicly display the kind of dazzling array of high-quality specimens that have since been associated with the likes of Dave Wilber, John Barlow, Ed Swoboda, Steve Smale and others. In fact, he sold part of his collection (55 specimens) to Dave Wilber in 1970 for what was at that time the highest sum ever paid for a modern mineral collection. He retained part of his original collection, and then built a new collection around this core during the following decades. Parts of this collection were sold off in his later years, the most recent portion currently being sold by Rob Lavinsky (the Arkenstone), who had special labels prepared to accompany the specimens. Though Pete was meticulous about the labeling in his public exhibit cases at shows, he never used a preprinted labels with his own name on them.

Pete's wife and traveling companion of 61 years, Virginia Pomeroy Bancroft, died in 2002. Pete remarried in 2003 and resided with his wife , Helen "Sweeter" Officer in Fallbrook, California. Even in his 90s, he still enjoyed traveling, seeing new minerals and talking with collectors at every opportunity. He was also instrumental in building the fledgeling mineral collection and library of the Fallbrook Gem and Mineral Society. In his last years he worked actively on a new revised edition of his Gem & Crystal Treasures, which may still come to pass under the editorship of Peter Lyckberg.

Peter Bancroft passed away on September 16, 2016.
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[Citation format for this entry:
WILSON, Wendell E. (2019)
Mineralogical Record
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The Mineralogical Record - Peter Bancroft Peter Bancroft (right) with his son, Ed Bancroft, at the 1985 Tucson Show. Ed also collected minerals for many years, and recently donated his collection to the Univ. of California at Santa Barbara.
The Mineralogical Record - Peter Bancroft Label used for specimens sold through Rob Lavinsky (2006)
The Mineralogical Record - Peter Bancroft Bancroft's first book, The World's Finest Minerals and Crystals (1973). The cover specimen, a rhodochrosite from the Sweet Home mine in Colorado, was in Bancroft's collection and was considered at the time to be the world's finest example of the species; it was known as "the Bancroft rhodochrosite."
The Mineralogical Record - Peter Bancroft
The Mineralogical Record - Peter Bancroft Ad from the February 1942 issue of The Mineralogist.
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