Peter Zodac was born in Peekskill, New York on September 24, 1894, the sole surviving child (of four) of Austrian-born Minnie Bybel and Hungarian-born Alexander Peter Zodac. The elder Zodac died when Peter was only three years old, and the widowed Minnie worked as a servant and laundress at the Peekskill Military Academy to support herself and her son. Peter attended Drum Hill School, graduating in 1912, and although his mother could not afford to send him to college, he worked for a number of years as an engineering inspector for the Westchester County Park Commission, and was a member of the Society of American Military Engineers. He also began collecting minerals at a fairly early age.
Sensing a need for a non-technical publication devoted to the interests of mineral collectors (and also those interested in rocks, ores, gems and fossils), he published the first issue of Rocks & Minerals in September 1926.
During the early years of the magazine Zodac also took advantage of the opportunity to publish free advertising for his own fledgling mineral and book business in order to generate extra income. In December 1926 he announced his purchase of the Morton Jandorf collection for resale, and in March 1927 he announced that he had made arrangements with "a well-known collector" (who wished to remain anonymous) to acquire minerals for him during travels through America, Canada, Alaska and Mexico. This unnamed collector, Zodac said, had "supplied many collectors, dealers, schools and museums throughout the world during the past 30 years" (i.e. since 1897). The mystery collector's first lot sent to Zodac was a large and remarkable shipment of epidote and other minerals from Green Monster Mountain on Prince of Wales Island, Alaska. The only active collector up there at the time appears to have been the original discoverer of the epidote occurrences, C.B. Ferguson, who must therefore have been the source. One "extra-fine" museum specimen was mentioned--a 20-pound, 10 x 10-inch cluster of epidote crystals with quartz and calcite, for $50 (a lot in those days, especially for Zodac, who was not a "high end" dealer).
In September of 1927 Zodac announced that a second lot of Alaskan minerals, different from the first, was on the way, and also that he had arranged to have other agents in various countries ship him minerals regularly for resale. He also established a line of pre-assembled collections ("Beginner's Collection" of 100 common rocks and minerals, "Prospector's Collection" of 100 common ores, "Crystal Collection" of 80 loose crystals, etc.). In June 1928 he also mentioned having purchased the entire stock of "an old dealer" dating to around 1913.
Zodac worked to expand his mineral business as rapidly as possible, enlisting retail agents in various cities by offering them mineral specimens on consignment. And in December 1928 he announced that he would be buying and selling commercial mineral commodities (industrial beryl, rare-earth ore minerals, germanium and gallium ores, etc.) in lots from 1 ton to carloads. However, Zodac's full-page ads for mineral specimens ended abruptly after March 1929, replaced for a few years by his "Book Department" ads, and small adds for his remaining stock of small Beginner's Collections and occasional full-page ads for 10-cent 1-inch "common minerals for beginners." The Depression seems to have brought an end to his side-businesses. He made do with sales of his one-dollar 80-page booklet How to Collect Minerals.
In 1932 Zodac also initial Rocks & Minerals sponsored field trips which became very popular. He enlisted agents in many different states to lead local field trips on his behalf, all to be held on the same day across the country.
By 1932 the magazine was doing well enough for Zodac to quit his job with the County Park Commission and devote full time to publishing. He founded the "Rocks and Minerals Association," and was the inspiration for the formation of many local mineral clubs across the country (in 1930 there were only four!). His kind, gentle and humble personality endeared him to many.
In November 1935 Zodac confirmed that he had ended his mineral business when he said, "I have an extensive stock of minerals, carried over from the days when I was a mineral dealer, which I would like to dispose of, as their carrying takes up needed space." By 1936, however, the magazine was thriving as interest in rockhounding grew and the struggles of the Depression subsided. Zodac ventured again into the mineral dealing business, announcing the purchase of three collections: those of (1) Wilbur J. Elwell of Danbury, CT, (2) The Ossining School, Ossining, NY, and (3) Rev. Thomas C. Crosby of Hebden, England. He continued buying in 1937, announcing in his ad that "We have recently received a large assortment of many attractive minerals." He also ran two full-page ads for Prince of Wales Island epidotes and associated species, noting that "we have many large museum-size specimens" of most of the various species. In addition to handling mineral specimens again he began acting as agent for the sale of a 1,000-specimen Paterson, New Jersey collection, and also became the sales agent for cutting and polishing machines manufactured by John Vlismas in New York City. These activities must not have proven profitable, and within a year or two he stopped advertising for good as a mineral dealer (except for an occasional 1-inch filler ad offering mineral fragments for blowpipe analysis).
By the time of his death on January 27, 1967, Peter Zodac had accumulated approximately 5 tons of mineral and rock specimens, much of it probably left-over dealer stock from the 1930's and much of it donated by readers (generally specimens of low quality). Following his death his cousin James N. Bourne and wife Winifred took over publication of the magazine and arranged for the sale of Zodac's mineral collection and library to Lawrence H. Conklin (q.v.). Included was Zodac's informal collection of old mineral labels, apparently the first such collection ever formed. It was retained by Conklin for many years, then traded to Richard A. Bideaux (q.v.), and finally donated to the Mineralogical Record where it forms part of the core of the Label Archive today.
ANONYMOUS (1967) Peter Zodac, expert on minerals, dies. Rocks & Minerals, 42 (3), 162-164.
MITCHELL. R.S. (1987) A tribute to Peter Zodac (1894-1967), founder and first editor of Rocks & Minerals. Rocks & Minerals, 62 (1), 16-25.
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[Citation format for this entry:
WILSON, Wendell E. (2019)
Biographical Archive, at www.mineralogicalrecord.com.]
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