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Paul E. Desautels

Paul Ernest Desautels, the most influential American curator of the 20th century, was born in Philadelphia on September 24, 1920, the son of Evelina and Leo J. Desautels, an accountant for a cotton brokerage. At the age of 14 he developed an interest in minerals through the influence of Charles R. Toothaker, a prominent Philadelphia collector. He was an early and superb micromounter, and he had a close relationship with Neal Yedlin and Lou Perloff, with whom he frequently got together to exchange material, knowledge and experiences.

Desautels received his B.S. degree in Chemistry from the University of Pennsylvania in 1942, worked as a petroleum chemist for the Atlantic Refining Company (1942-1944), and served in the U.S. Navy (1944-1946) as a Lieutenant aboard the U.S.S. Warrington. Following the war he entered graduate school at the University of Pennsylvania, receiving his M.S. degree in Chemistry in 1948. For a short time thereafter he taught chemistry at Haddon Heights High School in New Jersey, then took a position as Professor of Chemistry at Towson State Teacher's College in Maryland, where his wife-to-be, Nora, was also on the faculty. There he occasionally taught courses in mineralogy, gemology and crystallography in addition to his usual courses in chemistry

In 1957 Desautels left teaching to take a position as Curator of Gems and Minerals in the Department of Mineral Sciences of the U.S. National Museum of Natural History (Smithsonian Institution) in Washington, DC, a position he was to hold for the next 25 years. During his tenure as Curator he pursued acquisitions with zest, flair, energy and, above all, a refined sense of taste that became a standard in public and private mineral collecting. The Carl Bosch collection of 25,000 mineral specimens, acquired in 1970, is the largest of countless acquisitions which have greatly elevated the status of the National Collection.

Desautels' influence on the amateur mineralogical community was profound as well. Through hundreds of public lectures, voluminous correspondence, a column on museums in the Mineralogical Record, his work as an early Associate Editor of the Mineralogical Record, a series of popular books on mineral and gem collecting (most notably The Mineral Kingdom in 1968, and The Gem Kingdom in 1970), and his personal acquaintance with every major (and many minor) mineral curator, collector and dealer in the world, he influenced the path that mineral collecting and curating have taken. His aesthetic sensabilities and his overall connoisseurship in minerals were unequalled, and his charming, charismatic and sophisticated manner made him a sought after personality throughout the mineral world.

While still a Curator at the Smithsonian, Desautels worked as a mineral acquisitions consultant for Texas oil millionaire Perkins Sams. The Perkins and Ann Sams collection was eventually acquired by the Houston Museum of Natural Science, where Desautels continued to serve as a consultant for some time. However, his involvement with Sams displeased Smithsonian administrators, as did his complicity in arranging mineral donations to the Smithsonian involving purportedly inflated appraisals for tax purposes, and although he never benefitted personally he was ultimately compelled to retire as Curator.

In 1979 the new species desautelsite was named in his honor, recognizing his successful "efforts in expanding the [National] collection and assuring its pre-eminence." In 1981 he was inducted into the Micromounters' Hall of Fame. In 1990 he was awarded the Carnegie Mineralogical Award for his contributions in promoting mineralogical preservation, conservation and education. At the same time, a new award called the Desautels Trophy was created in his honor by the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show as an ultimate recognition of mineral collecting connoisseurship. He was the recipient of the American Federation of Mineralogical Society's Scholarship Award (1967) and the Smithsonian Director's Medal for outstanding service to the National Museum of Natural History. He was a Fellow of the Mineralogical Society of America, and a founder of the Baltimore Mineral Society. He was also a dedicated collector of orchids in his spare time. He died on July 25, 1991.

APPLEMAN, D.E, (1992) Paul E, Desautels (1920-1991). Rocks & Minerals, 67, 10-11.
MITCHELL, R.S. (1988) Who's who in mineral names: Paul Ernest Desautels. Rocks & Minerals, 63, 142-144.
WILSON, W.E. (1992) Died, Paul E. Desautels, 71. Mineralogical Record, 23, 207.
ZEITNER, J. C. (1991) Paul E. Desautels [obituary]. Lapidary Journal, 45 (7), 104-106.
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[Citation format for this entry:
WILSON, Wendell E. (2019)
Mineralogical Record
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Number of labels found: 6 | Labels being viewed: 1 to 6

The Mineralogical Record - Paul E. Desautels Paul Desautels
The Mineralogical Record - Paul E. Desautels 51 x 77 mm,
Smithsonian label for a specimen from the Carl Bosch (q.v.) collection, acquired for the Smithsonian by Curator Paul Desautels, and later sold by him as a duplicate.
The Mineralogical Record - Paul E. Desautels 51 x 72 mm,
Label for a specimen in the collection of Perkins and Ann Sams, acquired on their behalf by Paul Desautels as their agent
The Mineralogical Record - Paul E. Desautels 43 x 73 mm,
Label for a specimen in the collection of Perkins and Ann Sams, acquired on their behalf by Paul Desautels as their agent
The Mineralogical Record - Paul E. Desautels 44 x 74 mm,
Label from "Provenance Minerals," the company established for Perkins Sams by Paul Desautels as a vehicle for selling his excess specimens
The Mineralogical Record - Paul E. Desautels 50 x 88 mm,
A label/business card from "$piffy $pecimens," Executive Director: Paul Desautels
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