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Prosper J. Williams

Prosper John "Prop" Williams was born in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, on October 27, 1910, the eldest son of Lambert Williams (1872-1966) and Doris Ellen Dufaur-Clark (1887-1934). In 1918 his family moved to a remote South African seaside cottage in hopes of escaping the worldwide influenza epidemic (it worked), and soon after the end of World War I that same year the family moved to Hertfordshire County, England.

In 1926, when Prosper was 16, he decided that he'd had enough of schooling and boarded a tramp steamer for Cape Town, South Africa, where he took a job in a produce broker's office for a while, then moved on to Cape Town where he got a job as a conveyancing clerk in a lawyer's office. It is known that he also searched for diamonds around the Orange River in South Africa as early as 1932.

In 1937 Prosper married Hilda Latsky, whom he had met in the law offices where he worked. In 1942, now with two daughters, he bought property in Oranjezicht where he had a two-story house built. He worked at building other houses, while also working for the Cape Town Planning Offices, and during the next few years they moved frequently. In 1958 Prosper chanced to meet American mineral dealer John Patrick, who showed him specimens he had just bought in Tsumeb, and "romanced the life of traveling, buying, collecting and selling minerals." That may well have been the incident that started Prosper thinking about becoming a mineral dealer himself.

In 1962 Prosper and Hilda moved to Canada, where they opened a store on Yonge Street in Toronto. The store had originally been called the "Dutch Curiosity Shop" but he renamed it "Williams-Hildas." One day in Toronto a salesman brought some Mexican mineral specimens to the store. Prosper was taken by their beauty and, perhaps thinking back to what John Patrick had said, he began purchasing mineral specimens to feature in the shop. His labels proclaimed him to be the source "for the choicest specimens." The store offered a variety of other goods as well, from jewelry to Dutch chocolates to medieval armor. Customers could learn lapidary skills in the lapidary shop upstairs run by Prosper's son John. Prosper also painted replicas of Bushman art on slabs of thin limestone and slate and sold these in the store, while also continuing to paint in oils and watercolor, but now the landscape scenes depicted Canadian vistas.

Prosper's enthusiasm for minerals became intense, and soon he was enrolling himself in mineralogy courses at Toronto Technical College. He recalled that the Tsumeb mine in South-West Africa was producing some very beautiful mineral specimens for collectors, and so in 1964 he began making two trips a year to Tsumeb to buy specimens from the miners. Prosper got along well with the miners and brought out substantial quantities of fine specimens regularly for many years.

Hilda left Prosper in 1966, and Prosper then sold the store to become a full-time mineral dealer. Thereafter he traveled regularly to shows in the U.S., and to producing mineral localities in Namibia and South Africa, and also became the first dealer to discover the specimen potential of the Jeffrey quarry in Asbestos, Quebec (where he had a virtual monopoly on the beautiful grossular and vesuvianite specimens for a while until other dealers learned about it). He began driving to the Tucson Show every February, at first selling from his car and then later from a show booth. And whenever he had some free time he would draw or paint. He produced many pictures of mining scenes at important mineral localities, especially Tsumeb, and sold them to appreciative mineral collectors.

On one trip to Tsumeb in 1977 Prosper acquired two specimens that he could not identify, and he submitted them for identification to Bob Gait at the Royal Ontario Museum. One proved to be beudantite, but the other could not be identified with any known species. In 1979 Gait et al. formally published the description of the new species prosperite.

Prosper sold his remaining mineral stock in 1980 to Rod and Helen Tyson and retired from the mineral world to relax and paint. Surprisingly, he had never formed a personal mineral collection of his own. He died in Calgary, Alberta, at the home of his long-time friend Jean Robertson, on November 16, 2001, at the age of 91, having produced paintings and pastel drawings virtually every day until his death. Prosper Williams will long be remembered as the gracious and understated, silver-haired mineral dealer with the indefinable British/South African/Canadian accent, who was famous for his Tsumeb specimens.

WILSON, W.E. (2005) Died, Prosper J. Williams, 91. Mineralogical Record, 36, 474-475.
PATRICK, J. (2007) Prosper Williams: the early days. [Letters to the Editor] Mineralogical Record, 38, 171-172.
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WILSON, Wendell E. (2019)
Mineralogical Record
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The Mineralogical Record - Prosper J. Williams Prosper Williams (1975)
(John S. White photo)
The Mineralogical Record - Prosper J. Williams 42 x 66 mm,
A label from the shop of Prosper Williams and his wife in Toronto (1962-1966)
The Mineralogical Record - Prosper J. Williams 42 x 67 mm,
A label from the shop of Prosper Williams and his wife in Toronto (1962-1966)
The Mineralogical Record - Prosper J. Williams 54 x 71 mm,
The Mineralogical Record - Prosper J. Williams 38 x 55 mm
The Mineralogical Record - Prosper J. Williams 38 x 55 mm
The Mineralogical Record - Prosper J. Williams 39 x 54 mm
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