1890, approximately - 1974, approximately
The Morgan Memorial Hall of Minerals and Gems at the American Museum of Natural History exhibited the Museum’s collections of minerals and gems. Curators and associates in charge of the hall and the Museum departments overseeing the hall—the Department of Mineralogy and Conchology, the Department of Mineralogy, the Department of Geology and Paleontology, the Department of Geology and Mineralogy, and the Department of Mineral Sciences—have included L.P. Gratacap, Herbert P. Whitlock, Frederick H. Pough, Brian H. Mason, D.M. Vincent Manson, and George F. Kunz. Various gifts contributed to the continuously growing collections of minerals and gems, part of which were included in the exhibition collections. The rate of growth in these collections prompted continuous reevaluating and remodeling in the hall as well as curators’ requests for more space. Early layouts of the hall presented specimens in wall and desk cases and included specimens in drawers underneath the desk cases. Specimens were often accompanied by maps and photographs and were arranged by chemical classification in most iterations of the hall. In most iterations of its name, both before and after the mineral and gem collections were exhibited together, J. Pierpont Morgan’s name was attached.
Major collections in this hall included (3, 1922):
*The Bailey Collection
*The Tiffany Collection of Gems
*The Spang Collection
*The Bement Collection
*The William Boyce Thompson Collection
In 1890, J. Pierpont Morgan donated the Tiffany Collection of Gems to the Museum. At the time “an appropriate case” was being constructed to exhibit the collection in a new hall connected with the Geological Department (1, 1890-1891, p. 9). The Spang Collection was donated to the Museum in 1891, and desk cases were constructed to exhibit those specimens (1, 1891, p. 9-10). A collection of azurites, malachites, stalactites and stalagmites donated by Copper Queen Consolidated Mining Company went on display in Mineral Hall in 1895 (1, 1895, p. 14-15). The Bement Collection, gifted by J. Pierpont Morgan, contained about 12,000 specimens of minerals and meteorites and went on display in the Mineral Hall in 1901. To accommodate the Bement Collection, the remaining shells that had been on exhibit in the Mineral Hall were moved to the fifth floor. The Bement Collection was originally arranged in the halls according to Dana's System of Mineralogy (1, 1901, 12-13).
In 1911, the minerals moved into the space formerly occupied by the Mexican Hall. The room occupied by the Mexican Hall is repeatedly named in Mineralogy Department Annual Reports as the desired space for the Morgan Hall starting in 1906 (4). The gems stayed in the west corridor, an alcove which also adjoined the new space (2, 1914, p. 96). The renovation and move also saw the commission of the “shovel-pit” painting by Albert Operti (1, 1911, 40-41).
In 1922, under the direction of curator Herbert P. Whitlock, the Mineral Hall was remodeled with the collections (the Morgan Gem Collection) from the Gem Room (or Gem Hall) being incorporated into the same large space as the General Collection of Minerals. The work included groined arch treatment of the ceiling, the encasing of the columns in marble, converting them into piers, and the closing of the lower portions of the windows on the south side. The remodeling was funded by George F. Baker, who presented the renovation under its new official name, the Morgan Hall of Minerals and Gems, in honor of J. Pierpont Morgan. Tablets indicating the dedication of the hall by Baker for Morgan and the names of other donors were installed (1, 1921, p. 60-61; 1, 1941, p. 8). Members of the hall’s advisory committee around this time included George F. Baker, Jr., Junius Spencer Morgan, Jr., and Roswell Miller (1, 1927, p. xxi).
Post-1922 renovation additions included (1, 1934, p. 8; 1, 1935, p. 9; 1, 1937, p. 11; 1, 1940, p. 8; 1, 1954, p. 38; 1, 1958, p. 38):
*Exhibit on fluorescence with a General Electric Nico tube from the New York Mineralogical Club to give the specimens an ultraviolet glow, 1934
*Mural triptych paintings in Will S. Taylor, 1930s
*Rock crystal sphere with a device containing rotating disks of colored glass called a “Cosmic Color Mixer” in an effect advertised as “Crystalight”, 1937
*Largest topaz in the world, as an addition to the William Boyce Thompson Collection, 1940
*Carved jade from a bequest by William Boyce Thompson, 1958
During the Second World War, famous gems including the Star of India, DeLong Ruby, Betts fire-opals, and the Morgenthau blue topaz were stored in a secret vault with other Museum valuables such as the objects from the Drummond Room, a Hawaiian feather cloak, a Mayan wooden door lintel dating from 800 A.D., tattooed heads from New Zealand, and Aztec gold jewelry (5).
On October 29, 1964 the Morgan Hall was targeted by thieves Jack “Murph the Surf” Murphy, Allen Kuhn, and Roger Clark in an infamous heist. The trio lifted 22 items including the Star of India, the Midnight Star, the DeLong Ruby, and the Eagle Diamond. Murphy, Kuhn, and Clark were eventually caught and many of the gems returned. The DeLong Ruby was ransomed by John D. MacArthur and returned to the Museum. While about 70% of the material stolen was recovered, the Eagle Diamond, along with some less-valuable specimens, was never returned. As the burglary was aided by the failure of the alarm system, the Museum modernized its protective systems and added to security to the Morgan Hall and other areas (1, 1964 p. 6). After the heist, the Morgan Hall reopened in 1965. After its return, Star of India had been on exhibit in the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Hall earlier that year (6, 7).
The hall was closed again in 1967 as construction of the new John Lindsley Hall of Earth History blocked the entrance (8). The Morgan Hall reopened on February 5, 1969 and was to remain open for about year before closing for its own renovations, but the hall appears in the 1972 exhibition guide to the Museum. The plans resulted in new halls on the first floor the Morgan Memorial Hall of Gems and the Harry Frank Guggenheim Hall of Minerals, which opened on May 21, 1976.
This is a condensed summary of the exhibition. For additional information, see Sources and/or Related Resources.
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