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Arthur Leonard Flagg and the Flagg Mineral Foundation

01/18/2020 4:13 PM | Anna Seedhill (Administrator)

By Philip D. Richardson c/o Rocks and Minerals (Jan/Feb 2012)

The year 2012 is a milestone date, both for the State of Arizona and the Flagg Mineral Foundation: Arizona will celebrate its centennial and the Flagg Mineral Foundation its golden anniversary. The Foundation, named after Arthur Leonard Flagg, is located in Phoenix, Arizona. Arizona and Arthur L. Flagg are intimately interwoven. Arthur was a practicing Arizona mining engineer, an accomplished author, and an Arizona mineral-locality aficionado. Above all else, he was an unbridled, enthusiastic “rockhound” who undauntedly promoted the earth sciences to the young and old alike. Through his personal passion and involvement in forming several important mineral-based societies, Arthur inspired generations of future collectors and earth scientists. In 1962, a year after his death, family, friends, and society members created a suitable memorial: The A.L. Flagg Foundation for the Advancement of Earth Sciences, a non-profit educational and scientific tax-exempt corporation, now known as the Flagg Mineral Foundation. Arthur was born June 29, 1883, to Charles Welford and Anna R. (Daley) Flagg in Woonsocket, Rhode Island. His mother, Anna, passed away when Arthur was barely one-and-a-half years old, leaving him solely in the care of his father. Growing up, it was noted that Arthur spent a good portion of his time in his father’s jewelry and watch repair shop. In that shop, he was first introduced to minerals by a visiting gem salesman who took the time to pique Arthur’s mineralogical interest at a young age. Arthur attended Brown University, in Providence, Rhode Island, where he majored in and received a bachelor’s degree in geology. While at Brown, twice he was selected as one of several students to inspect, re-identify, and clean fire damage from salvageable specimens of the university mineral collection housed in a building twice destroyed by fire. An Arizona Highways May 1965 article explained that “This gave him an opportunity to handle and closely examine a large variety of minerals. It was valuable training for a young man who later became noted for his ability to sight identify minerals.” A fortuitous event lead to Arthur’s interest in Arizona. His undergraduate work at Brown for the U.S. Geological Survey was in the geologic quadrangle of the Bradshaw Mountains, an area rich in gold mineralization. This foray into the geology, mines, and minerals of the central Arizona Territory led him to return to Arizona in 1906 after graduation. His first job was assayer for the Esmeralda Copper Company in the Cherry Creek District near Dewey, in what is now Yavapai County, Arizona. He held this job until the end of 1907. Next, Arthur had a 4-year stint in Durango, Mexico, as a mine examiner. From Mexico, he headed north into Washington and Idaho where he worked as a consulting engineer throughout 1912. By the start of 1913, he was back in Arizona as the manager of the Kelvin-Sultana Copper Company, with holdings in Pinal County, Arizona. In 1919, he entered private practice in Arizona as a licensed mining engineer. Further discussing his career, a eulogy on Arthur Leonard Flagg in a June 1961 Gem & Minerals magazine article noted that Arthur “also held the positions of director of the Ace Mining and Development Company, consulting engineer of the Gallagher Vanadium and Rare Mineral Corporation, and vice president of the Mines Holding Company.” All three of these entities were Arizona mining ventures active in the early 1900s. Arthur became well known within Arizona mining circles. Throughout his career, he was an active member of the Arizona Small Mine Operators Association. This association would later play a serendipitous role in the formation of the Flagg Mineral Foundation. 

Arthur not only was actively involved professionally in mining and geology, but also was a strong proponent of the hobbyist side of mineral collecting and of the introduction of the earth sciences to all interested parties. To mentor others in mineralogy, Arthur co-founded the Mineralogical Society of Arizona (MSA) in 1935. (MSA is still active, with regular meetings held in the Phoenix area.) He served as president of the society, religiously attended the monthly meetings, and helped author and edit the Rockhound Record, the bulletin of the organization. To further geographically broaden the study of mineralogy, he also co-founded the Rocky Mountain Federation of Mineral Societies (RMFMS) in 1941 and served as president throughout the war years. The RMFMS, which fostered close association between Arizona, Utah, and Colorado, sought a more cohesive interactive association among all continental earth science groups to encourage and promote mineral study and collecting. With Arthur’s support, a national organization was formed in 1947, uniting seven similar regional associations into the American Federation of Mineralogical Societies. Arthur went on to serve as its president in 1956. Despite the demands of these organizations, Arthur was also very active in the southwest division of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). AAAS was a re-formation of the Association of American Geologists and Naturalists, which dated back to 1848. Arizona has a long history of mineral exhibition tracing its origins to the Territorial Fair held in Phoenix in 1884. Because this annual exhibit was so popular, the Arizona legislature appropriated $30,000.00 in 1915 to construct a mines building to house the annual mining and mineral exhibits on the State Fair grounds. In 1946, after retiring from his illustrious mining career, Arthur was appointed superintendent of the Mineral Department of the Arizona State Fair. Three years later, in 1949, he was hired by the Arizona Department of Mineral Resources to be curator of the Arizona Mineral Museum, a collection that had been built concurrent with annual fair activities to address ever-increasing public demand and interest. Arthur continued in this position past the state mandatory retirement age of 70 through the courtesy and support of several mining companies who privately covered his salary until his death in April of 1961. Underpinned by his vast geologic and mining experience, Arthur became known as an expert on Arizona mineral resources. Not content to simply mentor students in the earth sciences, Arthur took to writing about rocks and minerals. Several of his first endeavors were simple brochures for the Arizona Department of Mineral Resources. In 1944, he wrote an extensive guide on the collecting, trimming, preparation, and storage of micro mounts for the news bulletin of the Mineralogical Society of Utah. In the article entitled “Mineral Miniatures,” Arthur stated, “the collecting field of the mineral miniaturist is somewhat broader than that afforded the ordinary mineral collector.” About the same time, Arthur authored his first of two books, Rockhounds and Arizona Minerals. This quaint book is an introduction into the mineral-collecting hobby. His second book, Mineralogical Journeys in Arizona, published in 1958, is a serious look at the mineralized provinces of Arizona interspersed with field observations, collecting and mining tales, mineralogical and geologic pedigree, and historical information. Arthur also wrote a number of articles for Arizona Highways magazine. These included November 1956, “On Mineral Collecting in Arizona, Beauty from the Earth”; November 1957, returning to the subject of micro mounts titled “Petite Minerals”, noted as “fairies of the mineral kingdom”; and January 1960, titled “Color Magic in Fluorescent Minerals.” All of the Arizona Highways articles were partnered with a sequential feature on photographing minerals by a long-time friend and close associate of Arthur’s, Mr. Floyd R. Getsinger. 

Arthur Leonard Flagg was active promoting the earth sciences right up until his death from heart disease in April 1961. In 1962, the A.L. Flagg Foundation for the Advancement of Earth Sciences, an all-volunteer, non-profit corporation, was formed, primarily by members of the MSA as a memorial to honor Arthur. The original vision of the Foundation was to pursue the establishment of an earth sciences museum in the Phoenix area. A fortunate turn of events led the Foundation to acquire a large and well-known collection of minerals, the Colleen and Loris P. Woolery Collection, out of Bisbee, Arizona. The expanded goal beyond the promotion of the earth sciences was now to become the curator and guardian of this important collection. When the Foundation learned its first year of the impending sale of the Woolery mineral collection, an ambitious fund-raising plan was implemented. Flagg Board Chairman Floyd R. Getsinger, who was assisted by Arizona specialty collector Mr. Carl E. Stentz, set a goal of $10,000 for the collection’s purchase. Because this collection had attracted the attention of the Smithsonian Institute and a consortium of potential foreign buyers, it was feared that this collection would be lost to Arizona. The pivotal event occurred during a presentation on the Woolery collection given during a meeting of the Arizona Small Mine Operators Association in the Mineral Building of the Arizona State Fairgrounds. Mr. Charles E. Goetz, a successful Arizona businessman and operator of the 79 Mine near Hayden, Arizona, donated $12,000 on the spot to keep the Woolery collection in Arizona. The Foundation now had a collection and enough money to build display cases. Mr. Loris P. Woolery, who lived in Bisbee, Arizona, operated a title company there. It wasn’t until 1954, when a friend sold his wife, Colleen, a small collection of Indian artifacts and several mineral specimens, that he paid any attention to the rich specimen mines surrounding him. Because a few of these early pieces were of such good quality, Loris’ curiosity was engaged. He expeditiously enrolled in University of Arizona extension courses on mineral identification. He was now hooked, and a mineral collection was started. Typical of most avid collectors, Mr. Woolery undertook any means at his disposal to acquire more specimens. He paid miners for specimens, bought entire collections from acquaintances, traveled to mineral shows and exhibitions, and frequented roadside rock shops. His first major purchase was from a retired Bisbee miner from whom he bought fabulous azurite and malachite specimens. Buying a miner-prospector’s entire lot of un-crystallized tungsten ore netted him the finest Dos Cabezas Mountains scheelite crystal ever collected. From a small grocery store in an outlying mining town, he purchased a fabulous Japan-law twin quartz from the Holland Mine, Santa Cruz County, Arizona. Traveling to California yielded him a superb Bisbee cuprite, to Butte, Montana, for pyrite, covellite, and enargite, and to Colorado for Creede District gold and silver. Although the Woolery collection had a world-wide scope, it had a focused Arizona component. Over 70 percent of the original 1600 specimens are from Arizona, with a majority from Bisbee. Within a short period of time of the Foundation’s Woolery collection acquisition, the Mineralogical Society of Southern California donated a small, fine collection of Tiger, Mammoth District, Pinal County, Arizona, to honor Arthur Flagg. The Flagg collection’s finest leadhillite was part of this donation. The collection exhibit included its own case and a schematic of the Mammoth-St. Anthony mine workings. The display is long gone but the presentation plaque remains a part of the Foundation collection. (Les Presmyk, personal communication) In 1968, a second Bisbee collection was purchased: the Alvin Ray (Ray) and Hazel E. Wright collection of Warren, Arizona. Ray had been an underground miner at Bisbee starting with the Calumet and Arizona Mining Company which was merged into the Phelps Dodge Corporation. The collection included an extensive array of Bisbee calcites of various forms and specimen sizes. The Foundation’s Bisbee rhodochrosites and the best malachite-after-azurite known from the Maid of Sunshine Mine at Courtland, Courtland-Gleeson District, Cochise County, Arizona, came with this collection. The collection also contained a number of world-wide specimens. Controversial stone tablets, the Peralta Stones, came to the Foundation in 1969. These stone tablets have incised inscriptions purported to be the location of the Lost Dutchman Mine. The Arizona Highways magazine, January 2005, explored their authenticity. The Peralta Stones are currently on loan to the Superstition Mountain Museum in Apache Junction, Arizona. This same year, 71 delicate carved bowls, most translucent or partially transparent, came to the Foundation from Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Neavitt, of Tucson, Arizona. Tom, a woodcarver, took on the challenging task of carving stone and personally created all of the bowls from semi-precious materials. This assemblage is known as The Neavitt Memorial Collection of Gem Carvings and Bowls. Mrs. Claude W. Cherry, of Sun City, Arizona, donated 200 carved mineral and gemstone spheres to the Foundation in 1970, in memory of her late husband. Claude, a retired Los Angeles attorney, had become an accomplished lapidary artist through association with the Sun City Rockhound Club. The Cherry Memorial Sphere Collection contains a number of fine Arizona pieces formed from such a diverse range of material as petrified wood, dinosaur bone, copper carbonates, chrysocolla, and olivine. The following year, Harry and Irene Hill, of Phoenix, Arizona, donated to the Foundation what would become the core of its Mammoth-St. Anthony Mine, Pinal County, Arizona, collection. The Flagg collection’s finest Tiger cerussite on dioptase, wulfenite and cerussite, and two miniature-sized cerussites were among this significant collection. Contemporary donations have come in from a long list of mineral-collecting personalities which have further enhanced the Foundation’s collection. Among the more prominent are Robert (Bob) Jones, James Horner, Paul Harter, Rukin Jelks, Jr., John Lucking, Dorothy McKee, Eugene (Gene) and Roz Meieran, Les and Paula Presmyk, John and Terri Schall, Wayne Sorenson, and Wayne Thompson. Today, the Flagg Mineral Foundation boasts a fine collection of Arizona, Mexican, and world-wide minerals totaling approximately 800 specimens. Over the years, duplicates either have been donated to the Arizona Mining and Mineral Museum (AMMM) or have been sold to invest in a mineral acquisition fund to procure additional minerals. The pride of the Flagg collection remains those early Woolery specimens, particularly the Bisbee suite. As its primary fundraiser, the Foundation has hosted the annual A.L. Flagg show since 1970, now the third longest running gem and mineral show in Arizona. It began at the Don’s Club Base Camp in the Superstition Mountains and was called the First Annual Superstition Mountain Mineral Festival. The next year it moved to the Pioneer Living History Museum off Black Canyon Highway north of Phoenix. The fourth annual mineral festival was moved to the Arizona State Fairgrounds next to the Arizona Mineral Museum in 1973. At this show, an A.L. Flagg trophy was first offered for the best display of Arizona minerals.

Since 1987, the mineral festival has called the southwest parking lot of Mesa Community College home on the second weekend in January. Now referred to as the Flagg Gem and Mineral Show, this open-air swap-meet-style show caters to both the hobbyist field collector and the year-round professional dealer. This coming January, the 40th annual Flagg Show will host approximately 130 dealers offering minerals, fossils, rocks, gem stones, jewelry, and lapidary items. A Foundation area offers earth science materials for sale and has a tent with educational exhibits. Free space is made available to any interested earth-science related club. Highlights for children are the “assemble an egg-carton mineral collection,” “you dig fossils,” and a fluorescent rock and mineral exhibit. The Foundation also has maintained its focus on its educational mission. An annual one-day symposium has been held since 1993 featuring the minerals, mineralogy, and localities of Arizona. The 11th and 19th symposiums were held at the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum, partially in recognition of the support Anna Domitrovic, Earth Science Curator Emeritus, who has been a regular presenter. Symposium costs have been supplemented with proceeds from sales of donated minerals and other items. Highlights have been the symposium silent auction and the corresponding field trip arranged the following day for those intrepid collectors who want to get out and enjoy an Arizona spring day. From 1991 until May 28, 2011, the Flagg Mineral Collection has been on public view housed within the AMMM at 1502 West Washington Street, in Phoenix, Arizona, near the state capitol building. Through a contentious, aggressive plan by Arizona’s Governor, Jan Brewer, the AMMM, separated from the Arizona Department of Mines and Mineral Resources, has been placed under the responsibility of the Arizona Historical Society. The goal was to renovate, reconfigure, and rename it the Arizona Centennial Museum, celebrating the five C’s of Arizona: copper, cattle, cotton, citrus, and climate. The resulting exhibits would severely reduce the current emphasis for the display of Arizona’s rich history of geology, mining, and mineral specimens. Failure to reach the fundraising goals and time deadlines while coming under increased critical scrutiny, the direction of the museum has changed one more time and was surreptitiously closed. If it opens in December 2012, at the end of the centennial year, it will now be called The Arizona Experience. From this action, the collections of both the Flagg Mineral Foundation and the AMMM have been packed and are in storage. A rich heritage of Arizona mining and minerals has been obfuscated by politics. The Flagg Mineral Foundation will remain conscious of the mineral traditions of Arizona and the importance of mining to our history and economy. It will continue to promote the earth sciences as it looks for future display opportunities and the possible establishment of a similarly-aligned museum. Why do we still do it? In Arthur’s own words on finding interest in minerals, “In so doing,” he assures you, “you pass through an open door into a new and enchanted world.” (Ida Smith, The Phoenix Gazette, 1958) 

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