In the basement of the Flandrau Science Center & Planetarium in Tuscon, Arizona is the University of Arizona Mineral Museum. While the footprint of the museum may be small, it contains a core collection of over 35,000 mineral specimens and a micromount collection with over 7,000 additional specimens of crystals too small to appreciate with the naked eye. The collection spans 1,561 different species and 2,000 types of minerals.
Specimens From the Back Yard And Around The World
Tuscon, Arizona is a logical area to host such a splendid collection, given the rich mineral deposits and history in the state. While the museum features unique samples from around the world, it is particularly notable for its specimens from Arizona and Mexico. A series of displays highlight Arizona’s premier mineral sources such as Bisbee, Ajo, Morenci, Ray, and Tiger.
Displays detail the history of mineral collecting, from “cabinets of curiosity” in the 17th and 18th century to the first “Golden Age” of mineral collecting between 1876 and 1929 to the “Second Golden Age” of post WWII America. This rebirth is epitomized by the annual Tucson Mineral Show which draws professionals and enthusiasts from around the world to showcase minerals, gems, fossils, and related natural wonders. If there ever was a destination for minerals on display, it is this city that hosts the worlds largest annual mineral show.
Additional Collections at the University Of Arizona Mineral Museum
- Modern Gem and Jewelry
- American Mineral Heritage: Harvard Collection
- Crystalline Treasures: the Mineral Heritage of China
- The Best of the Best: Prize Minerals from the Vaults of Arizona’s Collectors
- Meet the Trilobites: Arizona’s First Inhabitants
- Mark LeFont Collection
A History of Change
Some specimens in the collections date back to 1892 as part of the Territorial Museum. With Arizona statehood in 1912, the museum changed its name to the State Museum where the collection was housed in the University’s library. In 1915, the collection joined a more narrowly focused museum of archeology housed in the agriculture building. It was not until 1919 that the mineral collection was separated from the main collection of the State Museum to stand alone on display in the Mines and Engineering Building. Despite continued moves, the collection finally found its current place in the Mineral Museum underneath the Flandrau Science Center & Planetarium in 2009.
Yet, the state of the museum continues to be in flux. Expansion plans are being pursued to move into the historic Pima County Courthouse. This move would bring the mineral collection to greater attention and allow a dedicated space for display and research. We look forward to what the future may hold!