The young collector
Warren Somerville began field collecting at the age of eight. He travelled the region and explored abandoned quaries and mine workings. The mines were usually abandoned because they were not rich enough or of sufficient quality to be commercially viable.
But for a careful fossicker, there were riches to be found.
When Warren began fossicking there were over 150 abandoned mines and about 80 significant limestone quarries within 200km of Orange. The richest (of many) mineral sites was the Cadia Mine. The limestone, used in the manufacture of cement, was formed approximately 450 million years ago from the remains of marine animals that lived in vast reefs. Today limestone quarries are often a source of ancient fossils.
So for each trip away, I brought back a wooden apple box at least of specimens.
The Australian Museum After meeting mineralologist Oz Charmers from the Australian Museum in Sydney Warren established an expanding and long term relationship with the Museum. Staff from the Earth Sciences team included Ross Pogson, Dr Lyn Sutherland, Robert Jones an Dr Alec Ritchie. Warren was fortunate to have Alec Ritchie as his lecturer in Vertebrate Palaeontology at Macquarie University where which gave him the opportunity to undertake prac work at the Museum. Mentor Albert Chapman In the 1970’s, Warren formed a close friendship and working relationship with Albert Chapman (1912-1996), whom he still describes as Australia’s foremost mineral collector. As a mentor, Albert taught Warren how to recognise a world class specimen, where to find them and how to recognise fakes or repairs. One of Albert’s earliest pieces of advice was ...if you have $100 to spend, get one $100 specimen, rather than ten $10 pieces
A collection of quality
Committed to having only the highest quality specimens and using his rather amazing aesthetic eye, Warren’s collection is known for its authenticity, high quality and value, and its visual beauty. Expert collectors rely on their in-depth knowledge of crystal structure, the differing conditions under which crystals form, and of the kinds of specimens typical to specific localities to avoid the tricks of unscrupulous traders.
The future of the collection
Around 1995 Warren began thinking about the future of his collection. In 2000 he donated approximately half of his collection to Australia.
The Australian people are the fortunate beneficiaries of Warren’s expertise, commitment to quality, appreciation of natural beauty, and interest in conserving and showcasing some of the best of the best for the public to enjoy. It’s the gift of the century.
From the time I first met him (Albert Chapman), he became my mentor in terms of building the collection and also in terms of learning so much more about collecting minerals, and their importance in collections. Albert Chapman had built a collection that’s universally recognized as the best collection in Australia, ever. ... After he died in 1996, I bought part of his collection from his family. That means there are specimens in this display here that ... came from the Chapman collection to the Somerville collection, and then ultimately into this display. Warren Somerville 2005
Warren Somerville and his mentor, Albert Chapman, went to mineral shows in Australia and overseas, another tip learned early was “if transporting fragile minerals home pack them in soap powder, even if leaking soap powder sometimes attracts the attention of customs.
Customs will soon realise their mistake when they apply the taste test.” Warren Somerville
Fakes abound in the mineral and fossil world, but collectors have a UV torch to check suspect items. Warren says he has been in closets and under beds in dealers’ rooms with his torch looking for the fluorescence which glue gives off in UV light. One of those he checked under a bed is the large blue fluorite in the long Mineral Gallery. (It’s real.) Volunteer Martha Gelin, 2005.
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