Mines receives treasure trove of gems and minerals

$1.75 million donation to school’s museum includes about 800 rare specimens

Posted 10/11/16

The late Hilja Herfurth’s first love was the opera. But closely following that was her passion for gems and minerals.

The latter could have been influenced by her late husband Gerry, said Ed Raines, the collections manager at the Colorado …

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Mines receives treasure trove of gems and minerals

$1.75 million donation to school’s museum includes about 800 rare specimens

Posted

The late Hilja Herfurth’s first love was the opera. But closely following that was her passion for gems and minerals.

The latter could have been influenced by her late husband Gerry, said Ed Raines, the collections manager at the Colorado School of Mines Geology Museum, which recently received $1.75 million worth of minerals, gems and meteorites from Hilja Herfurth’s estate.

It’s “the kind of donation every museum dreams of,” museum director Dr. Bruce Geller said.

Gerry Herfurth was an avid and meticulous collector of rare minerals, gems and meteorites, Raines said, and probably collected for at least 25 or 30 years until his death in 1999.

Hilja Herfurth died in June.

The Herfurth donation, which arrived at the museum in September, included roughly 800 specimens from all over the world. They join the more than 20,000 specimens the museum already has — plus an additional 20,000 microscopic specimens in the museum’s collection, Raines said.

The museum is in possession of the state mineral collection, which started in 1895, he said. And there are about 1,500 specimens on display at any given time at the two-level building on the School of Mines campus in Golden.

“There’s some wild stuff in the (Herfurth) donation,” said student Rachel Bierma, a senior working toward a degree in geological engineering.

Bierma also works at the museum. She said it’s uncommon for the museum to receive a donation with specimens it doesn’t already have, but the Herfurth donation did include some new ones.

Not only that, some specimens can be used to replace those of lesser quality already in the museum.

“This is an outstanding addition to our collection,” Raines said. “It will be great for teaching and exhibition for years to come.”

Specimens used for teaching in classrooms are limited as far as diversity and quality, said Stephen Enders, professor and interim department head of Mines’ geology and geological engineering department. The museum — and the Herfurth donation — can be used as supplemental tools for students, he added.

Bierma agreed.

For example, students learn about a mineral in class, often from a textbook, but can later see it at the museum, she said. “It helps education a lot.”

But many of the museum’s visitors include people who are not Mines students. Some are members of the general public — some even from out-of-state — and the museum often hosts schoolchildren on field trips. In fact, Raines said, based on attendance, Mines Geology Museum is second only to the Harvard Mineralogical Museum in terms of visitors.

“This museum illustrates the world of minerals for everyone from scientists to 3-year-olds,” Raines said.

After Gerry Herfurth died, Hilja Herfurth made smaller donations of specimens with an estimated value of about $400,000.

This most recent donation also included a cash donation to Mines’ Geology Museum, $200,000 to Mines’ general scholarship fund and a number of rare archaeological artifacts that Geller gifted to the Denver Museum of Nature and Science.

The Herfurths’ connection to Colorado School of Mines is uncertain, Raines said, who before Hilja Herfurth’s death, visited her home in Denver where some of the specimens in the donation had been on display.

But, he said, it is known that the Herfurths had a great deal of respect for the museum.

“You can’t be involved with mineral collecting without an appreciation of the knowledge behind it,” Raines said. “And School of Mines fits the bill. We are a world-class mining institution.”

Hilja Herfurth, Colorado School of Mines , Geology Museum, $1.75 million worth of minerals, gems

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