Cornelius S. Hurlbut Jr. – Poems by a Wonderful Gemologist

Gemmology is a science, but gemmologists can be artistic in many ways. Cornelius S. Hurlbut, Professor Emeritus at Harvard, shared his poems about crystallography and gemstones.  How many poems do you know that use words such as prism, pinacoid and dome?

Crystal Atoms

Photo by J McKercher


Cornelius S. Hurlbut, Jr.

When first I studied crystals
I didn’t have the knack
Of three dimensional thinking:
This skill I seemed to lack.

I’d turn and twist the crystal round
In hope that I could see
At least one axis or a plane
Of crystal symmetry.

The prism, pinacoid and dome,
The rhombic pyramid
All looked the same to me,
No matter what I did.

But now I’ve studied long and hard,
And think I’m somewhat wise,
For in no length of time at all
The cube I recognize.

Original source unknown; Via Glacial Drifter, 6/98 and Memphis Archaeological and Geological Society Newsletter, 9/98

Cornelius S. Hurlbut, Jr. (1906-2005)

Cornelius Hurlbut

Photo Carnegie Museum of Natural History

Mineralogy students know him as the author of Dana’s Manual of Mineralogy which he took over from William E. Ford, publishing the 15th edition in 1941.  He published the 18th edition in 1971 and co-authored the 19th-21st (1999) editions with Cornelis Klein. He was also the author of Minerals and Man, which was selected by the American Library Association as one of the 35 “Outstanding Books of 1968,” as well as co-author of The Changing Science of Mineralogy (1964) and the editor of The Planet We Live On: An Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Earth Sciences (1978).

Dr. Hurlbut joined the Harvard faculty in 1934 as a petrography instructor and became Professor of Mineralogy six years later. He went on to chair the university’s Mineralogy Department from 1949 to 1960 before retiring in 1972 and becoming Professor Emeritus. 

In retirement, Dr. Hurlbut turned more to gemology, an affiliation that began in the 1940s when he joined GIA’s Educational Advisory Board. He taught a gemology course at Boston University in the early 1970s and co-authored (with George Switzer) the first edition of Gemology in 1979 (the second edition, co-authored with Robert Kammerling, was published in 1991).

Among his many distinctions, Dr. Hurlbut was a 1955 Guggenheim Fellow, a former president of the Mineralogical Society of America, and a recipient of the 1994 Carnegie Mineralogical Award for his contributions to the field.

From the Bulletin of the Mineralogical Society of Southern California
Volume 75 Number 10 October 2005

Thank you Dr. Hurlbut for co-authoring my favourite gemmology textbook.

Gemology by Cornelius Hurbut and Robert Kammerling

Photo by J. McKercher

A Gemstone – An Adorable Poem by Professor Cornelius S. Hurlbut, Jr.

Gemology is an art really, not science.

A Gemstone is a lovely Thing
It gleams and sparkles in a ring
And makes a wondrous sight
By playing magic with the light

It makes one proud to wear
A flashing diamond solitaire
Or garnet with subtle hue
Or emerald green or sapphire blue

But would it not mean more to you
To learn why it is green or blue
And make you very pleased to know
The reason why it sparkles so?

I think it would mean even more
To know its history and lore
And was it part of natures plan
Or from a furnace, made by man

Original source unknown; Via

Your Input

(Join our poll or scroll down and leave a comment)

Crystal Atoms

Photo by J McKercher

I plan to introduce different gemstones alphabetically.  I will start with “A” (Ammolite) and see where it leads me.  Leave a comment and let me know if you have a favourite gemstone that starts with the letter “I”.  Take the poll!  Can you name a reference to a gemstone in a song, movie or book?


About Jen McKercher

Jennifer McKercher teaches gemmology at the Canadian Gemmological Association. A passion for gemstones drives Jen to learn as much as she can about the wonders of gemstones and how they enhance our lives.

Posted on September 1, 2011, in Gemmology, Trivia and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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