George Frederick Kunz

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George Frederick Kunz
Born(1856-09-29)29 September 1856
Died29 June 1932(1932-06-29) (aged 75)
Resting placeTrinity Church Cemetery, at Broadway and 153rd Street, New York
Other namesGeorge Kuntz
Education Cooper Union
Employer Tiffany & Co. and U.S. Geological Survey
A typical Olmec votive (ritual) axe with the were-jaguar motif (note the downturned mouth and the almond-shaped eyes). This particular artifact is known as the Kunz Axe, first described by George Kunz in 1890. Kunz Axe.jpg
A typical Olmec votive (ritual) axe with the were-jaguar motif (note the downturned mouth and the almond-shaped eyes). This particular artifact is known as the Kunz Axe, first described by George Kunz in 1890.
Kunzite from Nuristan Kunzite Nouristan.jpg
Kunzite from Nuristan

George Frederick Kunz (September 29, 1856 – June 29, 1932) was an American mineralogist and mineral collector.



Kunz was born in Manhattan, New York City, USA, and began an interest in minerals at a very young age. By his teens, he had amassed a collection of over four thousand items, which he sold for four hundred dollars to the University of Minnesota. Kunz attended Cooper Union but did not finish and did not attend college. Nonetheless, he taught himself mineralogy from books and field research. This expertise landed him a job with Tiffany & Co., and his knowledge and enthusiasm propelled him into a vice presidency by the time he was 23. [1] He gained much notoriety for identifying a new gem variety of the mineral spodumene which was named "Kunzite" in his honor. He also supervised the cutting of the very large stone that became the Tiffany Yellow Diamond.

He headed up the US mining and mineralogical exhibits at the international expositions in Paris (1889), Chicago (1893), Atlanta (1895), Paris (1900), and St. Louis (1904). He gave a series of eight lectures on "Precious Stones" for the Lowell Institute's 189495 season. [2] As a gentleman scientist, he was a member of the Mineralogical Society of America, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, New York Academy of Sciences (of which he was once a vice president), the New York Mineralogical Club, the American Scenic and Historic Preservation Society (for which he served as president), the American Chemical Society, the American Institute of Mining and Metallurgical Engineers (of which he was once a vice president), and many other cultural, scientific, and naturalist organizations.

He was the founder and president of the Museums of the Peaceful Arts in 1913, special agent for the US Geological Survey (1883–1909), a research curator at the Museum of Natural History in New York City, and the leading advocate in the establishment of the international carat as a unit of measure for precious gems. He also assembled the Morgan-Tiffany collection of gems in the American Museum of Natural History. Kunz had an active life dedicated to science and public service.

Kunz promoted the adoption of the decimal metric system of weights and measures in the United States and was President of the American Metric Association. [3]

He wrote over 300 articles during his life. Almost eighty years after his death, many of his books are still in print.

Kunz married Sophia Hanforth in 1879, who died in 1912. In 1923, Kunz married Opal Logan Giberson, a noted aviator, but the marriage was annulled in 1929. [4] Nonetheless, Opal Kunz continued to maintain Kunz's household until his death, on June 29, 1932.


He was given many honorary degrees from US and European universities. He was awarded a Bachelor of Science degree from the Cooper Union in 1872.

Personal library

After his death, his personal collection of several thousand rare books, pamphlets and articles on gems and precious stones were sold to the United States Geological Survey Library for one dollar. Acquired by the Library in 1933, the George F. Kunz Collection is a significant special collection on gems and minerals including rare books on gemology, the folklore of gemstones through history, lapidary arts and archival gem trade records important to the provenance of named stones such as the "Hope Diamond." [7]

In December 2012, the discovery of a rare photographic album dated 1922 among the books from Mr Kunz' personal library was announced by the USGS. [8] The album contained 81 photographs of the Russian Crown Jewels and pre-dates the official catalog by the Soviet government by 3 years. Researchers have identified four pieces of jewelry that were documented in 1922 that were not included in the later catalog and that are assumed missing today. [9] [10]

Selected writings

Kunz examining what may be kunzite GeorgeFKunz.jpg
Kunz examining what may be kunzite
Group: Charlotte Stillman, Mrs. Elgin R. L. Gould, Mrs. W. Eyre Lambert, Mrs. H. P. Davidson, George Frederick Kunz, and William Fellowes Morgan. c. 1910-1915 Morgan 4606571616 b12e8d5e99 o.jpg
Group: Charlotte Stillman, Mrs. Elgin R. L. Gould, Mrs. W. Eyre Lambert, Mrs. H. P. Davidson, George Frederick Kunz, and William Fellowes Morgan. c. 1910-1915

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  1. Voynick, Stephen M. (1985). Yogo The Great American Sapphire (March 1995 printing, 1987 ed.). Missoula, MT: Mountain Press Publishing. pp. 3–4. ISBN   0-87842-217-X.
  2. Harriet Knight Smith, The history of the Lowell Institute, Boston: Lamson, Wolffe and Co., 1898.
  3. George Kunz, "The International Language of Weights and Measures," The Scientific Monthly, vol. 4, 1917, pp. 215219.
  4. "G. F. Kunz Marriage Annulled Nov. 21: Tiffany Official and His Wife Agreed in Court Action, She Reveals: Still Live in Same Home." New York Times, Jan. 25, 1930.
  5. "George F. Kunz Awarded Honorary Degree from Marburg University." Mineral Collector. Volume 10, number 7, September 1903, page 112.
  6. July 3, 1932. Un-attributed newspaper clipping, possibly from the New York Times. "Dr. G. F. Kunz Dies: Famous As Gem Expert." Columbia University file on Dr. Kunz. Held in the USGS Library
  7. USGS Library Website - Special Collections
  8. USGS announcement
  9. USGS Press Announcement of discovery
  10. National Public Radio story on the discovery


NOTE: Mr. Kunz' personal library was acquired by the U.S. Geological Survey Library in 1933. The George F. Kunz Collection is a significant special collection on gems and minerals including rare books on gemology, the folklore of gemstones through history, lapidary arts and archival gem trade records important to the provenance of named stones such as the "Hope Diamond." Kunz was a former USGS employee. The collection is held in Reston, Virginia and is available to researchers by appointment.

(NOTE: Kunz worked with Mathilde Laigle to write the Book of Pearl (part : "Années de professorat aux États-Unis"))