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American Golden Topaz

Don Shurtz, Pleasant Oaks Gem and Mineral Club of Dallas

While researching the November birthstone issue, I stumbled across a stone named the American Golden Topaz that is on permanent display at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in Washington D.C. It is the world's largest cut topaz weighing in at 22,892.5 carats. The plaque that is displayed with the stone reads "As you move around this remarkable gem, watch how light flashes off its 172 facets. At 4.6 kg (10.1 lb), it is one of the world's largest gems. Gem-cutter Leon Agee fashioned it over the course of two years in the late 1980s from an 11.8-kg (26-lb) crystal". Below this inscription, in a smaller font, the plaque reads "Gift of the Rockhound Hobbyists of America through the efforts of the six regional federations of mineralogical societies and Doctors Marie and Ed Bogatta, 1988." I wondered what the "Rockhound Hobbyists of America" was and further wondered if it were not somehow the American Federation of Mineralogical Societies (AFMS) since it referenced the six regional federations. It was almost too much of a coincidence that the AFMS is composed of six regional federations in 1988.

First I looked on the AFMS web site for a history of the federation to see if at one time (say in 1988) is was named the Rockhound Hobbyists of America. However, that search indicated the AFMS had been named the AFMS since its inception in 1948. Further searches of the Internet for information about the "American Golden Topaz" and "Rockhound Hobbyists of America" did not yield any further insight into the organization (but did give a lot of information about the gem). However, I was still convinced that the Rockhound Hobbyists of America had to be tied to the AFMS. My next step was to ask the AFMS - an email to resulted in a really great reply from Steve Weinberger – thank you, Steve. He included an article written by Fred Schaefermeyer and published in Rocks & Minerals, December 1988. The article had a very complete history of the stone.

The story started in 1987 when John White, curator of the gem and mineral collection at the Smithsonian, approached the AFMS with a plan to acquire a large gem to replace the Brazilian Princess which was then the largest gem in existence at 21,327 carats. Mr. White knew of a stone that would likely cut to a larger gem than the Brazilian Princess, but needed $40,000 to acquire the gem. Mr. White's plan was taken to the directors of the AFMS at their 1987 meeting in Oklahoma City with an added inducement that the gem could be displayed at major shows, but the plan was rejected; the directors did not feel that the AFMS could undertake another fund raising program at that time. However, after the meeting the idea was still being discussed and resulted in an ad hoc committee with members from each regional federation. The "Friends of the Smithsonian Topaz Fund" was formed and reached their goal of $40,000 in April 1988. At the same time, the stone, owned by Doctors Maria and Edgar Bogatta of Seattle, was being cut on a special machine by Mr. Leon Agee of Walla Walla, Washington.

The cut stone had a finished weight of 22,892.5 carats which exceed the weight of the Brazilian Princess making it (at the time) the world's largest gem. On May 4th, 1988 the American Golden Topaz was officially presented to the Smithsonian museum by Mr. William Maloney, executive vice president of the AFMS. Mr. Schaefermeyer's article indicates the gem was donated "in the name of the hobbyists of the AFMS and its six regional federations." The plaque for the American Golden Topaz picked up on the "Rockhound Hobbyists of American and the six regional federations," but did not specifically name the American Federation of Mineralogical Societies. As the American Golden Topaz was not on permanent display at the Smithsonian they initially made good on its "added inducement" by allowing clubs to borrow the gem for display at club shows. However, the Smithsonian opened a new hall in 1997 and the American Golden Topaz was put on permanent display, thus loaning the gem to AFMS clubs was no longer possible.