An Exploration of Agates from Eight Major Worldwide Sites

The Beauty of Banded Agates: an Exploration of Agates from Eight Major Worldwide Sites

Richard Dayvault

The Beauty of Banded Agates: An Exploration of Agates from Eight Major Worldwide Sites by Michael R. Carlson. Fortification Press, Box 24805, Edina, MN 55424. 160 pages; 2002; $59.95 (hardbound), $38.95 (softbound).

Agates were apparently highly valued by the ancient Egyptians for their lapidary use and were mounted into gold with other precious stones such as lapis and emeralds. Imagine what an early Cairo gem dealer would think if he were to see the spectacular specimens shown in Michael R. Carlson’s book on agates. Considering the general enthusiasm for agates demonstrated during the past decade, it is not surprising that someone found the time, resources, and expertise to produce a book on the subject. But this effort not only is a coffee-table volume with 260 color photographs (many as half-page and several as full-page images), but it also provides interesting general information on Botswana, Brazilian, Condor, Dryhead, Fairburn, Lake Superior, Mexican, and Queensland agates. Brazilian, Mexican, and Lake Superior agates are obviously from multiple localities. Other notable localities are mentioned in the section titled “Other Banded Agates.” Beautifully designed jewelry is used copiously in the book to compliment agate’s long-held lapidary application. The book begins with a brief description of agate formation along with an illustrated discussion of its characteristics and textures. Next, the regional agate localities are briefly discussed, with numerous photographs of specimens from each.

Brazilian agates, undoubtedly the most widely known and most mass-produced agates in the world, have been dug for more than one hundred years and are found in several localities. But curiously, top-quality uncut nodules are difficult to obtain because it is apparently not economically practical for the exporters to cull out good nodules to sell to serious collectors. Most are sent in mass to Asia to be made into decorative materials for the tourist market.

Dryhead and Fairburn agates, which have some similarities in color and banding, may have this resemblance because they are both from Pennsylvanian to Permian marine rocks and occur in neighboring states, Montana and South Dakota, respectively. Both agates contain bold earth tones separated by contrasting bands. Apparently, well-formed and colorful Fairburn agates command a better price uncut than cut these days.

Condor agate from Argentina hit the scene about a decade ago through the efforts of Luis De Los Santos, a dealer from Buenos Aires, now of southern California. Condors are certainly some of the most striking agates in the world and can closely resemble fine Laguna agate. Both exhibit exceptional and unusual color combinations and vivid contrasts of light and dark hues. Laguna agate of Chihuahua, Mexico, is the featured agate in the “Mexican Agates” section. This was also Carlson’s choice for a cover specimen. These magnificent agates were very popular in the 1960s and then, “after being difficult to find for a number of years, appeared in fairly large quantities again in the 1990s. Other well-known Mexican agates such as Coyamito, Crazy Lace, Montezuma, and Casas Grande are figured and discussed.

Botswana and Lake Superior agates are similar in some ways. Both are from amygdaloidal basalts, and both are finely banded agate. Both also seem to develop more interesting colors upon weathering. As with top-quality Brazilian agate, uncut Botswana agate is difficult to obtain because rough material is sold for the production of beads, jewelry, and souvenirs.

Unfortunately, the book does not indicate the sizes of specimens, nor do photos include anything for scale. The author chose to photograph specimens only from his collection and, for Dryhead and Lake Superior agates, only specimens he collected. Although these are certainly impressive pieces, this decision seriously limits the field. (He says other specimens will be shown in his next book on agates.)

Agate collectors will certainly want a copy of this colorful, reasonably priced book. The photography is excellent, the color separations are consistently accurate, and the localities showcased are arguably the most famous in the world. Actually, anyone with an appreciation for natural history or abstract art will want a copy, if only to peruse as a reminder of nature’s handiwork.

Richard Dayvault

Grand Junction, Colorado

COPYRIGHT 2004 Heldref Publications

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group