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John J. Cotting
(1849-1915)

John J. Cotting was born in the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston, Massachusetts, in November 1849, probably the son or nephew of Elmira T. Pierce and William W. Cotting, a maker of boots and shoes who moved to Fitchburg, Massachusetts, shortly thereafter. John married Martha A. Parrish in 1870; they lived at first in Worcester with her parents (where John worked briefly as a furniture painter) but settled in Fitchburg by 1870 where he worked as a shoemaker, probably in the shop of his father/uncle. Together John and Martha had four children (Fannie Alice Cotting, b. 1870; Grace Clifford Cotting, b. 1881; Gertrude Hazel Cotting, b. 1887; Alton, Parish Cotting, b. 1892).

As of 1870-1880 John Cotting was still working in the shoe shop; the 1877, 1878, 1879 and 1880 Fitchburg directories list his residence on Highland Avenue, the same address as on his mineral labels. However, by 1881 (still a shoemaker) he had moved to a house on Pearl Road. Toward the late 1880s he established his own business as a junk and scrap dealer, referred to in 1887 as a "tin peddler"; On the 1892, 1900 and 1910 census he is listed as a "junk dealer." In his later years he also operated a greenhouse there. By 1893 he was living at 112 East Extension. The junk business had been expanded to include house furnishings, and proved surprisingly profitable, as indicated by the following note in the Fitchburg Daily Sentinel, April 24, 1893:

"John J. Cotting has added to his set of buildings on his lot on East Street extension, a new barn, two stories, 18 x 28 feet, with a well-equipped carriage house, 22 x 38. The upper room in the barn is used for the storage of tinware and house furnishing goods, and the buildings have all the modern improvements. Mr. Cotting now has every convenience for carrying on his large and increasing business, including his large shop on Coggshall Street, his buildings are a model of convenience."

John Cotting died in Fitchburg of a skull fracture on December 1, 1915, following a fall from his junk wagon.

Cotting began seriously collected minerals at least as early as 1880, and possibly 1877 or even earlier. His collection included mostly English fluorites, sphalerites and quartz specimens. There are a few other European specimens and some New England pieces as well, so he must have done business with mineral dealers or fellow collectors who purchased specimens from dealers. The English specimens most likely came originally from British dealer Bryce Wright, who was selling many specimens to Americans in the 1870s.

Following his sudden death in 1915, his collection was given to Gardner, High School (Gardner is 5 or 6 miles west of Fitchburg) -- probably by his son and executor, Alton. The old high school building there closed in 1927, with the opening of the new Gardner High School, and no space was ever allotted for the collection in the new building. In 1946, the principal gave the collection to Paul Preble, a 16-year-old student, because it had been sitting in the old high school building and that facility was about to be torn down. Preble gathered up all of the specimens (1000 pounds total) and their labels, and stored them at his family's home in Mansfield, Ohio until 1996, showing them to very few people. Preble graduated from the Colorado School of Mines and spent his career in Ohio, eventually retiring to Prescott, Arizona in 1996 and taking the collection with him. In 2015 the collection was sold to mineral collector and dealer Les Presmyk of Gilbert, Arizona; about 30 of the specimens still carry their Cotting labels.

References:
U.S. Federal Census record.
Massachusetts Birth Records.
Massachusetts Marriage Records.
Massachusetts Death Records.
Fitchburg Daily Sentinel.
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[Citation format for this entry:
WILSON, Wendell E. (2017)
Mineralogical Record
Biographical Archive, at www.mineralogicalrecord.com.]
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The Mineralogical Record - John J. Cotting (courtesy of Les Presmyk)
The Mineralogical Record - John J. Cotting (Courtesy of Les Presmyk)
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