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John Sinkankas
(1915-2002)

Everyone in the mineral world knew John Sinkankas, through his achievements as an author, artist, mineralogist, bibliophile, bookseller, field collector, lapidarist and gemologist.

Born in Paterson, New Jersey on May 15, 1915, John Sinkankas (the name is Lithuanian) began his nature studies as a young boy, collecting botanical specimens. His first exposure to minerals came during a chance visit to the Lower New Street quarry immediately following a blast; prehnite-filled cavities were everywhere, along with calcite, apophyllite, and stilbite—all of which he found "irresistibly fascinating." Following graduation from high school he attended New Jersey State Teachers College in Paterson (where he met his future wife, Marge), graduating in 1936.

Sinkankas then enlisted in the Naval Aviation Reserve and became a qualified pilot, serving in many locations around the world and taking time to do a little mineral collecting at places like Ivigtut, Greenland as opportunities arose. (He once told me that he had "seen" Saint John's Island, Egypt, the famous olivine locality, but "only on radar" as his ship passed the island at night.) After the war he took the full sequence of gemology courses from the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) and the American Gem Society (AGS), and focused his attention on gemology and lapidary.

In 1948 he began writing a regular lapidary column for Rocks & Minerals magazine, and over the next eight years he wrote 33 installments on various gemological/mineralogical topics. He also began building a book collection which would one day become the finest private collection of gemological works in the U. S. In 1955 Van Nostrand published the first of John's many books: Gem Cutting—A Lapidary's Manual, followed by his Gemstones of North America vol. 1 in 1959 (two more volumes would later follow). In 1960, now a Captain in the Navy, he was elected a Fellow of the Mineralogical Society of America, and in 1961 retired from the Navy after 25 years of service. He soon published Gemstones and Minerals—How and Where to Find Them (1961), the first of a dozen such textbooks.

John and Marge retired to their first permanent home, in San Diego, California. He wrote articles regularly for Lapidary Journal, worked part-time as a Research Assistant in mineralogy at the Scripps Institute of Oceanography, and studied mathematics and languages as a "special student" at the University of California. He also spent much time field collecting in the San Diego County localities. He published Mineralogy for Amateurs (still a commonly used book among mineral collectors) in 1964, and Mineralogy: A First Course in 1967.

As their book collection grew to over 3,000 volumes, John and Marge formed Peri Lithon Books to market the excess titles coming in, and to help spread mineralogical literature. Meanwhile John poured extensive hours of research into one of his most admired books, Emerald and Other Beryls, published in 1981.

Honors poured in during his later years. In 1982 he was awarded an honorary Doctor of Humane letters degree from William Paterson University in New Jersey. The American Federation of Mineralogical Societies presented him with their Scholarship Foundation Award in 1983. The new mineral sinkankasite was named in his honor in 1984. And in 1991 he was given the prestigious Carnegie Mineralogical Award.

In 1988 John and Marge turned over their incredible 14,000-volume library to the Gemological Institute of America, where it now forms the core of the GIA's Richard T. Liddicoat Library. John never slowed down, though. At an age when most men would be satisfied to rest on such considerable laurels, John finished researching his long-time project, the monumental three-volume Gemology: An Annotated Bibliography, and saw it published in 1993; it totalled 1,179 pages of concentrated scholarly information.

Only a sampling of his more important publications and achievements can be given here (for more information see the references below). John Sinkankas was an extraordinary and influential individual, a true Renaissance man, who in many way helped to shape the modern world of mineral collecting and mineralogical literature studies as we know it.

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References:
WILSON, W. E. (2002) Died, John Sinkankas, 87. Mineralogical Record, 33 (4), 282.
Lininger, J. L. (2000) "Highlights from the life and times of John Sinkankas. Matrix, 8 (4), 179–195.
Mitchell, R. S. (1986) "Who's who in minerals: John Sinkankas." Rocks & Minerals, 61 (1), 28–31,
Leicht, D. L. (1971) "Personality sketch: John Sinkankas." Mineralogical Record, 2 (3), 103–104.
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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 Sinkankas John and Marge Sinkankas
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The Mineralogical Record - John Sinkankas
The Mineralogical Record - John Sinkankas
The Mineralogical Record - John Sinkankas
The Mineralogical Record - John Sinkankas
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