Allan Caplan was born in Vineland, New Jersey, on December 29, 1913, the son of Russian Jewish immigrants Lena and Morris Caplan, a tailor and grocery store operator. Allan was one of seven siblings including Henry--who died in 2003 at the age of 93--Doris (Dora), Esther (Estelle), Molly ("Mookie"), Rose Caplan Garfinkel, Shirley Caplan Moser and Eva Caplan. He was orphaned at an early age; his father died of lung problems associated with his dry cleaning business, and his mother committed suicide. His nephew, Michael D. Caplan, M.D., provided this information and confirmed that the family is Jewish.
The natural sciences had interested him since grade school, and while in high school he became interested in minerals. He became disgruntled when no one in the family could support him financially to go to school during the depression, and split from his family, saying he no longer wanted any contect with them or their offspring. He attended college nevertheless, though, and after graduation in 1933 he worked one summer for the Denver Museum of Natural Science, excavating a mammoth along the South Platte River. He ran a classified ad in the June 1933 issue of Rocks & Minerals offering a range of Colorado minerals and fossils for sale. He then attended the University of Colorado at Boulder in 1934-1937, majoring in geology and mineralogy, and the Colorado School of Mines in 1937-1938. He ran small ads in Rocks & Minerals and The Mineralogist,, in 1935-1938, offering a sophisticated list of Colorado minerals (zeolites, gold and gold tellurides, silver minerals, beautiful wire silver from the White Raven mine, Leadville pyrites, old time specimens from a "famous collection," etc.). He also advertised in Colorado newspapers looking to buy specimens and collections.
Out of college in 1938, he decided that Brazil was a good place to search for minerals. He sold his remaining stock to Dr. Hess at Princeton College, sold his car, and bought a round-trip ticket on a freighter. He proved to be extremely successful in Brazil, making about ten trips there before World War II, and supplying the Smithsonian, Harvard, and the American Museum with fabulous museum pieces. He established quarters in New York at 562 Fifth Avenue, and brought out extraordinary topaz crystals weighing 100, 156, 225, 300 and 596 pounds each; smoky quartz crystals up to 200 pounds; classic, baseball-size chrysoberyl sixlings; a 5-inch cluster of sharp cassiterite crystals; and amazonite crystals to 15 inches. While in Brazil also he married a beauty queen--a former Miss Brazil--but they later divorced (he had no children).
Caplan enlisted in the Army in July 1943, and served in Italy as a photo interpreter for the 15th Army Air Corp. When hostilities finally ended in 1945 he visited the University of Florence and began making more deals for mineral specimens. Following is discharge Caplan returned to Brazil after establishing his new office at 2 West 46th Street in New York (coincidentally occupied today by another mineral dealer, Lawrence H. Conklin), and purchased more topaz and amazonite crystals. He acquired an entire pocket of 60 aquamarine crystals up to 6 pounds and 12 inches long each, and large crystals of the beautiful, just-discovered species brazilianite. He made another dozen trips to Brazil after the war, but stopped advertising "gems and gem crystals" in Rocks & Minerals in 1954, and by 1958 his interest had totally shifted from mineral specimens to gem rough and cut gemstones. He began making regular buying trips to Colombia (for emeralds) and the Orient, and went on to become one of New York's most important gem dealers. At one time Caplan owned the famous "Mogul Emerald," one of the largest and most historic emeralds in the world (it sold for $2.2 million in 2001); and a 16-carat ruby in his collection sold for $3.6 million in 1988. Caplan died in New York on October 14, 1998.
CONKLIN, L. (2006) Personal communication.
GAINES, R.V. (1980) Interview: Allan Caplan. Mineralogical Record, 11, 351-360.
Social Security Death Index
US Federal Census records, 1920, 1930
US World War II Army Enlistment Records
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[Citation format for this entry:
WILSON, Wendell E. (2017)
Biographical Archive, at www.mineralogicalrecord.com.]
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||The "Mogul Emerald," owned by Caplan, was carved from a Colombian emerald crystal in 1695 and inscribed with an Islamic prayer for the Mogul ruler of India. It weighs 217.8 carats and measures 2 inches.|