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Ron Romanella
(1932-    )

Ron Carmen Romanella was born in New York on February 28, 1932, the son of Charles Romanella. He first became interested in minerals and gems after visiting the American Museum of Natural History and seeing their beautiful exhibits. He then got to know mineral dealers Hugh Ford and Maurice Hammoneau, who tutored him in the business. Eventually he enrolled in night classes in mineralogy and geology at Columbia School of Mines in New York.

After a stint in the Air Force during the Korean War (1951-1954) he came back to New York in 1954 and opened his own office as a dealer in commercial and industrial minerals and gem rough. Some of his early customers were buyers of industrial minerals such as sphalerite and calcite for the optical industry and quartz crystals for the electrical industry. Romanella began advertising in Rocks & Minerals in May-June 1954, offering emerald rough from Colombia, sapphire rough from Ceylon, and perfect sphalerite crystals from Joplin, Missouri. He gave his address as 3101 – 37th Avenue, Astoria, Long Island, New York. In the following issue he offered crystals of African garnet, diamond, and zircon suitable as cutting material or as specimens.

In September 1954 his address changed to 2266 – 93rd Street in Jackson Heights, Long Island. In November he began advertising "attractive mineral specimens." In 1955 Romanella took on the assistance of another young mineral dealer, Lawrence H. Conklin, for the next year or two, paying him $100/month plus a 10% commission. His 1955 ads continued to emphasize cutting rough and attractive small specimens, mostly of gem species: Brazilian amethyst clusters, marcasite crystal groups, Russian emerald crystals, South African diamonds, ruby crystals from India, etc. In July 1955 he mentioned that the 93rd Street address was for mail order only, and that people interested in an appointment should contact his office at E. & R. Trading Company, 15 West 47th Street in New York City. The "E." was Romanella's new partner, Eric A. Engel--the only partner Romanella ever had, and for just one year.

In March-April 1956 his address changed to 22 West 48th Street (room 1101) in New York City, and in the following issue he began using the phrase "Commercial Minerals" (and later "Importers of Commercial Minerals") as a subtitle, while offering a "complete selection of fine gem crystals." In 1957 Conklin and Engel departed and Romanella hired 15-year-old Herb Obodda to help run his New York office, part-time at first while Romanella tutored him in the business, and then full-time. Except for a 6-month flirtation with college in 1959 and a stint in the Army in 1964-1965, it was a post that Herb held until leaving in 1969 to start his own business. With Romanella in the field acquiring specimens and whole collections for Obodda to sell in New York, the company thrived. In March-April 1959 he advertised "Direct importer of peridot rough from Egypt"—he had acquired a lot of confiscated crystals from St. John's Island!

Romanella's office was closed in July, August and September of 1959—presumably on account of an extended buying trip and the temporary departure of Herb Obodda. However, Obodda was back in January 1960 and Romanella had much new stock for him to sell. At last, in July-August 1960, he published "Mineral Specimens List No. 1," and he lists his company as being incorporated: "Commercial Minerals Corp." He devoted full-page ads to his mineral specimens in succeeding issues. His mineral stock sounded tempting and soon got even better; by the end of the year he was offering Russian dioptase, Freiberg galena and fluorite, Japanese stibnite crystals to 3 inches, rare uranium minerals from Katanga, red beryl from the Thomas Mountains, and choice Madagascar chrysoberyl crystals, among many others. He also announced the opening of a new branch office at 7226 E. Colfax in Denver (which he manned himself foe a year or so).

In January 1961 Romanella announced his acquisition of a "collection of fine quality crystallized gold specimens from Central City, Colorado—These are ‘Old Timers' and are hard to come by." The following month he had a 2-inch brazilianite crystal for $35. In May-June 1962 he announced the acquisition of several collections, including Russian crocoite (with original 1848 labels!), purple apatite crystals on matrix from an "old European location," top-quality cerussite crystals from Tsumeb, Cumberland and Durham fluorites, pink fluorite crystals from Switzerland, and wulfenite crystals from Morocco. By November 1962 he was running three full-page ads devoted entirely to specimens, and shortly thereafter he offered "museum quality mineral specimens."

Every few months Romanella's advertised specimens seemed to get better and more spectacular (and more expensive), indicating that he had risen to the top ranks of mineral dealers in the country. He made sales of rare specimens to such well known institutions as the Smithsonian Institute, Harvard museum, Cranbrook Institute in Michigan, and many others, building his reputation. Eventually his company had branch offices in Bombay India (1963-1975), Governador Valadares, Brazil (1965-1974), and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania (1965-1968). Romanella also hired the young David Wilber and Pravin Dav'e to operate an office for him in Woodland Hills, California--"Commercial Minerals California." Dave handled the mineral specimens and Pravin the loose gemstones (no jewelry).

In March 1964 Romanella met Paulo Nercesian in Brazil and purchased one of the first batches of the great crystallized rose quartz specimens from Brazil (a 6-inch cluster for $375). By this time he had more or less ceased advertising gems and gem rough, though he still dealt in them. Beginning in June 1966, however, Romanella's ads in Rocks & Minerals abruptly ceased, though his business continued unabated. In the mid-1960's he purchased 2 kilograms (at $280/kg) of some blue and brown crystals of an unknown but gemmy mineral in Africa--it turned out to be tanzanite! After Herb Obodda left to start his own mineral specimen business in 1969, Narinder Malhotra (whose specialty was gems) and his wife Neera were left in charge of the New York office, and did not promote the minerals; Romanella went back to concentrating primarily on gemstones.

Today Ron Romanella remains very active, and is living in Thailand and Switzerland (email: aua@outdrs.net). He still enjoys traveling and dealing in antique arms, gemstones and other objects of interest. At present, Commercial Mineral Company in Scottsdale, Arizona (480-994-4185) is operated by his sons Jerry and Mike Romanella, and Ron maintains the office in Bangkok. The company's primary business is wholesale gemstones and jewelry to the trade.
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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 - Ron Romanella 45 x 66 mm
The Mineralogical Record - Ron Romanella 38 x 67 mm
The Mineralogical Record - Ron Romanella 42 x 66 mm
The Mineralogical Record - Ron Romanella 45 x 66 mm
The Mineralogical Record - Ron Romanella 45 x 66 mm
The Mineralogical Record - Ron Romanella 44 x 67 mm
The Mineralogical Record - Ron Romanella Romanella's July-August 1964 ad in Rocks & Minerals (at this time Herb Obodda was managing the New York City store)
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