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John M. Grieger
(1910-1981)

John Miller Grieger was born in Indiana on June 17, 1910, the son of Emma Miller (1883-1955) and William John Grieger (1883-1961), a clothing merchant and insurance/real estate salesman (who owned his own business). He grew up in Michigan City, Indiana, and his family (including his sister Ruth and brother Phillip) moved to Pasadena some time between 1920 and 1930. He attended the California Institute of Technology for a year, but did not receive a degree. He had apparently been collecting minerals at an early age, and in 1930 felt confident enough to start his own mineral business, collecting and selling specimens from a converted garage at his family's home at 405 Ninita Parkway in Pasadena. Shortly thereafter he joined the Mineralogical Society of Southern California when it was formed in 1931.

As an introductory premium, his March 1933 ad in Rocks & Minerals offered a free booklet entitled The Gems of San Diego Co., California. His first ad in The Oregon Mineralogist in December 1933, offered a stock of several thousand terminated California tourmaline crystals. In 1933 he also offered his first mail mineral auction of "choice crystallized minerals" and gem material. (It was apparently not successful and was not repeated.) His June 1934 ad in Rocks & Minerals proclaimed: "John M. Grieger, Dealer in choice cabinet specimens and California Gem Minerals and Gems, 405 Ninita Parkway, Pasadena, California." In October of that year he publshed an article in The Oregon Mineralogist entitled "San Diego County, California--gem mines not exhausted."

Field collecting was an important source of specimens for Grieger in his early years. In the spring of 1935 Grieger and his partner, Thomas W. Warner Jr., spent eight weeks in Pala, California making an exhaustive survey of the local gem pegmatites, and intensively mining three claims for kunzite spodumene. By 1936 he was considered to be one of the leading distributors of mineral specimens, mineralogy books and gem materials in the West. His first love was always crystal specimens, and his early ads in the 1930's dealt almost entirely with collector crystals and specimens, but the economics of running a business meant that he eventually had to deal primarily in gem rough and lapidary equipment.

In 1936 Grieger joined in business with his friend and field-collecting partner, Tom Warner, under the company name of Warner & Grieger. Warner was the son of Thomas Warner, Sr., co-founder of the Borg-Warner Corporation and a very wealthy man; the Warner home in Pasadena was valued at $300,000 in 1930, and had three live-in servants. So, money probably being scarce in the Grieger family so soon after the Depression, it is likely that Warner supplied an infusion of operating capital as his contribution to the partnership, and thus he was listed first in the company name.

Grieger served in the Army in 1942, returning to his business in 1944. In April 1945 Warner & Grieger bought out the entire stock of Clarence L. Brock's mineral dealership, The American Mineral Exchange in Houston, Texas—10,000 pounds of specimens from Paterson and Franklin, New Jersey, Barringer Hill in Texas, and many other localities.

By 1945 Grieger's father, William J. Grieger was also involved in the business, probably having stepped in during his son's stint in the Army.

In March 1946 Warner & Grieger announced that, due to conflicts with a local zoning ordinance, the company was moving from the Grieger family's home at 405 Ninita Parkway in Pasadena to 1633 E. Walnut Street in Pasadena. When the shop reopened at the new location in April 1946 it was called Grieger's Gems & Minerals, shortened to just Grieger's in November 1946. Tom Warner had no doubt moved on to other things; his father died the following year and he inherited a large fortune. The new Grieger's advertised primarily gem materials, but also carried "superb specimens of Mexican wulfenite," probably Los Lamentos, and "choice specimens of a new find of crystallized anglesite." In August 1946 they announced their acquisition of the "largest and finest lot of brazilianite crystals ever sent to this country. Superb crystals at $4.00 to $35.00 each. One-inch crystals with clean, lustrous faces; nice gemmy crystals though not flawless gem stock. Excellent value-special at $12.50 each."

In June 1947 it was time to remodel their shop, and Grieger once again chose to emphasize the mineral specimens, claiming that they would have 100,000 mineral specimens in stock … "You will see more Rocks than Rockefeller—You will have more fun than Coney Island. Specimens from all over the world will be on display."

In September 1948 Grieger's issued a lavish 160-page, 9 x 12-inch Encyclopedia and Supercatalog with a sewn binding and laminated cover—an extensive section on mineral specimens was included. The 1950 edition was even larger—192 pages, with new, informative articles by various authors.

In September 1952 Grieger's increased their promotion of mineral specimens, establishing a "new mineral department" and issuing a new 12-page mineral catalog listing several hundred modestly priced mineral varieties for the beginner, student or prospector. Specimens for the advanced collector were not included—buyers would need to visit the shop in person to see those.

The 1956 edition of their big Encyclopedia and Supercatalog ran to 224 pages, available in hardcover and softcover. That same year John married Kathleen Bowers during a trip to Nevada.

In 1958 the Grieger's catalog was enlarged further, to 340 pages. Grieger's advertised lapidary materials almost exclusively thereafter, though Grieger himself never lost his personal interest in mineral collecting. (The last big catalog was apparently issued in 1980, the year before his death.) A 1972 ad mentions the collection of John M. Grieger, "gleaned from over 40 years involvement in the field."

Grieger's continued to expand and become even more successful during the 1960's and early 1970's. In 1972 the opening of a lavish new building at 900 So. Arroyo Parkway in Pasadena was announced for October 1, 1972. It boasted a total of 25,000 sq. ft., including "3500 sq. ft. of retail store space plus 1000 sq. ft of mezzanine which will be devoted to the world's finest display of minerals, fossils and decorative rock specimens"—i.e. John Grieger's personal collection. In 1973 Grieger's joined with B&M Gems to operate a branch store in Carlsbad, California; that operation lasted until 1979.

Grieger continued to promote his extensive showroom facilities, including the mineral specimens, well into the late 1970's. "Stop in and shop," his ads urged, "you'll find the world's largest collections of gems, minerals, jewelry mountings and supplies. Gems and minerals are displayed in museum-like surroundings."

John M. Grieger died in Pasadena, California on August 7, 1981, and with him went any interest the company had in minerals. The family continued to operate the business for some years thereafter, but ceased advertising the 900 S. Arroyo address in 1985, concentrating instead on mail-order business ("since 1930"). The company eventually closed its doors in 1997. In 2007 William Larson of Pala International acquired a portion of Grieger's excellent personal mineral collection.

References:
California Death Index
World War II US Army Enlistment Records (1938-1946)
U.S. Federal Census Records,1920, 1930
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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 M. Grieger 41 x 61 mm,
Walnut St. address,
"Grieger's Inc."
new script
(1956-1972)
The Mineralogical Record - John M. Grieger 38 x 56 mm,
Walnut St. address,
"Grieger's Inc."
new script
(1956-1972)
The Mineralogical Record - John M. Grieger 42 x 61 mm,
Arroyo Parkway address
(1972-1985)
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