Ruskin pursued his interest in geology as a pastime, but with the rigour that he applied to all his work. This was at a time when the amateur scientist could still make a valuable contribution to scientific knowledge and be respected on an equal footing with professionals. Ruskin’s interests were wide and varied but he had a particular passion for quartz and its many varieties. These include agate, chalcedony and coloured forms such as amethyst, rose and citrine. Metal mining in the UK and abroad was around its peak, providing a plentiful supply of new, exciting and interesting minerals. An added advantage was that mining methods were much less mechanised than those of today, so specimen-grade materials were more likely to survive the mining process.
Ruskin’s important mineralogical collection is now housed in the ‘Treasury’ at Brantwood, Ruskin’s home in the Lake District. Ruskin’s collection not only preserves hundreds of scientifically important specimens, but also provides a snapshot of the producing mines and localities during the Victorian era. Ruskin’s lifelong desire to educate the public at large meant that his geological collection was already somewhat disseminated at the time of his death in January 1900. These include the museums and schools Ruskin supported throughout his life; famous purchasers of his collection after his death, such as Sir Arthur Russell (whose collection is now in the Natural History Museum, London) and lesser known collectors and museums attending the Brantwood auctions. Over his many years of collecting, Ruskin built strong and lasting relationships with most, if not all, of the famous mineral dealers as well as those less well known. Parts of the collection were sold to mineral dealers, for example, Ward’s Natural Science Establishment (in the USA).
Ruskin’s mineral collections feature prominently in his lectures at Oxford and publications on the relations of art and science, including Deucalion: Collected Stories of the Lapse of Waves and the Life of Stones. Ruskin argued that a stone was ‘a mountain in miniature’ (LE 6 (1904)/368).
Reference no. JR022