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The Pinch Collection at the Canadian Museum of Nature

Rocks & Minerals, 2020

This is a large book! At 26 × 31 cm it is not a standard format, but one designed by editor/publisher Gloria Staebler (Lithographie) to accommodate the aspect ratio and placement of Michael J. Bainbridge’s magnificent photographs. Staebler has an eye for balance, so it works, but be advised that this is a volume for the coffee table rather than the bookshelf.

A short foreword by Dr. George Robinson, who was himself deeply involved in the acquisition of the Pinch collection by the Canadian Museum of Nature, emphasizes two factors that led to the success of Bill Pinch—unrivaled knowledge of all things mineral, and “rapport with the professional mineralogical community” (p. vii). One might add a third to that — a gut-wrenching drive to have the best of the best. It shows in this book.

In the introduction that follows, Bainbridge leads the reader through the great collectors of the past—Roebling, Russell, Jefferis, and so on—and arrives at Pinch among their members. In terms of interaction with professionals, he includes academics, curators, and dealers, but emphasizes Pinch’s relationship with the Smithsonian Institution and Curator Paul Desautels. In a sense, both were driven characters, although their drives took different forms, one institutional and one personal. Still, association with Desautels led him into conflict with the IRS, and they suffered the consequences together.

The body of the book is divided into two major parts: “Part One: The Collector and His Collections” is itself divided into eight sections that come together to describe the man, the collection, and the legacy; “Part Two: Selections from the Pinch Suites” has ten subdivisions, each dedicated to minerals from a particular region, such as Japan, Canada, and Brazil, or to an attribute such as radioactivity. A short epilogue, an appendix with the names of the Pinch Medal recipients, and a species and locality index finish off the text.

At 54 pages, Part One is the shortest but most revealing portion of the book. It enlarges on the introduction and certainly showed me a different Bill Pinch than the person I thought I knew. After all, if a man drives a classic Rolls Royce and spends thousands on mineral specimens, one may be excused for thinking that there is wealth in the background. Pinch, however, came from a broken family (his father left when he was seven) and made his mark through native intelligence, facilities available to him (such as Kodak’s X-ray diffractometer), and a masterful ability at trading. I had thought of the Vance micromount collection as perhaps an impulse buy by a seasoned collector, but it turns out to be one of the first mineral purchases made by Pinch in his youth, and the one that led him to the microscope and the world of crystals. Again, there is the comparison with great museum collectors and benefactors of the past and an explanation of how the Pinch Collection came to be and how it wound up in the Canadian Museum of Nature. There is also a detailed explanation of what one might call the “Desautels Crisis” and how it affected Pinch. I did find a couple of minor, excusable omissions. One, it speaks exclusively of Pinch’s mineral collection. Yes, this is a book about the mineral collection, but it should be made known that Pinch was a collector—period. He also collected shells, agates, stamps, coins, ancient mineral texts, and model trains. Secondly, Bainbridge places emphasis on Pinch’s curatorial expertise and insistence on proper labels; he doesn’t mention the fact that there would sometimes be a box of specimens and a separate box of labels. Matching them could be a challenge.

At 203 pages, Part Two of the book is the icing on the cake. This is where photographer Bainbridge takes over from author Bainbridge, and a sterling suite of photographs illustrates selected items from the collection in the Canadian Museum of Nature. Pinch organized his collection according to country or attribute (radioactives) rather than by the old method of chemical affinity. Bainbridge has followed that organization and provides suites on Canada, Russia, Japan, European Classics, and so on. The illustrations are spectacular, and the specimens mouth-watering. There isn’t much more one can say. Pinch set his bar high, and Bainbridge has followed suit.

The epilogue is a one-page essay as a follow-up on Pinch after the acquisition of the collection by the Canadian Museum of Nature. He did continue collecting and did sell to other museums.

Bainbridge writes clearly although he occasionally uses words idiosyncratically. Phrases such as “elucidated the mineralogical record” (p. 1) and “considering the numerous silos competing” (p. 34) spring to mind. Additionally, the term First Lady, used in a photo caption (p. 48), is incorrect. Canada does not use the title “First Lady” when referring to the wife of the Prime Minister. These quibbles are minor. This is a striking book, historically and visually. It is well worth the $75 price.

Quintin Wight
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

-Quintin Wight

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