Top 10 Digital Reads from the GIA Library

Gem materials and in front of rare books.
Gem materials, such as this agate (a Chinese carving of Guanyin), Colombian emerald specimen, pearl, shell cameo, amethyst, garnet and turquoise, have excited global appeal for millennia. Books about gemstones, but also geology, mining techniques and international trade in gems, have long stimulated enthusiasts. Many are collected in GIA’s Cartier Rare Book Repository and Archives, which houses both the ancient and more modern writings about gemstones. A growing number of these books (treasures in and of themselves) are available to you — for free —through Internet Archive. Photo by Robert Weldon/GIA.

Would you like to brush up on your Latin and read Pliny’s “Natural History,” the 17th-century book that is the foundation of ancient gemology? Peruse an 1817 copy of Sowerby’s “British Mineralogy” with your morning coffee? Or thumb through — virtually — an especially rare, 1925-26 catalog of Russian Romanov dynasty’s regalia and crown jewels?
These are just three of 650 digitized rare books from GIA’s Cartier Rare Book Repository and Archives that are available for free through the nonprofit digital library Internet Archive. This multi-year effort by librarians at GIA’s Richard T. Liddicoat (RTL) Gemological Library and Information Center to bring thousands of the rarest, most venerated books in gemology, mineralogy and jewelry into easy reach.
Many of the books are from the Sinkankas Library, which was acquired by GIA in 1988. John Sinkankas, a noted author and lapidary artist, and his wife Marjorie, spent more than 40 years collecting approximately 14,000 items, including virtually all of the major works related to the study of gems and jewelry.
“The GIA digital library is growing into a comprehensive collection of manuscripts and books that document centuries of history, art, science, gemology and mineralogy,” says Robert Weldon, director of the RTL Library. “Reflecting the many countries and languages that make up the international world of gems and jewelry, online archive is an excellent resource for gemologists and researchers — available at their fingertips, no matter where they are.”


Here are some of the most notable books, as selected by the library staff:

  1. Fersman, A.E. Russia’s Treasure of Diamonds and Precious Stones, 1925
    This rare catalog documents Russia’s regalia and crown jewels at the time of the overthrow of the tsarist regime in 1917. It includes jewels that date from the reign of Peter I (1689-1725) through Nicholas II (1894-1917), with 100 photographs of the Tsarist riches.

  2. Kozminsky, Isidore. The Magic and Science of Jewels and Stones, 1922
    From ancient myth to modern science, this book is (from the preface) "…a sincere attempt…to blend modern science with the ancient and occult philosophy of the … stones of the earth.”  Sinkankas describes it in his Gemology: An Annotated Bibliography as "An outstanding work, comparable to Kunz’s Curious Lore in respect to authenticity & accuracy of information.”

  3. Hendley, Thomas Holbein. Indian Jewellery, 1909
    This rare work is a collection describing the jewelry, costumes and gemstone terminology of the Indian provinces. Sinkankas calls it the “largest, most detailed, and lavishly illustrated monograph ever to appear on the subject.”

  4. Vever, Henri. La Bijouterie Francaise au XIXe Siecle (1800-1900), 1908
    This three-volume work describes the history of French jewelry, including famous gems, persons and pieces. Sinkankas lauds it as “astonishingly detailed” and “remarkable for the numerous high quality photographic and other illustrations.”

  5. Winter, Albert Andrew. A Course in Fundamental Principles of Designing and Engraving, 1915
    This 1915 instructional book from Winter’s School of Jewelry Engraving is a practical guide in basic engraving, which includes explanations on monogram design, letter formation, proper tools and techniques, types of metals, terminology and more. The explanations are accompanied by detailed illustrations and diagrams.

  6. Tagore, Sourindro Mohun. Mani-mala: or, A Treatise On Gems, 1881
    In English and Sanskrit, Tagore’s two volume Mani-Málá includes both Eastern and Western sources of information on diamonds and colored stones, lore, jewelry, royal gems and more. Sinkankas calls it “one of the most remarkable and important works on gems ever published,” especially as a resource for the history of gemstones in Indian culture.

  7. Kunz, George Frederick. The Curious Lore of Precious Stones, 1913
    This work is a significant and comprehensive assemblage of information on gemstone folklore and healing properties. Learn about the mystical properties that many — to this day — ascribe to gems.

  8. Lacroix, Alfred. Mineralogie de la France et de Ses Colonies […], 1913
    Are you fascinated by minerology? Do you read French? This five-volume work “describes the minerals of France and its colonies. Sinkankas describes it as […] peer, being extremely thorough, neglecting no important aspect, and lavishly illustrated."

  9. The Bishop Collection: Investigations and Studies in Jade, 1900
    A rare collection of articles on jade, commissioned by Heber Reginald Bishop to describe his collection of jade objects, which was donated to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in 1902.

  10. Pliny, the Elder. C. Plynius Secundus De naturali hystoria diligentissime castigatus, 1496
    This 1496 Latin edition is the oldest book in GIA’s collection. Its 37 chapters are a compilation of all that he could discover about nature; the last five books cover metals and gems. As gemologist and author Sydney Ball explains, it was the foundation of all science until the Renaissance, and is one of the largest single works to have survived from the Roman Empire to the modern day.

Learn more about how GIA is digitizing its rare book collection.