Spectacular violet diamond to go on tour this week

argyle violet diamond

An “impossibly rare” violet diamond, plucked deep from a remote mine in the north of Western Australia, will go on tour later this week, with an estimated value of nearly $4 million.

The gemstone, originally 9.17 carats, was the largest jewel of its kind ever discovered when found last summer at Rio Tinto’s Argyle mine. It has since been polished down to a 2.83 carat oval-shaped beauty.

“Rio Tinto said that the jewel had been assessed by the Gemological Institute of America, and while they said it would be the centerpiece of their upcoming show, they would not disclose its estimated value,” according to the website Red Orbit. “However, the firm noted that they expected to receive a significant amount of interest from potential buyers, and some figures suggest it could bring in $3.96 million.”

The diamond has been assessed by the Gemological Institute of America as a “notable diamond with the color grade of Fancy Deep Greyish Bluish Violet.”

Site of Argyle Diamond Mine, in the East Kimberley region in north of Western Australia.

Site of Argyle Diamond Mine, in the East Kimberley region in north of Western Australia.

“It is not known how diamonds acquire their colored tinge but it is thought to come from a molecular structure distortion as the jewel forms in the earth’s crust or makes its way to the surface,” according to Agence France-Presse.

The Argyle Violet is the largest such diamond Rio Tinto had ever recovered from the mine.

London-based Rio Tinto said that violet diamonds are extremely rare, and that only 12 carats of such polished stone have been produced during the 32 years the Argyle mine has been in operation.

Other unusually colored diamonds, including those that are pink or red, are typically worth 50 times more than regular white diamonds, the firm told the Daily Mail. Some of them have even sold for as much as $1.95 million per carat, it said.

The Argyle Violet gem was polished in Western Australia by one of Argyle’s master polishers, according to a Rio Tinto press release. The diamond’s tour will take it to Copenhagen, Hong Kong and New York, the company added.

(Top: The Argyle Violet diamond – the big, purty one – next to smaller diamonds.)

Venezuela: Continuing down the rabbit hole of ineptitude

venezeula inflation

Unbridled inflation tends to wreak havoc with economies, but one would think that if any industry were to benefit from rampant rising prices it would be that of paper currency manufacturers.

A country which is churning out billions of bank notes has got be good for the folks who run the printing press, right?

Leave it to Venezuela to botch that line of business, along with just about everything else.

As the country’s hard currency reserves sink to critically low levels, Venezuela’s central bank is paying foreign paper currency providers so slowly that the latter are beginning to back off on taking on additional contracts. In addition, it was disclosed recently that one company under contract to print money for the South American nation was owed more than $70 million.

Venezuela began its downward spiral with Hugo Chavez’sBolivarian Revolution,” which involved nationalizing different industries, implementing price controls and expropriating farmland.

Today Venezuela’s inflation is the highest in the world; it’s expected to rise to nearly 700 percent this year.

Adding to the nation’s fiscal difficulties is the fact that it takes a boatload of money for even the most basic transactions. Venezuela’s largest bill, the 100-bolivar note, barely pays for a loose cigarette at a street kiosk, according to Bloomberg.

Venezuela differs from other countries that have struggled with hyperinflation because it hasn’t reacted to raging prices by printing bank notes of astronomical denominations, such as the $100 trillion note produced by Zimbabwe not too long ago.

As inflation skyrockets and hard currency reserves plummet in Venezuela, paper currency manufacturers find themselves reluctant to commit sizeable resources as the nation’s ability to repay dwindles daily.

“The first signs of the currency shortage date back to 2014 when the government began increasing shipments of bank notes as wallet-busting wads of cash were already needed for simple transactions,” according to Bloomberg.

Today, Venezuelans spend hours waiting in line for consumer staples, lining up first at banks and cash machines, and often carrying money in backpacks and gym bags to pay for dinner out.

In 2015, the nation’s central bank selected companies in the United Kingdom, France and Germany to produce 2.6 billion bank notes. Before the delivery was even completed, the companies were approached by the central bank seeking even more notes.

UK-based De La Rue, which handles work for more than 150 nations, took the lion’s share of the order and enlisted Ottawa-based Canadian Bank Note Company to ensure it could meet a tight end-of-year deadline.

How big an order are we talking about?

Once printed, they arrived in Venezuela in dozens of 747 jets and chartered planes, according to Bloomberg. Under cover of security forces and snipers, it was transferred to armored caravans where it was spirited to the central bank in the dead of the night.

Even as the cash was still arriving authorities began planning for 2016. In late 2015, the central bank more than tripled its original order, offering tenders for some 10.2 billion bank notes.

But currency manufacturers began to grow concerned.

“According to company documents, De La Rue began experiencing delays in payment as early as June,” Bloomberg reported. “Similarly, the bank was slow to pay (Germany’s) Giesecke & Devrient and (France’s) Oberthur Fiduciaire. So when the tender was offered, the government only received about 3.3 billion in bids, bank documents show.”

Just last month, De La Rue sent a letter to the central bank complaining that it was owed $71 million and would inform its shareholders if the money were not forthcoming.

(Top: Even simple transactions require stacks of paper currency in Venezuela, thanks to massive inflation.)

Ancient set of antlers found on beach in Wales

red deer antlers wales

Weeks after first being spotted on a beach along the coast of Wales, researchers have recovered an impressive set of antlers that belonged to a red deer believed to have lived at least 4,000 years ago.

Researchers from the University of Wales Trinity Saint David are examining the remains, which include part of the skull, discovered on a beach in Borth, seven miles north of Aberystwyth, in the Welsh county of Ceredigion.

The remains were first sighted in early April but could not be recovered until recently because of the tides, according to the BBC.

The find comes from a channel cut through an area which in the 1960s turned up bones of an auroch, large wild cattle that inhabited Europe, Asia and North Africa, and the ancestor of domestic cattle.

“The individual was certainly in the prime of his life showing full development of the large antlers,” according to Dr. Ros Coard of the University of Wales Trinity Saint David.

Map showing Borth, along the coast of Wales, where ancient antlers were found.

Map showing Borth, along the coast of Wales, where ancient antlers were found.

When the skull and antlers were first seen, they were reported to the Royal Commission in Aberystwyth which alerted officials at the school’s archaeology, history and anthropology department.

The individuals who originally located the antlers and partial skull photographed the area where it was spotted. The images were used by the team, who manually searched the water at low tide until the skull was found in approximately three feet of water, according to the BBC.

The forest and peat deposits on either side of the channel date to between about 6,000 and 4,000 years ago – the time of the last hunter-gatherers and the earliest farmers in Britain.

“This is a wonderful discovery that really brings the forest and its environs to light,” said Dr. Martin Bates of the University of Wales Trinity Saint David. “Although the exact age of the skull has yet to be confirmed, it’s probable that the channel within which the find was made is contemporary with the forest and so an age in excess of 4,000 years old is likely.”

Coard, a faunal specialist at University of Wales Trinity Saint David, added: “Although the antlers and partial skull still have to undergo full analysis, the antlers can be said to come from a very large, mature male red deer.”

(Top: Antlers and part of skull of red deer believed to be at least 4,000 years old, recovered along coast of Wales. Photo credit: University of Wales Trinity Saint David.)

Teamster lackey: Full of sound and fury, signifying nothing

screwball

This blog remains largely immune from hate mail, probably because a) it’s readership is miniscule and b) the topics so arcane that few crackpots can work up the energy to put crayon to paper in order to fire off a misguided missive.

Still, just as a blind pig finds an acorn once in a while, the occasional screwball will manage to direct a harebrained epistle my way.

Consider: Last week a hack for the Teamsters Union decided to take me to task for a post I wrote in February 2009 about an area trucking company that had gained a well-deserved reputation for treating its employees particularly well. Mind you, this is a post that’s more than seven years old, but that didn’t stop the commenter, using the decidedly unoriginal nom de plume of “Greg Hoffa,” from wading into the fray, albeit very tardily and very ineptly.

Last Thursday, Mr. “Hoffa” wrote:

“WHY DONT YOU PAY YOUR DRIVERS OVERTIME PAY AFTER 8 hrs in a day or after a 40 hour work week? You are a damn crook, a typical preacher of religion. You must be related to Lyin’ Ted !!! Ps: and don’t tell me you don’t pay overtime because of some ridiculous agricultural law or railroad act. The Teamsters should represent this and every other shady trucking outfit. Pay your drivers what they deserve.”

It’s difficult to say what set off old Greg Hoffa. The point of my story, penned oh so many moons ago, was that a family-owned trucking company, during what was then the heart of the Great Recession, had managed to avoid laying off any of its more than 6,500 employees, the only major US trucking line able to be able make that claim.

My post contained no talk of pay, overtime and certainly no indication that I worked for the company. I don’t and never have. But then again, when it comes to reasoning skills, Teamster trolls are rarely mistaken for the second coming of Socrates.

I didn’t realize blogging made me a crook, and a “damned crook,” at that. As for being a typical preacher of religion, I am again mystified. I keep the proselytizing to a dull roar here, and with good reason. To paraphrase Mark Twain, “We were good Catholic boys when the weather was doubtful; when it was fair, we did wander a little from the fold.”

As to whom “Lyin’ Ted” is I have no idea. Cruz? Turner? Kennedy? Kaczynski?

A good rule of thumb if you’re going to write angry letters is that they should make sense and be based, at least in some small degree, on reality. Also, lay off the exclamation points. Greg Hoffa, you dropped the ball on all three counts.

I will give Mr. Hoffa one point and admit that he was pretty close to being accurate in one of his closing lines. Toward the end, where he wrote, “The Teamsters should represent this and every other shady trucking outfit,” he need only have shortened it to “The Teamsters should represent every shady trucking outfit,” and he would have been right on the money.

After three years of war, Texas cavalryman wasn’t ready to quit

CampDouglas

Tens of thousands of Union and Confederate soldiers went AWOL or deserted during the War Between the States. Some found combat wasn’t as glamorous as they had imagined, others wearied of being away from family, while many simply tired of seemingly endless monotony punctuated by the short bursts of terror common to combat.

Henry Martin Lary, a Confederate cavalryman from Texas, apparently did not waver in his conviction, despite the dangers and drudgery of war.

Lary enlisted as a private in Company D of the 19th Texas Cavalry Regiment on June 24, 1862, in Dallas County, Texas. He had earlier served for six months in a different Texas unit, beginning in 1861.

Lary saw action with the 19th Texas on April 26, 1863, at the Battle of Cape Girardeau (Mo.), and on June 9, 1863, at the Battle of Lake Providence (La.), during the Siege of Vicksburg, Miss.

He was captured at Monticello, Ark., on Jan. 15, 1864, and was first transferred to Little Rock, Ark., then to St. Louis’s Gratiot Street Prison. Gratiot was the largest war prison in Missouri, although it was mostly used as a transfer station.

First page of Henry Martin Lary's statement made at March 30, 1864, Gratiot Street Prison, St. Louis. Click to embiggen.

First page of Henry Martin Lary’s statement made at March 30, 1864, Gratiot Street Prison, St. Louis. Click to embiggen.

Lary apparently spent several months at Gratiot before being sent in August to the notorious Camp Douglas, in Chicago.

He would spend the winter of 1864-65 at Camp Douglas before being sent south to be exchanged near the war’s end.

On April 11, 1865, he was sent down the Mississippi River to Cairo, Ill. He arrived in New Orleans on April 22 and remained there until early May, when he was exchanged at the “mouth of the Red River, La.” on May 5.

Late in the war, nearly all exchanges were made because soldiers were in failing health, so it’s likely that Lary was suffering from health complications, possibly related to the winter at Camp Douglas, which had one of the highest mortality rates of any Civil War prisoner of war camp, with as many as 6,000 prisoners dying there between 1862 and 1865.

But before Lary was sent north Camp Douglas, Union officials at Gratiot interviewed him and transcribed his responses to a series of set questions.

Although they misidentified him as “Martin H. Lary” – transposing his first and middle names (unlike the Confederates, who misidentified him as “Leary” rather than “Lary”) – it’s apparent that even after nearly three years of service, Lary’s dedication to the Southern cause hadn’t wavered.

After answering such questions as place of capture, battles participated in and commanders served under, Lary was asked “Are you a Southern sympathizer?”
His response was a straightforward, “I am.”

To the question, “Do you sincerely desire to have the Southern people put down in this war, and the authority of the U.S. Government over them restored?” Lary was likewise succinct: “I do not,” he replied.

While it’s impossible 150 years later to know if Lary’s convictions remained as strong throughout the winter he spent at Camp Douglas, he did manage to survive and make his way back to home to Hill County, Texas.

Lary married, and lived until 1910, dying at the age of 67. His wife lived until 1933 and received a pension for her husband’s Confederate service. They are buried side by side in Hillsboro, Texas.

(Top: Confederate POWs at Camp Douglas, Ill.)

Century-old stained glass underscores priest’s legacy

stained glass

This past weekend a small Roman Catholic parish in Chapin, SC, unveiled its new church, a Modern Gothic Revival-style structure 10 years in the making.

Our Lady of the Lake Church features an impressive bell, a beautiful ambo and a striking altar. But perhaps what sets it apart from most new churches is its stained glass windows.

Unlike most of what is in the new structure, the eight windows are more than a century old, having come from the old Monastery of the Dominican Sisters of the Perpetual Rosary in Union City, NJ, also known as “The Blue Chapel.”

They were made at Buffalo Glass Works in New York by well-known stained glass artist Leo P. Frohe, who created them in the spirit of the Munich School style of glass, common in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The set of windows was once called “the poor man’s Bible” by Frohe and his contemporaries because they offered a physical way for worshippers to experience the transcendence of God.

Detail of stained glass window depicting Mary and infant Jesus.

Detail of stained glass window depicting Mary and infant Jesus.

Five of the windows depict the joyful mysteries of the rosary, and the other three show images of the Sacred Heart appearing to St. Gertrude, Jesus’ agony in the Garden of Gethsemane and Mary’s coronation in heaven.

Frohe (1851-1919) was born in The Netherlands. He came to Buffalo in 1862 with his mother and sisters, joining his father, a classically trained artist who had arrived in the US a year earlier.

For many years Frohe was the manager of the Buffalo Stained Glass Works. Frohe’s work for the company won a silver medal at the Paris Exhibition in 1889.

In 1895 he established his own workshop, called Frohe Art Glass, in Buffalo.

The Blue Chapel was built between 1912 and 1914, and housed the Order of the Perpetual Rosary which was started by Dominicans nuns who emigrated from France.

The monastery closed in 2008 when its last two nuns retired and moved to a hospice in New Jersey.

Father Andrew Vollkommer, the longtime pastor at Our Lady of the Lake, arranged that the eight windows be transferred to South Carolina in exchange for paying for the reburial of nuns who were interred on the property of the New Jersey monastery.

The windows were then restored at a Charlotte studio that specializes in stained glass.

Stained glass from the Munich School, created during the late 19th and early 20th century, possessed unique characteristics.

It is said to mirror “the European Romantic-era style of artistic, musical, and religious philosophy that took the lofty, hyper rational ideals of the preceding period and brought them, in a sense, back to earth,” according to the Hudson (NY) Reporter.

“It was believed beforehand that nature and the body were imperfect and that spiritual enlightenment could only be achieved by rejecting one’s earthly experience,” according to the publication. “The Romantic era proposed that true spiritual revelation was achieved instead by embracing nature and human emotion.”

Unfortunately, the man so instrumental in bringing the windows to the new church, along with everything else associated with the elegant structure, wasn’t on hand to witness the dedication.

Father Vollkommer died in his sleep in late January at age 60, after overseeing nearly every aspect of the structure nearly through to completion.

In more than 20 years of shepherding the parish, Father Vollkommer helped it grow from 60 families to 800, so there was more than a tinge of sadness that he wasn’t on hand this past weekend to see the fruits of his labor.

However, it’s not often that any of us are able to leave a legacy that will last generations. Buried a short distance away, Father Vollkommer will remain figuratively and literally in the shadow of the new church for decades to come.

New Caravaggio said to have been uncovered in France

Judith Beheading Holofernes

While its authenticity has yet to be fully determined, a painting discovered in a French attic is being attributed by some to the Italian master Caravaggio.

At least one expert said the 400-plus-year-old work, called “Judith Beheading Holofernes,” could be worth as much as $135 million.

However, experts aren’t in agreement as yet regarding the work’s authenticity, with some attributing the painting to Louis Finson, a Flemish painter and art dealer. Finson possessed a number of works from the Italian master and made copies of his pictures, according to the Associated Press.

The painting was discovered two years ago in Toulouse, in southern France, when the owners of the house went into the attic to repair a leak.

The picture was kept out of the public eye while it was cleaned and submitted to a deep examination that included infra-red reflectography and X-rays, the wire service added.

Judith Beheading Holofernes, said to be by Caravaggio, on display in Paris.

Judith Beheading Holofernes, said to be by Caravaggio, on display in Paris.

Eric Turquin, the French expert who retrieved the painting two years ago, said it is in an exceptional state of conservation.

The work depicts the biblical heroine Judith beheading an Assyrian general and is thought to have been painted in Rome around 1600.

The work is believed to have gone missing about 100 years after it was painted. Another version of it, which was also thought to be lost before its rediscovery in 1950, hangs in Rome’s National Gallery of Ancient Art, according to the BBC.

Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571-1610) was among the most innovative of the Renaissance painters, and his works are often spectacular for their realism and dramatic lighting. Only about 80 of Caravaggio’s paintings survive.

Turquin told a news conference Tuesday that there “will never be a consensus” about the artist.

Turquin believes the work “must be considered the most important painting, by far, to have emerged in the last 20 years by one of the great masters.”

The picture has been awarded “National Treasure” status by French authorities, meaning that it can’t be exported for 30 months, leaving the national museums enough time for its acquisition.

While the work has yet to be authenticated, France’s Culture Ministry justified its decision to ban the export of the painting because it “deserves to be kept on (French) territory as a very important landmark of Caravaggism.”

Bruno Arciprete, the Naples-based expert who restored Caravaggio’s “Flagellation of the Christ” and “Seven Works of Mercy,” said the painting could well be a Caravaggio but that further studies are needed.

“It has interesting characteristics that can be attributed to Caravaggio,” he told the Associated Press.

Arciprete said he saw the work a few months ago in Paris and came away with a “very good impression.”

“What is required is more scientific research, and then studies by art historians,” to specifically look at the technique, pigments, the type of canvas and its preparation to see if they correspond to those used by Caravaggio, he said.

On the other hand, Richard E. Spear, a scholar of Italian Baroque art who is an expert on Caravaggio, said he was “highly dubious” that the Italian master actually painted the art work.

Spear, who has only seen photos of the painting, told the AP that he wasn’t convinced by the handling of the brushwork and that some anatomical details of the characters raised questions.

“Altogether, the picture looks rather coarse and heavy to me,” he said.

(Top: “Judith Beheading Holofernes,” a different version of the work discovered in the attic of a house in southern France recently and purported to be the work of Renaissance master Caravaggio. The above is part of the collection of the National Gallery of Ancient Art in Rome.)