The Desmond Sacco Collection; Focus On Southern Africa

Dr Wendell E. Wilson,  Editor of the “Mineralogical Record” (Vol. 32, No 4 (2000) pages 355-356)

Desmond Sacco was born and raised in Johannesburg, South Africa, the son of a successful Italian mining engineer who had been responsible in part for the discovery and development of the Kalahari Manganese Field. Having a strong interest in his father’s profession, he studied geology and geography at the University of Witwatersrand and was awarded a B.S. degree in 1966; during those years as a student he also began seriously collecting minerals. His work as a field geologist at places such as the Beeshoek mine (Cape Province), mines in Zimbabwe, and various other southern African properties fuelled his interest, built his knowledge base, and afforded him plenty of opportunities for field collecting.

Perhaps the high point in his field collecting was the discovery of wonderful rhodochrosite specimens at the N’Chwaning I mine in 1978. The property was being mined by his company, Associated Ore and Metal Ltd., so he was called in as soon as the pockets began to be encountered. He spent two weeks there personally collecting hundreds of flats of exquisite specimens, the best of which he has retained for his collection.

The Sacco Collection is one that most of us will never have the chance to see in person not because of any lack of hospitality on Desmond’s part, but simply because South Africa is so far beyond our normal travel range. Consequently, it is a tremendous good fortune to now have this truly superb book to examine which documents his best specimens in over 600 striking colour photographs. The photos are printed on high-quality, semi-gloss paper utilizing a five-colour ink process. The excellent photographs are all the work of author Bruce Cairncross, a geologist and mineral collector himself, who is a professor at University of Johannesburg and the author of numerous books and articles on southern African geology and mineralogy.

What distinguishes this book above a simple assemblage of colour plates is, first of all, the geographic specialization and, secondly, the grouping of the illustrations according to 30 featured localities which are each discussed competently in the text by Cairncross. Each locality section even has its own Selected Bibliography. Thus the book serves as a very educational and massively well-illustrated review of a selection of important southern African mineral occurrences.

The book is deceptively long because the paper is not especially thick; at 408 pages it still bulks to only about 1 inch, excluding covers- But the high weight (2.5 kg or 5112 pounds) lets you know right away that this is a highly concentrated work. Just paging through it to see the illustrations seems to go on and on. Not that we are likely to mind! The “Wow!” factor is very high, and I lost count of the number of specimens that really shook me up. There is so much here that few of us have ever seen. Two examples that immediately come to mind: (1) An 8.8-cm slab of blocky, rather gemmy, highly lustrous rhombohedral crystals of bright red colour that immediately brings to mind Alma rhodochrosite… except that this is a cuprite-included Tsumeb calcite. And (2) a sugilite specimen, a species for which even micro crystals are considered a coup, but this one has gemmy, blocky, lustrous, deep royal purple crystals up to 1.1 cm! I never suspected such crystals existed.

The localities covered are as follows: In Namibia, the Otavi Mountain Land, Abenab, Berg Aukas, Brandberg, Gamsberg, Karibib-Usakos, Klein Spitzkoppe, Kombat, Krantzberg, Okorusu, Omaue, Onganja, Otjosondu, Rehoboth, Rosh Pinah, Rössing, Tschudi, Tsumeb and Uis. In South Africa, the Chrome mine (Bushveld Complex), the Consolidated Murchison mine, the Kalahari Manganese Field, the Postmasburg Manganese Field, Messina, Okiep, Pafuri, Palabora and the Sheba mine. In Mozambique, Alto Ligonha. In the Congo, Shaba (Katanga) province. And in Zimbabwe, the Miami district,

Over half of the colour photos are devoted to Tsumeb minerals, making this book an important reference on Tsumeb. Particularly outstanding are a 7-cm triangular leadhillite plate; a superb 5-cm cuproadamite (among many); translucent, pale blue anglesite crystals to over 6 cm; gemmy orange barite crystals; clusters of green rhombohedral calcite crystals (colored by dioptase micro inclusions); red cerussite crystals (colored by cuprite); a 4.9-cm chalcocite crystal cluster; many wonderful mimetites; gemmy scorodite; green, yellow, blue and pink smithsonites to die for; stunning clusters of big, bright yellow wulfenite crystals; and, of course, rafts of fine dioptase, cerussite, azurite, etc. etc.

The specimens from the Kalahari Manganese Field, especially the extensive suites of gorgeous rhodochrosite, yellow ettringite, lustrous hematite and red-pink inesite, also include many jaw-droppers.

It is difficult to find any faults in this book. The brief texts on each locality represent only thumbnail sketches (we might have wanted more), but they are well written and point the way to more comprehensive references. The paper might have been a bit thicker, but it is fairly high quality, and the book already makes quite a dent in your chest as bedtime reading. Another couple of pounds weight from thicker paper might cross the pain threshold. A few of the specimen photos exhibit a colour-separation defect called “vignetting;’ thin black outlines around every bright white highlight. But as a publisher I am sensitive to such things; most photos showing this problem will probably go unnoticed by readers.

This is a wonderful book to have, which will provide much pleasure and interest value to any serious collector, not to mention pangs of envy. It would also make an excellent gift to some lucky recipient. With only 1000 copies printed, I recommend that interested readers act fast to reserve one for themselves. I would also like to thank Desmond Sacco and Bruce Cairncross for producing this book; it is a wonderful service to all of us who cannot travel in person to South Africa, and it is obvious that a tremendous amount of good work went into it.

Wendell E. Wilson

Comments and quotes from satisfied customers

“The book is superb in every way …. The quality of the photos is excellent, as is the quality of the paper. The organization of the book is well thought out….” R.C. from the USA

“A very fine book ….wonderful illustrations and relevant text ….Congratulations for this outstanding work” F.S. from Britain

“… a superb job. The photos and text are great and really do justice to one of the great mineral collection of all times. In addition to being very beautiful, the book is also very educational regarding the various southern African localities and the minerals unique to each.” J.S. from the USA

“The book is fantastic, what a collection and so beautifully photographed” O.S. from Britain

“Fine work ….of an extensive, magnificent collection. Wonderful specimen pictures, and also of the collection/cases.” P.L. of Luxembourg

“CONGRATULATIONS! …Superb, wonderful, unique. …. The best mineral book I have ever seen. The wonderful specimens pictured, the brief but informative captions, the description of localities and the general quality of the book all together make it a real jewel for the serious mineral collector.” F.G.G. of Spain

“A magnificent tribute to Sacco’s awesome collection – the photography is stunning.” I.G. from Britain

“Congratulations, it is one of the best written books I have ever seen (I have over 300 books). Also the photographs of selected specimens are amazing.” J.S. of Germany

“Extraordinary book ….wonderful mineral photos.” I.E of Sweden

“Congratulations on a great achievement – the book offers a unique insight into a special part of the history of southern Africa.”  W.T from Britain