Maine mineral expert Frank Perham of West Paris dies at age 88

Frank Perham, left, signs a sample card for collector Art Doyle at a minerals ‘tailgate party’ at Havey Quarry in Poland. A native of Orange, Connecticut, Doyle is President of the New Haven Mineral Club. photo submitted

WEST PARIS — Frank Perham, the renowned miner and mineral collector and world expert on Maine pegmatites, died Tuesday morning. He was 88.

Perham discovered one of the world’s largest deposits of gem-quality tourmalines in Newry in 1972.

Perham was born on March 5, 1934 and grew up in a family involved in the mineral business. He learned about minerals from an early age.

His grandfather, Alfred Perham, owned a herd of cows that uncovered the top of a feldspar deposit simply by meandering across what turned out to be one of the largest feldspar deposits in Oxford County, Perham said in a 2016 interview.

His grandfather founded AC Perham Feldspar Quarry and helped set up the West Paris feldspar mill. His father, Stanley, founded what would later become Perham’s Maine Mineral Store in 1919. The shop moved to Trap Corner in west Paris in 1930.

Frank Perham stands next to one of the lithium bearing crystals found at Plumbago North in Newry. The crystals are among the largest of their kind ever found. Photo courtesy of William Simmons

Perham graduated from Bates College, Lewiston with a degree in geology and enlisted in the US Army during the Korean War. He married Mary Tamminen, whose father owned a quarry. He joined his father’s business and mined minerals and crystals at Harvard Quarry in Greenwood in the early 1960s.

He has always been interested in pegmatites, particularly litia-rich pegmatites with tourmaline.

Perham became adept at drilling holes for dynamite with a jackhammer. The state of Maine hired him for road construction projects.

“I became an explosives dealer and sold the dynamite and the primers to the feldspar mill west of Paris, and the profit I made from that gave me dynamite to use on the weekends,” Perham said in 2016. “I have Dynamite used jackhammer and air compressor five days a week when I was working for the state and was blowing up (for myself) on Saturdays and Sundays. I didn’t have days off, but that’s life. I did that for a long time.”

Maine has one of the largest pegmatite deposits in the world. Pegmatites are igneous rocks composed mostly of quartz, feldspar, and mica. But pegmatites can also contain some of the largest crystals in the world, including tourmaline.

Discovering these minerals is like winning at the casino, Perham once said.

Frank Perham, right, and mining partner Ralph Brown pose in the Mineral Museum at Perham’s home cellar with the largest specimen of quartz crystals extracted from the Hayes Quarry at Noyes Mountain in Greenwood. photo submitted

In 1972 a group investigating a new mine at Plumbago Mountain in Newry invited Perham to join them in order to gain his blasting experience. After opening a bag for them, Perham, who knew the mountain well from previous trips, asked if he could turn the corner 25 meters below them to find another spot.

He found several new bags of minerals and gems.

“Three days later, we actually blasted into that (last) pocket, and when we got everything done, it was 29 feet long, 6 feet in diameter side-to-side, and 6½ feet tall,” Perham said. “I could stand in it with a steel helmet. There were tons and tons of feldspar, plus a ton and three quarters of tourmaline crystals. The best one to date is at the Smithsonian and they call it the same as I did when I found it, the Jolly Green Giant.”

A phosphate mineral first found in Maine is named after Perham – perhamite.

Perham was a frequent speaker at rock and mineral conventions and was known for his sense of humor and storytelling of his various adventures. There are several YouTube videos of Perham prospecting for minerals and gemstones in Maine’s quarries.

The Maine Mineral and Gem Museum at Bethel has an exhibit highlighting Perham’s life and showing his many unique finds. Perham sold his vast mineral collection of 1,280 “Cadillac” specimens to the museum.

Frank Perham, right, and Richard Edwards smile December 10, 2004 after Edwards and Gary Freeman opened the 28th bag of minerals they found this year on Mount Mica in Paris. Freeman wrote, “The bag produced some spectacular tourmalines and the largest ever found in North America.” photo submitted

Jessica Siraco, the executive director of the Maine Mineral and Gem Museum, did not respond to calls and messages asking for comment about Perham.

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