From Stamps to Blue John

When I was a little girl I collected and hoarded many things.  I collected conkers and my shins were bruised from them banging about in my coat lining, where they had fallen through to, from my broken pocket.   I had a stamp collection and a cigarette card stash that I jealously guarded.  I pressed flowers with careful attention.  The items I collected and loved the most were beads, rocks and semi precious stones.  I loved them beyond all else.


This fascination started when, one day, I noticed the sun glinting off the mica in our stone wall. I was mesmerised; I thought the mica was a secret stash of diamonds.


I began to look everywhere for similar treasure trove and my feet lead me inexorably to the local graveyard I passed on the way to school.  I am ashamed to say I always helped myself to a couple of stones from this plentiful supply.



The years have passed, as has my obsession with beads but I still love stones and quartzes.  In the early seventies, I bought a book about them.  I still have it, though it is a little dog eared now.


My favourite semi precious stone is Blue John.   

Blue John Stone

Blue John Stone is a rare, semiprecious mineral found at only one location in the world – a hillside near Mam Tor, just outside Castleton, in the Derbyshire Peak District National Park, England. The name Blue John derives from the French Bleu Jaune meaning Blue Yellow. It is a form of fluorite and was discovered as miners were exploring the cave systems of Castleton for lead.

Nowadays, the caves of Castleton are magnificent show caves and are some of the most popular tourist attractions in Derbyshire. Of the four show caves only Treak Cliff and, to a lesser extent, Blue John have veins of Blue John Stone. Treak Cliff Cavern still mines about 500 kilograms of Blue John Stone each year. The veins of Blue John Stone are easy to see and many of the formations are well lit. Blue John Stone is a semiprecious stone and gives Castleton its nickname of ‘Gem of the Peaks’.

Chemically, Blue John is calcium fluoride (CaF2) which has been coloured by films of oil deposited on the crystals millions of years ago. Although it is known as fluorite the old miners, referred to it as fluor spar (sometimes spelt fluorspar). Fluorite often forms in cubic and octahedral crystals and is usually grey, yellow or purple in colour. Fluorite used to be mined mainly for iron smelting but now has many other uses including toothpaste. The form of fluorite unique to Castleton is banded purple and yellow or grey and is known as Blue John.

Banded Blue John fluorite has been worked into ornaments since 1750 and there are about 14 categories of banding patterns.

Blue John has been prized for ornaments and jewellery and it can be found in many great collections housed in places such as Windsor Castle, the White House and the Vatican. The Queen Mother was particularly fond of it.


I only own one little slice of quartz these days and he lives in my purse as have all my previous "lucky" stones.

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Let’s hope he keeps on bringing me good luck.



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2 responses to “From Stamps to Blue John

  1. Pat .

    Good post. When I was 12 or so I went on rock-hounding holidays around NZ with my Mother and her partner. We would come back with the car barely able to move because of the tons of rocks that we (perhaps mainly me) had accumulated. I did spend a fair bit of time polishing them – and I think I still have some of them in the basement! My favourite was agate – and I definitely still have the half-fist sized chunk I did find.

    • penelopephoebe

      @Pat. Sounds like you had fantastic holidays as a kid. The child in me wishes she had found a fist sized chunk of agate. Now I wish I could afford to buy one :>)

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