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

Frank Perham, left, autographs a specimen display card for collector Art Doyle at a mineral “tailgate party” at the Havey Quarry in Poland. Doyle is from Orange, Connecticut, and is president of the New Haven Mineral Club. Submitted photo

Perham discovered one of the largest deposits of gem-quality tourmaline in the world in Newry in 1972.

Born March 5, 1934, and raised by a family steeped in the mineral business, Perham learned about minerals at an early age.

His grandfather, Alfred Perham, owned a herd of cows that unearthed the tip of a feldspar deposit simply by meandering over a field, which turned out to be one of the largest deposits of feldspar in Oxford County, Perham said in a 2016 interview.

His grandfather founded A. C. Perham Feldspar Quarry and helped to establish the West Paris feldspar mill. His father, Stanley, started what would eventually become Perham’s Maine Mineral Store in 1919. The store moved to Trap Corner in West Paris in 1930.

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


He always had an interest in pegmatites, particularly lithia-rich pegmatites with tourmaline.

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 became adept at using a jackhammer to drill holes for dynamite. The state of Maine hired him for road construction projects.

“I became a distributor for explosives, and I would sell the dynamite and caps to the feldspar mill in West Paris, and the profit I made on that gave me dynamite to use on the weekends,” Perham said in 2016. “I was using the jackhammer and compressor five days a week when I was working for the state and blasting (for myself) Saturdays and Sundays. I didn’t have any days off, but such is life. I did that for a long time.”

Maine holds one of the largest deposits of pegmatites in the world. An igneous rock, pegmatites are largely composed by quartz, feldspar and mica. But pegmatites can also contain some of the world’s largest crystals, including tourmaline.

Discovering those minerals was like winning at the casino, Perham once said.

In 1972, seeking his blasting experience, a group investigating a new mine at Plumbago Mountain in Newry invited Perham to join them. After opening up a pocket for them, Perham, who knew the mountain well from past excursions, asked if he could go 85 feet around the corner below them to search a different spot.


He found several new pockets of minerals and gems.

Frank Perham, right, and mining partner Ralph Brown pose in Perham’s home basement mineral museum with the largest specimen of quartz crystals removed from the Hayes Quarry on Noyes Mountain in Greenwood. Submitted photo

“Three days later we actually blasted into this (final) pocket and when we got it all 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 on. There were tons and tons of feldspar, plus a ton and three-quarters of tourmaline crystals. The finest one is in the Smithsonian to this day, and they call it the same thing I did when I found it, the Jolly Green Giant.”

The vast amount of minerals removed from that deposit would be worth approximately several million dollars, Perham speculated a few years ago.

The giant size of the pocket and the number of gems removed from the site is what amazed miners, geologists and gemologists, who flocked to the site to study the discovery. Ralph Pride, the present owner of Cross Jewelers in Portland was in his early 20s and just learning the business when he first examined the minerals.

“What I saw on my first visit simply blew me away,” Pride told Downeast Magazine last year. “I mean, the quantity of gems. And everything was just astonishingly beautiful. They found two metric tons of gems — you don’t typically measure gems in tonnage. It was the largest gem find in North America. … The quantity of what they found was so vast, we have cutters who still have material a half century later and are still cutting gems.”

Frank Perham, right, and Richard Edwards smile Dec. 10, 2004, after Edwards and Gary Freeman opened up the 28th mineral pocket they found at Mount Mica in Paris that year. Freeman wrote, “The pocket produced some spectacular tourmalines and the largest ever found in North America.” Submitted photo

Perham was later honored for his work when a phosphate mineral first found in Maine was named for him — perhamite.

A frequent lecturer on the rock and mineral convention circuit, Perham was known for his sense of humor and storytelling about his various adventures. There are several YouTube videos of Perham searching for minerals and gems at Maine quarries.

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

Jessica Siraco, the executive director of the Maine Mineral and Gem Museum, did not return calls and messages seeking comment on Perham.

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