New book shines light on important collection

By Darren Lum

A new book by Minden’s Michael Bainbridge is promising to inform readers about a special collection of minerals with cultural and scientific importance to the world, including the man responsible for it, William Pinch.

Bainbridge, who is an established mineral photographer with experience in film and television, spent what amounts to a year of his life working to complete a 10-year odyssey to finish his book, The Pinch Collection at the Canadian Museum of Nature.
As much as the book features the collection, it’s the man at the centre of it all who drives the narrative.

Pinch lived the “rags to riches” story. He went from sleeping on the couch of a single room apartment with his mother after his father left them to acquiring wealth that would enable him to buy a castle in upstate New York, after establishing financial security and high standing within the mineral world through his enduring passion for minerals.
“Bill was very much the tormented prodigy. It’s also the story of the evolution of material sciences like the mineral sciences over the last 80 to 100 years, but also how those advances have informed our advances in culture and society [and] how those parallel advances [were] in technology and culture,” Bainbridge said.

The entire Pinch collection of 16,000 specimens was sold to Ottawa’s Canadian Museum of Nature for $3.5 million USD in 1989 – more than a quarter of the museum’s entire collection is Pinch’s. At the time, it was the highest price paid for a private mineral collection. At one time he had 2,000 of the 3,000 most important specimens of minerals, Bainbridge said.
Pinch’s story and the story of the collection are intertwined.

“It is as much about the collection as it is about Bill. The two are really inseparable. There is no collection without Bill and Bill is not who he is without the collection,” he said. “Ostensibly, the purpose of the book is to highlight the collection, but you can’t do that without Bill.”

Pinch led an interesting life and some of what he said Bainbridge wasn’t allowed to record. However, he was surprised at some stories he was allowed to tell, including dealing in minerals with the government of the Soviet Union in the late-1970s and early 1980s behind the Iron Curtain.
The book features photographs of close to 450 specimens, pared down from some 800. They were chosen for relevance to Pinch and the narrative and design of the book.

Although he sought out input from others for the initial 800, ultimately it was up to Bainbridge to narrow it down.
“It was a matter of going through every single drawer in the museum and looking at what Bill had and saying, ‘I want to photograph that and that and not that and that and whatever,’” he said.
He admits it was a challenge of how to start the book.
“It’s such a monumental work. The collection itself was such a monumental achievement that it really took me a while to really sort of figure out what the story was. What it was about,” he said.

There are obvious aspects of importance for the museum, but the importance of the book for people interested in minerals took a little longer to establish. His focus in the process, he said, was to showcase the minerals and to write with a style that was both accessible for people unfamiliar with minerals and for passionate mineral lovers like him.
Getting to complete this book left an impression on the married father of two girls, who said it was a learning opportunity that he won’t forget.
“So I really enjoyed that. That really was one of the through lines of the book as well. This fellow’s lifelong dedication to learning. That was evident in the collection that he created and that was certainly sparked in me as I was working with the collection,” he said.

The book was actually 10 years in the making, but was delayed by a variety of things such as Pinch’s health and two floods in different years that affected Bainbridge’s home in Minden. The process to finish the book included regular travel to interview Pinch and others in the U.S., photographing hundreds of specimens and then writing the book.

Bainbridge’s passion for minerals started when he was five years old when someone dumped out what appeared to be a pile of rocks at the back of his childhood house on a gravel lane in what was a “hippie commune” of Ottawa’s Glebe area. Those rocks included a variety of specimens not local to the area, which he assumed were brought from somewhere else. It first drew the attention of his brother. As a result, their mother was prompted to conduct research on the subject, which resulted in the entire family becoming a member of the Ottawa Valley Mineral Association. That’s where Bainbridge met George Robinson, who became his eventual mentor and recently co-authored another book with Bainbridge. Robinson also wrote the foreword for the new book. Bainbridge credits his parents with his curiosity because they always encouraged him to be inquisitive, he said.
Those rocks dumped in the lane behind his house opened his eyes to the treasures of the earth so easily missed hidden underground.

This book, Bainbridge said, is also a credit to others such as his publisher, editor and designer Gloria Staebler. The book was edited by Staebler and Tom Wilson.
He hasn’t thought much about the book since its completion in March, since he’s been kept busy running TheOccurrence Puzzle Factory with his wife, Brigitte Gall.
“I’m sure once I get it I’ll find all kinds of things that I wish I would have done differently … at this point no regrets. I’m thrilled with it,” he said.
Bainbridge hopes to have the The Pinch Collection at the Canadian Museum of Nature available to sell before Christmas.
It will be for sale at the Puzzle Factory in Haliburton and at the Canadian Museum of Nature.

What’s next for Bainbridge?
“I’m not entirely sure where this goes, but for the book, my hope is it appeals to a broader audience because in many ways the story of the development of science over the last 60 to 80 years,” he said. “It’s not a technical book. One of the things that are most significant was the scientific value of the collection and the exceptional specimens of extreme rarities that this fellow had collected. So that makes it sound very esoteric, but at the end of the day it is equal parts humanities – story telling and photographic coffee table book. The subjects of the photographs are themselves natural works of art.”