King Penguin: Semi-Precious Stones
I find it intriguing that almost every King Penguin I’ve come across seems to be a perfect blend of elegant academic wonder and mind-blowing illustrative talent. Although they are highly collectable, I have seldom chased them down. I have only a few of these books but keep an eye peeled for the odd one in charity shops and creaky bookshops by the sea.
My Grandfather, Mr Charles William Hooley, was a geoglist and geographical surveyor before he retired. His mineral and stone specimen collections were completely mesmerising to me as a child. They conjured images of treasure troves in the belly of a distant Maharajah’s palace. Each sample was perfectly hewn, polished, arranged and labelled in such a way that when the light caught them all simultaneously, it was really quite overwhelming. I couldn’t help feeling the same excitement when I saw this King Penguin.
Mrs Wooster of the Brooklyn Crystallographic Laboratory at Cambridge University wrote the text for the book and it was published in 1952. Her writings beg us to reconsider the value of these kaleidoscopic, but under appreciated gifts from the Earth. She highlights the fact that in China, pure Jade is more valuable than most precious stones. There is also the ancient connection to folklore through astrology. Somehow, a large Emerald might feel rather vulgar if it were used in a Druidic ceremony to celebrate the Winter. I personally prefer the curious allure of a cloven rock filled with sparkling amethyst to a tiny diamond.
This guide is superbly written and instead of following the trodden path of a field guide, it reads more like an insightful article; challenging our perceptions of what can be seen as a rather cheesy, gift-shop hobby in today’s vanity obsessed society. The stunning illustrated plates of the stones by the great flea illustrator, Arthur Smith are evocative, florid and incredibly true to form. There’s still plenty of these around in the ether, so you might want to grab one if you like the look of it, because there’s won’t always be.