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Guide to the George F. Kunz Papers
1862-1932
 MS 358

New-York Historical Society
170 Central Park West
New York, NY 10024
(212) 873-3400


New-York Historical Society

Collection processed by Alison Barr and Larry Weimer

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on March 29, 2019
Finding aid written in English using Describing Archives: A Content Standard

Biographical / Historical

George Frederick Kunz (1856-1932) was a renowned mineralogist and gemologist. He was born in New York City and raised in Hoboken, New Jersey. He attended public schools and Cooper Union, but did not earn a degree there. Rather, he was largely self-taught, and developed an expertise that led to honorary degrees from Columbia University, University of Marburg and Knox University. He also earned international recognition, including the Legion of Honor of France and an officer of the Rising Sun of Japan. At the age of 23, in 1879, he joined Tiffany & Company as a gem expert; he remained with the firm for the rest of his life.

Kunz was enormously productive. He was in charge of the mining exhibits at the Paris Exposition (1889), the Kimberley, South Africa, Exposition (1892), and the Chicago Columbian Exposition (1893) and was a special agent at the Paris Exposition (1900) and commissioner on radium at the St. Louis Exposition (1904). A gem collector and discoverer, he traveled the world in search of pearls and gemstones, which he sometimes named after his associates and patrons, calling one rare find tiffanyite, after Charles L. Tiffany, and another morganite, after J. Pierpont Morgan. Kunzite, a mineral, is named after him. He wrote prodigiously; a bibliography maintained by the Gemological Institute of America is 23 pages long. Among his books was Natal Stones, Sentiments, and Superstitions connected with Precious Stones, which was printed each year and given as gifts to customers of Tiffany & Co.

Kunz was active in a large number of social, literary, cultural, and religious organizations. Among these were the American Numismatic and Archeological Society (later the American Numismatic Society), Authors Club, Grolier Club, Century Association (also known as the Century Club), Union League Club, City History Club of New York, Church Club of New York, the Layman's Club of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, American Scenic and Historic Society for Preservation, and the New-York Historical Society. He was a founder of the Sulgrave Institution and the Museums of the Peaceful Arts in New York.

Beyond his ongoing professional and organizational work, Kunz was also active in a variety of single purpose initiatives, including the Hudson-Fulton Celebration Commission (1909), serving with Cornelius Vanderbilt on the Mayor's Committee for the Entertainment of the U.S. Atlantic Fleet (1915), president of the Joan of Arc Statue Committee (Riverside Park, 1915), and the Central Park Shakespeare Garden Committee (1915).

Kunz married Sophia Hanforth in 1879. They had two children. Sophia died in 1912. Kunz later married Opal Logan Giberson (1896?-1967); the marriage was annulled in 1929, though the couple continued to live together. Kunz maintained a country home in Mohegan Lake, Westchester County, New York, where he was Senior Warden of St. Mary's Church. He died of a cerebral hemorrhage in June 1932.

(This note was derived from various on-line sources, including Paul F. Kerr's memorial in "The American Mineralogist" of March 1933, a biographical note on the American Numismatic Society's website, Wikipedia, and others, as well as documents in the collection.)