The Rainbow of Africa Gem Collection
By Mary Fong/Walker & Jim Walker, Directors of Heritage Auctions Nature & Science Department
Curator of the Rainbow of Africa Museum, located in the English countryside outside London, contacted us at Heritage Auctions in Dallas, to ask if we would consider bringing their museum collection to auction. Given the distance, we had to pencil it into the schedule. After a flight across ‘the pond,’ a train ride out from London, and a short cab ride later, we found ourselves standing in front of a very nice home in the suburbs. We thought, ‘there’s a museum here? Are we at the right address?’
We were greeted at the door by a smiling gentleman and his equally congenial wife: Warren and Di Taylor. After the usual introductions and pleasantries, we were still wondering where the museum was.
A Surprise of a Lifetime
The answer came when we were escorted through the house and then down the stairs. As we wound our way down the staircase, an African theme emerged through prints and paintings
on the wall. We were being transported from England to another continent: Africa. We found ourselves in a room completely filled with museum display cases. We were very pleasantly surprised! It was like entering another world – one full of spectacular gems of every size and color imaginable. It was both mind-boggling and quite beyond our expectations.
99 times out of a hundred, when we are told someone has something spectacular they would like Heritage to auction, we find ourselves disappointed and faced with the delicate task of informing the person that, although their prized treasures are very nice, they are not something suitable for auction. This was that other elusive 1 percent: the ‘Holy Grail’ for which every auction company searches. Who would have thought we’d find it in an unassuming home in the English countryside?
The astonishing thing was that these gemstones were some of the finest the world has ever seen! We were not talking good, or merely excellent, we were staring at some of the finest examples of gems ever to come out of Africa! Period. No debate – we knew it as soon as we looked into the first two cases and beheld a huge 360+ carat Morganite of luscious pink, an incredible blood red Cuprite that was almost 300 carats, an unsurpassed Cerussite (looking like a giant Diamond) at 430+ carats, and the crowning glory: an unbelievably large, bright green Tsavorite Garnet weighing 65.72 carats (about the size of a quail’s egg). And those were only some of the impressive gemstones in the first case – there were many more cases containing: Paraiba Tourmalines, Mandarin Garnets, Aquamarines, Tanzanites, and exotic, one-of-a-kind collector stones. The color and variety were incredible, the quality and size were world-class, and the gems were all well cut, brightly polished, and well proportioned.
We went from case to case with our jaws on the floor, excitedly pointing out one spectacular gem after another. All in all, well over 350 gemstones were on exhibit! And there was more – a fine selection of African mineral specimens and meteorites were interwoven with the display to round out the story of the Taylor family’s discoveries. This was a comprehensive museum, documenting the gem world of Africa: from Morocco at the northern end, to South Africa at the other, and all parts in between. Each display told a story. You could spend hours (and we did) just going through the cases that represented either a type of gem or a region.
The Collection story
How was this astonishing collection amassed? Well, it turns out this museum represented over 50 years of collecting, and three generations of the Taylor family. Warren had grown up in South Africa and had been fascinated by gems and minerals for most of his life. It was his father, Morton Taylor, who introduced him to the hobby. Morton had become fascinated by the wonderful crystals and rocks that surrounded him, and the two would spend days wandering around in the ‘bush’ going treasure hunting. Later, Warren had the opportunity to take some geology courses while at university, and when he had to do his internship, he got the chance to work in the famed Tsumeb mine in Namibia. He was hooked! He spent most of his wages buying specimens, and so it began.
Later on, Warren narrowed his focus to acquiring superior examples of the gem crystals of Africa, taking the rough he accumulated and having it cut by master lapidary artists into the wide array of gemstones now found in the Rainbow of Africa collection.
What we were looking at was the distillation of those decades of experiences, filling the cases of this marvelous museum. Warren, and later his son Ian, have spent the last 25 years focusing all of their efforts on displaying those gemstones of Africa – building what is arguably the world’s finest African gem collection. “It’s a snapshot in time,” Warren said. “And that snapshot won’t be repeated again. Somebody else will take another snapshot, but this is a snapshot of the early times when the gem discoveries of Africa, excluding diamonds, really got going.” He set out to create a world-class collection of African gems, reflecting all colors of the rainbow, and quietly, patiently, he achieved his goal.
Rainbow of Africa Comes to Auction in October
Heritage Auctions is proud to be bringing this collection to auction. The Taylor family just wants every gem to find a good home – passing it on to the next ‘caretakers’ who will appreciate these treasures as much as they have enjoyed bringing them together. The auction will be held in New York City on October 15. All of the gems and minerals will be there on display – re-creating the Rainbow of Africa Museum one last time before the collection is scattered to the Four Corners of the World.