By Jon Vopata
For Mineralogy GO 336
Emporia State University
Emporia, Kansas USA


Copyright image is taken from:
Origin & Occurrences
The Name 'Smithsonite'
Varieties & Uses


Smithsonite is a very beautiful mineral.   It was formerly called calamine.  Smithsonite belongs to the calcite group.  It is essentially zinc carbonate (ZnCO3), but the zinc is usually partially replaced by other elements.  Smithsonite is normally found in the oxidized zone of zinc deposits.  Its primary use is as an ornamental stone (Bonamite).

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The Name 'Smithsonite'

Smithsonite was named after James Smithson in 1832.  James Smithson was an English scientist, often referred to as the best chemist and mineralogist of his year.  He was an active member of many scientific organizations that benefited society and advanced scientific research.  James published at least 27 papers with topics in chemistry, geology, and mineralogy.  In 1802 James Smithson proved that zinc carbonates were true carbonate minerals, not zinc oxides.  This discovery lead to the breakdown of calamine into two separate minerals hemimorphite and smithsonite. After James Smithson's death in 1829 the bulk of his estate was given to his nephew.  Since his nephew died without any heirs the Smithson Estate was then given to the United States of America to found the Smithsonian Institution.

Copyright image is taken from the (Smithsonian Institution Archives)
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Chemical Formula ZnCO3 (52.15%Zn, 9.85%C, and 38.28%O)
Variable Formula (Zn,Fe,Mg,Ca,Cd,Cu,Co)CO3
Color Blue, Green, Yellow, Yellow-Green, Orange-Yellow, Pink, Purple, Gray, Colorless, and Brown
Streak White
Transparency Translucent To Nearly Opaque
Luminescence None
Fluorescence Sometimes Pink
Luster Vitreous or Silky To Pearly (like melted wax under a candle flame)
Habit Botryoidal, Reniform, Earthy
Crystal System Trigonal
Crystal Class bar 3 2/m
Tenacity Brittle
Cleavage Perfect  (10-11)
Fracture Uneven
Hardness 4-5
Specific Gravity 4.3-4.5

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Origin & Occurrences

Smithsonite is often found with zinc deposits in limestone, associated with azurite, malachite, limonite, sphalerite, calcite, cerussite, hemimorphite, aurichalcite, anglesite, pyromorphite, hydrozincite, and galena.  Also, it is often discovered in pseudomorphs after calcite.

It is found in many places around the globe including the Tsumeb, Namibia, and Broken Hill mines in Zambia; the Kelly Mine in Magdalena, New Mexico; Leadville, Colorado; Utah; Idaho; Arizona; Mexico; Laurion, Greece; Bytom, Poland; Moresnet, Belgium; and many other localities.

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Varieties & Uses

The different varieties of smithsonite include bonamite, dry bone ore, turkey fat ore, cadmium smithsonite, and copper smithsonite. The primary use for smithsonite is as an ornamental stone.  When polished for this purpose, smithsonite may be referred to as 'Bonamite'.

Bonamite is associated with the gem trade, and has a blue to green globular habit with a feathery luster. Dry bone ore is usually in a honeycomb shape, massive, porous, and dull.

Image of Bonamite taken from
Hershel Friedman at

Image of Dry Bone Ore taken
Jon Vopata
Turkey fat ore is globular with stalactitic masses of yellow. Cadmium smithsonite contains cadmium impurities and is yellow to yellow-green.

Image of Turkey Fat Ore
taken from
Chris French at

Image of Cadmium Smithsonite
taken from
John Veevaert
Copper smithsonite is colored bluish to greenish by copper impurities.

Image of Copper Smithsonite taken from
WSU Thomas Edison Mineral Collection

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Amethyst Galleries, Inc.  1998.  The Mineral Smithsonite.  2/26/01.

Barthelmy, David. 1998-2000.  Mineralogy Database, Smithsonite.  2/26/01.

French, Chris.  1998.  Mineral Occurrences at The Kelly Mine - Source of World-Class Smithsonite Specimens. Millennium, Inc. Photo taken from  4/4/01.

Friedman, Hershel.  1997-1999.  Smithsonite.  Photo taken from  2/26/01.

Klein, C., & Hurlbut, Jr., C.S.  1993.  Manual of Mineralogy, revised 21st edition.  NY: John Wiley & Sons.

Smithsonian Institution. 1995-2001.  James Smithson's Gift.  Smithsonian Institution. Image taken from 2/26/01.

Smithsonian Institution Libraries.  January 1998.  From Smithson to Smithsonian, the Birth of an Institution.  4/10/01.

The Image.  11/1/96.  Photo taken from

Veevaert, John. 2000.  Tsumeb.  Photo taken from  4/4/01.

Keller, Bob.  1995-2001.  Bob's Rock Shop.  In Association with Rock and Gem Magazine Online.  Photo taken from  4/4/01.

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Copyright 2001 © Jon Vopata and Emporia State University. All rights reserved.
If you have any questions or comments please email me at This page was created April, 2001.
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