The contributions of James Dwight Dana & Edward Salisbury Dana to systematic mineralogy

Dana’s System of Mineralogy

Mineralogy took tremendous leaps forward in the nineteenth and early twentieth century, the science of thanks to the landmark contributions of James Dwight (1813-1895) and his son, Edward Salisbury Dana (1849-1935), both Yale geology professors. Although not the first mineralogy references or attempts at classification, the publication of these text on systematic mineralogy are remarkable.

James Dwight Dana was twenty-four and out of college only four years when he devised his System of Mineralogy. In early editions of the System, J.D. Dana attempted to place minerals into a classification scheme like the binomial Linnaean genus – species categories used in biology. It wasn’t until 1854 when J.D. Dana published the 4th edition of the System of Mineralogy that abandoned other classification schemes and settled on the chemical classification system (elements, sulfides, oxides, silicates, and so on) that we universally accept today. The first edition was privately published in 1837 and described the mere 352 species know at that time. Current editions list more than 3700 species. As of September 2021 the International Mineralogical Association lists more than 5700 species with approximately 100 new species are discovered each year.

The first five editions of the System, published in 1837, 1844, 1850, 1854, and 1868 respectively, were authored or revised by James Dwight Dana. The sixth edition was revised by Edward S. Dana and published in 1892. Three appendices (one by W.E. Ford) were published in the American Journal of Science and these brought mineral descriptions of the sixth edition up to date as of 1915. The seventh revised edition was begun in 1927 by Harvard University professors Charles Palache, Harry Berman, and Clifford Frondel. Due to the development of new analytical techniques like X-Ray diffraction in the first half of the twentieth century, the number of new species discovered annually were accumulating rapidly requiring the System to be split into several volumes and to be published as they were completed. Volume one of the seventh edition was published in 1944 and the second volume in 1951. These first two volumes included all minerals except the silicates. Clifford Frondel completed the third volume, covering only silica minerals, in 1962. Additional volumes for the seventh edition covering other silicate minerals were never completed.

Dana’s System of Mineralogy is in its eighth edition (actually titled Dana’s New Mineralogy), which has received mixed reviews. The level of detail in the eighth edition was greatly reduced and streamlined from that of the seventh edition. For example, the extensive coverage of crystallography in volume one of the seventh edition was eliminated. Illustrations are sparse and an efficient abbreviation system allowed the eighth edition to be condensed to a single volume. Although the authors do not state when the revision was begun, they do indicate that the number of new species has doubled over the life of the project. While a new edition is welcomed, it is disturbing to see the number of typos, inconsistencies, and other errors. This is particularly disturbing after the authors state that the sixth edition (by E.S. Dana in 1892) was popular for over 50 years “due to the meticulous care with which it was prepared, [and] the wonderful freedom from errors, . . .” If you seek a book to aid in recognition of minerals, this is not the one for you. Hard core mineralogists must have access to this work because it does offer a complete and detailed listing and description of all mineral species through the end of 1995, including all silicate minerals. Forty-four new minerals found in 1996 are listed, but not described, in an appendix. The price of this volume may also place this work out of reach of many collectors.

Another feature of Dana’s System of Mineralogy is the Dana number. Early editions used simple sequential numbers. A four-part number unique to each species includes groupings for chemical classes and subclasses. The eighth edition provides new Dana numbers for all the species described and these are different from those of previous editions. So if you have catalogued your mineral collection using Dana numbers from previous editions, you need to decide if you want to update your catalog (and if it is worth the effort.) [NOTE: I will be publishing a list of Dana numbers for the 6th, 7th, and 8th editions very soon and updating it with the 4th and 5th edition Dana numbers shortly thereafter.] Dana’s System also lists prominent locations of mineral occurrences. Some collectors even specialize in or add importance to those species from these so-called “Dana locations”.

Dana’s Textbooks and Manuals of Mineralogy

In addition to the systematic James Dwight Dana and son Edward also wrote books on determinative mineralogy (testing to identify) and descriptive mineralogy (detailed species descriptions).

Among the many general geology texts, J. D. Dana also published the Manual of Mineralogy (now in its 23rd edition by Klein and Dutrow as the Manual of Mineral Science with a 24th edition currently in the works per co-author Barb Dutrow). This work covers the history of mineralogy, physical and chemical properties of minerals, crystallography, descriptions of about 200 mineral species, the occurrence of ore deposits, gem minerals, and a brief discussion of rock identification. Because of the broad coverage of so many areas of mineralogy and the depth of the coverage, the Manual of Mineralogy after J. D. Dana is the personal favorite of many geologists. For many years this has been a standard reference in many introductory university mineralogy courses. Since this book focuses only on the 200 or so common ore minerals or rock-forming minerals, many species familiar to mineral collectors are absent from the Manual of Mineralogy. For example, you will not find relatively common phosphate minerals familiar to most micromineral collectors such as cacoxenite, kidwellite and strengite. Nevertheless, this work remains a classic text for its intended purpose as an introductory mineralogy text.

Edward Salisbury Dana wrote the definitive book on determinative mineralogy. Late Yale professor and mineralogy curator William E. Ford updated this book, A Textbook of Mineralogy, as the 4th edition that was published in 1949. This book contains an exhaustive (204 pages) treatment of crystallography (for those well versed in trigonometry and analytical geometry). There are also excellent sections on physical and chemical testing, including blowpipe analysis of an unknown mineral. There are numerous tables to aide in the identification of unknowns using groupings of principle physical properties: crystal system and habit, color and luster, for instance. An extremely useful feature of the Textbook of Mineralogy is an index of minerals by the principal chemical component. If, for example, you know that your unknown has copper and is probably a carbonate, you can quickly narrow your search to four mineral choices using this index. By reading the descriptions within the book, you can then rapidly identify the mineral. Included in the species descriptions are ways that one can distinguish similar species, exemplary crystal drawings, principal identifying properties, and a large list of occurrences (as of 1949). Nowhere does the author state the number of species described, but it is an exhaustive list and the descriptions are excellent. The determinative mineralogy sections and the chemical index of mineral species make this work invaluable any collector. Despite the age of the most recent edition, 70+ years, only the information regarding mineral formation and a few other minor details are dated. Out of print for years, this book is frequently offered at reasonable prices by used book dealers.

Another great book is Dana’s Minerals and How to Study Them. The most recent edition (the 4th) was a revision by Cornelius Hurlbut and W.E. Sharp published in 1998. This reference contains much the same information regarding determinative mineralogy as the Textbook, but in less scholarly prose (no trigonometry either.) As with the Manual of Mineralogy, Minerals and How to Study Them only describes 150 more common species, less than some of the field guides. Dana’s Minerals and How to Study Them contains photographs as well as drawings and determinative property tables. There are also several appendices including a list of mineral species arranged according to principal chemical constituent (as with the Textbook) and a list of the most important minerals for a small collection – a great target list for beginning collectors.


Dana, E.S., 1892. The system of mineralogy, sixth edition with appendices I, II, and III, completing the work to 1915: John Wiley & Sons, New York, 1134 p.

Ford, W.E., 1918.  The growth of mineralogy from 1818 to 1918: The American Journal of Science [editor: E.S. Dana], fourth series, v. XLVI, p. 240-254.

Ford, W.E., 1949.  A Textbook of Mineralogy with an Extended Treatise on Crystallography and Mineralogy by Edward Salisbury Dana:  John Wiley & Sons, Inc., New York, 851 p. 

Gaines, R.V., Skinner, C.W., Foord, E.E., Mason, B, and Rosenzweig, A., with sections by V.T. King, 1997. Dana’s new mineralogy – The system of mineralogy of James Dwight Dana and Edward Salisbury Dana: Eighth edition, entirely rewritten and greatly enlarged, John Wiley & Sons, New York, 1819 p.

Hurlbut, C.S., and W. Edwin Sharp, 1998.  Dana’s Minerals and How to Study Them, 4th edition:  John Wiley & Sons, Inc., New York, 328 p.

Kraus, E.H., 1941.  Mineralogy:  Geology, 1888-1938 – Fiftieth anniversary volume of the Geological Society of America, p. 309-332.

Klein, Cornelis and Barbara Dutrow. 2008. The 23rd Edition of the Manual of Mineral Science: After James D. Dana. Hoboken, N.J: J. Wiley.

Klein, C., and Hurlbut, C. S., 1993.  Manual of Mineralogy (after J.D. Dana) 21st edition. John Wiley & Sons, Inc., New York, 681 p.

Newell, Julie, R., 1997.  James Dwight Dana and the emergence of professional geology in the United States: The American Journal of Science, v. 297, no. 3, [A special issue of the AJS in honor of J.D. Dana], p.273-282.

Palache, C. Berman, H., and Frondel, C., 1944 (v. I), 1951 (v. II), and 1962 (v. III).  The system of mineralogy, seventh edition: John Wiley & Sons, New York.

This post was originally published in 1999 in Tips & Trips, the newsletter of the Georgia Mineral Society (Vol. XXVIII, No. 4, Page 7, April 1999).

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