Right before Easter, the Fallbrook Gem & Mineral Society (FGMS) Museum introduced the Betty Robson Egg Collection as its newest exhibit. Robson donated the 177-piece collection which was left to her by her husband, John. An amazing display of many colors, sizes and materials (not just rocks and minerals), the collection is an added attraction for visitors to the annual Avocado Festival on April 21.
Most of the eggs are accompanied by a little card hand-typed with both its common name and chemical composition, as well as where it came from. The eggs at the museum include John’s two favorites, a unique amber egg with a 50 million year old ant suspended in it, and his most valuable egg, which has sparkling opal in it and came from Queensland, Australia.
John and Betty Robson’s story is just as colorful and interesting as the rock egg collection. Both chemists, they met in 1946 working on solid rocket propellant at Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake in the Mojave Desert. They married in 1948 and went on to add to their impressive resumes; besides both having bachelor of science and master of science degrees in chemistry, John also earned a PhD in organic chemistry and Betty completed a master’s in library science.
John enjoyed backpacking, hiking and collecting rocks and minerals. His son Mike Robson said that his father’s background as a chemist qualified him as an amateur geologist and “motivated by his desire to collect those mineral specimens that interested him most, he amassed a large assortment of rocks and fossils.” Due to the way the egg shape shows off the qualities of each rock, it became his favorite rock form to collect.
At one point, John and his co-workers chipped in to buy an order of raw opals. When the order arrived, they each picked one out of a bag. According to his wife, John got the best one and had it made into a ring and a pair of earrings for Betty who collects jewelry.
The couple traveled to gem and mineral fairs where he searched for new specimens. They also drove BMW touring motorcycles to Alaska in 1979. The six-week adventure included camping along the way. His wife said that when John was no longer able to travel, he let other collectors know the kinds of eggs he was looking for and continued growing his collection with their help.
Betty spent most of her career at the US Borax research and development division in Anaheim. For 30 years she managed its chemical and technical archives; she also spent six months in England setting up the company’s British archives. Now, at 90 years old, she enjoys growing flowers and watching hummingbirds at the many feeders she has around the outside of her Fallbrook home.
The Robson’s had three sons and their family now includes six grandchildren and six great-grandchildren, all of whom live in Southern California. The couple moved to Fallbrook 12 years ago when John’s doctor advised them to move out of Orange County. By the time he died in 2010, he had collected close to 300 eggs. Betty gave some away to family and friends and kept 30 of them, including a few extraordinary fossil eggs and her own favorite, one that has borax in it, one of the many chemicals handled by her former employer.
Some relatives were surprised to hear she was donating a good part of the collection to the FGMS museum, but she didn’t want them “to just sit on shelves collecting dust.” Mike said, “She decided the egg collection should be in a place where others can appreciate it.” FGMS was chosen “because of its historical and professional connection to mineralogy and geology. The area around Fallbrook is considered to hold some of the best examples of collectible minerals in the United States.”
Mike led the effort to move Betty’s donation to the museum; the work began in late 2012 and was completed just in time for Easter. He said that it took a crew of five volunteers half a day to pack up the eggs at Betty’s house, including the individual tags identifying each one. The eggs then had to be unpacked and arranged for display in the museum where room had been made for them.
Shortly after the egg collection went on display, a family came into the museum and enjoyed seeing it. Mike related that the parents said, “Tell your mother thank you very much.”
FGMS president Gail Terry said, “We feel fortunate to have [the egg collection]; most of the [FGMS] collection is donated minerals.” She added that with the donation from Betty adding to their inventory, FGMS has decided to start “a new exhibit section where displays will be rotated four times a year.”
For now, the Betty Robson Egg Collection is on view at the museum which will be open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. the day of the Avocado Festival, Sunday, April 21. FGMS will also be selling rocks and minerals in its conference room next to the museum; there will also be experts available to help visitors identify any samples they want to bring from their own collections.
The museum also contains a section of gems and minerals found in San Diego County, fossils, and a fluorescent mineral gallery as well as a gift shop. Docents will be on duty to answer any questions about the displays. The building is air-conditioned so everyone is invited to come in and cool off during the festival, besides viewing rocks and minerals from near and far places.
The museum is located at 123 Alvarado Street, Suite B. Its normal visiting hours are 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., Thursday, Friday and Saturday. For more information, call (760) 728-1130, email [email protected] or visit www.fgms.org.