1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Haematite

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Fig. 1.

HAEMATITE, or Hematite, a mineral consisting of ferric oxide (Fe2O3), named from the Greek word αἷμα “blood,” in allusion to its typical colour, whence it is called also red iron ore. When crystallized, however, haematite often presents a dark colour, even iron-black; but on scratching the surface, the powder of the streak shows the colour of dried blood. Haematite crystallizes in the rhombohedral system, and is isomorphous with corundum (Al2O3). The habit of the crystals may be rhombohedral, pyramidal or tabular, rarely prismatic. In fig. 1 the crystal, from Elba, shows a combination of the fundamental rhombohedron (R), an obtuse rhombohedron (s), and the hexagonal bi-pyramid (n). Fig. 2 is a tabular crystal in which the basal pinacoid (o) predominates. Haematite has no distinct cleavage, but may show, in consequence of a lamellar structure, a tendency to parting along certain planes.

Fig. 2.

Crystallized haematite, such as that from the iron-mines of Elba, presents a steel-grey or iron-black colour, with a brilliant metallic lustre, sometimes beautifully iridescent. The splendent surface has suggested for this mineral such names as specular iron ore, looking-glass ore, and iron glance (fer oligiste of French writers). The hardness of the crystallized haematite is about 6, and the specific gravity 5.2. The so-called “iron roses” (Eisenrosen) of Switzerland are rosette-like aggregates of hexagonal tabular crystals, from fissures in the gneissose rocks of the Alps. Specular iron ore occurs in the form of brilliant metallic scales on many lavas, as at Vesuvius and Etna, in the Auvergne and the Eifel, and notably in the Island of Ascension, where the mineral forms beautiful tabular crystals. It seems to be a sublimation-product formed in volcanoes by the interaction of the vapour of ferric chloride and steam.

Specular haematite forms a constituent of certain schistose rocks, such as the Brazilian itabirite. In the Marquette district of Michigan (Lake Superior) schistose specular ore occurs in important deposits, associated with a jasper rock, in which the ore alternates with bands of red quartzite. Micaceous iron ore consists of delicate steel-grey scales of specular haematite, unctuous to the touch, used as a lubricant and also as a pigment. It is worked in Devonshire under the name of shining ore. Very thin laminae of haematite, blood-red by transmitted light, occur as microscopic enclosures in certain minerals, such as carnallite and sun-stone, to which they impart colour and lustre.

Much haematite occurs in a compact or massive form, often mammillary, and presenting on fracture a fibrous structure. The reniform masses are known as kidney ore. Such red ore is generally neither so dense nor so hard as the crystals. It often passes into an earthy form, termed soft red ore, and when mixed with more or less clay constitutes red ochre, ruddle or reddle (Ger. Rötel).

The hard haematite is occasionally cut and polished as an ornamental stone, and certain kinds have been made into beads simulating black pearls. It was worked by the Assyrians for their engraved cylinder-seals, and was used by the gnostics for amulets. Some of the native tribes in the Congo basin employ it as a material for axes. The hard fibrous ore of Cumberland is known as pencil ore, and is employed for the burnishers used by bookbinders and others. Santiago de Compostela in Spain furnishes a considerable supply of haematite burnishers.

Haematite is an important ore of iron (q.v.), and is extensively worked in Elba, Spain (Bilbao), Scandinavia, the Lake Superior region and elsewhere. In England valuable deposits occur in the Carboniferous Limestone of west Cumberland (Whitehaven district) and north Lancashire (Ulverston district). The hard ore is siliceous, and fine crystallized specimens occur in association with smoky quartz. The ore is remarkably free from phosphorus, and is consequently valued for the production of pig-iron to be converted into Bessemer steel. (F. W. R.*)