Mark Alan Blackburn was born on August 18, 1953 in Glendale, California. His formative years were spent in both Los Feliz and Whittier, California, where young Blackburn was an active Boy Scout, eventually working his way up to the status of Eagle Scout. As a member of Eagle Scout Troop 558 in Whittier, he successfully earned two additional gold palms attending both Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico and canoe camp at Quetico Superior.
It was during these formative years that Blackburn developed an interest in coins, rocks and minerals. At age 14, he began dealing in rare coins.
Blackburn initially attended La Sena High School in California, later moving to Seattle, Washington. In Seattle, he graduated from Shoreline High School as part of the class of 1971.
As a young adult in the Seattle area, he opened a coin shop. Dealing in coins gave Blackburn the opportunity to travel all over the world, particularly throughout the UK and Switzerland, as he sought out, bought and sold rare coins.
“I have handled many, many world rarities— including the famous 1804 US Silver Dollar.”
In 1973, Blackburn moved to Carmel, California and opened an international rare coin dealership. On one trip around the world, he made his first ever purchase of a Polynesian artifact— a Maori Hei Tiki in Hamburg, Germany. It was on this same trip around the world that he found and purchased the legendary hoard of 1914-D Lincoln pennies from the coin dealer Eccles, in Auckland. Two years later, he moved to Hawaii and started the Antiquarian Auction Company.
In 1978, he married Carolyn Sue Curren. The following year, the Blackburns moved to New Bedford, Massachusetts, where Mark restored a historic 28-room house while starting an auction company called Northwest Galleries based in Anchorage and Juneau, Alaska.
The Blackburns moved back to Hawaii (Kona and Honolulu) in 1981, where he established himself as a private dealer not only in coins, but in antiques and art. This led to a move to Santa Fe, New Mexico in 1982 where Blackburn opened Ethno Gallery at 410 Old Santa Fe Trail.
He sold the gallery in late 1984, moving on to Lancaster, Pennsylvania and opening Wholesale Rug in 1986. His business, located at 2448 Lincoln Hwy East, was in operation until 2014. During that period, Blackburn built and operated several well-known websites including Braidedrugs.com.
In April 1992, the Blackburns adopted their son Kuhane in Papeete, Tahiti, when he was only three days old. The following year, they moved to Hilo and purchased a historic home. A year later, they opened the Mauna Kea Galleries at 276 Keane Street in Hilo.
In 2001, the Blackburns moved to Waimea and constructed a landmark modernist home on the slopes of Knob Hill. At that same time, they opened a second, very successful gallery in Waimea which operated until 2006, when they moved to Honolulu.
The family purchased a home at Black Point on Oahu and re-opened Mauna Kea Galleries in the historic McCully Chop Sui building. They spent several years fighting the City and County of Honolulu to save the building’s historic neon sign, marking the first time a landmark neon sign had been saved in Hawaii.
In 2006, the Blackburns discovered a colony of indigenous wedge-tailed shearwaters at Black Point and directly lobbied Buck Freeman of the Freeman Foundation, who ultimately purchased the lot for $7,000,000 and made it into a preserve. This was the highest price per square foot ever paid in the world, as the lot was only one acre of land. The Blackburns were awarded the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s highest honor for saving and establishing the colony. Carolyn Blackburn was granted federal and state wildlife rehabilitation licenses which are active to this day.
In 2014, Mark Blackburn was inducted into the international multidisciplinary professional society known as the Explorers Club as a Fellow and is one of only four members in the state of Hawaii. In December 2015, he traveled, along with Ed Roski, Peter Keller and Lesley Martin, as a member of the Explorers Club Flag #53 Expedition, an ethnographic survey of the Lau Islands in Fiji, part of a series of expeditions started in 2000 with the purpose of documenting the current state of the islands of Melanesia, with emphasis on the islands surrounding the major island of New Guinea, and the groups to the East including the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu.
In 2015, the Blackburns rebranded Mauna Kea Galleries [It’s not closed, still an active LLC] as Manu Antiques to better reflect the business, now located at 1188 Bishop Street. That same year, he founded GalleryHNL, a gallery and artist agency in collaboration with the University of Hawaii at Manoa’s Department of Art & Art History and prominent Hawaii visionary and businessman Sanford Hasegawa of Studio Becker, a project which ended in late November 2016.
In 2016, Mark co-founded Hawaii Film + Arts International (HFA) and Hawaii Film Challenge (HFC), two multimedia organizations aimed at creating a mutual exchange between local and international filmmakers and artists.
*Information sourced from interview with Mark Blackburn