Miners’ Lunchbox: The Great Northeastern Gem Rush

© 2009, 2010 Old Tombstone Studio, Timeless Mining Co.

The Great Northeastern Gem Rush
Although it may seem apparent to many that the Northeastern U.S. is again experiencing an episode of increased activity in gem hunting and mining, some involved, including a few Forest Service rangers, have, for over 20 years, characterized the public reaction to recent strikes as “The Great Northeastern Gem Rush”. Intense levels of gem prospecting are typically episodic, but continuing high levels of amateur prospecting
activity and the successes of high-risk commercial mining are proof enough for some professional geologists to project possibilities that a billion dollar domestic gem industry
may arise from recent discoveries and ongoing research made possible by high technology. The data base built upon traditional and recent pegmatite miners’ wisdom is likely to enlarge significantly by research facilitated by the use of ground
penetrating radar. The new gem rush, however, actually has 175 years of great momentum behind it. Even earlier, gemstone finds were made well before colonial days, and several Native American gems were so legendary as to seem mythic, and no doubt inspired many early explorers to look again. A southern New Hampshire tale reported that around 1790 there was a stagecoach stop at the corner of three towns where aquamarines
were picked up loose from the ground. So much better documented, the gem tourmaline find of 1820 by Ezekiel Holmes and Elijah Hamlin on Mt. Mica near W. Paris, Maine
started a long chapter of incredible volume of gem mining history. Few experienced collectors are not familiar with the classic sources of Northeastern gem mining tales, or with the associated names, many of which make up the Who’s Who of mineralogy. Those with familiarity with the exciting discoveries of gem aquamarine, tourmaline, topaz, amethyst, and garnet realize there have been very few times of any duration when
exploration was not occurring. Anyone with any doubts as to the continuing nature of efforts to make gem discoveries should read the 1972 and newer editions of Jane Perham Stevens’ book: “Maine’s Treasure Chest: The Gems and Minerals of Oxford County, Maine”, and back issues of the mineral magazines, for very few of the past twenty+ years have passed without news of yet another major strike. Although the past two years have been no exception, strikes known to the public are but a small part of the projects and discoveries occurring in the Northeast.{see Van King} Traditionally secretive, gem
hunters are often silent about the signs of the potential magnitude of the new gem rush.

When I realized that I’ve been a mineral collector for 50 years, and that a majority of that time I’d pursued gem-stock, it occurred to me just how many truly frustrating expeditions
I’d endured before finally starting to make finds of any significance. And yet, I have no regrets of those hundreds of miles walked or dozens of tons shoveled, because I found!
Many collectors and dealers have asked me recently to relate some of the unique circumstances leading to my successful explorations and discoveries mining pegmatites and granites. I rarely fail to relate how, sadly, too many of the talented old
timers I’d learned from are gone, and so many of the revealing deposits are now just so much mid-air and memories!

I spent most of my first 15 years of collecting in search of
beryl crystals in the pegmatites of New Hampshire and Maine. The rarity of gem aquamarine, beyond that from so few localities and the paucity of any more than small gem sections of crystals from so many others, was primarily due to lack of pegmatite mining activity rather than potential.
I was privileged to know some of my Dad’s friends who were
1940’s pegmatite miners. They related tales of orange tourmaline on foot long quartz crystals and this led to an ambitious new category of prospecting for me.
It “happened” to me in 1963 when I started to range further from southern NH, to Perham’s gem shop in West Paris, Maine to visit and learn from some of the old grapevine of miners who showed me areas in Oxford County and near North Conway,
NH, including Deer Hill, site of many recent amethyst finds. I also prospected in western NH near Grafton and North Groton until 1964 when word got out of Bill Ross’ and John Oliver’s huge pockets of giant smoky quartz and AMETHYST crystals on Kearsage, Hurricane, and Black Cap Mountains. (Rock and Gem, Bob Jones, ’94) I paid Bill $15 to see the pocket where, in the sticky clay, my life changed.* The only way to get a feel for
the kind of excitement and prospecting fever shared by the pocket diggers is to read the remarkable tale related by Phillip Morrill and Harrold Verrow in the June 1945 issue of
Rocks and Minerals. After the 1938 hurricane knocked down hundreds of thousands of trees, their expeditions in Northern NH revealed much amethyst, topaz, and smoky quartz, and they recovered a lot, including smoky quartz up to ninety pounds. Fifty+ years later, we now know that their stories were neither exaggerations nor were their strikes such flukes of luck as so many skeptics would have us believe. So many have accomplished the impossible, adding to the data base that by 1978 the record had gained critical mass when geologists confirmed that it wasn’t only Maine pegmatites that hosted potentially commercial gem bearing miarolytic deposits, but also large areas in N.H.: some syenites, quartz monzonites and more of the Conway Granites than expected.
In 1981 and 1983, large pockets were found, one estimated to have been worth about $400,000. This renewed collector interest, increasing activities so much that each year since has brought reports of major finds including some fine topaz and amethyst.

{Bill Ross and John Oliver also dug great amethyst from what is now my NHES 041929 permit area which is dedicated to them and named the “John T. Oliver Memorial”.}

Well over ten years ago, believing there were commercial gem
possibilities, a number of collectors and dealers applied to the Forest Service for permits to mine pockets in the White Mountain National Forest. A few leases were issued in Maine, but some Rangers, acting independently, stonewalled and stalled. I went through the red tape myself, getting so frustrated I wrote a 26 page report to a Senate Committee about the situation. In a case reported in the New Hampshire and Boston newspapers and on C.N.N. News, I was arrested while collecting by Forest Service Rangers who were out of uniform and off duty at the time! After showing the Federal judge some 99 photos and the report to the Senate Committee, my discovery rights were recognized, but it took ten more years a lot of paperwork
and many calls to Washington before I got my permit approved. Then, there was delay by the Conservation Law Foundation and the Audubon Society of NH in an appeal to the Forest Service not to issue even approved permits. News reports of our 1983 case included geologists’ opinions that the discoveries involved were estimated at values between $10 and $50 MILLION! A few Environmentalists’ unenlightened fears that gem mining would be similar to less benign metal mines were heightened when a 1990 Forest Service commissioned study by J. Eusden Dykstra of Bates College, Maine, confirmed what collectors
had known or suspected for 25 years- that on Moat Mtn. alone… Moat Mtn. alone…
Moat Mtn. alone… there were more than 40 times the few known acres with large pockets, and that some pockets were in the 30 to 50 foot range! The imminent gem rush was undeniable; some pocket fields approached the 10% theoretical limit of cavities per volume. Had these been Public Domain lands as in the West, there would have been many claims and more apparent commercial mining efforts already underway.
But these are “acquired” lands, sometimes called “Weeks Law” land, granted to the government by individuals to benefit their local communities with managed exploitation of their natural resources, usually, but not limited to, timber harvests, as a
condition of the grant. In 1973 Congress issued a regulation (C.F.R. 43, subpart 3541 preserving a ten acre area for amateur rock-hounding. Other regulations (subpart 3562) require that under a prospecting permit one must determine the “existence or work-ability of a particular hard rock mineral and discover a valuable deposit of any such minerals.”
This is for commercial permit activity outside of the amateur reserved area. The old timers, even though they may have envisioned the eventuality of a larger gem mining industry, could never have imagined the maze of new regulations nor the fortune in fees and bonds now required to get a commercial gem mine into production. While this has
impacted the majority of would-be [including future miners like you or your grandkids] gem miners out of the game, the reality faced by the survivors is very promising, for the demand is great, values favorable, and the market: EARTH-WIDE!

The Rocket Mine, Crystal Creek, Colorado, helped establish a precedent for miarolytic gem mines nationwide in that any such mine succeeding under what are probably the most stringent and demanding legal and ecological requirements ever imposed, advances beyond doubt that miarolytic deposits such as these are definitely exploitable and profitable, with little or no impact on the environment and with significant impacts on the area’s economy. {On the average $5+ into the area for each $1
in gems produced.} When the gems produced enjoy the status of being the official state gem, such as Smoky Quartz for New Hampshire, the ratio of benefit to the community may be a conservative guess. The potential for growth in numbers of mining projects in this category of gem deposits (Miarolytic) has been greatly increased by the development and application of ground penetrating radar. Although expensive to purchase or lease, the ability of the technology to define cracks and voids to depths of 90 feet offers great advantages. The limiting factor to its more widespread use is the absolute need to know precisely where and how to apply it, for the radar signal is so narrow- a few feet long and only an inch wide.
In spite of the expense, G.P.R. is very good for locating and defining the pockets, vugs, seams, tunnels and galleries with crystals within them. It minimizes the volumes of rock removed in the search for pockets and makes possible more profitable gem mining.
Finding and producing gemstock isn’t enough in the volatile market where fashion, jewelry trends, and seasonal color popularity cycles may favor changing gem varieties each year with a rise in demand. Even extremely rare gems of limited supply do not always become expensive (Cobaltite) while some shades of indicolite tourmaline, for example, command high per carat prices while indicolite, as such, is not in short supply.
Even in the largest producing mines in Brazil, the seemingly large production (7,000 pounds of amethyst, for example) is actually only two or three percent of the total material mined. Though in general, gem mines do not compete for the market, domestic American gem mines usually must produce very high quality material at the lowest possible cost.{Pricing and grading standards, accordingly, must be better as well.}
[With my 1995 USGS Bureau of Mines’ G.P.R. research grant results, the delays of the “Environmentalist” impasse was broken- not one yard extra has to be dug to directly recover the target, the impacts are truly minimalized, controllable, & acceptable.]
In 2004 & 2005, Bush Administration ‘Rule Changes’ and Supreme Court Decisions [in cases of miners vs the Forest Service] further favored small mining operators’ rights in particular when dealing with U.S.F.S. “Requiring” Plans of
Operations when no trees are cut or heavy equipment used. [See icmj.com]

In my Rocket Mine case, the need to use heavy equipment was less an option of the miner to produce as it is a requirement to accommodate the Reclamation Law of Colorado.
I needed to use equipment only to restore the land, but everything that isn’t paying pocket crystals is overburden and waste*, so as soon as it is dug- by hand or with the backhoe bucket- (“severed”), it comes under [Colorado] state and Forest Service authority until final reclamation. SO…The pockets are NEVER mined with equipment- they are extracted (“severed”) by hand, exempt from their authority, for reclamation is achieved concurrently.

Small scale gem and minerals miners have never seen such favorable times, between worldwide demand and markets, high
tech advantages, and recent rulings [43 CFR Part 261] that have given the few survivors in the trade some hope of surviving and thriving!

The quality of the Northeastern region’s gems is legendary. The Dunton Mine’s tourmaline gems were not only world class, but led to a growing appreciation for domestic potentials, and the fine gem carvings by Gerhard Becker {in watermelon
crystals} inspired the now enlarged market for carvings in gem-stock. A few years ago some outstanding Idar- Oberstein gem carvings in smoky quartz were exhibited at the Tucson Show. The large rabbit and buffalo were inspiring examples of the advantageous marriage of subject and gem material. Michael Dyber’s “Cathedral” (Lapidary Journal cover) of NH smoky quartz* showed well how geometries also work beautifully.
*[from above Cathedral Ledge, Moat Mtn., N. Conway, Carroll County, N.H.]
Much of North America’s best aquamarine, tourmaline and topaz has originated from prospects and mines in the Northeast, incidental to industrial feldspar, beryl, and mica mining, and some as continuation of the historic traditional gem search. Some of the best amethyst in the world has come from New England, and although Deer Hill, Maine material has been used as a standard of comparison, some prospectors will attest to
seeing materials from elsewhere described as “like grape jelly”. The miarolytic pocket sources of these gems are in the widespread pegmatites and granites of New Hampshire
and Maine. Most tourmaline bearing pegmatites are on private land (many have been leased in the past few seasons) and most of the amethyst, topaz, and smoky quartz pockets are on National Forest land. There are exceptions which the diligent searcher may find. Just as new pockets are still being found in already well known and extensively worked localities, there are pockets and pegmatites bearing gems still undiscovered beneath the obscuring soil and vegetation which has kept the gem “rush” ongoing
for 175 years with no end in sight!
When I started collecting 50 years ago, I was determined to continue enjoying the search regardless of the results. Later, when I gave up hunting and fishing, {since I was spending more time digging than hunting}, I appreciated my Dad’s observation that the “Hunting & fishing are always good, its just the catch sometimes doesn’t measure up.”
I’ve done things many collectors only dream of, and I must say I’ll never tire of digging out ‘crawl-in’ pockets, but it is even more exciting to know these pocket fields are richer than the old timers thought, and they dared to dream we someday could do this, and believed in us as trustworthy stewards of the mountains’ secrets.
© 2009, 2010 Old Tombstone Studio, Timeless Mining Co.

Emerging from the double chambers large enough for two card tables inside.

The Great Northeastern Gem Rush

3 thoughts on “Miners’ Lunchbox: The Great Northeastern Gem Rush

  1. © 2009, 2010 Old Tombstone Studio, Timeless Mining Co.
    Miners’ Lunchbox & “A Gem Miner’s Guide” is dedicated to the many “Old Timers” who taught me the “Secrets of the Mountains” & revealed the existence and locations of many huge treasures to me, and trusted me to do the right things after I found mine. I am passing on the significant knowledge contained herein- in the firm belief that “Karma”, the dragon guarding the gems, as well as the new, technologically
    unbeatable system of establishing provenance and thwarting high-graders will
    protect the resources as well or better than the authorities, the knowledgeable
    and ethical members of the gem trade, or the growing numbers of “Old West”
    Vigilantes who see the actual, intolerable impacts of ‘unauthorized removals’ reaching into the War on Terror, the so-called “Drug War”, and even that niche of the black market aided by the “amateur” collectors who bend or ignore the rules and laws by selling improperly labeled or acquired specimens. In many ways, the “Wild West” is still alive in our National Forests, where, actually, the only lawful protection available is wit, cunning, wilderness savvy awareness and preparedness, and, yes, G.P.S., a cell phone and a gun. Thanks, DAD!
    May the Prospecting Adventures begin!

    • thank you for all your HARD WORK GOV STEALS FROM OUR LANDS wish you had more to share thankyou from nh/ me/ rockhound @ 62 year old bobby mac rochester newhampshire

  2. Hi, I’m searching for info on mining rights. My grandfather had 99 year mining leases for most of the white mountain area in NH and into Canada. Would you know where I might find out more about these leases?

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