History of Maine Tourmaline
1820 was one of the most important years in Maine's history. In that year, Maine was granted statehood and became the 23rd state in the United States of America. In that same year, tourmaline was discovered in the mountains of western Maine.
Augustus Choate Hamlin, son of Elijah Hamlin, one of the original discoverers, spent most of his life exploring Mt. Mica in search of treasures hidden there. He also carefully documented the work of his father, as well as his own and others, and his History of Mount Mica, published in 1895 gives us a complete account of the original discovery - in a description so vivid it is truly a link back in time, to that autumn of 1820. His work is gratefully acknowledged as the major source of our information concerning the discovery of tourmaline in Maine.
This discovery was made by two students who had become interested in mineralogy, and who spent much of their leisure time searching for minerals among the exposed ledges and mountains around the village of Paris, Maine.
Late in the autumn of 1820, and on one of its clear, calm days, Elijah Hamlin and Ezekiel Holmes started out to explore the range of hills which formed the eastern boundary of the town of Paris, and which stretch away to the northwest. They had spent most of the day on Mount Mica, part of the mountain ridge to the south of the village, and were descending the western declivity on their way home, just as the sun was setting behind the great White Mountain range, fifty miles or more away on the western horizon. Young Hamlin hesitated for a moment on the crest of a hill to enjoy the entrancing scene which spread before him, and on turning to the east for one final look at the woods and mountains behind him, a vivid gleam of green flashed from an object on the roots of a tree upturned by the wind, and caught his eye.
Advancing to the spot, he found a transparent green crystal lying loose upon the earth which still clung to the root of the fallen tree. The student clutched the glistening gem with eagerness, and called back to his companion, who had already passed over the brow of the hill, and was some distance down the slope. After examining the newly found treasure, the students carefully searched among the surrounding soil for other specimens; but the rapidly increasing twilight soon compelled the youthful mineralogist to abandon the search. They, however, resolved to return early the next morning and continue the exploration, but during the night a storm arose, and covered the hill and its adjacent fields with a thick mantle of snow which remained until the next spring.
As soon as the winter's snow has melted away, and left the hill and its sides exposed to view, the students again returned to the search, and this time with success. They went directly to the bare ledge which crops out on the brow of the hill, and which they had not examined on their previous visit, before darkness had overtaken them. As they climbed up over the rock, they were astonished to observe many crystals and fragments of crystals, lying loose upon the bare ledges and sparkling in the rays of the sun. These they carefully gathered; and tracing others to the earth below the ledge, and which had formed from the decomposition of the rock, they eagerly turned up the soil in search of hidden treasure. Thirty or more crystals of remarkable beauty and transparency rewarded the labors of the students, and with mingled feelings of joy and wonder they held them up to the rays of the sunlight, and admired their various shades of green, red, white, and yellow in different shades. They had, indeed, stumbled upon one of the richest and rarest of nature's laboratories.
News of the discovery spread to the villagers and many of them hastened to the spot and secured a number of fine specimens as trophies or mementoes, yet the exact nature of the discovery was still unknown, even to the original discoverers. A few specimens were sent to Yale University Professor Benjamin Silliman, and were only then first identified as tourmaline. Descriptions of the earliest gems were published by Hamlin in 1826, revealing his skill as a competent amateur mineralogist. In 1822, Hamlin's younger brothers, Cyrus and Hannibal (Later Vice President to Abraham Lincoln) then scarcely in their teens, borrowed some blasting tools, made a crude blast, and opened a cavity in the solid ledge, searching for crystals beyond those originally found on the surface, or by superficial digging. Their efforts were greatly rewarded, with some of the largest and at that time, finest quality specimens yet discovered. They collected more than twenty crystals of various greens and red colors, some larger than two inches long and an inch in diameter.
News of the tourmaline discovery circulated rapidly, and Mt. Mica soon came to be known as the foremost site in North America for minerals of such great variety and richness.
Tourmaline has been mined in Maine now for nearly 200 years, and yet today, Mt. Mica is still considered to have the greatest potential for additional production of crystals and gemstock. Major discoveries have been made there as recently as 1978, when, in a grapefruit-sized cavity, was found a remarkable piece of gem quality crystal - one of the stones cut from it was a magnificent 256 carat flawless blue-green gem, which is 4-5 times larger than the previous "biggest-best" gem from this locality.
1972 - A World Class Discovery
Plumbago Mountain was the site of a discovery in 1972, which is now recognized as the largest gem find in North America. The now-famous discovery was made by George Hartman, Dale Sweatt and James Young in August, 1972, and following some preliminary mining and exploration, the Plumbago Mining Corporation was organized by Hartman, Sweatt, and Dean McCrillis. They obtained a lease from the International Paper Company, Frank Perham was hired, and exploration for gem tourmaline was resumed, which resulted in October, 1972, with opening a series of pockets that proved to be richer than any previously discovered in Maine, and perhaps anywhere in the world. The mining operations on Plumbago Mountain continued through 1974, and details of the early finds are available through the vivid descriptions found in Dean McCrillis' daily log:
"Monday, October 23, 1972 - It rained hard today, but we continued to work and developed the pocket found the previous night. Dug out many large and rather nice tourmalines. Appears that this pocket may be larger than we thought.
Tuesday, October 24, 1972 - Weather broke very cold and clear. Set off two blasts to enlarge the entrance of the pocket and spent most of the morning cleaning up around the outside of the pocket. Around noontime we were able to see into the pocket and were extremely pleased and excited to see a vast display of tourmaline. We extracted a bushel basket of large tourmaline crystals, not many of good gem quality, but beautiful color. We left tonight with some feeling of hope.
Wednesday, October 25, 1972 - Fred and Dale continued to work the pocket opened yesterday, cleaned out the remains in the pocket and explored to see if it went further. Frank and I moved around the corner and drilled in the floor of the pit where the dump had been. We quickly got into what appeared to be another pockety area and after careful blasting opened a pocket of the finest tourmaline we had seen to date. The crystals were interlocked in a nightmarelike tangle similar to "pickup sticks" and were covered with a greasy black film of manganese stain. Every once in a while we would take a crystal out and wash it in a puddle of water just to reassure ourselves that it was really tourmaline we were finding... Even though the mine is completely posted with "No Trespassing" and "Danger - Blasting Area" signs ever 50 feet, we are constantly being bothered by rockhounds. We roped off the area and hired Bob Brown of Hanover to help us with the mining and to keep people away from the mining area...
Thursday, October 26, 1972 - A bright, clear day. We worked the new pocket very carefully, by hand, and extracted a large quantity of very fine material. This has been our best day so far.
Friday, October 27, 1972 - Another fine, clear autumn day. Spent most of the morning cleaning up around the sides of the pocket and digging out rubble, at the same time, trying to leave some crystals in place to show visitors from the State of Maine Geology Department due in the afternoon. Late in the morning, while cleaning the back of the pocket, we found the beginning of another vug. Pulled out two or three crystals the size of beer cans. Left the area intact until arrival of Robert Doyle, State Geologist, and his assistant, Walter Anderson. Showed them the beginning of the new pocket and invited each one in turn to remove a crystal or two. They were tremendously excited and we had a hard time getting them out of the pocket.
It was apparent that these clusters of large crystals occurred thousands of years ago when some pressure or tremors caused the crystals to break off from the sides of the pocket wall and fall in a mass to the center and sometimes base of the pocket. We found that by carefully removing crystals and then laying them in rows outside the pocket, we are able to mate some sections. This is a frustrating process, as crystals seem fairly uniform in diameter - two or three inches - and similar in appearance, i.e. deep red cores with thin layer of green on outside. Have wrapped crystals from same clusters together and placed them in same box - hope to make better matches at some later date. Doyle, Anderson, and Malcolm McLean from the paper company, assisted Dale and Fred in partly cleaning and wrapping crystals, while Frank and I gingerly took them from the pocket. All hand work now. The further we go, the more difficult it becomes to reach the tourmaline. We are constantly being bothered by surface water seeping from the back of the pocket. As we are afraid to blast near the crystals, we have to chisel by hand to make room in the pocket to work. many times, one man has to bail water while the other works to extract the crystals. This leads to some very strange body positions and entanglements. On more than one occasion, when either Frank or I have become cramped or cold from laying in the water, we have had to stop and figure out how to untangle ourselves in order to get into a new position. We are now deep enough into the ledge so that even with the problem of seeping water, it is warmer inside the hole than out. Actually, I don't think we are really paying too much attention to the physical discomfort at this point, as the tourmaline seems to get better and better and more abundant the further we go into the wall.
Dale went to the bank today and negotiated the lease of a vault in the cellar to store the material, as we have already outgrown the safe deposit vaults previously rented.
Saturday, October 28, 1972 - Very cold and dismal today with a light drizzle. Enlarged outside of pocket by hand to give us more room to work. Found what appears to be the beginning of another pocket behind the one we are now working. By laying on our backs in the present pocket and reaching up as far as we can through a small fissure in the back of the pocket, we can feel large crystals but can't get them out through the hole. By chiseling and prying on the wall, we enlarged the hole enough so that Frank could get the top of his torso into the pocket. He brought out some very fine tourmaline and a great deal of granular and crystalline albite, most of it snow white and very pretty. Enlarged the pocket in the afternoon so that two of us can work inside. Hard to tell at this point the size of the pocket, but there seems to be no end in sight. We have to work very carefully as we find nests of tourmalines randomly dispersed in the cleavelandite. We uncovered one tremendous crystal today, green, about 13 inches long, 4.5 inches in diameter, semi-transparent to transparent with a basal pinacoid termination. Carefully scraped the albite away from the crystal and left it in place. Various members of the party working outside the pocket came in, one at a time, to see this magnificent specimen before we removed it. We even induced Frank's wife, Mary, who is claustrophobic to come in and take a look.
We are now about 12 to 13 feet inside the mountain. I can't help but feet sorry for those working outside the hole. It seems that they are doing all the dirty work while Frank and I have all the fun, even though we are cramped and the physical labor is very hard. We worked late into the night today. There seems to be no boundary as yet to the interior of the pocket. Frank was so tired, he slept on the mountain tonight in the guard's shack. Dale and I took all the material mined today, which must have amounted to at least 200 pounds of tourmaline, down off the mountain and stored it in my mother's summer house as the bank was closed.
Sunday, October 29, 1972 - Arrived back at the site at dawn, Frank was already working inside the hole. I joined him inside the hole and Dale worked outside, trying to make room for the rubble we will be pushing out through the entrance. Inside the pocket, we spent most of the morning cleaning out some of the debris and exploring the pocket in an attempt to determine how extensive it is. At this point, the pocket is at least 15 feet long and 8 feet high,and there appears to be another chamber forming over to our right.
By afternoon, we left the first chamber, even though there are still plenty of tourmalines there and started to explore the second chamber, Our only light sources are battery lanterns. Usually Frank and I spell each other, one holding the lantern while the other works. At times we both stop and put on both lanterns to explore. It is truly too beautiful to describe. There are pillars of purple lepidolite with very crystalline while albite piles between. Protruding from the albite are tourmaline crystals of all sizes and colors. As we worked our way into the second chamber, the tourmalines appeared to be smaller but even gemmier. Most of the tourmalines now are from two to four inches in diameter, some with red cores and a green rind, and others solid green. We have found no solid red crystals so far.
It rained hard all day and was very windy and cold, but nobody seemed to mind. Of course, Frank and I were inside the hole and we were not aware of the weather at all. When Dale is not shoveling rubble out, he huddles inside the entrance to the pocket and wraps and packs the better specimens. The State sent two photographers up to take movies and still pictures but they were able to take still pictures only due to the bad weather.
Dale's wife and my wife helped with the sorting outside the bole. The section of the pocket we are in is so rich with tourmalines that even after the two of us in the pocket have picked out the better and bigger crystals, all of the refuse we send out has to be sorted again. There were several times today when Frank and I were literally blocked in the hole, as we had so much matrix material piled up at the entrance. Those outside couldn't shovel it out fast enough to keep the entrance open. I don't think either one of us gives any thought to the confinement because we are having so much fun and I don't even mind not smoking. I tried smoking once or twice but found the smoke too irritating because of the small space and the lack of circulating air. Every once in a while, someone sends in a can of beer or an Italian sandwich and we will eat and drink as we work.
We are now 25 to 30 feet inside the ledge and have to handle the material at least twice before we can get it out to the entrance of the pocket. The volume of material produced today is unbelievable, as it was even more than yesterday - somewhere in the vicinity of 300 pounds. We all packed the material on Dale's truck and everyone left the mountain except me. I was too tired and spent the night in the guard's shack. Tomorrow morning, Dale plans to find more space in the bank to store material.
Monday, October 30, 1972 - Fred returned today after a weekend at home and was obviously very pleased with the amount of material we were finding.
The road from the guard's shack at the Twin Tunnels up to the mine is almost impassable. The heavy rain washed out many areas, and made the 300-400 yard assent from the Twin Tunnels to the mine very hazardous. We have to be able to get at least one vehicle up there to haul our supplies and bring the tourmaline down at night. Bob has been spending some time working on the road - cordurying it with small trees where he can. Frank's Jeep pickup truck and my Landrover are the only vehicles that can make it up to the mine site.
When Frank arrived this morning, he brought with him a 15 foot board to which he attached rails on either side. He also brought his son's red cart and a long length of rope. He thought this would be a more efficient way for is to get the material out of the pocket. We laid he track from the entrance of the pocket to the beginning of the track with rocks and rubble, and now have a crude but very efficient mine railroad.
There is still a great deal of water seeping into the pocket which is good in one sense, in that it indicates there is at least one more pocket area ahead of us, which we are inadvertently draining while we are digging. However, it does make things very uncomfortable, as we are laying or kneeling in water most of the time.
We have worked out a system where Frank and I take turns using the cart. He is now working in the first chamber and I am working in the second chamber. When one of us comes to an area of good tourmaline, that person carefully picks and packs out the better specimens while the other uses the cart to send out the albite, lepidolite and smaller tourmalines that have to be shoveled away to get at the better material. The rubble now is so rich with good tourmaline that it is now taking two or three people on the outside of the pocket working all the time to pick out the smaller tourmalines from the other material. There is so much material to be sorted that at the end of the day we bag anywhere between 15 and 20 bags of unsorted pocket material to be sorted at some future date. These bags are used grain bags and weigh anywhere from 150 to 200 pounds when we get them filled.
We are going to have a problem getting off the mountain before snow flies, but we are doing the best we can with what we have.
Mr. and Mrs. Bryant of Winthrop Mineral Shop, came up today to help us sort, along with my wife and Frank's wife.
We took another large load of material to the bank this evening. The bank is letting us store the material in some vacant offices on the second floor of the building until we can find a vault or something more suitable. Although all the material is stored behind two locked doors, I hope we can find a place soon that is more secure.
Tuesday, October 31, 1972 - A fine day today. A friend of ours, arrived to photograph the area and our activities, so that we could have a visual record. Dale spent the day sorting and supervising the loading of materials, while Frank and I continued working the two rooms in the pocket. The second pocket seems to be coming to an end, although the quality of the material is still top notch. There were times today when I shoveled whole shovelfuls of tourmalines, or at least 90% tourmaline, into our little cart. Most of these were pencil size and a little larger and were very gemmy.
We still keep two men on the mountain every night. They check the pocket two or three times during the night. The amount of gems just lying around, both inside and outside the pocket, is incredible, and would be a great temptation to anybody if they knew they were there. Of course, we have tried to keep this all very quiet and we do have the protection of being two miles away from the nearest road. Our access road to the Twin Tunnels has a locked gate and people would have to get by the gate, drive up two miles of road, get by the guard's shack and then up the road from Twin Tunnels before they got to the site."
By the 5th of November, the mining operations had ceased, and the immediate challenge was in getting all of the heavy equipment down off the mountain, as the problems created by the autumn rains had been further complicated by the addition of snow and ice making the road to the mine very nearly impassable.
The winter of 1972-1973 was spent cleaning and sorting the materials mined in the fall beginning processing and marketing the gems and exploring other locations for future mining.
During the summer of 1973, Plumbago Mining Company mined steadily and opened another 8-10 pockets of tourmaline. The volume was not as great as the previous fall, but the quality was consistently fine. While the total amount of tourmaline produced from Plumbago Mountain is not accurately known, we do know that more than metric ton of tourmaline (no matrix material) was stored in the vault of the Casco National Bank, representing the yield only from the October 1972 find! In all, more than 3.5million carats of gem tourmaline have come from Plumbago Mountain.
At the cessation of mining in 1974, the Dunton mine was fairly honeycombed with tunnels. To eliminate this attractive hazard and potential danger, the Plumbago workings were blasted to collapse the tunnels and close off any access.
In the decade following the mining at Plumbago Mountain, Maine gained world fame as the source for the finest quality gem tourmaline in the world. The clarity, richness of color and brilliance far exceed those stones from California, Brazil, Africa and Afghanistan.
It is in particular for the pinks - the wide range of colors from pastel through rich sherries and luscious burgundies that Maine Tourmaline has become renowned the world over. Part of what makes tourmaline unique, and the pinks in particular, is its dichroic nature. A dichroic gemstone is one which has two separate and distinct colors visible at the same time, which is very pleasing to the eye. This property also means that two stones cut from the same rough crystal, with even a slight deviation in orientation, will have distinctly different shades of color. Maine pink tourmaline is unique, and special because of the quality of the clarity, and the size of the gems mined here. The 1972 find on Plumbago Mountain has produced the world's largest and finest pink tourmalines, in a wide range of desirable shades of color, exhibiting greater diversity of color than pink tourmaline found anywhere else in the world.
Green tourmaline from Maine is known for the deep rich greens which have been mined at Mt. Mica and Mt. Apatite, while Plumbago Mountain is known for the beautiful and delicate apple-green shades which are found nowhere else in the world. Again, we see that Maine offers a wide range of shades, in each case, gems of outstanding beauty and brilliance.
The rarest gem color native to Maine is the beautiful blue tourmaline (sometimes called indicolite). In shades which include both deep green-blues and lighter shades of a crisp almost metallic blue, Maine blue tourmaline is highly valued for both its beauty and rarity.
Maine has long been famous for its unique watermelon tourmaline. This rare combination of two varieties of tourmaline in a single crystal is found elsewhere, like in Brazil, but the finest specimens are found in Maine's Oxford County.
First discovered at the Dunton Quarry in Newry in 1902, watermelon tourmaline crystals are composed of a large core of deep red tourmaline surrounded by a rind of green tourmaline. George Howe, a renowned Maine naturalist gave the gem its name. And seventy years later, crystals unlike those found previously were discovered, during the exciting work on Plumbago Mountain - for the first time yielding crystals with color and transparency of gem quality.
Gem-quality watermelon tourmaline has been put to many artistic uses. The crystal "logs" can be sliced like a loaf of bread, and then polished brilliantly on each side. "Slices" of watermelon tourmaline have been used as the focal point in many exquisite pieces of jewelry, and art objects have been carved from the material.
Even more unique is Maine bi-color tourmaline - crystals which form green at one end, and pink at the other. Mineralogists have been unable to determine what force of nature causes the dramatic color change during the crystallization process. A few rare gems have been found which exhibit bi-color characteristics with a blue-to-green color change, as well as some tri-color stones which range in tones of gray, green and blue.
Cross' Close Relationship with Maine Tourmaline
One of the finest pieces recovered from the mining explorations on Plumbago Mountain is Cross Jewelers' "Tutti-Frutti" tourmaline matrix specimen. This 17-pound piece of cleavlandite and lepidolite is studded with 38 pink, green, and bi-color tourmaline crystals, showing how tourmaline forms within the earth, and giving us a hint of the fascinating scene which must have captivated the miners as they entered the pocket. This piece, part of the October 29, 1972 discovery, is a rare and priceless glimpse at the wonder of nature, as to how tourmaline - one of the most chemically complex gems, is formed.
Cross Jewelers has been a part of Maine tourmaline history since the early 1900's, when Mr. William M. Cross began pursuing a personal interest in gem cutting. As the stone cutting wheels of the day lacked the consistent precision which Mr. Cross was looking for, he began work, and completed two stone cutting machines which became models for other lapidaries of the time. His work was chronicled in Jane Perham's Gems of Oxford County. As Mr. Cross worked to perfect his art as a gemstone cutter, he cut and polished beautiful green tourmaline from Mt. Apatite near Auburn, Maine. Many of the gems he cut were fashioned into pins and rings of the period, created in his manufacturing jewelry shop in Portland.
Following the death of William Cross in 1931, his stone cutting machines, and over 2,600 carats of this deep green Maine tourmaline (most of it still rough crystals), were stored away. It was not until after the great "rediscovery" of tourmaline on Plumbago Mountain in 1972, that the rough tourmaline was brought out and examined (during Cross' first annual Tourmaline Cutting and Polishing Demonstration), and found to be of extremely fine quality. While the green gems from Newry range from light pastel greens to a bright, lively apple green, the Mt. Apatite gems were distinctly different, with their deep green, almost emerald color. Cross immediately began having the rough crystals cut and polished, which led to the creation of a major jewelry collection, featuring Maine tourmaline.
Cross has also recognized the historical significance of the 1972 find at Newry, which has resulted in the formation of The Cross Historical Registry. In the over century and three quarters since tourmaline was first discovered in Maine, very little is known of what happened with the gems which were mined here. The Cross Historical Registry includes sketches, listing pieces to their buyer, and includes complete documentation as to where the tourmaline was mined and other pertinent background material. The purchaser also receives this information, as part of a complete gem and jewelry appraisal.
Today, there is a rare opportunity to own a bit of Maine's pride and heritage, in choosing a piece of Maine tourmaline jewelry. Yet of the incredible quantity of gems mined in 1972, already, fine quality gems are becoming increasingly scarce. While explorations for future mining sites continue, future supplies of Maine tourmaline are at this time uncertain. Tourmaline is one of the most beautiful gems nature has given man. Of any gem species, tourmaline possesses the widest range of diversity of color, and regardless of where one lives (though especially appropriate to those from Maine, and those who love Maine), Maine tourmaline is worth owning, collecting, and cherishing.