TIDBITS - The American Pearl Rush

T h e A m e r i c a n P e a r l R u s h

I suppose it started back with DeSoto when he left Havana and
landed in Tampa Bay in 1539. He invaded Indian territories and
found them rich in pearls. And fine quality pearls they were.
And folks…they did not, I repeat, did not come from the Orient.

Fact is, this country is rich with pearl resources. Let’s shoot
forward in time to about 1857. A carpenter finds a 93-grain pink
pearl in a brook in New Jersey. He sells it to Tiffany who dubs
the gem the Tiffany Queen and promptly sells it to Empress
Eugenie of France. And the pearl rush begins.

The news spreads: There’s pearls in them thar eastern waters. Aw
heck…there’s pearls in them thar western waters too. And you
want to know where they found those pearls? By the 1900’s there
were pearls of incredible luster found in Wisconsin, and in the
Illinois River, and in the Wabash River. Tennessee and Arkansas
came next. Pearl fishing grounds sprung up like mushrooms after a
rain. Bald Knob, Cypress Bayou, and other various rivers.

It’s 1908 folks. Midwestern streams are producing a half a
million dollars worth of pearls a year. The Mississippi is the
mother lode for fresh water shell pearls. Alas and alack my
friends, greed depleted shallow streams, and industrial waste
destroyed shellfish. And the Japanese cultured pearls appeared
and killed the market for genuine pearls.

I have to digress here for a side Tidbit that has nothing to do
with jewelry but is so interesting that I can not let it pass.
How many of you remember the days when “Made in Japan” meant it
was junk? I know I’m dating myself here. Do you know one of the
ways the Japanese overcame this stigma. They renamed a town in
Japan and called it Usa. So that made in Usa was all capitalized
to read “MADE IN USA”. No periods after the U and S and A. Looked
like U.S.A…but it was Usa, Japan. Guess who was making junk
now folks? Oh well, back to the pearls.

The largest pearl found was in Iowa. It was 210 grains, nearly
an inch in diameter. In 1966 a black pearl was found as large as
a shoe button…also in Iowa, from the Cedar River. It sold for
$1200.00. I have no idea what that pearl would be worth today. A
farmer in Illinois found $2000.00 worth of pearls while cleaning
his pig pens. His pigs had been fed on mussels. Yech. I don’t
mind digging for pearls…but me…I have my limits as to where I
dig. In Arkansas, I believe to this very day, there is a
contingent of families about 1500 strong who still go pearling.

So…for a quick recap for all you treasure hunters out there.
Here’s where the pearls are in this country of ours. They’re in
Wisconsin, and in Iowa, and in Arkansas, and in Tennessee and in
Illinois and in Indiana. And in California and in Florida. And
in Delaware and in Maryland. They’re all over the place. All ya
gots to do is look.

So for you out there who find themselves victims of Nafta and
Gatt, --competing in prices with third world countries while
living in an American economy–I know I know, I’m getting
political…but for you out there…heck folks…there’s pearls
in them thar rivers. All you have to do is find 'em.

And there ya have it.
That’s it for this week folks.
Catch you all next week.

Take care,
Benjamin Mark

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