“Gold Fever” by Wayne and Dona Leicht published in “Nature’s Garden of Crystals” book from 2011

Wayne can’t pinpoint an exact time when his interest in the California gold rush began. He can, however, point to Mrs. Kirkby at the Jurupa Nature Center for stimulating his mineral collecting passions in the third grade. She made a visit to his grade school class and brought some minerals found int eh nearby hills that were dotted with pegmatite formations. He was hooked and would often be scolded by his teacher for drifting off to those nearby hills to dig.

“Seaweed” Gold – Harper Brothers Mine, Tuolumne County, California, USA. The ‘groupings’ in the photos by the VanPelts are always so good, but when you ahve a specimen like this one – they’re even better! This was part of the Charles Crespi Collection and most likely found in teh 1940s. The nuggets are from the Ruby Mine in California. 20 cm tall. Harold and Erica VanPelt photograph


His grandfather had a cabin in Toulumene Meadows where he spent many summers there panning for gold and just taking in the history of the California gold rush. Always in the back of his mind during his ‘growing up’ years and throughout his years as an Army Intelligence officer and career in low temperature physics research; the ‘fever’ finally emerged when KRISTALLE was officially established in 1971.

Gold Crystals – Eagle’s Nest Mine, Placer County, California, USA. This is an early specimen from the mine and shows beautiful luster and crystallization. Early on…specimens were ‘highgraded’ and hit the market under the made up name of “Mystery Wind Mine”. This piece is one of our favorites and one of the few pieces we bought for ourselves. 6 x 4 cm. Harold and Erica VanPelt photograph.

Kristalle’s first location was in a small retail-shopping plaza in Laguna Beach, California. Wayne continued to work at his job at Aeronutronic (a division of Ford Motor Company) in Newport Beach and Dona worked in the gallery during the week. On weekends Wayne helped out at the Kristalle store. This plunge into the mineral business would not have happened had it not been for a friendship forged with the late Paul Desautels (former curator at the Smithsonian). Paul invited Wayne to join himo n an ‘around the world’ trip where he introduced Wayne to the many curators, collectors, dealers from many countries. Paul convinced us that we would be good mineral dealers and would be happy doing it. It took sometime for us to also come to that conclusion. “To give up the nice paycheck, the supplied car, the stock options, medical, paid vacations to enter a business selling something that no one really needs – they just have to want it!!! After couple year into the business in Laguna Beach, we finally made it our full-time occupation. Our very first show was the “Pasadena” show sponsored by the Mineralogical Society of Southern California (Wayne was also president of the society for a number of years) and Pasadena was followed by shows in Bisbee, Arizona (so much fun in the early days), Detroit, and Tucson where we held forth in the old Desert Inn until gaining a berth at the TGMS show.

This is one of our classic well-known ‘posed’ photos by the VanPelts. This assemblage has specimens from Placer County, the leaf gold on the shelf is from Tuolumne County – others from the Eagle’s Nest – the nugget is from “California”. These photos from the VanPelts are so well known that in one case we put an ad in a magazine without ANY identifying information and we still received phone calls – people said they knew it was ours. One time a well-known mineral magazine tried to imitate the format on their cover and after receiving so many calls about the “Kristalle cover”, they gave up on trying it again.

Over the 40 years of the KRISTALLE enterprise we have handled over 150 collections of minerals and gold. Certainly the collection that began our specialty of offering gold specimens was the famous Charles Crespi collection of Angels Camp, California. Several specimens in that broad collection have become ‘world famous’ including one, which we kept for our own small collection: the so-called “tree root” specimen from the Red Ledge Mine in California. This specimen was formed close to the surface and the gold formed around a tree root, which is still lodged in the middle of the specimen. Another specimen, referred to as the “seaweed” gold is housed at the Smithsonian and on prominent display. For over 25 year, we have worked with the owner of the Eagle’s Nest Mine in Placer County, which, until recently, has consistently produced fine crystallized gold specimens that are now sprinkled around the world in museums and private collections. Some years ago, we also purchased another famous gold collection: the Segerstrom gold collection which was on display for many years at the U.S. Mint in San Francisco. Wayne’s interest in the history of the California Gold Rush extended into building a personal collection of early maps, books, letters, photos, and ephemera that is now considered one of the most extensive in the country. We have loaned our personal gold collection and artifacts to many museums around the world for special displays, including the giant sesquicentennial display for the State of California in honor of the 150-year anniversary of the 1848 gold find in California. Los Angeles County Museum, Houston Museum, Bowers Museum, San Diego Natural History Museum, the French National Museum and Bonn University have also exhibited our specimens.

Gold – Red Ledge Mine, Washington, Nevada County, California, USA. This specimen from the Red Ledge Mine in Nevada County, California is probably one of the most recognized in the world. The very unusual aspect to this specimen is the tree root on the upper right of the specimen. The pocket from which it came was located just a few feet below the surface and had been penetrated by tree roots. The rest of the pocket was filled with dirt and other loose gold specimens. The quartz crystal on the bottom is an added bonus since we rarely see complete well formed quartz crystals with the gold, even ‘tho the gold is formed in the quartz veins. This one was also in the Crespi collection and Wayne remembers seeing it on display at the Calaveras County Fair when he was a young boy. It was owned at that time by the Tracy family, who owned the Red Ledge Mine. The daughter, Lyla Tracy, was known to take this specimen to her school class for ‘show and tell’. The specimen was found in 1959. 14 x 12 cm. Harold and Erica VanPelt photograph.

We have traveled the world in search of specimens with trips to Sri Lanka, India, Africa, South America, Colombia, Peru, Australia and throughout Europe. Our show schedule has expanded to include shows in the United States (Costa Mesa, Houston, San Francisco, Springfield, Tucson and Denver) and overseas in Tokyo, Munich, St. Marie aux Mines and England. Our gallery has also expanded – 15 years ago we purchased our own historic building on the main highway in Laguna Beach.

Dona and Wayne have been married since 1964, and we live in a landmark house in Laguna Beach. Our one son never caught the mineral ‘bug’. He is instead focused on work on the fishing fleets out of San Diego and continuing to play drums in a reggae band formed in the seventh grade in Laguna Beach. We maintain a small private collection of minerals with emphasis on native elements, and also collect early California paintings and continue to expand the library. Our library consists of several parts: early works on mineralogy, western exploration, and the California gold rush. We also have the Arizona history collection belonging to the late Richard Bideaux. This library is one of the most extensive in the world and now consists of three rooms at the house.

Gold – Eagle’s Nest Mine, Placer County, California, USA. This is a very early specimen from the mine. It was handed down to the current operators from grandfather Garbe who most likely found it int he 1940s. It’s just a beautiful thing to look at – we’ve noticed that the better the crystallization and lustre the less likely the gold will adhere to the specimen. This was a ‘floater’ with no gold attachment whatsoever. 8 x 4 cm. Harold and Erica VanPelt photograph.

Early on we both decided that when a day arrived that this business was no ‘fun’ or interesting, we would leave the scene. Fortunately that day has not materialized and we still enjoy the ‘chase’ and the friendship of so many wonderful people around the world.

Gold- Eagle’s Nest Mine, Placer County, California, USA. Having said that fine crystallization and brilliance with quartz attachment hardly occurs at the mine, THIS is one of the exceptions. This miniature specimen is a favorite of all who see it. 2.5 x 2cm. Harold and Erica VanPelt photograph
Gold Crystals – Eagle’s Nest Mine, Placer County, California, USA. This is another one of those ‘floaters’ from the mine. These are all flattened octahedrons – the quartz seams in the mine are only about 2″ thick at best and many of the specimens were squeezed during formation in these small seams. 5 x 3 cm. Harold and Erica VanPelt photograph.
Gold – Tuolumne County, California, USA. This specimen fascinated the late Dr. Clifford Frondel when he first saw it. It is actually a twin crystal which you can easily see when looking at the back (we should have photographed the back!). 3.5 x 1.5 cm. Harold and Erica VanPelt photograph.
Gold – Eagle’s Nest Mine, Placer County, California, USA. This thumbnail specimen was photographed in three different views (front, back, side). It is just one of those interesting octahedrons with hoppered growth and very bright. We sold this to Jim Minette. We have no idea where it might have ended up during the sale of the Minette collection. 1.5 x 1.5 cm. Harold and Erica VanPelt photograph.
Gold – Eureka & Grizzly Mine, Tuolumne County, California, USA. This mine was later known as the Harper Brothers Mine and there are a few specimens around from this location. Active in recovering specimens back in 1940s, this piece was also part of the Crespi Collection. We wisth we had a photograph of the back of the specimen as well since it is equally interesting. Very sharp octahedrons and here again no quartz association. Formerly in the Leonard Bedale collection and then to the Minette collection. 3.8 cm. Harold and Erica VanPelt photograph.
Gold – Alabama Claim of the Crystalline Mine, Jamestown, Tuolumne, County, California, USA. This was one of the biggest ‘strikes’ in recent years. The Sonora Mining Company was producing low grade ore and sending it right to the smelter. On Christmas day 1991, the conveyor belt came to a screeching halt – the workers thought a piece of machinery may have come down the belt. Upon close examination no one could believe their eyes – giant, heavy pieces of gold leaf specimens were mucking up the system! 18 x 10 cm. Harold and Erica VanPelt photograph.
Gold – Eagle’s Nest Mine, Placer County, California, USA. This is probably our favorite specimen in our collection. This specimen belonged to the Garbe family and was handed down to the current operators of the mine. We can only guess when it was mined – most likely the 1940s. This was used on street banners in Sacramento and all of the advertising for the sesquicentennial of the California gold rush and the major exhibit which toured around the state. We actually managed to obtain one of those large street banners and it hangs in our shop today. 12 x 8 cm. Harold and Erica VanPelt photograph.
Gold – Eagle’s Nest Mine, Placer County, California, USA. This is just so darn interesting from a crystallographic standpoint. Arborescent and flattened octahedrons and mirror bright. This one dates back to the very early days of our association with the mine and the first appearance in the MR of this and other specimens gave the locality simply as the Michigan Bluff Mining District in Placer County. The owner was so excited about finding a vein that he did not want the exact location given initially. 8 x 8 cm. Harold and Erica VanPelt photograph.


Gold – Alabama Claim, Crystalline Mine, Tuolumne County, California, USA. This is also from the famous “Christmas Pocket” at the mine in Jamestown, California. Most of the specimens had to be ‘unfurled’ because they came through the belt and were curled. Thank nature for the malleability of gold… 8 x 8 cm. Harold and Erica VanPelt photograph.
The Segerstrom Gold Collection – Tuolumne County, California, USA. The Segerstrom family goes way back in the gold country. Charlie and Marietta Segerstrom (now deceased) lived in Sonora and owned several mines in the area, but we don’t think it was the mine where these specimens were found. We don’t have a specific location but the general area around Sonora would match other specimens we know about. The collection was on loan to the San Francisco Mint for eons until the family offered it for sale after Marietta’s death. Tallest specimen about 30 cm. Harold and Erica VanPelt photograph.
Gold – Red Ledge Mine, Washington, Nevada County, California, USA. This specimen came to us from a relative of a dentist who lived in the gold country who had this specimen for over 50 years. An absolutely unique piece from the Red Ledge since we don’t see many specimens on matrix from here. 35 cm tall. Harold and Erica Van Pelt photograph.
Native gold with unusual ‘wire’ formations – Magenta Mine, Nevada County, California, USA. “Wire” gold from any locality are extremely rare and an occurrence in California even rarer. We believe this specimen was found in the 1950s…The magenta mine is just a portion of the larger complex of the Empire Star mine. We’ve only seen a few specimens of wire gold from California. 10 x 7 cm. Harold and Erica VanPelt photograph.
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