“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.