Rock & Gem Magazine – July 2010
By Bob Jones
See below for a typed version of the article
In my February 2010 column, I saluted the work of The Collector’s Edge, of Golden, Colorado, whose accomplishments in bringing new material to grass are well known and certainly worthy of recognition. Collector’s Edge is not the only dealer group that has worked diligently to support the collector hobby while earning a profit. Other very active dealers go well beyond the business of selling minerals by supporting clubs and having a major impact on the specimen market. One such dealer organization is Kristalle, of Laguna Beach, California.
Before owners Wayne and Dona Leicht developed their mineral business, crystallized gold was seldom offered in the specimen market. A few crystallized specimens from older collections would appear and be offered to the collector hobby, but most collectors were used to seeing shapeless gold nuggets with little eye appeal. Few thought of gold as a spectacular crystallized collector mineral. For decades, little effort was made to market fine gold specimens to hobbyists due, in part, to a lack of fine crystallized gold. This began to change in the 1980s, thanks to the efforts of Kristalle.
If you collect gold specimens, you probably have at least one crystallized yellow beauty that has passed through the Leicht’s hands. They travel the world over in search of fine minerals and still find time to support shows and exhibitions. It is safe to say that a majority of major museums display one or more gold specimens obtained from this public-spirited business whose strength is, in part, marketing crystallized gold.
As the price of gold skyrocketed in the 1980s, old gold properties were given a second look and one byproduct of this was crystallized gold. Enter Kristalle.
A series of significant occurrences, not the least of which were Wayne’s diligent efforts and his serious study and writings about gold, placed Kristalle in the forefront of the crystallized gold market. Kristalle emerged as a premier source for crystallized gold and the Leichts, through lectures, special show exhibits, and marketing, launched a veritable campaign to educate the collector public about gold, its history, and its lore.
The result is that Wayne is now recognized by museum curators, collectors, and even the federal government as an expert on gold specimens and their values. Wayne is particularly well versed in California gold and its history.
Books became one of Wayne’s personal interests and he now boasts one of the finest and most extensive privately held collections of old and antique books and related items which emphasize gold memorabilia.
I’ve known Wayne and his delightful wife, Dona, for decades, as far back as when they had given up their 8 to 5 jobs to risk establishing their mineral business in 1976. They persisted through the years, gradually building up a clientele through hard work and dependable business ethics. They regularly entered special educational displays featuring specimens, books, maps, and other gold memorabilia at major shows.
It was natural that, when major collections of gold were offered for sale, Kristalle would try to acquire them. The first collection Kristalle obtained was assembled by Charles Crespi, of Angel’s Camp, California. These golds were among the finest found in the several mines around Angel’s Camp, which were known for finely crystallized gold.
Crespi, a local banker, had a strong interest in gold specimens, so he made an effort to assemble a notable crystallized gold collection. He died in 1961 and his collection came up for sale in 1978. Kristalle acquired it and, as luck would have it, the price of gold started is mercurial rise of the 1980s.
The Crespi collection held a number of exceptional gold specimens, including five that were traded to the Smithsonian Institution for use in their public display. For the first time, the general public had a chance to see the truly stunning, artful beauty of crystallized gold.
Meanwhile, Wayne’s writings on gold in the advanced collector magazine The Mineralogical Record, stirred even more interest in gold as a collector species. He was frequently invited to give lectures on gold and gold mining history and served as a consultant to museums and private collectors.
The second spectacular crystallized gold collection obtained by Kristalle was the Segrestrom collection. That name probably means nothing to the average collector, but when I tell you this exceptional privately owned gold collection was at one time on loan to the U.S. Mint, San Francisco, you might think of the collection as having considerable historic value.
From the U.S. Mint, the Segrestrom family moved the crystallized golds to the Wells Fargo History Museum, also in the City by the Bay. Wells Fargo got its start during the great California gold rush, and even today, its history museum is well worth a visit!
Finally, this family-owned gold collection was put up for auction at the noted Buttersfield Auction House. Kristalle, once again, recognized the wisdom of acquiring this collection and bid successfully on it! Thanks to Kristalle’s efforts, the spectacular specimens from this historically important collection ended up in both private hands and on public display in major museums.
The State of California also has a mineral collection with some gold specimens. The collection boasts one amazing California gold, the 13-pound Fricotte crystallized nugget found in 1865 at the Grit mine (El Dorado County). The state decided to move the collection into a new museum, the California State Mining & Mineral Museum, in Mariposa, the southern gateway to the Mother Lode country. Then curator Joel Bartsch, now president of the Houston Museum of Natural Science, asked Kristalle to help make the new museum a notable place to visit by contributing displays. Kristalle loaned specimens and helped to establish a viable gift shop.
Not surprisingly, as interest in gold increased, due in part to Wayne’s efforts, specimens of gold emerged from closets, old collections, and a host of surprisingly recent sources. The natural flow of these specimens was often directed to the recognized gold expert, Wayne Leicht. People consigned their specimens to Wayne to trim, to treat, to appraise, and to sell. He became so well known for his expertise that museums, estate lawyers, and private citizens, brought him in for critical appraisal work.
When the need for a professional and accurate article on California gold arose, it was often Wayne who got the nod! His article, “The History of Crystallized Gold” (The Mineralogical Record, Nov.-Dec. 1982) should be required reading for anyone with an interest in gold. His expert lectures on gold and gold mining history are always in demand.
Because of his reputation as an expert on gold and his well-recognized business ethics, Wayne was chosen by one California gold miner to handle the specimen production of an unusual gold mine, the Eagle’s Nest.
The Eagle’s Nest is a collection of 10 claims near Foresthill that produced what is called “pocket” gold. The gold occurs only sporadically in quartz seams in the Foothills Metamorphic Belt, which is noted for its many productive gold deposits.
This California gold mine was not an exceptional producer as gold mines go. This is because of the sporadic occurrence of the gold. It didn’t have rich stringers of quartz from which gold could be steadily produced. Rather, the Eagle’s Nest consists of narrow quartz stringers, few over 2 inches wide, that only yield gold intermittently in pockets.
The Eagle’s Nest, therefore, was never a steady producer of values. Mining along the barren quartz veins would yield no gold for a time, then suddenly, work would encounter a rich area in which slender masses of white quartz would hold quantities of arborescent gold were completely locked in the quartz.
The problem with this type of occurrence, aside from the unpredictability of profits, is that there were so few open spaces in which the gold could crystallize. Instead it formed branching fingers and arborescent masses completely enclosed in white quartz. Mining here was hardly profitable until it was realized the arborescent gold, once freed from the quartz, made spectacular display specimens! Today, the miners at the Eagle’s Nest no longer mine quartz stingers that might prove barren; they use strong metal detectors to indicate potential sites for gold.
Wayne and the owner of the Eagle’s Nest mine made an agreement on recovering and marketing the gold being found. The task for Wayne was to study the gold-bearing quartz specimens in hand to determine the most successful way to remove the quartz to yield marketable specimen gold.
Removing or etching away enough quartz to reveal the arborescent gold without damaging it seems simple enough-hydrofluoric acid dissolves quartz easily-but if all the gold in the specimen is not a single crystallized mass, removing the quartz indiscriminately would result in the gold falling apart. Besides, quartz that has been acid etched is not very attractive unless the etching is done very carefully.
Enough quartz had to be removed to achieve the best possible display specimen, but enough quartz had to be retained to hold the gold together as a single specimen. Such specimens brought the greater reward when sold.
Wayne was just the guy to solve this problem. His first step was to determine where the gold was hidden in the quartz. The continuity of the gold had to be traced so that enough quartz would be left to hold all the gold together while the unwanted quartz was removed, revealing the gold as a single arborescent beauty. The quartz was X-rayed with special machines, which peered into the slabs from all directions. The gold was revealed as shadowy filaments and sprays in the grayish X-ray image of the quartz. The quartz had to be removed by mechanical means, as tedious as that is and was carefully chipped away!
On a visit to Kristalle some years ago, I had a chance to use a carbide-tipped tool to work on a big slab of gold-rich quartz. Believe me, this was tedious and time consuming. But the resulting piece of arborescent gold eventually appeared on the January 1990 cover of Rock & Gem!
An example of the recognized expertise of Wayne and Dona in the gold specimen market involves a huge find of gold, termed “the Christmas find”, made at the huge Jamestown (Tuolumne County), California, gold mine the day after Christmas 1992! Workers were startled by the ringing of the warning bell on the conveyor belt bringing ore up from the pit. The bell was supposed to indicate when something metallic passed along the belt. When the workers went out to check the conveyor, they were stunned to find huge masses of yellow gold on the belt!
These “Christmas” crystallized gold masses varied from hand-size pieces to one monster weighing in at nearly 44 pounds! This one piece is the largest modern gold mass in hand. Kristalle was given the task of preparing the golds for public viewing and eventual sale. The largest mass from the “Christmas” find was acquired by the Ironstone Vineyard in Murphys, California, where it is now on secure public display in an open vault in the gift shop. Other specimens ended up in museums and private collections.
In keeping with Kristalle’s strong support of the great Tucson Gem & Mineral Show, the Christmas golds were displayed at the 1983 show. Visitors could hardly believe the size and brilliance of these monster golds. This largest gold specimen display, because of the timing of the discovery and the large and spectacular pieces, was quite the talk of the show.
Wayne and Dona’s contributions to our hobby are many. They travel all over the world displaying and acquiring fine specimens; and they are active and contributing members of mineral societies. Because of Wayne’s ongoing contributions to and support of the Mineralogical Society of America, he was honored with the society’s annual Scholarship award.
There is little doubt that the popularity of specimen gold among collectors today can be traced directly to the educational and business efforts of Wayne and Dona Leicht of Kristalle!