Monday, December 29, 2014

Gathering Pearls on the Wabash 1907 Part 1

GATHERING PEARLS ON THE WABASH, “The Interocean”, Chicago, Sunday, July 28, 1907

From small beginnings ten years ago the development of the pearl fishing industry on the Mississippi river and its tributaries has grown to such proportions that thousands of dollars’ worth of gems of rare beauty are being wrested from the river bed each year.

Specimens of the finds in these streams of Illinois, Minnesota, and the neighboring states can be procured at nearly all large jewelry houses, and they are worn by the members of European royal families as well as by the rich of our own country.

During the year 1905 the value of all the fresh water pearls taken out of the streams in the United States exceeded $5,000,000, and last year’s production was far in excess of this sum.  About half of this amount came from the rivers in Illinois.  It is estimated that 30,000 men and women are daily engaged in this industry.

Think of a pearl as large as an ordinary marble, with a rarity of coloring that makes it impossible to be matched.  Such a pearl as this was taken out of the Mississippi within a short time, and has since been sold for about $70,000—a veritable fortune for William Bates of Red Wing, the lucky finder of the stone.

Without doubt there is not another pearl in existence that will compare with the one that Bates took out of a Mississippi river clam.  That there are larger pearls in the world goes without saying, and that there are pearls on which a higher market value is set is likely a truism.  Nevertheless, for delicacy of coloring and oddity of the shading, the Bates pearl, as it is called, is without a peer.

The Foreign Demand.
Pearls found in foreign countries are valued for the evenness of their coloring and the case with which they can be matched.  Thus, it is not an unusual phenomenon to find all the pearls taken from a certain locality are marked exactly alike, and in buying pearls to be worn in necklaces and other ornaments the principal consideration is to get stones that match one another closely.

American fresh water pearls, however, are valued for just the opposite qualities.  The coloring, far from being even, is most irregular, and in the general run of domestic pearls the rarity of color is the salient characteristic.  As for matching American pearls it is almost impossible to get anything like resemblance even in two stones, not to speak of the dozens and even scores that enter into the make-up of the famous necklaces and tiaras.

The Bates pearl as a typical American stone, is remarkable not alone for its size, but also for its wonderful marking.  With a net diamond weight of eighty-five grains, the jewel is perfectly round and absolutely without a flaw.  The flesh colored tinting gives a beautiful luster to the pearl, which appears opaque in the light, and almost transparent and translucent when shaded slightly.


Less than ten years ago such a thing as a pearl from a clam of the Wabash river was unknown and unthought of.  Now the pearl fisheries in that peaceful stream, which forms the southern boundary between Indiana and Illinois, have assumed such proportions that people interested in the industry have been attracted from all parts of the United States and a part of Europe. (continued tomorrow)