The iconic Steamboat Tourmaline – an American Treasure

In 1907 the famous Steamboat Tourmaline was unearthed by Frank Barlow Schuyler in San Diego County in a rich tourmaline-bearing pocket zone in the mine which was named the Tourmaline King. It was then sold by Schuyler to Washington A. Roebling and it is now housed at the Smithsonian Institution.

professional photograph of the steamboat tourmaline cluster

Although the Steamboat Tourmaline is well known, few people are aware of its discovering in California by Schuyler. Schuyler was born on August 20, 1872 in Falls City, Nebraska. Schuyler took up the same work as his father, a machinist and manufacturer of mechanical tools and married his wife Ella S. Libby in San Luis Rey, California in November of 1894. Then in 1897, their only son Gerald Barlow Schuyler was born.

Schuyler teamed up with D.G. Harrington of Oceanside, California in March of 1903. The pair was exploring the Pala Chief Mountains in San Diego County for pegmatites. During their exploration, they stumbled upon a huge tourmaline deposit which they named the Tourmaline King Mine. Schuyler and Harrington began to construct an underground drift into the pegmatite directly under their surface discovery in 1904. About 60 feet underground and a few years later, the team found a gigantic tourmaline crystal-filled pocket. It extended almost 30 feet in length, about 10 feet wide and was uninterrupted for about 30 feet down dip. This single zone produced around 8 tons of pink tourmaline. The bulk of this discovery was sold to the Imperial Chinese government for a considerable price of $187.50 per pound.

business card of Frank Schuyler
Business card of Frank Schuyler

Schuyler presented and sold his tourmaline gems that he had extracted from the Tourmaline King Mine, at the 1915 Panama Pacific international Exposition in San Francisco. His slogan during the exposition was “wear a tourmaline for luck”. Schuyler also sold and presented other specimens that he had extracted from the Tourmaline King Mine in San Diego County at the exposition.

Robert Max Wilke, a California mineral dealer, purchased the patent grant deed from Schuyler in 1916 for rights to the Tourmaline King Mine so he could work it himself. This purchase by Wilke is the end of Schuyler’s involvement with the Tourmaline King Mine. Wilke went on to discover large amounts of lepidolite, morganite, tourmaline and kunzite at the mine. Wilke eventually abandoned the Tourmaline King Mine in 1922.

photograph of the steamboat tourmaline on display
photograph taken by Chris Stefano at the Smithsonian

The amazing Steamboat Tourmaline is housed at the Smithsonian Museum in Washington D.C. The Steamboat Tourmaline is one of the best tourmaline specimens from the Tourmaline King Mine in San Diego, California.

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