Herkimer Diamond Dig 2007
Ive been going to Middleville, NY to dig Herkimer diamonds for over 20 years. In the spring of 2007, I paid $9 to dig at the Herkimer Diamond Mines, Inc. in Middleville, NY (on route 28, about 10 minutes north of the town of Herkimer, directly across from the KOA campgrounds). At the time, I had no idea this would turn into 42 days at the mine, an article in Rocks and Minerals magazine, and 38 pockets of crystals! I only had two days to dig, but I got lucky right away. I found a section of the wall with some table I could lift. The table is the the extremely tough horizontal rock layer in which large pockets of quartz crystals are found. I managed to remove a two foot by three foot section of the table rock and found...absolutely nothing. Pockets in the table are fairly regular ... one about every 10 to 15 square feet. So when you move a large section, you expect to find something. You can imagine my disappointment. There was, however, some black anthraxilite dust on the wall behind the rock I had just moved. I said to a friend digging next to me that the dust looked just like what you would expect to see next to a pocket. I took my chisel and in one blow broke into a pocket (the rectangular hole is from the chisel). Then I took this picture!
A few more hammer blows got me even more excited. I could judge the size of the pocket by the sound the pieces of rock made when they fell down into it. If you know anything about collecting the big pockets at the Herkimer diamond mines, then you know this is one of the most thrilling moments in Herkimer diamond mining...
Here I am in front of my first pocket of 2007! Tired but happy. The top of the table begins at my left elbow. The table varies from about a foot and a half to two feet thick. This pocket is only about 4 inches from the top of the table, but you can find pockets anywhere in the table.
Heres a look inside my pocket. Not too exciting, huh? Trust me, there are crystals in there --- lots of them --- but they are buried in the mud and pocket debris. Over the eons, water and mud has made its way into the pocket. In addition, movements of the earth and freeze / thaw cycles have broken off pieces of the pocket walls and ceiling. Instead of a nice little "cave" with crystals hanging from the walls, you get a big mess! Do you see the pile of black anthraxilite hydrocarbon in the top right hand corner of this picture? Look just to the bottom right of the antraxilite and you can see a quartz crystal. When I carefully removed the mud and debris from the pocket, I found many, many more crystals inside. Its very rare to open a pocket and immediately see all kinds of crystals.
But it can happen! Look at this lovely pocket, freshly opened but not yet touched! A friend of mine broke into this treasure chest not two feet from my pocket. I can count at least 15 mud-covered crystals in this picture (hint: look for the triangular faces of the quartz points). Some of the crystals are the size of a baseball! How many more are buried in the mud? It will take several hours of careful digging (and perhaps a few cut fingers) to find out...
A nice natural cluster of three clear crystals. A "natural" cluster is a cluster which did not need to be glued back together. Most crystals come out of the pockets loose. Many of them have markings like fingerprints on them. Those markings are from where one crystal grew up against another one. By finding matching markings, you can reconstruct crystal clusters into long chains. These chains are how the crystals actually grew in the pocket. All of the large clusters you see for sale are reconstructed clusters --- a natural cluster of more than three or four acorn sized or larger crystals is very rare.
Here is another view of that cluster. The orange fence behind me is the commercial mining area. There is nothing special about this section of the mine --- you can find the same beautiful crystals anywhere on the Herkimer Diamond Mines property.
This is Jay Medici in front of the "fireplace" pocket. We called this pocket the fireplace pocket because it was about 3 feet in diameter with no dome inside --- the mouth looked just like a fireplace. It had one enormous skeletal crystal inside and a lot of smaller crystals. We filled three tubs with crystal-filled mud from this one pocket.
Jay and I moved all of the loose rock in this picture by hand in 42 days. Plus we collected out the pockets (38!), cut out five entire pockets, cleaned all the crystals, and reconstructed the clusters. The rock pile in the center of the pit is about 6 feet high.
This is perhaps the finest phantom crystal we found during the dig. We found only a couple of dozen good phantoms. Good means a clean outer crystal with a sharp, black inner crystal.
This is the finest skeletal crystal from our dig. It was featured on the cover of the May/June 2008 issue of Rocks and Minerals magazine. It is beautifully symmetrical and almost compeletly damage free. There is even a bit of matrix at the bottom (hidden by the two extra crystals in front). It is in my (Jeff Fasts) personal collection.
During the dig, Jay and I found about a dozen nice matrix specimens attached to the pocket floor. We tried to chisel three of them out. All three crystals shattered, leaving us with nothing. We used a diamond chain saw to cut out all of the other specimens. On September 30, Jay and I opened a pocket with a beautiful crystal attached to the side of the pocket dome. This particular crystal was large and especially clear. Even covered in mud inside the pocket you could tell it was a spectacular crystal. Unofrtunately, the matrix it was attached to would not budge. I knew if we tried to chisel the matrix out, the crystal would just shatter. So we hooked up the diamond chainsaw to cut the crystal out. Being the commercial digger for the mine has its privileges! Four careful cuts in the dome should have freed the crystal, but it did not. Another couple of cuts and suddenly it was free. And then a strange thing happened. A small piece of the dome --- with the crystal attached --- came free from the piece we had just cut. Here it is, a perfect specimen, without saw marks! It hasnt even been washed with water, and you can already see how good it is. I plan on celebrating its birthday every year for the rest of my life (okay, okay, Im a rock nut and I admit it)...
Heres the same piece after cleaning. The transparency of the crystal and the color of the matrix remind me of the best of the clear fluorites from Dalnegorsk, Russia (I made nine mineral buying trips to Dalnegorsk in the 90s). This crystal is about 3.5 inches across and is in my personal collection.