When we talk about Lapis Lazuli we immediately think of Afghanistan or Siberian lapis. Even Chilean lapis, but there also exists a Lapis Lazuli from Colorado, USA. It is known to be of fairly good quality. Regretfully the Colorado mines are closed. Here is its story..
The North Italian Mountain near Crested Butte has an outstanding vein of Lapis Lazuli. There´s even a mine of the opaque blue gemstone in a remote 12,700 foot high valley along upper Cement Creek. An open cut into a hillside on North Italian Mountain where Lapis Lazuli had been mined from the 1940s to the 1990s.
The Crested Butte Lapis Lazuli, was once labeled “among the best the world has ever seen”. It was discovered in 1939 and closed down in the 1990´s. Crested Butte Lapis Lazuli ranges in color from dark blue-black to royal blue to also light denim blue.
The Blue Wrinkle
Although the Afghans have been mining their lapis for 6,000 years, selling it to the Egyptians who used it to make jewelry and talismans, the Indians who put it in the Taj mahal, and the Chinese who used it in screens, nobody knew the Colorado deposit was there until 1940, when Gunnison character Carl Anderson discovered it on his mountain property.
Known as “The Blue Wrinkle”, his makeshift mine had the following sign:THIS PROPERTY BELONGS TO A MADMAN. HE´S A DEAD SHOT. NO DIGGING Click To Tweet
For a while, the Colorado Lapis Lazuli was brought down and sold in gift stores in Crested Butte and Gunnison. Some claimed it even cured snakebites. But lately the Colorado lapis movement has ground to a halt.
Carl Anderson was a mine-prospector. He was high on North Italian Mountain, heading back to work at the Star Mine, when a cold autumn rainstorm sent him seeking shelter in a gulch at about 12,700 feet.
One story says he was drunk and fell off his horse; another says he just headed into the ravine to get out of the rainstorm. It´s probably a bit of both. The rain had polished the blue face of some exposed lapis, catching Carl´s eye. He knocked off a chip with a hammer and a few days later he tested it and to his amazement, it was Lapis Lazuli.
After having identification notified, he returned to the mountainside above the gulch. He started digging and he found the main vein about three or four feet under dirt and eventually followed it for several hundreds yards around the mountain.
The lapis caught unmediated attention due that it was the first gem-quality Lapis Lazuli in the United States. Several authorities have pronounced it lapis of the finest quality. Mr. Whitmore, of the Smithsonian Institute, has said, “It has the color and is also equal to any of the specimens of this mineral from any of the localities represented in our collection”.
Carl staked some claims and worked the area with pick and shovel every summer for three decades.
Carl died thirty years after discovering lapis. His son Andre took over the claims. Andre worked on the blue vein for another decade. He was the poet who wrote the sign above.
Andre grew ill in the late 1970´s and apparently sold the mine to fund heart surgery. He died in 1981 and sold the mine to Anchor Gas. He left $69,000 to Gunnison Library to establish a room for music and story telling.
Under Anchor Gas, the Blue Wrinkle entered a new era, as the company brought in earthmovers to replace handpicks and cut deeps into the hillside of Paleozoic sediment.
In the early 1980´s Colorado lapis brought more attention after an Associated Press article proclaimed it “among the best Lapis Lazuli the world has ever seen”. After that, headlines hit newspapers across the west, from Tulsa to Denver to Rapid City: “Remote Colorado Mountain yields world´s best lapis”.
However, Anchor Gas found diminishing return on its investment and closed the mine. Gary Christopher bought the Blue Wrinkle in 1991 and occasionally worked it on his own before closing it down for good. He donated the Blue Wrinkle´s prize pieces of lapis, a 37 pound polished slab dating back to the Anderson era, to the Denver Museum of Nature and Science.
I am always delighted to learn about different sources of my beloved Lapis Lazuli. Who knows if in the near future new lapis mines are discovered. Keep your fingers crossed…