Bisbee Turquoise History

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The vast majority of Bisbee Turquoise came to surface when the Phelps Dodge Corporation started open pit
mining operations at the location now known as the Lavender Pit, especially the eastern side of the pit. Large amounts of a conglomerate rock bed needed to be removed before the deeper located copper ore could be reached. Within this conglomerate/waste rock is where most quantities of the turquoise was located, both in vein and nugget form. Bisbee Turquoise can be found is many different shades of color and quality, from soft, low quality pail blue, to the hardest, most brilliant blue turquoise that can be found any where in the world, and most every shade of blue in between. Green turquoise is also found in Bisbee, but is not usually of very high quality.

During the time that the largest quantities of turquoise were being extracted from the mine, the company made no
organized effort to recover it. It simply got loaded into large dump trucks and hauled off to the dumps. During this time (primarily through the mid-50s into the mid-60s), almost all recovered turquoise was made by company employees, taking it home in their lunch boxes, etc. Though this activity was prohibited, it was only vaguely enforced. Depending on where the shovels were digging after blasting operations, large quantities of turquoise would be exposed, with many pieces too large to carry. Being sometimes alone, out of sight and out of mind, truck drivers and security guards were able to do quite well in gathering turquoise, though many didn't do so.

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Most of the turquoise was dumped on the northern area of the dumps, along Arizona Highway 80 across from the Bisbee suburb called Saginaw, and in lesser quantities in an area known as South Bisbee. After the dumping activities in these areas were full, the company began dumping waste rock in other locations. At this time, individuals outside the company began sneaking onto the dumps and hunting for the turquoise. Though this activity was illegal (trespassing, and a large liability to the company), these individuals are responsible for recovering much fine Bisbee turquoise, recovering it from exposure, and from the leaching effect of chemical water being filtered through the dumps to extract copper downstream. For several years (mostly the mid-60s to early 70s), these individuals locally know as dumpers, (the author of this article was one), were the only source for this fine Turquoise.

The highest-grade rock was never abundant. Present day illegal dumping activity is only recovering small amounts of any rock, especially high grade, and it seldom goes up for sale. Hard and glossy, with its distinctive bright blue color, and dark, chocolate brown matrix, high grade Bisbee Blue turquoise is exceptionally beautiful, and is unparalled with any turquoise found any where in the world.

Today in and around Bisbee and under the Mule Mountains are over 1500 miles of tunnels and shafts along with the now famous Lavender Pit.

Bisbee Turquoise Knife Collection | Bisbee Mining Museum

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Bisbee Turquoise

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