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Thursday, January 10, 2013

Ed Swoboda, 1917-2013: Tribute to a Gem of a Miner

 Ed Swoboda
    
       On January 5, 2013, the jewelry, gem and mineral world lost a great person, and giant legend, Edward Swoboda.  Ed was a wonderful man and a huge inspiration for both myself and so many others.  I grew up reading the stories of his mining adventures, finds, and world-beater specimens in his collection.  Most people know Ed for his famous strike of blue-cap tourmalines with Bill Larson at the Tourmaline Queen Mine near Pala, California, in 1972.  But there is so much more to Ed's story.  Ed traveled the world in search of gems and minerals.  In his younger years he became friends with Peter Bancroft (Pete later became one of the worlds great mineralogists).  Ed and Pete made numerous trips to mine Benitoite in the 1930's at the Gem Mine near Coalinga in California.

Ed Swoboda at Benitoite Mine in California ca 1930's.
(Swoboda presentation photo)

        Ed went on to mine gems and minerals in Brazil, and helped in the World War II war effort in mining rock quartz crystals to be used in radio communication devices.  About 1945, Ed discovered what is still to this day regarded as the most important Brazilianite crystals ever found, at a locality called "Corrego Frio."

Brazilianite.
(Rob Lavinsky-irocks.com photo)

Ed Swoboda returned in 1980 and seen here inspecting spring 
at Brazilianite deposit which he mined years before in the 1940's.
Peter Bancroft photo.


       From what I can tell, Ed began making and selling semiprecious gemstone jewelry in the 1950's.  Ed then formed Swoboda, Inc., in 1962 and began commercially producing his jewelry with semiprecious gemstones and also produced beautifully designed gem trees.

Swoboda jewelry design using carved jade leaves, pearls and amethyst.
(web domain photo)

Swoboda Gem Trees
(web domain photo)

The gem trees were a personal favorite of Nancy Reagan, whose husband was Governor of California at the time.  Many credit Ed for being the first to use tumbled semiprecious gemstones in modern commercial jewelry.

 Swoboda Inc., jewelry design with carved jade leaves and red garnets.
(web domain photo)

 One of the Swoboda jewelry trademarks.
(web domain photo)

Swoboda Gem Tree, made of Tourmaline and matrix
specimen from the Stewart Mine, Pala, Calif.  Fabricated
about 1978, including 18-karat gold vermeil filigree work
for the branches.   9 1/2 inches high.  A beautiful
 masterpiece created from gems Ed found at his own mine.
(web domain photo) 

       In 1968, Ed purchased the Stewart Lithia, Tourmaline Queen and Pala Chief mines near Pala, California, and formed the company Pala Properties International with younger partner Bill Larson.  Ed and Bill, as Pala International, rediscovered the famous "lost" tourmaline adit at the Stewart Mine in 1969, and recovered a great deal of the finest gem-grade hot pink tourmaline there.  Mining attention was then focused higher up on the mountain at the Tourmaline Queen Mine where, in 1972, the finest tourmaline specimens ever found anywhere were discovered: the famous blue-capped rubellites.

 Ed Swoboda holding the "Candelabra" from the 
Tourmaline Queen Mine (see specimen in photo below)
(Swoboda presentation photo).

The famous "Candelabra" Tourmaline from the 1972 strike
made by Ed Swoboda and Bill Larson (Pala Properties Int'l) at
the Tourmaline Queen Mine at Pala, California.  It is now
in the permanent collection of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC.
(Smithsonian NMNH photo)


The famous "Rabbit Ears" bluecap Tourmaline from the
1972 Queen Mine find, found by Ed Swoboda and Bill Larson,
and first in the Ed Swoboda collection, and later sold to Perkin Sams,
now residing in the Houston Museum of Natural Science.
Houston Museum photo.

     In the early to mid 1970's, Ed Swoboda and Pala Intl reworked the old Amelia Mine at Santa Rosalia, Baja California, Mexico.  His main interest was in producing crystal matrix specimens of the rare minerals found here.  His efforts here unearthed "boleite crystals measuring up to 2.5 centimeters (equaling the largest known specimens) and superbly formed pseudoboleite crystals...As a result, this enterprise yielded the best-known matrices of boleite cubes...." (Peter Bancroft, Gem & Crystal Treasures, Western Enterprises, 1984, page 119).

Boleite crystal in Matrix, Amelia Mine, Santa Rosalia, Baja California, Mexico.
Boleite crystal measures 4mm; overall size of specimen is 2.8 cm.  
Christopher Wentzell collection & photo.

       Ed also made significant discoveries in 1982 of purple Adamite at the Ojuela Mine and in 1989 of Wulfenite & Mimetite at the San Francisco Mine, both in Mexico.  He also built several great mineral collections over the years and has, at one time or another, owned many of the worlds most famous specimens.

      Ed was the focus of a special program at the Westward Look show at Tucson in 2012.  He gave a wonderful illustrated presentation and was the first ever recipient of the American Mineral Heritage Award.  At the conclusion of his program, he was honored by a long standing ovation of applause.  I would not have missed it for the world and will never forget it.  This memorable event was captured on dvd which is available from BlueCap Productions.  Consider getting a copy, I think you will certainly enjoy it as I did.
 Ed Swoboda holding a "Bluecap" tourmaline matrix
specimen from his 1972 finds at the Tourmaline Queen
Mine (closeup below)  This photo was taken at his
wonderful presentation at the Westward Look at Tucson in 2012.

Ed Swoboda was the first recipient of the American Mineral
Heritage Award at the Westward Look, Feb. 2012.  The award
was established by The Mineralogical Record for achievements in
field collecting and recognizes those individuals whose personal
discoveries of minerals have contributed significantly to the heritage of
American minerals in museums and private collections worldwide.
(Christopher Wentzell photos).


       In the early 1990's Ed told me about a location in Mexico, an old "lost" mine, that he never got the chance to search for but wanted to.  Sometime in the next few years I am hoping to begin my search for it.  I am quite jealous of Ed passing over before me, because he will undoubtedly be the first to make yet many, many more mineral discoveries where he has gone, and where we will all go eventually.  Even several days after hearing of his passing, I am still quite numb about the reality that he is no longer physically here.  However, what makes this great loss somewhat bearable is knowing that someday I will join him to dig along with other friends whom are no longer here.  Until then there is certainly another angel watching over us in the mineral world.  I can truly say this, he was a gem of a miner and will be greatly missed and remembered.  May you rest in peace, Ed, and find some wonderful new treasures where you have gone.


For anyone who is interested, here are some links for more information about Ed Swoboda:

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