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Bisbee Arizona Chalcoalumite Story

Last Updated: 5th Oct 2019

By Rolf Luetcke

Bisbee Arizona Chalcoalumite Story
By Rolf Luetcke

When I lived in Bisbee and got to know the geologist Richard Graeme I was in a great place for minerals.
Over the years living in Bisbee I visited a few of the mines that were outlying but never was able to visit many of the famous mines since those had always been closed to access. I did gain access to some of the underground through some outlying mines that were not closed off when I lived in Bisbee but since then I have heard that access has been closed off. One midnight walk to the bottom of the Lavender Pit in the 1970’s is something I have never forgotten. It was an unworldly experience where there was nothing living growing inside the pit and the smells were chemical as opposed to natural. Quite an interesting experience and it gave me an idea what it may be like to walk on another planet.
One year I was talking to Richard and he told me of a place he had at one time run a brief Bisbee Mineral business for the copper company. It was a small shack that was next to the old Denn Mine. The building was small and didn’t have much space but outside was an open area where minerals could be placed. Richard had the people working with him bring him any interesting new finds and he himself brought material to this shack. The Phelps Dodge company had always had a very generous attitude toward minerals and had supplied museums with wonderful specimens from the Bisbee Mines.
The small shack was only in operation for a year or two and was closed since it was more time consuming than Richard was able to put in. He had told me where the small shack was and told me that if I went over on a Sunday, nobody would be around and I could pick up some of the rock that was lying outside of the shack. I visited the spot several times in the 1970’s and picked up a few loads of material that was lying about.
In doing so I became familiar with chalcoalumite. It was first discovered in Bisbee, the type locality for the mineral. Richard told me that the best specimens of chalcoalumite in the world came out of Bisbee. He also told me that the only place in Bisbee where the mineral was found was in the Holbrook Mine. Aparently there was one area where the chemistry was right to form chalcoalumite that was not found in other areas of Bisbee. The Holbrook Mine is just East of the Copper Queen and access to it was often made through the Queen mine in the early days of Bisbee. When the first pit was begun in Bisbee in 1917 it was to strip the overburden from the hill above the Sacramento Mine and access the ore body there. This open pit mine was one of the earliest in the country. Ore production began in 1923 and continued to 1929 with nine thousand tons taken to the smelter. The Holbrook externsion ended up being an extension of the later Lavender Pit and it consumed the Sacramento and all the mines of this area, including the Holbrook Mine. None of those mines now exist as a location and only the lower tunnels can be seen in the old Sacramento Pit.
The new species chalcoalumite was restricted to the Holbrook Mine and the Holbrook extension of the Lavender pit. I believe that the shack that Richard had for that short period probably was where much of the material that went out to the open mineral market came from.
In the material I brought home from his old shack was quite a bit of the lesser material containing chalcoalumite. The fine specimens with more of a covering with azurite and other minerals came from underground in the Holbrook Mine and were likely sold by Richard. The material I collected from Richards shack and posted photos of all came from the pit that had at one time been the Holbrook. Although the smaller pieces I found were not as asthetic as the larger pieces with a layer of the mineral, the smaller vugs I broke into had much nicer crystals. I think some of the better crystals of the species were in the kind of material that I found at the shack.
The listing of the species in Bisbee should all be for the Holbrook mine or the Holbrook extension of the Lavender Pit.
Not having lived in Bisbee since 1986, I have not ventured back to the area that Richard used to have his little shack. I have no idea if it is still in existance or if it has been removed, along with any of the specimens that had been there.
I thought I write down the brief history of the chalcoalumite for folks to enjoy. I was fortunate to have lived in Bisbee for 15 years and had made it to many of the locations when they were accesible.
In the material at the outside of the little shack was also massive iron oxide boulders with mostly goethite but ocasional pockets with azurite crystals. I brought home a bit of this material but it was quite hard and difficult to break. It did end up making interesting cutting material although it was very dirty to work. The best miniature specimen of azurite I found in Bisbee came from one of these boulders. I had just found it and was appreciating the pocket with a grouping of three centimeter size azurite crystals of perfect color and habit. At that exact time my neighbor, who worked underground in Bisbee was walking by and asked what I had found. I told him a wonderful azurite. He asked to see it and thinking he would know how to handle it let him hold it to get a look. He turned a bit to let sunlight hit the little pocket and before I could say anything, he ran a finger over the three crystals and snapped them off. I stood in silence and he said “kind of brittle, aren’t they”. I know he didn’t know anything about mineral specimens and I never said to him he had just ruined my best specimen. He just had a completely different way of thinking about minerals in his underground work. I did learn not to hand specimens I valued to people from that one experience.
All the photos of chalcoalumite I have were not actually collected by me but came from Richards stash at the little shack. In a round about way I did collect them but not at the actual mine location. A few also came from a miner in Bisbee, who’s collection we were fortunate enough to sell through our shop. I was able to purchase a few of the nicer chalcoalumite specimens from this collection.
Since then I have discovered chalcoalumite in mines of the Courtland area. The mineralization in Courtland was quite similar to Bisbee.

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