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 Quicksilver in California

Contemporaneous with the development of the gold mines of California came the discovery of the gold-minors assistant, the quicksilver of New Almaden. This liquid metal is almost indispensable in the mining of gold and silver, and it is a most happy condition of circumstances that all the metals should exist in the same country and in such quantities. Seldom has there been found in the world such a grand deposit of cinnabar as existed at New Almaden, which for more than twenty years supplied the gold mines of California and the silver mines of Nevada with quicksilver, besides furnishing large quantities for export. During this prolific period the price of the metal was from forty to seventy-five cents per pound, at which comparatively low rate large fortunes were made in its extraction. From this mine has been taken during the twenty-five years of its operation, 583,200 flasks of quicksilver of seventy-six and a half pounds each, or 44,614,800 pounds. The mines of New Almaden do not furnish the quantity nor the quality of ore of former years. In 1850 the ore returned thirty-six per cent of quicksilver, and 23,875 flasks were produced, while at the present time the production does not exceed 15,000 flasks annually, and the percentage is under ten. The quicksilver mines of Idria, in Austria, return about two per cent, and those of Almaden, in Spain, about eight per cent.

The New Idria quicksilver mines were discovered in 1853, by prospectors in search of silver. They are in the southwestern part of Fresno County, on the eastern slope of the Mount Diablo range. The principal veins are the Idria, San Carlos, Cerro Benito, Panoche, and Molino. The product from these mines is from 7,000 to 12,000 flasks per annum, the former figures covering the amount for some years past, though recently mining has been pushed with vigor.

The Redington mines were discovered in 1861, and from 1862 have been quite vigorously worked. They are situated in the southeastern part of Lake County, and the thriving town of Knoxville has grown up about them. For several years the product of the Redington mines was about 5,000 flasks annually, but recently, under the stimulus of high prices and freedom from a contract that limited production, the amount has largely increased.

The three mining companies named have been the principal quicksilver producers previous to the year 1874, and absolutely governed the market. During that year the price of the metal had rapidly appreciated and it is now a cash article at 80 to 85 per pound. This advance in price, and new discoveries being made, a quicksilver mining excitement was the consequence, and a large number of mines are now worked as a consequence. The Coast Range system of mountains is the principal field of the prospector, and from Lake County in the north, to Santa Barbara in the south, many veins of cinnabar have been found. The locations and companies organized are very numerous, and without our range to detail, but promise to bring forward Lake, Sonoma, Colusa, Solano, Napa, Santa Clara, San Benito, Fresno, Monterey, San Luis Obispo, and Santa Barbara as prominent mining counties. In several of the counties named extensive and expensive furnaces have boon erected, the returns from many of which indicate the most favorable results. At Cambria, in San Luis Obispo County, very promising developments have been made. In the range of mountains along the borders of Sonoma and Lake Counties, at Pine Flat, are the Rattlesnake, Flagstaff, Oakland, Annie-Belcher, Sonoma, and many others, that give high promise, and from some has already commenced to flow the stream of quicksilver which is so much needed in the gold and silver mining of the Pacific Coast. The Oakville, Washington, Valley, and other mines of Napa County have shipped considerable quantities of quicksilver, and will hereafter figure in the statistics of production. Recent reports announce rich quicksilver mines in Del Norte County. As silver and gold mining extends, the demand for quicksilver increases, and as those interests are rapidly extending the recent quicksilver discoveries seem most providential.

California Gazetteer | AHGP California

Source: Pacific Coast Business Directory for 1876-78, Compiled by Henry G. Langley, San Francisco, 1875

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