A Test for Truth Tellers

    After the London conference, one of the ADC’s constant dilemmas was the need to secure financing without misrepresenting its achievements.  On one hand, the company was accumulating an impressive number of diamonds for the effort expended—about 1,000 by the end of 1909, totaling some 500 carats.[1]  Those averaged only about 10% gem quality, typical of mines overall, but were recognized for their extraordinary luster and brilliance.  Although surface finds included a high percentage of broken, cracked, pitted, or carbon-laced specimens, Arkansas diamonds also proved to be of superior industrial grade, much harder than the average.[2]  They were relatively inexpensive to produce because of readily available water, wood, cheap labor, and other local resources.[3]

    Yet, the mere quality of Arkansas diamonds, however impressive, had little effect on investors.  In April 1910 Charles Stifft took a fine display to jewelers in New York City’s Maiden Lane district, so they could be shown to importers and manufacturers, and no doubt to financial interests as well.  He reportedly told New Yorkers that although the development of the Arkansas field “had been proceeding cautiously,” results had been “so favorable thus far that a complete mining plant, similar to that of the De Beers Company,” was about to be installed.  From this, the New York Times inferred the diamond display was an effort to demonstrate “that Arkansas is the coming rival of South Africa.”[4]

    The jewelers’ response, however, underscored the skepticism prevailing outside of Arkansas.  “Maiden Lane’s experts admitted that the Arkansas diamonds are equal in quality to the best from South Africa or any other part of the world,” said the Times.  “The only differences of opinion were as to whether the volcanic pipe found in Arkansas really contains diamonds in sufficient abundance to make the mines important.”[5]


    Always uncomfortable with promotion, Reyburn, Stifft, and Cohn now grew even more reluctant to engage in aggressive salesmanship.  The aberrant flare of confidence in January 1909 would never be repeated.  In the speculative climate of the time, the Little Rock group again appeared curiously restrained.[6]


    In contrast, the geologists and other professionals working with the Little Rock trio remained less reserved; and John T. Fuller, the ADC’s new director of operations, stood out as the boldest of the group.  Drawing from six years experience in South Africa, he believed the surface concentration reflected commercial potential in the undisturbed matrix below.[7]  Although his private reports always acknowledged the unusually high yield of the dark topsoil at some point, even in private he usually failed to distinguish between surface and matrix while using test averages as a tentative indicator of commercial success.  Fuller’s report to the ADC in January 1909, for instance, said at one point, “By taking the very incomplete records which were kept of a few washing operations carried out, the indications are an average yield of 0.21 carats per load of sixteen cubic feet [21 per hundred loads].  This fact, however, has not been sufficiently demonstrated to be accepted.”[8]

    Using one of South Africa’s lowest producing mines as a model, Fuller told the ADC he thought diamond yield on the big southeast slope would be “at least as good as the [current] Jager Fontein average of 0.13 carats per load.”  Then he restated the standard caveat:  “It is to be distinctly understood that sufficient data from this Arkansas ‘pipe’ has not been obtained to estimate [precisely] on the number of carats per load, and that much data is only obtainable by actually operation [sic; operating] on a large scale for a long period of time.”  He had used 0.13 carats per load “to illustrate how great the possibilities are.”[9]


    More noticeably, Fuller’s annual reports in the Engineering and Mining Journal, 1909-1914, often exhibited a distinct promotional slant—no doubt because the ADC was trying to raise money for his proposed full-scale test.  Here, again, he left the impression that limited testing of the pipe had averaged within a high commercial range.  In the initial report of January 1909, he wrote, “Test runs from certain parts of the Arkansas pipe indicate at least 0.21 carats per load of 16 cu. ft., which may be considered a most excellent average if it can be maintained.”  The report for 1910 said that from 145 loads washed in the small test plant, “142 diamonds weighing 53.56 carats were obtained, thus making an average of 0.369 carat per load.”[10]

    John Fuller’s most comprehensive statement appeared in his brief summary of January 1912, written as he gave up full-time employment with the ADC and sought other work.  Referring to the ADC’s property, he said without qualification:  “Five years have now elapsed since the finding of the first diamond on these fields.  During this period one ‘pipe’ has been proved to contain diamonds in payable quantity, the ‘washings’ to date having shown 28 carats per 100 loads of 16 cu. ft.”[11]

    Years later, such comments would be taken out of context often, especially by various groups trying to raise money to retest the pipe.[12]  But at the time, they had no significant impact on investors.  The situation at the Arkansas diamond field was too well known.




[1] Fuller, “Arkansas Diamond Fields in 1909,” 767.  As the ADC’s mining engineer and then as its general manager, Fuller reported the diamond count along with other significant information about the main field and the deposits in the hills.  Fuller’s basic information was included in the annual summaries in Mineral Resources of the United States, 1908-, Part 2 (Washington:  Government Printing Office, 1909-), 815-816, 757-759 (1910 publication), 858 (1911), 1047 (1912), 1037 (1913).

    The total number of diamonds recovered during the early commercial era is difficult to estimate.  Taking all available data into consideration, about 20,000 seems maximal.  Miser and Ross, Contributions, 318, reported the ADC’s property “had produced about 3,000 diamonds by the end of 1920.”  Reyburn and Zimmerman, in 1920, simply said, “In an occurrence of peridotite in Pike County, Ark., more than 2,000 diamonds have been found” (“Diamonds in Arkansas,” 983).  Ferguson, Minerals in Arkansas (1922), 56, citing “the best information that is available,” reported “at least 5,000 diamonds were found up to the end of 1919” (reported earlier in B. H. Stoddard, “Gems and Precious Stones,” Mineral Resources, 1919, Part 2 [Washington:  Govt. Printing Office, 1922], 170]).  The more reliable records for 1920-1931 indicated about 13,000 more from the big slope (Fuller, “Estimate of Unit Value,” in “Reports and Information,” 36).

    Still, some sources have suggested 30,000 to 48,000 for the entire diamond field, and the lower figure is clearly the more reliable within that range (the Arkansas Centennial Commission’s memorial, placed beside the Pike County Court House in 1936, used 48,000).  State Geologist George C. Branner’s statement in 1942 reflected the general uncertainty as well as the tendency to cite high numbers:  “Production figures are incomplete, but it is estimated that approximately 48,000 stones with an average weight of one-fourth carat, have been produced . . ..” (Branner, Arkansas Natural Resources, 116).  Cf. the Arkansas Gazette’s  report in 1949, apparently citing geologists at the State Geology Division:  from 1907 to 1930, companies “mined a total of 14,026 stones weighing 7,844.6 carats” (article reprinted as “Corporation Gives Up on Mining Arkansas Diamonds,” Pike County Courier, November 25, 1949, p. 1).

    Although the New York Times greatly understated diamond production, it further illustrated the uncertainty in the late 1920s:  “The exact production of Arkansas diamonds remains unknown.  The Department of Geology asserts, however, that at least 5,300 diamonds have been mined, most of which have been held by the companies mining them” (“Diamond Mining in Arkansas Has Gone on For Twenty Years,” March 11, 1928, Sec. 9, p. 10).  Cf. an earlier statement of the Times :  “According to the official reports one of the Arkansas diamond mines has yielded 3,000 stones and another 1,000 in a single year” (“Diamonds Have Been Found in Eleven American States,” March 28, 1926, Sec. 9, p. 15).

    For further perspective of the difficulty, see Mary L. Gibson, compiler, Mineral Production Statistics of Arkansas for the Period 1880-1935, Information Circular 9 (Little Rock:  State of Arkansas, Geological Survey, 1936), i, 25, 27, 29, 57, 81, 115 (published as a separate booklet and also in a hardback collection of Circulars No. 7-9, by the Arkansas Geological and Conservation Commission).  State severance-tax records provided very limited information about diamond production.


[2] Kunz and Washington, “Notes on the Forms of Arkansas Diamonds, American Journal of Science (1907), 276, said of the first 140 or so diamonds collected, almost all from the surface:  “Inclusions are present in some of the stones, especially in the gray ones, and are apparently mostly of hematite, and in one case of what appear to be rutile needles.  Several of the diamonds show rough and irregular indentations, as if they had formed or been attached to surfaces that were not smooth; while a very large proportion, possibly one half, are fractured.”

    Miser & Ross, “Diamond-Bearing Peridotite in Pike County, Arkansas,” Economic Geology, 673, cites A.Q. Millar on the color distribution:  whites, 40%; yellows, 22%; browns, 37%; bort, 1%.  “Stones have been found with a blue or pink tinge and occasionally a ‘frosted’ or etched white is noticeable in the recoveries. . . .” (ibid.).  “Fragments and fractures are much more noticeable when mining is being done in surface material, but with slight depth in the volcanic ground these features were almost absent” (673-674).  Millar’s comment about color, tinge, and frost became the standard (e.g., “Diamond Mining in Arkansas Has Gone on For Twenty Years,” New York Times, March 11, 1928, Sec. 9, p. 10).

    Reflecting John Fuller’s influence, the Times added, “It is claimed that these diamonds are equal to the finest stones mined at the Jagersfontein mine in Africa” (notice George Kunz’s similar statement in the Times, “Mule That Found Diamonds,” July 8, 1923, Sec. 6, p. 5).  Fuller used the Jagersfontein, which he knew firsthand, as a comparative model while trying to predict the commercial potential of the ADC’s property.  Much earlier, in January 1909, he had made his strongest statement about the quality of Arkansas diamonds:  “The stones are of exceptional hardness and brilliance, and will bear more than favorable comparison in quality with the diamonds produced in any part of the world” (Fuller, Report to ADC, in “Reports and Information,” 26).  Such remarks appeared in virtually all reports after 1906.  Comparisons usually rated Arkansas diamonds “equal to” or “as fine as,” rather than assert superiority.

    George C. Branner, State Geologist, later made the most judicious statement about the percentage of gem-quality diamonds:  “8 to 10 per cent” (Arkansas Natural Resources [1942],116).  Schenck and Van Haelen, (infra, “George Vitt’s Analysis”) and Miser and Ross, Contributions, 320-321, are consistent with that estimate.  Howard Millar’s later comments about gem quality in the Mauney and Ozark Mines have no credibility, especially the “approximately eighty percent” in his memoir (Howard A. Millar, It was Finders Keepers at America’s Only Diamond Mine [New York: Carlton Press, 1976], 113).  When John Sinkankas questioned Millar in the 1950s, the answer was “70% classified as industrials and 30% gem quality” (Gemstones of North America, 37).

    One of the earliest comments on quality, in 1907, reflected the excitement of that first year.  “The remarkable feature of the Pike county [sic] finds up to date, however, is in the larger percentages of marketable gems. . . . Of the 140 diamonds or more found in Pike county, it is claimed that 65 per cent are above the average of marketable gems, and the remaining 35 per cent, although small and off color, are still marketable, it is alleged” (“Diamonds Genuine,” Nashville News, August 10, 1907, p. 3).  Eventually, this proved true, but not in the regular market:  because of their unusual luster and typical polished appearance, Arkansas diamonds in the rough always sold well as souvenirs and uncut centerpieces for jewelry.


[3] Consulting geologists and mining engineers almost invariably emphasized these cost savings in their evaluations.  Fuller to ADC, in “Reports and Information,” 28, provided a thorough summary.


[4] “Arkansas Diamonds Here,” New York Times, May 2, 1910, p. 8; reprinted as “Diamonds of Pike–Passed On By Experts in New York,” Nashville News, May 7, 1910, p. 2.  The display of “real American diamonds” included both rough and cut specimens.


[5] “Arkansas Diamonds Here,” NN, ibid.


[6] One noticeable instance of promotional phrasing occurred in the published article of April 1920 co-authored by Reyburn and his new mining engineer, after the ADC secured ample funding for a full-scale test.  Discussing the problematic gumbo, the authors said:  “Examination of this surface material indicates the possibility and probability of a concentration of diamonds, as it contains a concentration of the highly unalterable minerals derived from the peridotite. . . . Numerous test pits have been dug, and during the last fourteen years several thousand loads of the surface clay and gravels, as well as the soft disintegrated rock, have been washed , from which many diamonds have been recovered” (Reyburn and Zimmerman, “Diamonds in Arkansas,” EMJ, 984).


[7] This was Fuller’s conviction from the beginning.  His report to Loree in June 1908 concluded:  “I am of the opinon, however, that the underlying peridotite will prove rich enough to be worked at considerable profit and that the surface indications fully justify the expenditure of considerable money to prove this to be so” (in “Reports and Information,” 19).  As other geologists, Fuller failed to understand how much erosion of the pipe it had taken to accumulate that diamond-rich surface layer.  While aware diamonds might have washed down the slope to the base, thereby increasing the concentration at that lower level, he failed to consider that under local circumstances diamonds tended to stay in place on the entire slope rather than migrate on down to the river—and thus created a false impression of the yield per ton of eroded material.


[8] Report to ADC, January 1, 1909, in “Reports and Information,” 27.


[9] Ibid., 31.


[10] Fuller, “Diamond Mine in Pike County Arkansas” (1909), 155; “Arkansas Diamond Field in 1910,” 6.  Cf. Fuller’s comprehensive mining report of 1931, which listed averages he had available for 1907-1912, including both “surface” and “peridotite” tests (in “Reports and Information,” 36).  His average in the EMJ for 1910 clearly was surface material.

    Typically, items in the Nashville News simply commented on numbers of diamonds found, without reference to surface or matrix.  The dominant surface production is clear, however, in view of the overall record.  In 1910, the year of Fuller’s 0.369 per ton average, the headlines of May 21, 1910 reported:  “11 Diamonds Found–On the Reyburn-Stifft Property in Pike–In One Pan of Dirt” (p. 1).  Similarly, “Washing for Diamonds in Pike County,” News, December 10, 1910, p. 1, commented on the continuing trend on the ADC’s property (“. . . daily finds of stones are being made, the lowest number found on one day being eight, and the largest thirty-five.  The washing is being done with very crude machinery, and is an indication of what may be expected when the modern machinery which has been purchased by the company is installed”). 

    In his circumstances, Fuller, the ADC’s general manager, engaged in a practice found commonly among geologists and other mining interests in those days—one that often led writers to either downplay the negative features of a property or ignore them entirely.  Sometimes, it was described as “getting up a good report.”  Fuller, however, was a man driven by conviction and self-assurance:  he believed the surface represented the commercial potential below—at least it did somewhere on the big southeast slope.   As he once put it, “At present the outlook for great progress in these fields during 1911 is not promising although I am confident of ultimate success” (“Arkansas Diamond Field in 1910,” 6).  John Fuller apparently felt future success would blot out any misrepresentations he might make during these early years.


[11] Fuller, “The Arkansas Diamond Field [in 1911],” 6.


[12] The Arkansas Geological Survey (AGS), for instance, began citing Fuller’s 1909 article by 1931, and the AGS’s literature was in turn circulated by mining interests (“Extract” from “Outlines of Arkansas Mineral Resources,” AGS, 1927, 1931, in II, Periodicals, Crater archive).  In his comprehensive report on the ADC’s property in 1931, Fuller revealed a bit of displeasure with those already using his statements without qualifying them (“John T. Fuller’s Estimate of Unit Value in Carats Per Load, 1931,” in “Reports and Information,” 35).


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