Friday, May 28, 2010

The Tsumeb Mine - A Crystal Paradise

Cerussite 'Honeycomb'

Cerussite (red) with Bayldonite and Calcite

Smithsonite with Hydrocerussite

Calcite with Cuprite inclusions

Malachite on Dolomite

Azurite on Cerussite

Cuprite on Copper

The Tsumeb Mine is arguably the finest mineral locality ever discovered. The ore-body produced a diverse range of specimens and spectacular crystals which were, and still are, sought after world-wide.

This website says of the Tsumeb orebody:

"Tsumeb offers one of the greatest varieties of mineral assemblages known. It produced 247 known species, plus 24 species still under investigation.

Of the minerals discovered in Tsumeb, 45 are known to occur solely there. But not only the rare finds boast of superlatives. The crystallization of most minerals is so perfect and aesthetic that 68 species from Tsumeb display the finest crystals known from any deposit.

Many localities have produced specimens generally considered to be the finest of the species ever found. However, most of the localities are known only for one or two species of this quality.

In comparison, Tsumeb exhibits more outstanding mineral specimens than most localities even contain minerals. These minerals provide the quality benchmark for every collector."

As I explained in an earlier post, I worked as a miner for 12 years at the Tsumeb Mine and during that time I was privileged to see many examples of these spectacular crystals.

I've stood in vugs surrounded by crystals, jewels glittering in my headlamp. I've seen men shiver with greed, fight over and risk their lives to get them - 'crystal fever' - and in truth, I was also overwhelmed on occasion, though not to the extreme I've just described.

The removal of mineral specimens was always a murky and controversial issue. Although it was considered theft and people could be fired if caught, everyone from laborers to managers carried them out.

There was a constant stream of European and American buyers in town, offering big bucks for top pieces.

The official policy was that the purpose of the mine was to mine ore, not preserve mineral specimens but, if found, miners were 'expected' to save and hand them over to the 'Company', so that they could be sold on auction - with no reward to the finder.

This presented a problem to those who also appreciated the specimens for their aesthetic value - it was unthinkable to just leave these unique crystals to be dumped into an ore-pass, to be destroyed in the crushers.

On the other hand, if they were handed over to the company, the best pieces would be skimmed off by greedy hands long before they reached any auction.

Today, twelve years years after the closure of the Tsumeb mine, the saddest aspect is that there are very few spectacular specimens in Namibia itself - most are to be found in private collections and museums overseas.

The first image is from the Sussman Collection and the rest from the John Schneider Collection - more specimens via Arkenstone Fine Minerals

All photos in this post by John Schneider.



  1. WOW! No wonder these crystals command high prices. can only imagine the 'crystal rush' making temperatures rise.

  2. Yes Keats, some people made a lot of money out of wheeling and dealing - it was interesting to see though, how peoples' characters changed when there was money involved ... and it still goes on at other mineral localities around the world ...

  3. These are wonderful. I have a lovely Malachite drop which I wear on a chain. I have had it since I was in my teens, so it has been around a while!! I wonder if it came from the Tsumeb mine? Diane

  4. Hey Diane - your Malachite drop probably came from a Zambian mine - Tsumeb never produced any 'jewelry-type' Malachite ...

  5. Thanks for another fascinating post! The colours are so vivid; have they been "enhanced" in any way by the photographers?

  6. Thanks Dave - no the colours are pretty accurate - I'm really impressed with these images because it's not easy to photograph crystals ...

  7. So typical that the crystals don't get to stay where they belong. The photos take my breath away. Thanks for yet another interesting visit.

  8. ... and thank you CG - yes, they are really good images, as I said earlier, it's not easy photographing crystals ...

  9. They crystals were truly beautiful. It can be almost unbelievable that such art creations came from deep underground.

    Now I also understand that they were actually discovered and rescued.

  10. I remember you writing about the mine but didn't recall the name. You said it was very hot down there - right?
    It's hard to tell how large these are but I imagine they are not going to fit in your pocket. Did you know workers that were fired over them?

  11. The azurite took my breath away, gorgeous!

  12. - Fazlisa - yes, but only a very small percentage of the crystals were actually rescued, the overwhelming majority were destroyed in the blasts ...

    - lisleman - disciplinary action was taken against those who were caught but I can't recall any cases of people being fired, though I'm almost sure there were ... most of the specimens pictured are quite small but for he larger pieces people invented all kinds of creative ways to smuggle them out ...

    - Lauri - yes, Azurite was one of the mine's most sought-after minerals, some of the best pieces are in the Smithsonian Museum I believe ...