This article is a reprint from Turquoise in America Part One The Great American Turquoise Rush 1890-1910 and compares different time periods of turquoise production in the U.S. Numbers are sourced from the USGS Mineral Resources of the United States. The numbers are certainly understated but are useful for comparison purposes.
Production in 1940 was reported at $20,000. By 1955, the only amount reported, $20,000, was from the Lone Mountain mine in Nevada, owned by Lee Hand. Interest in turquoise and American Indian jewelry increased during the 70s, 80s, and beyond, creating a boom in production during the 70s. No production numbers were reported in the 1970s except for the years 1974–1977:
1974 – $2,000,000
1975 – $5,200,000
1976 – $3,900,000
1977 – $4,500,000
From 1978 until late 1980, only sporadic reports on turquoise production exist. This changed beginning in 1990:
1990 – $1,105,000
1991 – $ 611,000
1992 – $1,994,000
1993 – $3,040,000
1994 – $1,710,000
By the end of the 1990s, production had fallen to almost nothing but had begun to pick up by the middle of the decade, ranging around $450,000 annually through 2011. Then a new bull market in turquoise emerged that has continued to the present (2016), with production in 2011 of $1,330,000, 2012 of $1,320,000, and in 2013 $1,310,000. All production numbers come from the MRUS annual report on gemstones.
Although impressive on a nominal basis, the production numbers do not show the relative value of past production to current values. When we factor in the effect of inflation over the century since The Great American Turquoise Rush, we see why that span must be considered the greatest turquoise production period in U.S. history. In 1894, production was at the low ebb of the entire period at $30,000, yet in 2016 dollars that would be about $822,000, assuming an annual inflation rate of 3 percent. At peak production in 1909, the equivalent dollar amount today would be about $4.2MM, which is three times current production amounts.
The only time comparable values have been produced since The Great American Turquoise Rush occurred between 1974 and 1977 and between 1990 and 1994. In today’s dollars, 1993’s peak would be worth over $6MM. The all-time record for turquoise production in the United States is 1975 at $5.2MM for all grades of turquoise, worth almost $17MM today. The booms of the 1970s and 1990s were short-lived compared with the two-decades-long Great American Turquoise Rush. The total official turquoise production of 1891 to 1909 was $1,743,699, with an average of $91,775 per year. This would be worth about $2.75MM in today’s dollars. As stated earlier, these estimates are probably understated. Other estimates range from $4MM-8MM over the entire period, which at the lower amount would have been worth over $97MM today—or an annual average of over $6MM in current value.
(Turquoise in America Part One The Great American Turquoise Rush 1890-1910 will be published in a Revised Edition by Callais Press in the Summer of 2021).