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Diamond hoax of 1872

Diamond hoax of 1872

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The diamond hoax of 1872 was a swindle in which a pair of prospectors sold a false American diamond deposit to prominent businessmen in San Francisco
San Francisco, California
San Francisco , officially the City and County of San Francisco, is the financial, cultural, and transportation center of the San Francisco Bay Area, a region of 7.15 million people which includes San Jose and Oakland...

 and New York
New York
New York is a state in the Northeastern region of the United States. It is the nation's third most populous state. New York is bordered by New Jersey and Pennsylvania to the south, and by Connecticut, Massachusetts and Vermont to the east...

. It also triggered a brief diamond
In mineralogy, diamond is an allotrope of carbon, where the carbon atoms are arranged in a variation of the face-centered cubic crystal structure called a diamond lattice. Diamond is less stable than graphite, but the conversion rate from diamond to graphite is negligible at ambient conditions...

 prospecting craze in the western USA, in Arizona
Arizona ; is a state located in the southwestern region of the United States. It is also part of the western United States and the mountain west. The capital and largest city is Phoenix...

, New Mexico
New Mexico
New Mexico is a state located in the southwest and western regions of the United States. New Mexico is also usually considered one of the Mountain States. With a population density of 16 per square mile, New Mexico is the sixth-most sparsely inhabited U.S...

, Utah
Utah is a state in the Western United States. It was the 45th state to join the Union, on January 4, 1896. Approximately 80% of Utah's 2,763,885 people live along the Wasatch Front, centering on Salt Lake City. This leaves vast expanses of the state nearly uninhabited, making the population the...

, Wyoming
Wyoming is a state in the mountain region of the Western United States. The western two thirds of the state is covered mostly with the mountain ranges and rangelands in the foothills of the Eastern Rocky Mountains, while the eastern third of the state is high elevation prairie known as the High...

, and Colorado
Colorado is a U.S. state that encompasses much of the Rocky Mountains as well as the northeastern portion of the Colorado Plateau and the western edge of the Great Plains...



In 1871, veteran prospector
Prospecting is the physical search for minerals, fossils, precious metals or mineral specimens, and is also known as fossicking.Prospecting is a small-scale form of mineral exploration which is an organised, large scale effort undertaken by mineral resource companies to find commercially viable ore...

s and cousins Philip Arnold
Philip Arnold
Philip Arnold was a confidence trickster from Elizabethtown, Kentucky, and the brains behind the legendary diamond hoax of 1872, which fooled people into investing in a phony diamond mining operation...

 and John Slack traveled to San Francisco. They reported a diamond mine
Diamond Mine
Diamond Mine is the second album by Blue Rodeo, released in 1989. It includes several instrumental interludes by Bob Wiseman between songs.-Track listing:All songs by Greg Keelor and Jim Cuddy.#"Swells"#"God and Country" – 3:32#"How Long" – 3:59...

 and produced a bag full of diamonds. They deposited the diamonds in the vault of the Bank of California
Bank of California
The Bank of California was opened in San Francisco, California, on July 4, 1864, by William Chapman Ralston. It was the first commercial bank in the Western United States, the second-richest bank in the nation, and considered instrumental in developing the American Old West.-History:The ancestor of...


Prominent financiers convinced the reluctant Arnold and Slack to speak. The cousins offered to lead investigators to the Wyoming
Wyoming is a state in the mountain region of the Western United States. The western two thirds of the state is covered mostly with the mountain ranges and rangelands in the foothills of the Eastern Rocky Mountains, while the eastern third of the state is high elevation prairie known as the High...

 field. Investors hired a mining engineer to examine the field. From a railroad stop in western Wyoming, Arnold and Slack led the inspection party to a huge field with various gems on the ground. Tiffany's evaluated the stones as being worth $150,000.

When the engineer made his report, more businessmen expressed interest. They included General George S. Dodge, Horace Greeley
Horace Greeley
Horace Greeley was an American newspaper editor, a founder of the Liberal Republican Party, a reformer, a politician, and an outspoken opponent of slavery...

, Asbury Harpending
Asbury Harpending
Asbury Harpending , an adventurer and financier in California, Mexico and New York City.Born in Hopkinsville, Kentucky, at the age of fifteen he was sent to college but within the year he ran away to join the filibuster of General William Walker, to Nicaragua but his party was intercepted by...

, George McClellan
George B. McClellan
George Brinton McClellan was a major general during the American Civil War. He organized the famous Army of the Potomac and served briefly as the general-in-chief of the Union Army. Early in the war, McClellan played an important role in raising a well-trained and organized army for the Union...

, William C. Ralston, Baron von Rothschild
Rothschild family
The Rothschild family , known as The House of Rothschild, or more simply as the Rothschilds, is a Jewish-German family that established European banking and finance houses starting in the late 18th century...

, and Charles Tiffany of Tiffany and Co. They convinced the cousins to sell their interest for $660,000 and formed their own mining company. Financiers sent mining engineer Henry Janin, who bought stock in the company, to reevaluate the find, and he sent the press wildly optimistic reports.

Government geologist Clarence King
Clarence King
Clarence R. King was an American geologist, mountaineer, and art critic. First director of the United States Geological Survey, from 1879 to 1881, King was noted for his exploration of the Sierra Nevada. He was born in Newport, Rhode Island.-Career:...

 and two other geologists inspected the unusual field. King concluded that the site had been salted, and notified investors.

Further investigation showed Arnold and Slack bought cheap cast-off diamonds, refuse of gem cutting, in London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

 and Amsterdam
Amsterdam is the largest city and the capital of the Netherlands. The current position of Amsterdam as capital city of the Kingdom of the Netherlands is governed by the constitution of August 24, 1815 and its successors. Amsterdam has a population of 783,364 within city limits, an urban population...

 for $35,000 and scattered them to "salt" the ground. Most of the gems were originally from South Africa
South Africa
The Republic of South Africa is a country in southern Africa. Located at the southern tip of Africa, it is divided into nine provinces, with of coastline on the Atlantic and Indian oceans...


Arnold returned to his home in Elizabethtown, Kentucky
Elizabethtown, Kentucky
Elizabethtown is a city in and the county seat of Hardin County, Kentucky, United States. The population was 28,531 at the 2010 census, making it the eleventh-largest city in the state...

 and became a successful businessman and banker. Diamond-company investors sued him, and he settled the cases for an undisclosed sum. Years later he died of pneumonia
Pneumonia is an inflammatory condition of the lung—especially affecting the microscopic air sacs —associated with fever, chest symptoms, and a lack of air space on a chest X-ray. Pneumonia is typically caused by an infection but there are a number of other causes...

 after he was wounded in a shootout with a rival banker.

John Slack dropped from public view. He moved to St. Louis, where he owned a casket
A coffin is a funerary box used in the display and containment of dead people – either for burial or cremation.Contemporary North American English makes a distinction between "coffin", which is generally understood to denote a funerary box having six sides in plan view, and "casket", which...

-making company. He later became a casket maker and undertaker in White Oaks, New Mexico
White Oaks, New Mexico
White Oaks is a ghost town in Lincoln County, New Mexico, United States. Located on the outskirts of the Lincoln National Forest, it became a boomtown in 1879 following the discovery of gold and coal in the nearby Jicarilla Mountains.-History:...

, where he lived quietly and died in 1896 at the age of 76.

The incident was dramatized as The Great Diamond Mountain on The Great Adventure
The Great Adventure (TV series)
The Great Adventure is a historical anthology series that appeared on CBS for the 1963-1964 television season. The series, hosted each week by Van Heflin, and featuring theme music by Richard Rodgers, presented each week a one-hour dramatization of the lives of famous Americans and important...

on television in 1963. Philip Arnold was played by John Fiedler
John Fiedler
John Donald Fiedler was an American voice actor and character actor in stage, film, television and radio. He was slight, balding, and bespectacled, with a distinctive, high-pitched voice and a career lasting more than 55 years.He is best remembered for four roles: as the nervous Juror #2 in 12...

, John Slack by John McGiver
John McGiver
John Irwin McGiver was a character actor who made more than a hundred appearances in television and motion pictures over a two-decade span from 1955 to 1975....

, William Ralston by Barry Sullivan
Barry Sullivan (actor)
Barry Sullivan was an American movie actor who appeared in over 100 movies from the 1930s to the 1980s.Born in New York City, Sullivan fell into acting when in college playing semi-pro football...

, an Clarence King by J. D. Cannon
J. D. Cannon
John Donovan "J. D." Cannon , was an American actor. An alumnus of the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, he is probably best known for his co-starring role of Chief Clifford in the television series McCloud, with Dennis Weaver from 1970 until 1977, for his role in Cool Hand Luke , and for his...


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