Holiday gift shopping might be in the back of your mind, so this little tidbit will give you some, perhaps, unexpected thoughts.
The September 2, 1903, Chronicle carried this note on page 1, “Enormous Pearl Found.” Hugh Evans, of Clinton, found a pearl in the Clinch River last week that weighed 117-1/2 grains, and was bought by a liveryman named Wallace for $1,450. It is the second largest pearl in the world and Mr. Wallace expects to receive at least $5,000 for it from Tiffany, the New York jeweler. It is egg-shaped and about three-fourths of an inch in length.
There is a Tennessee Historical Commission marker, 1D20, in the Hoskins-Lane Market Place Park in historic downtown Clinton, Tennessee. The marker reads, “The Market Place of Pearls” From about 1895 to 1936 Tennessee was one of the nation's six leading states in marketing pearls. Clinton was listed as one of three Tennessee towns known as centers of the pearling industry. New York dealers came regularly to Clinton during the pearling season. Saturdays were trading days for pearl hunters and buyers. In 1900 Clinch River pearls were featured at the Paris, France, Exposition.
A New Jersey newspaper article of 1908, gave an interesting story of Joseph Gossett, aged 42, of Clinton, Tennessee, the center of the great pearl hunting industry. Mr. Gossett had contracted malaria and lost his eyesight, but continued to be a successful pearl hunter with the assistance of his sister. The shells from the mollusks were sent to button manufacturers and made into mother-of-pearl buttons.
The Clinch and Emory Rivers were considered the economic heart of the pearl industry. The pearl industry began to decline in the early 20th century, and were effectively eliminated by the dams built by the TVA. Norris Dam certainly killed off the pearl industry. When Melton Hill Dam was completed, the lower river areas also lost their river mussels. You can still find some live and huge river mussels, but they are now a protected species.
In 1979, Tennessee River pearls were designated the state gem of Tennessee. These river pearls are created by mussels and are found in all colors and various shapes. Tennessee River pearls are among the most beautiful and durable in the world.
Tennessee still has one area of pearl production at the only freshwater pearl-culturing farm in North America. This is located on Birdsong Creek, just off Kentucky Lake outside Camden, Tennessee. You have probably noticed the signs on Interstate 40 directing you to the Pearl Museum. I've been to the Birdsong Marina that houses the museum, and you have to be going there to get there, as it is a 'fer piece off the Interstate.
You must be very careful if you decide you want to go hunting for Tennessee Pearl jewelry because there are many pieces from China that are marketed incorrectly as local pearls. Be sure you have a guarantee from the seller that it is the real thing. Oh, and you will need a very fat wallet if you find the genuine thing.