• U.S.

MINING: Quicksilver

2 minute read

The Shasta Indians never enjoyed a war fully unless they had first smeared their faces with reddish cinnabar (mercury sulfide), which they got from a big deposit in northern California. Last week it appeared that California’s mercury mines, and smaller mines in Oregon, Texas, Arkansas, may soon be furnishing European braves with mercury for war: for antifouling paint for battleship bottoms, photographs, batteries, medicine, and especially for mercury fulminate detonators.

The famed Almaden mines in Spain and the Idria mines north of Trieste, Italy, have many times the capacity of all U. S. deposits combined, and until now have pretty much controlled world mercury markets. But the pre-war arms race so increased world consumption that last year the U. S. became a net exporter of mercury for the first time since 1931.

In expectation that a war under way would use even more mercury than an arms race, mercury dealers pushed up the price in September to a 20-year high of $165 a flask (wrought-iron bottle containing 76 Ibs.), up from $84 prewar. Last week’s average was only $5 under the best week in September. Marginal producers on the West Coast paid more attention to the second thought than the first, began to reopen long-idle mines.

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