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May-June 2016

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In Memoriam: Anthony William “Tony” Jones (1950–2015)

A song comes to mind: “Put On a Happy Face”—Anthony William Jones, known to most as simply “Tony,” put on that happy face all of his life. Even after many health issues, business setbacks, and the diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, that happy face was there. He lost this latest battle with cancer in November 2015.

Tony Jones was one of our “Indiana Jones” characters—he would chase minerals all over the world in a time where air travel, cell phones, and social media were just becoming the norm in our lives. It was the exotic life of the time, and he readily adapted to it. No matter where Tony would end up, a party was sure to ensue.

Tony was born on 17 November 1950 to parents Delia Choza and William C. Jones. Tony's father was a career military man. Tony's growing-up years were spent in East Los Angeles and El Monte, California. The family moved to Mexico City for two years, and that's where Tony's flawless Spanish was well honed. Moving back to El Monte, Tony attended Rio Hondo Junior College and then went on to Cal State—Los Angeles. His interest in minerals began at Rio Hondo when one of his professors invited him along to the shop of George Burnham in Monrovia. Burminco's was a hangout for the local mineral collectors, and Tony bought his first specimen there. It was during these years that Tony joined the then-very-active Mineralogical Society of Southern California (MSSC). He became part of a small group of field collectors in the society that included Mike New, Rock Currier, Bob Pedersen, Bruce Lee, Jim Puckett, and Bob Bartsch. In 1973 Tony received his bachelor's in geology from Cal State; he continued there in graduate school while also working as a teaching assistant in paleontology. In the “small-world” department, one of the students he worked with at Cal State was Tana Daugharthy who would later work with Tony when he started his mineral business; she now helps Kristalle at shows.

Tony jumped right into field collecting and went all over California, Arizona, and New Mexico collecting what he could. He was also the field trip chairman for MSSC, and he continued to collect almost every weekend and holiday. How well I remember some of the riotous field trips where the order of the day was laughter, a few cold beers, and then maybe we would go collecting. When he started making a few bucks selling some of his self-collected minerals, he began to toy with the idea that one could actually make a living selling rocks! Memorable field trips for the society included those to San Benito County for artinite and demantoid garnets and the Thompson mine when it was producing the very large, lustrous colemanites. Tony was one of the few dealers who could bounce from minerals to fossils quite easily because he was so well versed in both.

After college he worked as a lab technician for Interspace Corporation Research Center until 1974. It was then that California Rock and Mineral Company was born, and Tony's first “legit” show was actually in the wholesale section at the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show. Tony enjoyed the chase more than anything, and with the help of such good mentors as Dick Jones and John Whitmire he was off collecting at every opportunity. A hookup with Gary Nagin had the two of them traveling all over Peru and Bolivia.

Tony moved around a lot—he started with the business in his home in Temple City and moved several times in the Los Angeles foothills area; he had a warehouse in Pomona for a number of years. He later moved to Fallbrook, California, for a few years, then on to Arkansas, and back to the wine country of California, with various wives along the way, and still he kept that sly smile. In recent years he had moved to the Arizona desert outside Tucson, but his health prevented him from doing much travel, and the business barely scraped by with eBay sales and some personal contacts. He was never without a German Shepherd or two by his side—they went everywhere with him. (I just learned that the German Shepherd rescue group has placed his two dogs with a family near Yosemite, California.)

Tony was an excellent cook—when he lived in the Napa Valley he was always attending cooking classes. I can just see him now in his apron flipping crepes and laughing the whole time. I never thought of Tony as the “Mr. Greenjeans” type, but he really did like to fuss around in any garden he would make. Tony often had a guitar with him, and suddenly a small band would be formed wherever he might be—many times we laughed so hard because some of these “bands” were really dreadful, but we had great fun. He was also a dancing fool—our nights at the Chicago Bar in Tucson to hear our favorite Bad News Blues band were such fun—those were the days of real dealer camaraderie.

He continued to collect throughout the western United States, and along with Gary Novak, in 1980 he leased a “variscite” mine in Nevada from fellow collector Jim Puckett and mined several tons of, well, not variscite but chalcosiderite. The same year he got together with Ken Roberts for a trip to Peru where they purchased a collection of remarkable Huallapon mine rhodochrosites from the mining company's dentist. Ken was just entering into the business, and Tony, being Tony, never one to seek glory, handed the marketing over to Ken. Many will remember the Smithsonian rhodochrosite from this find that has been photographed so many times. My husband, Wayne, and I still have a fabulous specimen we obtained at that time as well.

Later that same year an unprecedented strike of pink octahedral fluorite took place at the Huanzala mine in Peru. So it was back to Peru and meeting Curt VanScriver, who was scouting Ecuador and Peru; the two of them purchased a fine lot from one of the miners. And, yes, Wayne and I still have that pink fluorite!

Tony was a good-time guy, and there was always laughter and lots of drinking wherever he landed. Easy to make friends and having the language advantage, he was offered many opportunities. He decided to go farther afield and began to travel in Morocco and Europe (including the Eastern Block countries). He gathered material and started trades with many museums in Europe. Just a short list of his collecting adventures would include Mexico (sulfurs from Baja California, silvers from Batopilas, specimens from Naica and Santa Eulalia), Morocco (malachite pseudomorphs, erthyrites, and azurites), Papua, New Guinea (gold), and Venezuela (diamonds and gold).

Tony was the guy we were always pulling for and very often the guy we wanted to take behind the barn for a good old fashioned whippin'. Smiling through everything, he would convince you that he was feeling good when he wasn't, that he was taking care of himself when he wasn't, and that he was solvent when he wasn't. I will miss Tony—he was not motivated by money, ego, control, or power as are so many today. He was just a good, fun guy who loved what he did and made sure everyone around him was happy. He is survived by his mother, Delia Caplin; daughter, Wendy Biebesheimer; and two sisters, Rache Choza and Joanne Huston.

Take off the gloomy mask of tragedy,

It's not your style;

You'll look so good that you'll be glad

You decided to smile*

* “Put On a Happy Face,” composed by Lee Adams and Charles Strouse; published (1962) by Williamson Music Company.

Dona Leicht and her husband, Wayne, have owned and operated Kristalle in Laguna Beach, California, since 1974.

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