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Iowa Time Machine - The Great Muscatine Pearl - June 1, 1903

Iowa Time Machine ⏰: On June 1, 1903, newspapers in Muscatine reported on a 49.5-grain peal found by local man Bert Roby. Worth $3,000, the peal represents the largest found in Iowa along the Mississippi River during the heyday of the Pearl Button era.

John Boepple started a button-making business after emigrating to America in 1887 by harvesting clams from the rich mussel beds near Muscatine on the Mississippi River. Although many locals questioned the sanity of the German button-making enthusiast, the shop flourished across the late 1800s. 

The success of Boepple’s business inspired the growth of an iconic Iowa industry. By 1897, Muscatine boasted 53 button-cutting shops fed by ‘clammers’ pulling 3,500 tons of shells from the Mississippi River annually. One such man, Bert Roby, conducted one of the small button-making outfits.

In 1903, the twenty-eight-year-old Roby went out clamming near the high bridge of Muscatine. Finding an unusual shell, Roby pried the clam open and found a flawless sphere of pearl. Offered $2,000 the day of the find, Roby held out and got $3,000 from noted pearl dealer Frank Koeckerwitz. #IowaOTD #IowaHistoryDaily #IowaHistoryCalendar


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