William Thomas "Bill" Schneider was born in San Diego, California on May 6, 1930, the son of Anna Giuseppa Favro (a telephone operator) and John William Schneider (a stereotyper). He grew up in San Diego until the beginning of World War II, when his family moved to rural La Mesa, California, where they raised Holstein heifer calves to maturity. Their next move was to rural Poway, California near San Diego, establishing Schneider's Dairy. Bill graduated from Escondido Union High School, receiving the first State Farmer Degree in the school's Future Farmers of America chapter, of which he was president in his senior year. Bill then attended California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo. His schooling was interrupted by a two-year stint in the U.S. Army Veterinary Corp during the Korean War, but he then returned to college and graduated in 1955 with a B.S. Degree in Dairy Science. Eventually he assumed management of Schneider's Dairy so that his parents could retire.
Bill married Nancy Givens Dawson in 1954, while he was still in college, and they became interested in the agates that washed up at local San Luis Obispo beaches. They joined the San Luis Obispo Lapidary Club, borrowed their tumbler, and got hooked. Soon they advanced to cabochon making and field tripping—they enthusiastically joined club members at the Horse Canyon Agate club field trip with their first baby in tow when she was only six weeks old.
When they moved back to Poway, they joined the Palomar Gem and Mineral Club in Escondido. There they met Howard and Rosemary Pierce, who opened their eyes about the beauty and wonder of crystallized minerals, especially the minerals from the local San Diego County pegmatites. Howard gave Bill and Nancy their first specimen--a pink tourmaline "pencil" he had collected at the Himalaya mine in the Mesa Grande district. Thereafter, they joined in on club field trips to various San Diego County pegmatite mines, including the Stewart Lithia mine, the Vandenberg mine, the Victor mine, the Hercules mine, the Barona garnet mine, and others. They also attended Norman Dawson's classes for club members on crystals and minerals, using Pough's Field Guide to Minerals as their text. A mineral collection started forming as their interest grew more intense. In 1958, Bill was elected president of the Palomar Club, following the term of Violet Dawson.
By 1960 the dairy business was becoming unprofitable due to competition from dairy farms in the San Joaquin Valley. With the friendship and mentoring of Norm and Violet Dawson, Bill decided to establish his own "rock shop" in Poway, patterning his mineral stock after the kinds of specimens the Dawsons dealt with at mineral shows. He purchased the specimen stock and showcases of a small rock shop on Highway 78 owned by Hank Andre (for $3,000) as his beginning dealer stock. In exchange for a few specimens, Palomar Club members Howard Pierce, Carl Snelling and Bob Wolfe helped him build a shop on the corner of the family dairy property. Thus Schneider's Rocks & Minerals was born, and the grand opening was held April 6, 1960.
For 36 years Bill supplied mineral specimens, cabbing and faceting rough, fossils and lapidary supplies to the San Diego area. The legendary Ed McDole (q.v.) was one of his suppliers, and would stop by periodically in his big black Lincoln full of fabulous minerals. Bill carried a stock of worldwide minerals, from thumbnails to miniatures to large cabinet specimens; his clientele ran the gamut from schoolchildren to collectors and interior decorators. Most prices were in the moderate range, and he always had a soft spot in his heart for San Diego tourmalines. From 1976-1978 Bill also served as President of The American Gem & Mineral Suppliers Association, a nation-wide coalition of dealers serving the gem and mineral field. The AGMSA's Thomas S. Warren Achievement Award was presented to Bill in 1995 for his "Outstanding Contributions to the Gem & Mineral Field."
Bill's business was strongly influenced by the leadership of Norm and Vi Dawson and Howard and Rosemary Pierce. Bill and Nancy also benefitted from their warm friendships with other crystal aficionados like Bob Winstead, Bob and Mary Dye, Louie Spaulding, Glenn Vargas, Herb and Mary Walters, Gene and Alice Law, Bryant Harris, John and Marge Sinkankas, and the incomparable Josie Scripps and her young friend, Bill Larson.
Over the years Bill handled a number of collections including that of Ralph Potter, an early owner of the Himalaya mine. John Sinkankas also occasionally traded him some of his mineral specimens. Other early consignees of interesting collections included Herb Walters, Al Ordway, Don Olson (when he was still a thumbnail collector), Bob Jones, and Wendell Wilson. At the California Federation Show in San Diego in 1969 Bill's booth was filled with the then just-delivered crates of huge watermelon tourmalines from the Santa Rosa mine in Minas Gerais, Brazil. Business was brisk, and a spectacular 38-cm multiple crystal went to the Smithsonian (it appeared on the dust jacket of the 1971 book, Color Underground, written by the Smithsonian's John White).
Traveling to shows became a big part of the business early in the 1960's. Many gem and mineral clubs were active in the western states, and their shows offered a good way to meet people, offer your stock, and get to see what others brought to sell. Many enthusiastic exhibitors competed at shows to win fancy ribbons. In 1964 Roy Plummer (q.v.), a dealer at the Tucson Show, bowed out because of his wife's illness and Bill took his place there in the "cow barn" on the Tucson Rodeo Grounds. (Bill remained a Tucson Show dealer for the nest 32 years, until his retirement.) As the four Schneider children grew, they traveled with Bill and Nancy in the summertime to faraway shows in the northwest, Midwest, and eastern states. It was an education for them to visit different parts of the country, discovering the local mines and minerals. Mineral collecting at Topaz Mountain, Utah; amazonite collecting in Colorado with Jerry Hurianek; uralite, high in the Colorado mountains; fluorites from Clay Center, Ohio; limonite pseudomorphs near St.Louis—all became a wonderful part of the experience.
Bill and Nancy's children all still retain an appreciation for decorative minerals. When Bill retired from the mineral business in 1996, their daughter Jeannie (an Ornamental Horticulture graduate of Cal Poly) took over the rock shop building and converted it to the Crystal Gardens florist shop. Their son Tom developed a passion for gem crystals of thumbnail size. For nearly 30 years Tom has traveled the world to supply San Diego jewelers with gemstones and faceting rough through his San Diego office. Today Bill and Nancy's four children and five grandchildren all live either in Poway or nearby.
Bill's personal mineral collection is extensive. For many years he collected good, representative cabinet specimens from worldwide localities. In addition, he put together a fine collection of worldwide miniatures. His collection of minerals from California was frequently displayed at the San Diego County Fair in Del Mar, as was his collection of rough-and-cut gem minerals (Nancy's thumbnail collection won an award there as well). Field collecting for minerals was always an interest, although time in the field was necessarily limited by the demands of his business.
Bill always supported the Mineralogical Record with advertising. Schneider's Rocks & Minerals placed its first ad in the second issue, Summer 1970. A new find of 1 x 1 ˝-inch pink tourmaline crystals from the Stewart mine were advertised at $5 to $75, with matrix specimens running $15 to $100; Santa Rosa mine tourmalines from Brazil, measuring 3 to 10 inches, would set you back $100 to $1,500 each.
Bill's entire career was headquartered at the shop in Poway. The first specimen labels printed in 1960 bore the address "Route 1, Box 1511, Poway, Calif." As the area grew, the address became "Route 3, Box 1023, Poway, California." When Poway incorporated in 1980, the address became "13023 Poway Road." All of these addresses referred to the same building that housed the shop.
Following retirement, Bill's passion turned to deep-water ocean fishing. Long range fishing excursions to Clipperton and Revillagigedo Islands fetched fish weighing as much as he does. Yes, the family did eat a lot of fish, but a lot was also donated to charitable causes. After Bill and Nancy discovered Baja California as a vacation destination, their interest in minerals shifted to recent and fossilized mollusks found in that desert oasis, resulting in the development of a large invertebrate fossil collection of some importance; some of their specimens have been described scientifically, and turned over to museums for further research and display. Bill and Nancy wrote several scientific reports on collections of marine fossils from Baja California, mollusks from Clipperton Island, and coral from the Eastern Pacific, published in a peer-reviewed journal, The Festivus. A 7-foot black coral and accompanying unusual mollusks, found by Bill (brought up by fishing line from the bottom of the Pacific Ocean, and dutifully scientifically reported), is currently on permanent display in the Benthic Invertebrate Collection of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.
Bill served on the Development Committee for the Scripps
Institution of Oceanography's Collections, the world's largest, with over 100 million specimens of marine animals and undersea drill cores. His service on the Development Committee at SIO has been completed. When the world-class collection of marine life at SIO was threatened with dispersal due to loss of funding, Bill was instrumental in helping with the support of this valuable asset--an interest that lasted for the rest of his life. He passed away on February 8, 2011.
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[Citation format for this entry:
WILSON, Wendell E. (2019)
Biographical Archive, at www.mineralogicalrecord.com.]
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Number of labels found: 4 | Labels being viewed: 1 to 4
(Tucson Show 1987)
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Route 1 address
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13021 Poway Rd. address
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13023 Poway Rd. address