The travel entailed two weeks of driving to and from Baltimore to Tucson and back to enjoy two weeks in between at the biggest annual mineral gathering on earth. Despite a shattered economy, enough went on in Tucson from the end of January until Feb. 15 to keep Mineral Bliss posting for a lifetime. If you've never been, Manhattan megadealer John Betts's timeless overview makes for an apt quick introduction.
With the wheeling and dealing in motels and tents still happening, each year's action comes to a head Thursday through Sunday the second weekend of February at the "main show" in the Tucson Convention Center. For both looking and purchasing, this is where the largest selection of world-class minerals comes together under one roof. Each year's main show has a theme. Year before last, the theme was the Minerals of Australia. Last year it was Minerals of the United States. This year the theme was "Mineral Oddities."
Except at the shows themselves, much of this year's Tucson talk related to how the global economic crisis would impact this year's extravaganza. The cost is considerable for dealers with their rocks, helpers, and display materials to travel here from all over the globe, set up shop, then tear down and head home. As predicted, the number of attendees was less than in past years. Most of the dealers with whom I spoke, however, were upbeat. Consensus was that overall sales were down a bit from last year, but no more so than expected.
As always, prices varied enough that the difference between a $25 specimen and and a four figure piece could occasionally appear subtle. For the most part, asking prices seemed about the same as last year. I like to think of minerals as hard assets, just like precious metals, which of course are extracted from minerals and often---as in native gold and native silver---mineral specimens in their own right.
If my thinking is on target, compared to the way precious metals prices were soaring at the commodity exchanges, Tucson this year was a bargain.