Thursday, February 16, 2012

Tucson: 2012 and Every Year

Each year from the final Friday in January through the second week of February, the city of Tucson, Arizona hosts the world's premier extravaganza featuring minerals, gems, beads, lapidary supplies, fossils, and meteorites. It all takes place in motels and tents all over town and culminates with "The Big Show," which happens at the Tucson Convention Center from the second Thursday of February continuing through Sunday. Regarding minerals, each year's show has a theme. The 2012 theme was "Minerals of Arizona." Otherwise, it's much the same from year to year. The usual vendors set up at their usual spots, while the times and locations of the lectures, banquets and symposia change little.

Mineral people come to look, sell, learn, network, schmooze, and most of all to purchase. Buyers who arrive when the action begins in January are likely to have first shot at new finds and other much in demand material. Prices of specimens can range from a couple dollars to well into six, even sometimes seven figures. Differences in price of pieces that would appear to be of similar value can also cover a vast range. The prices of some specimens can increase over the course of the two week period as they change hands from one dealer to the next. Prices can also head lower as well, especially at the end of the show when some dealers would rather accept less cash than haul home certain rocks. The word "keystone" is heard frequently. It means half price. "Double keystone" is where a price already cut in half is halved once again.

Prior to the Big Show, the nexus of the mineral action is at the enormously spread out Hotel Tucson City Center (formerly Inn Suites) at 475 North Granada. Another much smaller venue not far away but worth checking out is the Mineral and Fossil Marketplace at Oracle and Drachman featuring some respected mid-range dealers who operate from tents. Also close by at Speedway and Main are yet more tents manned primarily by Moroccans. Along with fossils, they have flats and flats of such signature material from their country as malachite, azurite, erythrite, cobaltian calcite, cerussite, barite, skutterdite, quartz geodes, epidote, pyrolusite, goethite, and occasional yellow apatite---though not too much else. Across town, the Quality Inn on Benson Highway is loaded with mineral dealers, mostly from China, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Russia. Additional activity extends for at least a mile in motels along the service road paralleling I-10 as it passes downtown Tucson. Though mostly gem and fossil oriented, some great deals on minerals are occasionally available from a relatively few mineral dealers who typically specialize in but one or two species. The same is true at other venues, such as the Kino Complex and Tucson Electric Park.

The only truly unique event during the period leading up to the Big Show happens the previous weekend at the Westward Look Resort. On Saturday, a great private collection graces the main lobby. On Sunday night, following a social hour, there's a presentation by someone accomplished and well-known in the mineralogical arena. Featured this year on Saturday was the collection of Ron Gladnick. On Sunday evening, the legendary 94 year old Ed Swoboda presented an overview of a long life devoted to gems and minerals. Most definitive of the Westward Look Show, however, is what goes on in a couple dozen adjoining private suites where just about every well-known high-end mineral dealer on the planet has set up shop. The quality and beauty of the magnificently displayed minerals for sale are no less mind-boggling than the numbers on their price tags.

With the Big Show underway on Thursday, the Convention Center becomes the focal point, although business continues at other venues around town. Mineral specimens from various collections, both public and private, are displayed in cases, mostly in the northwest portion of the main hall. Dealers of minerals are located near these displays as well as throughout the western part of the main hall. Though differences in price for similar specimens continue to be wide as ever, the popular perception is that everything costs more at the Convention Center. Notwithstanding, plenty of bargains are around for those with the wherewithal to seek them out.
The Big Show is also the site for lectures, programs and seminars. World famous gem and mineral photographer Jeff Scovil, who withholds no secrets regarding his techniques, gives a two hour instructional presentation each year on Thursday. This year he concentrated on creating backgrounds for photographing minerals.

The Arthur Roe Micromount Symposium takes place all day Friday upstairs in the Turquoise Ballroom. In addition to the speakers (I caught a great illustrated talk by Bob Meyer on the microminerals of Tiger, Arizona), are numerous "giveaway tables" with flats and egg cartons of material sorted according to locality. It's there for the taking, and most of it begs for scrutiny beneath the scope for brilliant, rare, and beautiful treasures.

In the adjoining Crystal Ballroom, a succession of speakers holds forth all day, most of them covering topics related the given year's theme, this year minerals of Arizona. The scene here is much the same on Saturday as Friends of Mineralogy, the Tucson Gem and Mineral Society, and the Mineralogical Society of America host an annual symposium that once again features renowned speakers, most covering topics related to the show's theme.

Although the Big Show continues through Sunday, what for many attendees is its climax happens Saturday night over cocktails, an auction, dinner, and ultimately the presentation of numerous mineralogical awards. The grandest of these is the prestigious Carnegie Mineralogical Award. This year's recipient was Dr. Jeffrey Post, Curator-in-Charge of the mineral collection at the Smithsonian. Also notable is the level of ceremony recognizing the mineralogical accomplishments of young people. This has much to do with the longing of older mineral folks to see their hobby perpetuated. They sense that in this modern age of technology, diminishing numbers of youngsters are getting involved.

Next year's Big Show theme will relate to the many forms, habits, and localities for the common but often spectacular mineral fluorite. Otherwise, we can feel assured that all will be much the same as it was this year and preceding years. For sure Tucson will continue to provide a world class opportunity to enjoy, view, and learn about minerals. A few that I observed with particular awe can be seen at this link.

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