Tucson Gem and Mineral Show

Tucson Gem and Mineral Show - The Tucson Experience
Tucson Gem and Mineral Show – The Tucson Experience

These days there are more gem and mineral shows than I care to count. There are literally hundreds of small enjoyable shows, most of them two days long and catering essentially to local collectors, most of whom are lapidary “buffs”. The shows are generally put on by a few member of a small club, and it reflects their interests and scope of knowledge of the hobby. It is logical that most shows are either exclusively or predominantly lapidary in scope since there is probably a 25-to-1 ratio (if not greater) that presently exists between true mineral and lapidary collectors.

In addition to the hordes of local shows, some of which have been held on an annual basis for over a decade, there are the highly-acclaimed regional shows held under the auspices of the Federations of Mineral Societies. One of these is annually designated as the National Show, is four days in duration, and almost always an astounding success. These Federation Shows attempt to strike a balance between lapidary and mineral, though are strongly influenced by the local club(s) hosting them, since the club bears the entire burden of work, selecting displays, dealers, site, and the myriad of other duties and tasks involved in a large three or four day show. Since local interest and talent play such a large part in any show, the Regional Shows still tend to be predominantly lapidary in character, and rightly so since such a large part of the hobby is devoted to that endeavor along with handcrafted jewelry artisans.

In rather rare instances the local hobbyists are strongly oriented toward minerals, and determine to put on a show that is predominantly mineral, if not exclusively so. Best- known of these as an exclusively mineral show is that held annually in Pasadena, California, under the auspices of the Southern California Mineral Society. This group is actively pursuing a reputation of putting on the finest small show devoted to minerals. It is truly a marvelous show. It is not, however, the greatest of the mineral shows. In the Detroit area an annual show is held which is highly mineral oriented, again due to the vigorous efforts of the local club hobbyists. This is probably the best annual mineral show in the East but, again, falls short of the selection of “greatest” in my book. The day may come that either Pasadena or Detroit, or some other show, may surpass my selection, but at present I must choose the annual Tucson Gem and Mineral Society Show held each February as the greatest of all.

Tucson Gem and Mineral Exhibition
Tucson Gem and Mineral Exhibition

Before I get shot out of the saddle and scalped by the folks from Detroit or Pasadena (to which club I hope lam still a member) let me develop my case for Tucson rather than develop anything against the others. There must be some artistic criteria upon which to judge a good show, regardless of personal feelings and allegiances. These criteria have never been spelled out to me but every time dealers, collectors, exhibitors, judges, and hobby lovers get together they inevitably compare notes on shows; which had the best dealers, which had the most bargains, which had the best displays, was the judging fair, were the special exhibits welt selected, was the parking a pain, did they charge too much admission, how were the speakers, did they have good demonstrations, how was the crowd?

Realistically, no show is going to win a point for every one of these conversational criteria, but any active show goer is going to recognize a good show when he gets there. And, his recognition is going to be based on answers to many of the above questions. When a local club decides to put on a show the location is pretty well determined, geographically at least, by that club. I’m thinking not so much of a specific building or even city or town where the show is held. Rather I’m thinking of the geographic location in relation to transportation and sources of minerals. Since we are dealing here with mineral rather than gem shows as such, it is significant to point out that Tucson is located right in the heart of one of the richest specimen- producing areas of the last one hundred years, the great Southwest — including Mexico of course. As for transportation, Tucson has always fallen a bit short, being tucked away in that same Southwest. This is a minor point of annoyance to the true mineral lover, however. What is far more important is the ready sources of fine crystallized material, particularly Mexico, which surround Tucson. That such a geographic location is not so important is demonstrated by the number of small shows held in out-of- the-way places, such as Franklin, New Jersey, Prineveille, Oregon, etc. whose only claim to fame is a fine specimen source or famous deposit of something collectors seek. Surely, Tucson gets the nod for location. I would even go so far as to suggest that the annual Tucson show is the heartbeat which brings mineral life to the collectors of the Southwest, as well as to the people who come from the world over to attend the show.

Tucson Gem and Mineral Show
Tucson Gem and Mineral Show

This second point is of significant importance. The annual Tucson Show attracts more famous international mineral celebrities than any other handful of shows and it does it consistently. The best-known amateur and professional mineralogists plan their visits to the U.S. to coincide with the Tucson Show, making that show their highpoint. Every major writer and author attends the show. Curators from the world’s great mineral museums strive to attend, often as highly appreciated speakers who also bring marvelously varied special exhibits for all to enjoy. Private collectors recognized by most as among the world’s most active, possessing the finest of collections, all attend Tucson to see what new and amazing specimens will appear there. At recent shows representatives of many foreign museums and dealers were in obvious attendance. Such countries as England, Germany, France, Switzerland, Italy, Africa, Japan, Australia, and many more are well represented. This influx of international personages adds a dimension to the Tucson Show no other show can match. True, an international speaker may appear at other shows but the sheer numbers and variety of foreign visitors to Tucson is without equal.

We have alluded to the search for “what’s new” at Tucson. This is, again, a key point. Ask any dealer in fine minerals in which show he would like space and he’ll choose Tucson time and time again. Again, ask that same dealer if he selects and holds back fine specimens to sell at any particular show and you’ll get the same answer. In other words, a significant segment of the mineral fraternity “points” toward the Tucson Show as THE place to sell or obtain the very best. The obvious result is that some of the selling and buying activities at Tucson tend to determine the price structure of the hobby for the ensuing months. This idea has been suggested by many more than once! Fine specimens at Tucson tend to bring premium prices, prices which are then carried in the minds of dealers and collectors to other shows in other places. This cannot help but influence the entire hobby. Fortunately, the show has not created a severe problem relative to mineral pricing. There is usually such an abundance of fine material that, once the premier or “prima donna” specimens have sold (sometimes for thousands), most dealers willing sell the above average and fine specimens for reasonable prices for competition still exists in spite of the “rush” to buy at Tucson. If my suggestion that specimens might sell for “thousands” seems unwarranted, I suggest you haven’t been at the Tucson show to see or hear for yourself. Specimens selling in the five- figure category are uncommon, but decidedly present at Tucson. Those selling for four figures are seen regularly passing from hand to hd. So, a considerable amount of money, or specimens in trade, exchanges hands at Tucson. In fact, the desire for minerals and the marketing of minerals at Tucson is such that there are actually three or more shows going on simultaneously.

Tucson Gem and Mineral Show 2014
Tucson Gem and Mineral Show 2014

The main show is held in the Community Center, Tucson. In addition, many of the show people stay at one particular nearby motel and dealers who either can’t get space or don’t wish to pay the rate, take rooms in said motel, throw boxes of minerals out all over the place, throw open the door and hawk minerals not just for the three days of the show but for the smartened up to this fact and regularly make the rounds of the motels passing out temporary tax papers and collecting their share of the booty. The earlier shows were held at the Pima County Fairgrounds and the motel business at that time was focused elsewhere. As a consequence, as many as 30 dealers’still use these earlier motels to hawk their wares. In fact, one group even rents a conference room at a motel and holds its own legitimate satellite show. A further group of Eastern dealers has banded together and actually advertises in the mineral magazines the fact that they will be holding forth at a particular motel come Tucson showtime! If that isn’t evidence of the scope of this show I can’t provide anything much better.
Thus far we have dwelt on the commercial aspects of the Tucson Show, aspects which are important if a show is to continue. Tucson, however, offers a unique array of marvelously interesting academic activities, starting with special displays and speakers, and culminating with meetings of several important organizations deeply involved in the fraternity of minerals. We have hinted at the speakers and displays they bring. This is what I believe has made Tucson the great show it has become. Early in the game, the TGMS people decided to invite museums to bring special displays and solicited curators to come and speak

A significant part of any show is the exhibits, both competitive and non- competitive. At Tucson the non- competitive exhibits constitute the major attraction, since early experience with competition suggested to the show committees it created as many problems as it solved. This is not to say competitive exhibiting doesn’t go on. In fact, the TGMS has developed its own brand of competition, unique to that show, which suits its situation quite well. Rather than have the usual Federation-type competition seen at most shows, several special categories are offered. These have included 1) member competition only, 2) The Ed McDole Memorial Trophy competition open to all comers where the entire case is judged for “Best”, 3) the Bob Roots Memorial Trophy competition which is for junior-aged participants, 4) an educational category of competition developed and conducted by FM people and open to anyone interested in the educational benefits of a display, and, 5) a Single Species competition, where anyone can enter one specimen in each of the thumbnail, miniature or cabinet specimen classes. The species is selected by the show committee each year and announced well in advance. Judges are not bound too strictly by rules, simply being charged with selecting the best specimen entered in each size class.

Such species as wulfenite, azurite, malachite, fluorite, and barite have been selected for competition. Competitive classes will be combined somewhat this year in hopes even more people will participate. The special non-competitive exhibits are an amazing assemblage of specimens each year. Nor are they all minerals. Fabulous exhibits of gems from the Smithsonian, the American Museum of Natural History and elsewhere have thrilled crowds through the years. Most of the outstanding special exhibits are not necessarily from museums, though they are always well represented in marvelous displays. The backbone of the displays is of museum origin, but the beautiful body is from private collections.

One final source of displays most worthy of mention are the many colleges and universities which have participated. The university of Copenhagen displayed astounding wires of native silver from Kongsherg last year. Harvard University is always represented with an excellent display of classic material. The University of Arizona, local but notable, always places interesting displays in the show. Is it any wonder that I have to conclude there is no question about which show is the world’s greatest?

The Tucson Gem and Mineral Show started out inauspiciously enough when, in 1955, the TGMS held its first endeavor in the small Helen Keeling Elementary School. The next year it moved into the County Fairgrounds, using an old Quonset hut that fairly simmered in the early spring heat of the desert. Their 18th annual show in 1972 saw the show in truly appropriate surroundings, the Tucson Community Center where the show will continue to beheld, perhaps into infinity!

Like most clubs that get started in show business, a small number of members took the bull by the horns, did the bulk of the work, and pretty much set the tenor of the show, mostly minerals. Dan Caudle, the first show chairman, (and the third and fifth and sixth) and Clayton Gibson, another frequent chairman, probably had as much to do with the establishment of minerals as the major portion of the show as anyone. They are still active in show activities and are recognized as among the better Arizona collectors. Many, many others have done their share and more to contribute to the success of the show each year. There were others, of course, and only a reading of the club history and annual bulletins would reveal them all. Not only have the members of the club done much to keep the show going, they have used the financial results of the show each year for the good of the hobby and the community. This is why they get such good public support year after year. A scholarship for advanced or graduate student work at the University of Arizona is maintained by the club. Classes for adult and junior education in minerals are held, grants are made to the University of Arizona Mineral Museum, the Museum of Science & Industry, and the Arizona State Museum. Prizes are donated to the Southern Arizona School Science Fair, and specimens from the club have found their way into public displays in several places in Tucson and elsewhere. These are the activities the TGMS should be most proud of as coming from their show efforts.