Sunday, February 11, 2007

Tales of the Tucson Gem & Mineral Show

The official 53rd annual Tucson Gem and Mineral Show ends today, along with most of the other 49 satellite shows that have been set up around Tucson since late January. You’d be hard pressed to disagree with those who claim it is the largest show in the world.

[tiger eye from Australia at TGMS]

Tucson, a city of 1 million which still embraces a vision of itself as a small town, seemed more like a bustling international street bazaar the past few weeks. There were thousands of vendors here, operating out of tents, hotels, houses, trailers, and warehouses. Gems, minerals, and fossils are on sale from every corner of the world and quite a few from out of this world, including moon rocks and a surprisingly large number and variety of meteoritic materials. The sellers are almost equally diverse.

Buyers are estimated at 50,000-60,000 but that seems conservative. It’s not uncommon to see deals for five or six figures being worked out on the floor of a cramped room at the Days Inn, with a box of the “really good stuff” having been brought out from under the bed or other out of sight storage.

One of my colleagues was here the last 15 days, buying and selling for his personal collection. He considers himself a player at the low end of the high end buyers, which means he deals in the $10,000 specimens and not the $100,000 and above pieces. I’ll call him “Deep Mine.”

Among the stories Deep Mine shared over a glass of wine the other night was of being invited to a spacious home in the Tucson Mountains a few miles west of the city. The sprawling “McMansion,” as he termed it, was rented, fully furnished, for a month by representatives of a mineral collection being sold by a prominent East Coast natural history museum. Only 100 potential buyers were invited to the house last Monday evening to view the exclusive collection, valued at $7-8 million. The dealers flew in a chef from France, who is reportedly also a mineral collector himself, to prepare a special meal for the showing to the group. No word yet if the collection sold or what the price was.

Over the next few days, I will share more stories and observations. Next: California gold

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