Snapshots from the Tucson 2000 Gem and Mineral Show
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Raven's Skulls

Another dealer that I found set up and ready to rock during my early bird tour at the InnSuites was R. H. Youngman in Room 187. The R. stands for "Ron", but Ron is known as "Raven" and for his extensive selection of lapidaried skulls.

Shown above left is Raven, who guestimated he had been in the skull business for about 20 years or so, holding one of his skulls which is carved from rhodonite. At right is one of the skull displays in Raven's room, featuring intermediate to large sized skulls carved from a wide variety of materials familiar to most rockhounds. That's a 3.5" floppy placed in the foreground for scale.

Set atop a counter in Raven's room were these four large skulls. The skull on the left in this picture is made from California rhodonite and it wanted $1200. Next to it is a skull from Brazilian smoky quartz which had a good sized enhydro in it. This piece had already sold for $3500 dollars. An even larger Brazilian smoky enhydro quartz weighing 26.6 pounds is on the right of the one that's sold and it wants $6000. The enhydro bubble in this skull was pretty good sized but with a limited range of travel. You can download and play a short (192 KB) MPEG movie of the bubble shot while Raven held and jiggled the skull. Bringing up the right is a skull cut from Mexican agate which carried a $2700 price tag.

Above left is another rhodonite skull which measures about 5.5 inches across the cheekbones. It wanted $1600. Center is a rather large skull cut from clear quartz that was 8 inches across the cheek bones. I thought this one top notch, an opinion which was naturally reflected in its somewhat spooky $18,000 asking price... At right is a hematite skull that went 5 inches across the cheek bones and it wanted $1200. I thought hematite worked rather well on a skull, and I hope Raven will offer a Terminator skull out of hematite some day...

Above left is a skull cut from some interesting material that Raven said was coming out of the Phoenix area in Arizona. It was 5" across the cheek bones and wanted $1200. Center is a skull fashioned from snowflake obsidian. It was 5.5" across the cheek bones and priced at $600. At right is a charoite skull, 5.5" across the cheek bones and wanting $2700.

Raven also offered smaller skulls which were displayed in flats on one of the tables in his room. Shown at right is a rather striking tiger eye skull which was about 2 3/4 inches across the cheek bones. These really pulled the eye to them as the bands in the tiger eye would shift around as your perspective changed and they were going for $225.

Above left is one of Raven's 2 inch Lapis skulls. These wanted $115. To its right is a skull carved from rose quartz which went 3 1/4 inches across the cheekbones, asking $280.

While visiting Raven I learned that there is even a skull collector's society which was founded in New York in 1945. Now there's is a specialized interest group! Check out Kathy Grimshaw's Society of Crystal Skulls, International web site for a gallery of more lapidaried skulls and further information on the society.

R. H. Youngman, Web: Raven's Roost PO Box 8219, Hot Springs, Arkansas 71909 Phone: 501.984.5396 Fax: 501.984.5443

Howard Merk Minerals

Meet Howard S. Merk. Howard is a guy who obviously enjoys himself at the Show and the contagious smile he's wearing reflects that. Howard is a former La Quinta dealer who I have been visiting at that show for the last several years. Howard had to find new digs for Tucson 2000 with the other La Quinta dealers when that show was terminated after the 1999 Show by La Quinta management. Howard and many of the other dealers have migrated to the InnSuites, which is located just a short distance on the other side of the freeway from the La Quinta. Howard's in Room 184.

Most dealers tend to stay put once they have established a location at the Tucson Show, as most cultivate regular customers who return year after year to the same place expecting to find them there. It's funny how that works. While I try to collect a business card from everyone I do business with or think I might want to in the future, I may not remember a dealer's name or business name, or even their face until I've made some purchases from them over the course of several shows. Making notes on their business cards helps figure out who's who for later reference, however, I can usually remember the rocks and where I've seen them to within a few rooms at a particular show.

I've had good luck rummaging through Howard's thumbnails in the past and was glad to encounter him at the InnSuites. I was curious as to whether Howard thought the move was going to hurt his business. While he won't really be able to evaluate the impact until the Show is well underway this year, Howard was optimistic and pleased to be at the InnSuites. The show at the InnSuites is proving to be an up and coming one, and Howard felt a pretty good job had been done in getting the word out about the exodus from the La Quinta to the InnSuites. It was Howard's sentiments that the move was going to benefit him in the long run, as well as the other former La Quinta dealers who migrated over with him.

Howard drives to the show from Westbrook, Connecticut, and on his way here each year he stops in Missouri and loads up on galena, calcite and other specimens from the Sweetwater mine which is located in the Vibernum Trend, a formation which harbors the largest lead ore deposits in the United States, estimated to contain a billion tons of reserves. Sweetwater mine specimens are well known to mineral collectors the world around.

Galena is lead sulfide and the principal ore of lead. The galena shown above left is pretty typical of the Sweetwater specimens Howard brings to Tucson in terms of size, quality and price. It features a prominent trio of interpenetrating galena crystals on matrix, with an attractive spattering of smaller associated pyrite and dolomite crystals scattered about. This particular specimen is about 9 cm overall and the galena crystals measure approximately 1.5 cm on an edge. It was priced at $75 keystone.

Above right is one of Howard's Sweetwater calcites, a pretty cluster of crystals on matrix which also has associated pyrite and dolomite crystals. This piece was about 14 cm overall with the longest calcite crystals reaching about 4cm in length. I already have a pretty nice galena from the Sweetwater mine in my own collection, and several Sweetwater calcites as well, but none of my Sweetwater calcites are as large or aesthetic as this one, which was only asking $50 keystone. Hmm, I may have to go back and see if Howard still has that one...

Howard has a large display of assorted thumbnail specimens containing many species from worldwide localities set up just outside his room. I didn't have time today as it would take a while to peruse them all and it was already getting late in the day when I visited Howard. However, I've found some bargains and interesting specimens among Howard's thumbnails during past shows. When I return to the InnSuites after the show officially opens here I'll spend an enjoyable hour or two silver picking through these.

Howard S. Merk, Email: PO Box 588, Westbrook, CT 06498 Phone: 800.284.2499 Fax: 860.399.0063

On 'Keystone' Pricing

You are probably familiar with net pricing, which means you pay what's marked on an item no matter who you are. However, several report readers have emailed me wondering what "keystone" pricing means. If you're also wondering about that, it means if you meet certain criteria you get a discount, usually 50% off the marked price. Each dealer determines their own prices and resale policies, but the bottom line on most dealers offering keystone pricing is you need to be another dealer with a resale license to receive their keystone discount. Other dealers set the keystone criteria as a minimum purchase - buy $100 or $1000 or $10,000 minimum to qualify...

The basic idea behind the dual price structure is to accommodate two markets - the retail customer who may come in and want to purchase only a single $10 specimen, or the dealer who may come in and want to purchase entire flats of specimens, or sometimes "everything you have that's that good or better".

However, some dealers use "keystone" pricing as a marketing gimmick and give half off to anyone who walks in their room regardless of their dealer status or the amount they purchase. I guess the idea there is to convince the customer he's getting a good deal due to the hefty discount. Of course some of the dealers who practice such tactics are giving half off after doubling their prices, while others may be discounting deeply to the public in order to move rocks and liquefy their inventory quickly. That is sometimes the case towards the end of the Show, as it is often the lesser of two evils to sell their remaining rocks cheap than to have to haul them all back home and sit on them, perhaps for another year, and then haul them back to the Show the following year. A dealer who is truly desperate to move inventory may offer "double keystone" pricing, which means you pay half of half the marked price, a 75% discount.

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