Snapshots from the Tucson 2000 Gem and Mineral Show
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The Hundred Dollar Picture

A new show location advertised this year by Marty Zinn's Arizona Mineral and Fossil Show is Mineral and Fossil Marketplace, located between the Ramada and Executive Inns at Oracle and Drachman. This location is in a relatively small building, formerly housing the Sonoran Desert Marketplace, which was a sort of upscale gift shop and book store with a Southwestern and local niche. I assume the idea was to capture year-around traffic from the motels next door, but the gift shop did not flourish and closed a while back. However, the location is prime real estate during the Show due to its location right between the Ramada and the Executive Inns, and I wasn't surprised to see this building assimilated and a number of tents set up in a new area in the vacant lot behind it.

At right is a close up of a large vase which was displayed on a pallet in front of the Mineral and Fossil Marketplace. Note the floppy disk I placed at the base of it for scale. I thought these were pretty attractive due to the contrast between materials. I was wondering "How'd they do that?" until I inquired about them from Mineral Mania 96 owner Bruno Milani, who occupied the front portion of the Mineral and Fossil Marketplace with upscale decorator merchandise mostly lapidaried from rock and semiprecious stone. Bruno explained that the vases were manufactured by fitting and gluing individual blocks of stone to the exterior of a molded fiberglass form, which provided the underlying shape and structural integrity. Once joined to the form, the exterior of the individual pieces were subsequently worked, smoothed and polished. The fits were pretty nice and it was obvious a good amount of hand work and detailing went into making one of these. I would also assume the fiberglass provided a water tight vessel in case you had some really jumbo flowers or small trees you wanted to cut and display in one.

Bruno showed numerous carvings and fine objects including bowls and vases, chests, chess sets and jewelry boxes. Most of these items were rather expensive and many were openly displayed about Mineral Mania 96's area where they could be handled and closely inspected to fully appreciate the craftsmanship and beauty. Of course "If You Break It You Buy It" warnings were also prominently displayed here and there about his goods.

I thought the malachite jewelry box shown above left was pretty eye catching and the quality of the work was fine. This box was fabricated from some handsome slabs of Zaire, African malachite. It measured about 12 x 8 x 4 inches and was priced at $340. Bruno also showed a variety of intarsia jewelry boxes. Intarsia is a technique for creating designs in jewelry and lapidaried objects built up of numerous constituent pieces which are precisely shaped, fitted and directly joined (glued together), similar to the way pieces in a jigsaw puzzle fit together.

Being from Tucson I especially appreciated several of the intarsia boxes depicting southwest scenes in their lids. Above right is a pueblo scene complete with saguaro and prickly pear cacti, and some sparsely vegetated, talus strewn mountains in the background. It measured about 9 x 6 x 2.5 inches and wanted $840.

Those who do intarsia work make the pieces of their 'puzzles' out of precious and semiprecious materials, which are cut and shaped to fit together against each other without surrounding silver as used in inlay work often employed for similar effects. On fine intarsia work the joints between pieces are gapless. The value of a piece is affected by the quality of the work and reputation of its maker as well as its complexity, size, time expended, value of the component materials and of course its aesthetics and general cool factor. The larger box at left featured another Sonoran desert scene which did a pretty remarkable job of accurately portraying a number of types of cacti, including a couple of varieties of cholla, also known to those who know as 'jumping' cactus. I thought the foreground and background layering in this piece gave the scene a lot of depth and I also appreciated the rendering of the mountains in the background. There were even clouds in the sky... This box measured about 10 x 7 x 4 inches and wanted $1400. Bruno related these boxes were all made in and imported from Tuscany, Italy.

I made some earlier remarks about how most of the affordable rock chess sets were difficult to play with because the pieces weren't carved in the traditional Staunton pattern and could be difficult to discriminate one from the other. I thought I'd show my fellow rockhound chess players a couple of more upscale sets which were on display at the Mineral and Fossil Marketplace.

This beautiful set was made in Italy from Zaire malachite and white marble. I included a floppy disk for scale - the board measures 22 x 25 inches and the pieces are of classic Staunton design with 4 1/4 inch kings. This set wanted $850. Click on the image for a higher resolution view.

Above is a Mexican set fashioned from onyx. The board was 26 inches square and the pieces were quite large with 7.5" kings. The all-up weight of this set was estimated to be about 80 pounds. These were selling fast at $300 and this set was the last available of 5 like it which were brought to the Show by Mineral Mania 96. This set had 'presence' and the pieces were a pot bellied variation of Staunton design which were readily differentiated. The pieces were a little crowded on the board to my tastes and I would have preferred them to be be a little smaller (or the board a little bigger), but all up I thought this a pretty fine set for the money. If I were playing more actively I might have tried running a gamble by Bruno with an offer of $250, but he most likely would have countered and pinned me with the fact that he won't have much trouble selling this last one at $300 before the show is over.

At left is another Mexican set displayed at Mineral Mania 96. The style of this set is reminiscent of 50's Modern to my eye. It was fashioned from pink and white onyx with a 14 inch square board and 5 3/4" kings. While this set was a bargain as a decorator piece at $60, I wouldn't want to own or play on it. Even if I could tell the pieces apart I doubt I could keep from knocking them over and breaking them.

Mineral Mania 96 Email: Tel: 520.628.9696 Fax: 520.628.9797 602 W. Flores Street, Tucson, AZ 85705

Nature's Own was another dealer sharing the rear of the Marketplace building with Mineral Mania 96. Nature's Own also showed chess sets and these were fashioned from green and white onyx with Staunton styled pieces. The boards were about 15.5 inches square and the kings were about 3.25 inches tall. To my eye the pieces were well scaled to the board and readily discernable. These sets came complete with a green velvet covered case for individually storing the pieces in their own protective niches. They cost $120 by the each or could be purchased in a case of five sets for $80 per set. These were tempting but unfortunately the green just didn't tick my clock so I inquired if they were also available in black and white onyx. No, but I was told Nature's Own may be able to offer these in black and white so check back.

When you consider one of the nicer similar sized Staunton sets with weighted, molded plastic pieces and a fold-up cardboard board can readily set one back $30 or more nowadays, $100 or so for a hand carved, onyx set and board doesn't seem a ridiculously extravagant expense for an active player to me. A set like this would make an appreciated and often used gift for almost any chess player, and might also might make a suitable wager in a grudge match between bitter rivals...

At the back of the room Nature's Own had this large shelf covered with Campo del Cielo meteorite specimens priced at only 10 cents per gram. While this material is from one of the greatest known falls and is not 'rare' (not rare as meteorites go, that is), it's not every day that I encounter smaller sized meteorites of interest to the more casual space rock collector priced this inexpensively ($45 per pound). Campo del Cielo is a discovered fall of nickel iron meteorite in Chaco Province, Argentina which has been known since at least 1576. The strewn field for this meteorite has produced numerous and large specimens, one of which was a 15 ton mass recovered in 1813 and acquired the British Museum.

In 1990, Robert Haag, a legendary, globetrotting meteorite dealer from Tucson, attempted to acquire and export an even larger Campo del Cielo iron estimated at 37 tons from a private party near the village of Gancedo, about 600 miles northwest of Buenos Aires. However, the government authorities down there saw his arrangements and deal for the big iron a little differently, and arrested Haag on charges of attempting to steal a national treasure. Of course this international incident received a lot of coverage in our Tucson newspapers and media while it was unfolding. He was eventually released on a $20,000 bond to return home with a lighter purse and skunked on that one. However, Robert is said to have subsequently reported that the exposure he received from the resulting news and publicity over the 'misunderstanding' was responsible for more than doubling his business, which wasn't what you'd really call hurting prior to his adventure in Argentina.

Shown above right is a somewhat more acquirable sized chunk of Campo del Cielo, which was about 8 inches across and tipped the scales at 27 pounds. 27 pounds times $45 per pound or somewhere around $1200. No Federales or difficult questions asked, so I surmise the local authorities either didn't consider these more modest sized specimens to be in the national treasure class, or else Robert Haag just unfortunately failed to connect with the right export broker...

Above left is a still more modest sized specimen in hand which weighed in at about 1.5 pounds and would have done about $67 worth of damage to the rock budget. It needed a little cleaning and attention but displayed a sculpted, 'meteorite' shape and all in all I considered it a pretty darn nice chuck of space rock for the price. The inexpensive cost of these specimens and prior history of one of Tucson's own with Campo del Cielo were more than I could ultimately resist, so I would up taking home a deal on the shrapnel shaped piece of this meteorite in hand above right for my own extraterrestrial rock collection. At 335 grams and about 9.5 cm it was one of the smallest displayed by Nature's Own and is now the largest meteorite in my collection. At $30 it was also one of the least expensive to silver pick. I plan to eventually make a custom stand to display my Campo del Cielo as a contrast specimen with several other octahedrites in my collection, which also includes a 220 gram medium octahedrite found on the Nullabor Plain in Western Australia, and a 153 gram iron from Canyon Diablo, (Meteor Crater), Arizona. However, first I really need a couple of nicely etched slices of some more heavy metal to go with, showing some aesthetic Widmanstätten patterns, know what I mean? ;).

This dealer also showed several shelves covered with smaller to modest sized specimens of the ubiquitous Brazilian amethyst geodes, your choice for $5 per pound. I considered the quality and aesthetics of some of these pieces to be among the best I have seen at $5 per pound and there were a number of them in the $100 to $200 range that looked pretty good for the money. The smallest specimen in the image above right wanted only $150 and it was very nice unless you just had to have a big one. Note the floppy disk on its left for scale. Shown at left is a larger and pricer one at $400 worth. The amethyst on this piece had large crystals and deep color which is considered desirable, but I don't think its overall aesthetics compared to the smaller $150 one which had a full pocket and crystals all around. To my tastes the only way to have improved much on it would have been to have the other half as well.

Nature's Own showed a line of lapidaried plates and bowls which were perhaps a little more utilitarian than meteorite specimens. These were available in various materials including white onyx, banded onyx and picture jasper. Shown above right is an 8 inch banded onyx bowl, These were priced at $27 for just one, or $18 each by the 6 piece carton. Shown at right for those of you who consume an entire box of Captain Crunch in a single sitting is a much larger, 14 inch banded onyx bowl. These were the largest bowls and wanted $120 for just one or $80 each for a 2 piece carton. The smallest bowls were two inchers, about right for the horse radish, and those sold for $2.70 for just one or $1.80 each by the 25 piece carton if you have a big family that really likes horse radish. Matching plates were also available. Requiring less material and no doubt less labor, the plates were comparatively less expensive. The largest available plates were 12 inchers at $21 for just one, or $14 each for a 6 piece carton.

It your decorator really wanted to get into matching rock accouterments, Nature's Own also offered lapidaried jars, boxes, vases, eggs, spheres, hearts, pyramids, obelisks, candle holders, bookends and office accessories variously fashioned from white onyx, banded onyx, picture jasper and black and white, vermilion and quartz veined marbles. Shown above are a spread of 7 inch bookends, which went for $24 per single pair or $16 per pair by the 8 pair case. 6 inch bookends were available at $15 per single pair or $10 per pair by the 12 pair case, and 8 inchers ran $45 by the single pair or $30 per pair by the 6 pair case.

Nature's Own Web: Nature's Own Tel: 303.444.4020 Fax: 303.444.4260 3564 Pearl Street, Boulder, CO 80301

Before calling it quits at the Mineral and Fossil Marketplace I wanted to get pictures of a few more of the unique lapidaried boxes shown up front by Mineral Mania 96. I initially thought these boxes were made from Utah rock but learned that this very similar appearing septarian material is from Madagascar. The largest box measured about 9.5 x 6.5 x 5 inches and wanted $920. The smallest shown to the right and in front of the big one measured about 4.25 x 2.75 x 1.5 inches and it was priced at $195.

Somehow while I was coming in for a close up of detail on one of the septarian boxes my neocortex shorted out, and I bumped my left elbow into this ornamental picture frame which was perched just down the edge of the same shelf, knocking it off onto the floor and shattering it. It appeared to be made from some kind of turquoise colored material and measured about 3.5 inches along an outside edge and framing a small picture area of about 2.5 square inches. The tag on the back said $120, but Mineral Mania did show some mercy and gave me a $20 discount, so I settled up for $100 and brought home the pieces. Subsequent inspection of the frame material led me to conclude it was a man made simulant, so unfortunately there went my initial idea of cutting it up and recycling it for use in my own lapidary projects.

This was the first and only time I had ever broken or damaged anything in the course of the 5 years I've been doing Tucson Show reporting. Needless to say the accident shook me up a bit, and that was that for my tour at the Mineral and Fossil Marketplace. The breaks were clean fractures and I figured I could at least painstakingly reassemble the picture frame with glue. It was something that even though repaired I thought would be appreciated by a friend of mine.

But to add further hurt to the injury, as I later attempted to put Humpty Dumpty back together again I discovered that a piece had been overlooked and missed when they were collected off the floor and wrapped up and put in a bag for me. Perhaps the missing piece shot off beneath a nearby table or off into a corner out of sight, very likely to have been pulverized by an unknowing footstep later on. So this object d' art goes in the trash as a complete write off except as a memorable lesson from the school of hard knocks and a $100 picture.

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