Snapshots from the Tucson 2006 Gem and Mineral Show
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Hey rockhounds, greetings from Tucson and welcome to my online 2006 Tucson Gem and Mineral Show report!

Eluvium at the Executive

Saturday, January 28th was my first day out at the Tucson Show this year. Tucson has obliged the opening of the 2006 Show with some of its legendary weather, the sky sunny and fair with just whispers of clouds in the air. It was short sleeve weather by nine this morning and I comfortably left my jacket behind.

I had initially planned on visiting rocks at the Arizona Mineral and Fossil Show at the Inn Suites Hotel today, but on my way there I noticed some activity at the Executive Inn, 333 W. Drachman. A long reigning queen of the mineral shows at Tucson, the show at the Executive Inn has been on the decline for some years. 2004 was the final year promoter Marty Zinn's Arizona and Mineral Fossil Show was hosted at the Executive with a great many former Executive Inn dealers following the Arizona Mineral and Fossil Show to a new location at the Clarion Hotel starting in 2005.

Based on the dismal dealer presence at the Executive for the 2005 Tucson Show, I would not have been surprised to see this location fold as a show venue. However, the dealer turnout at the Executive Inn this year was definitely up over 2005, with the rooms in the bottom floors of both buildings occupied and tents lining the east side parking lot. This dealer presence is nowhere near the glory days for this location with the Executive crammed full of old vanguard mineral dealers top and bottom floors both. The general complexion of the rocks offered here has also altered. However with 75 or so dealers listed for 2006, the changes I observed here over 2005 are positive and encouraging that the Executive Inn Mineral and Fossil Show may carry on as an anchoring venue for some of the other shows in this neighborhood.

A significant percentage of the new dealers at the Executive Inn traffic in the sort of Moroccan sourced fossils which have become increasingly ubiquitous at Tucson during recent years. If you require Moroccan fossilized sharks teeth in bulk for cheap you just can't miss at the Tucson Show...

The geometrically multiplying Moroccan presence at Tucson is testimony to both abundant and economically exploitable deposits in Morocco and ready markets for Moroccan goods, which tend to be large, showy and relatively inexpensive. As I browsed through several 2006 show guides I noted yet another bumper crop of Moroccan dealers and dealers of Moroccan goods spread throughout the 2006 Tucson Show locations. I don't think Morocco is going to run out of fossils anytime soon but it seems to me at some point the competition between dealers of Moroccan rocks must reach the level where some winnowing occurs at Tucson.

As I crossed the tent-lined parking lot on my way into the Executive, a box loaded with spheres fashioned from a Moroccan cochina caught my eye, as I have fairly recently cut a cabochon from some similar material of Mexican origin, which is shown at right. (The "clam chowder stone" in this cab is naturally yellow-grey in color but turns red when heat treated.) I stopped at the tent and picked up one of the spheres to examine the fossiliferous material more closely.

It didn't take long for my interest to capture the attention of the Moroccan dealer minding the tent, who quickly approached and offered it at $20. Now anyone who has cut and polished just a few cabochons can appreciate the amount of labor represented by a 5" sphere like these, and they don't get to Tucson all the way from Morocco for free either. The dealer had my attention so I decided to get his and inquired "How much for the lot of them"?

All up there were 23 five inch spheres in the box. The dealer made a show of working it out on his calculator and finally turned the display to me. It read $287.50. That worked out to $11.50 each. I was confident he was still in the money at $11.50 and can't help but marvel that they can get the rock out of the ground, lapidary it, ship it to the other side of the planet, cover the not insignificant direct and associated costs of their venue at Tucson, and still turn a profit on something like a 5 inch sphere at that price.

I didn't personally have a current need for 23 cochina spheres, but I did find the exchange enlightening. I thanked the dealer for his attention and made a note to consider one of these for myself and to also mention them to a friend who is currently buying to stock a new rock shop in a posh New England resort community. As I started to turn and walk away the dealer called after me "What is your price sir?". Now my curiosity was really up but I did not want to more seriously mislead the dealer as to my own interest in the lot. So I just replied thanks again and that perhaps I or a friend of mine would be back later, which lead to some more number crunching on the dealer's calculator. This time when he turned it to me the display read $241.50. That worked out to $10.50 each. Hey I love this Show... :)

If this negotiation is indicative of the current overall climate and market for Moroccan goods it looks like Tucson 2006 will be a productive year for both serious and more casual buyers of them. A great many of the Moroccan dealers are retail oriented and obliging to customers buying at less than wholesale levels.

Opportunities abound for decorators and casual collectors to take home some showy decor without breaking their bank accounts, but there are some caveats to be passed on to the less initiated regarding many relatively inexpensive Moroccan specimens.

Most of the fossils offered by dealers for sale to the collector market and general public have undergone some preparation. The preparation required to relieve a fossil from the country rock and show it advantageously can entail a considerable amount of skill and labor. Specimen preparation is in general a value adding process, the cost ultimately being borne by the buyer. However there comes a point where preparation becomes more a process of fabrication than one of recovery or restoration of the natural fossil.

The large Moroccan ammonite depicted above right serves as an illustration of a specimen which in details is just about as much rock carving as it is fossil. This degree of "preparation" is not at all uncommon in Moroccan materials offered on the cheap at Tucson. While there are also out and out frauds, what you are most likely to encounter towards the mass market end of the spectrum are goods which started out as common but genuine fossils of generally less than excellent quality which are "prepared" by carvers taking some artistic license where the rock is lacking. I suppose what prospective buyers have to ask themselves regarding such specimens is where else are they going to find a 24 inch ammonite for five bucks an inch?

There are also many assembled Moroccan specimens out there, which are actually composites of fossil parts from different animals more or less skillfully assembled to represent the fossil of a single creature or a group of individuals.

In relating this I am reminded of some 2" to 3" Moroccan trilobites I purchased for a cost of a dollar or two each at a Tucson Show years past. If you soak one in a bucket of water overnight what you get in the morning is muddy water and a pile of fossil fragments from a number of different individuals which were assembled and stuck together with a concoction of what appears to be mud, sand and a not too water-resistant binder filling in the voids and missing parts.

Now I'm not complaining mind you, as these trilos have a lot of presence and cool factor for a nominal cost. But the uninitiated and unwary can also spend considerably more than a couple of bucks on similarly assembled goods and disclosure regarding the nature of these specimens isn't always rigorously delivered. The bottom line is if it just seems too good a deal to be true, it probably is. If in doubt, look close... If still in doubt about the degree and nature of preparation on a prospective acquisition, ask the dealer. If in doubt about the dealer, simply move on... one beauty of Tucson is there are many more dealers and rocks to chose from.

Once inside the Executive I found this eye catching display of Madagascar rose quartz spheres with stars shown by Little Big Stone in Room 112. These were priced at $50 for up to one inchers, with larger ones wanting up to $250 at two inches. The star in this rose quartz is due to asterism, an optical effect caused by very fine hexagonally oriented inclusions within the quartz, typically rutile.

Some Madagascar ocean jasper was also shown here. I sometimes hear remarks to the effect that you just can't get this much sought after material anymore. That's not entirely true just yet anyways, assuming you are willing to pay fairly dearly for it... The polished slab depicted above is approximately 14" overall and 3/8" thick. It contains some very ripe areas for cabochons but my own inclination would be towards preserving it as a specimen and decorator piece. $210.00 for this slice.

Another pretty slice of ocean jasper is depicted at left and above. This slab was approximately 11" overall and 1/2" thick. It also contains some areas ripe for cutting, but this one is also probably your basic $120 display piece and dust catcher.

Little Big Stone, Executive Inn Mineral and Fossil Show Room 112 - BP 5221, Antananarivo, Madagascar 101 - Phone: (261) 33 11 09196 Fax: (261) 20 22 41253 Email:

Jewelry and other objects carved from the ivory tusks of extinct Russian mammoths were shown by Lise Carving and Jewelry in Room 116 at the Executive. I found the shape of the pieces and overall effect of this necklace pleasing to the eye. It wanted $281.25 to go home. As I was photographing this one the question of how the pieces were strung or connected occurred to me, but I subsequently became distracted and unfortunately forgot to check out that detail while there. .

I also thought this mammoth ivory rose and bead necklace quite attractive. Nice roses! Note the relief carved clear through. The only thorn to prick you on this piece is the price tag of $162.00. But do consider this - if this piece was the product of your own work, time, and mammoth ivory, would you be inclined to sell it for $162.00?

There is a lot of detail and depth to this approximately 11 inch section of mammoth tusk with carved dragons. This piece needs $2205.00 to grace your own dragon collection.

Detailed above and below is another carved mammoth tusk, this scene depicting an encounter between some ancient hunters and their intended prey. Now I'll confess to being somewhat lacking in practical experience regarding the ins and outs of mammoth hunting, but I'm inclined to conclude from a close inspection of the scene here that it isn't clear cut it is the mammoths who are in peril of extinction... This carving was priced at $1507.50.

This classic Staunton style chess set and combination case/board are fashioned entirely from Russian mammoth ivory. A 12" board with 3" kings was commanding $5355.00. Barring a blunder this end game should draw. A similar but downsized set with 8.5" case and 2" kings wanted $2655.00.

Lise Carving and Jewelry, Executive Inn Mineral and Fossil Show Room 116

Mineral World showed this eye catching Tajikistan beryl with feldspar and mica. This specimen is approximately 3 inches overall with the largest heliodor crystal being about 1.5" in length. This rock had $4400 on it with an indication there was some room for negotiation.

Another aesthetic beryl shown by Mineral World is this Chivor mine Colombian emerald with associated calcite and pyrite. This specimen was about 1.25" overall with the prominent crystal being approximately .5" in length. It was marked $4900 but offered at a discount of 30%, making this your basic $3400 thumbnail.

Mineral World, Executive Inn Mineral and Fossil Show Room 149 - 201 N. Euclid Ave., Upland, CA 91786 - Phone: (909) 608-1620 Cell: 760-644-0703

In my rock collection are several nice gypsum roses from Mexico and the US acquired as spontaneous purchases of opportunity during Tucson Shows over the years. These are really very nice pieces considering their size, condition, aesthetics and that I probably haven't yet paid more than $20 for one.

Inexpensive roses are not hard to acquire, but undamaged ones are another story. Due to their bladey habit and thin edges they can be easy to damage. I have to confess to badly breaking one of my own due to being sloppy and not grasping the specimen securely while moving it by its stand. Ooops!

While passing through the patio area at the Executive today I couldn't help but notice these roses on a dealer table and my interest increased when an initial lookover revealed that two of them were in fine condition. After learning from the dealer these were of Moroccan origin I just had to have one.

The smaller of the two, depicted above left, is about 7 inches overall and has an aesthetic vertical orientation but will require a custom made stand to hold it properly upright. The larger of the two, depicted above right, is about 8 inches overall, also fuller, and has an attractive horizontal orientation when stood on its own that way, no stand required. This is appealing to me as I seem to have a hard time getting 'round to making display stands. The smaller rose wanted $10 and the larger wanted $20. I was having a difficult time choosing, a dilemma which did not escape the dealer's attention.

He mercifully suggested both for $25. I think I could have countered and acquired them both for $20, almost certainly for $22.50. But I was pleased with these pieces - to my eye they were his best - and so did not feel strongly motivated to barter further and attempt to beat the guy out of every last dollar possible. So he was happy to put $25 in his pocket and I was happy to take both roses home with me, which I am relieved to report survived being carried around for several hours wrapped in newspaper inside a plastic grocery bag and that I managed to get both specimens home intact.

Mineraux De Collection, Executive Inn Mineral and Fossil Show Patio - Email: 88 Bd Outhil, 54350 Midelf, Maroc - Phone: 0021255582998

While in the neighborhood at the Executive Inn, I stopped by to say hi and pay my respects to Glenn Archer, pictured at left, at his Australian Outback Mining tent. Glenn is located in the Arizona Mineral and Fossil Show Marketplace venue at 1333 N. Oracle, which is just on the other side of Oracle from the Executive Inn.

I still have a good supply of rather nice, uncut Australian cabbing rough of various species acquired from Glenn during previous Shows, so I wasn't planning on acquiring anything specific from Glenn this year. However, I did manage to find a couple of rocks laying about on Glenn's tables this year that I just couldn't bear to do without.

Depicted above left is a pretty piece of Starry Jasper, which is piritized and carbonate altered, metamorphosed, banded iron formation (chert) from Near Meekatharra, Western Australia. This polished end piece is about 6.5" overall and averages a little under an inch thick. I am particularly keen on the interspersed pyrites and healed faults apparent in this rock, it just screams geology... If I can ever bring myself to slice it up, this $16.00 chunk of jasper will cut a couple of very nice bola stones, or perhaps a bola and belt buckle set, with plenty of material left over for matching accouterments such as ring, collar tips, key chain and/or money clip stones.

I also couldn't resist the interesting chunk of rock from Yerilla, Western Australia shown in hand above right, which contains a vein of crysoprase running all the way through it. Chrysoprase is a variety of chalcedony that is colored green by nickel. Australian Crysoprase is sometimes referred to as "Australian Jade" due to its resemblance. This $28.00 piece is about 7" overall and 2.5 to 3" thick. I don't have a specific project in mind for this material yet, but the strong contrast between the bright green crysoprase vein and rich brown country rock should provide some interesting design opportunities for a unique necklace, bracelet and earring set or another project of similar scale and ambition.

Glenn is showing a new Australian variscite this year. This material was recently mined on a cattle ranch in Western Australia approximately 100 miles north of the town of Meekatharra, where it occurs as horizontal seams running into the side of a steep hill. The seams are hosted in a silicified shale of the Proterozoic Jillawarra Formation. The fine piece shown in hand above left and close at right went home with me.

Variscite is hydrated magnesium aluminum phosphate. Chemically it is closely related to turquoise which is hydrated copper aluminum phosphate. Both turquoise and variscite are sometimes patterned with spiderweb markings. Such stones are highly regarded by traditional native American silversmiths and collectors alike.

Some years ago I met Glenn as a result of being too slow on the draw on a couple of rather nice slabs of Australian spiderweb variscite from another locality he was showing in a tub of slabs along one side of his tent. The Show shuttle has a stop next to the Australian Outback Mining tent and for several days I visited with and admired those slabs while waiting for the shuttle van. Those spiderweb slabs really jumped out at me, but I already had boxes of cabbing material and was fairly determined not to acquire anything new until I had cut more of it. However I just couldn't get those slabs out of my mind. They were large, had great patterning and color and were relatively inexpensive at about $15 each. Cheap in fact, compared to the cost of domestic spiderweb variscite - if you can find it. I finally decided they warranted an exception and determined buy them at the next opportunity.

Of course they were both gone when I got there the next day. Feeling rather slow witted at this point I went to the dealer to inquire if he had any more of the spiderweb variscite, which is when I first met and spoke with Glenn. Unfortunately he did not - until now.

Shown above and below are several samples of this variscite which have been faced and polished to show it off. Note how this material is oriented. Detailed above is the face of a cut made parallel to the seam. The samples below are faced perpendicular to the seam.

There were several barrels of this variscite rough open and they were receiving a lot of attention. There was also a tub filled with smaller pieces. It looked like this material is going pretty fast at $80 per pound.

Australian Outback Mining, Arizona Mineral and Fossil Show at the Mineral and Fossil Marketplace (1333 North Oracle Road) - WWW: Email: P.O. Box 517 Mundaring, Western Australia, 6073 - Phone/Fax: +618 9572 1020

While at the Mineral and Fossil Marketplace I couldn't help but notice several tables in the Eons Ago Company tent covered with dozens of dinosaur eggs. These are the eggs of Chinese hadrosaurs. Hadrosaurs are some of the best known, most diverse, most widely distributed and most successful types of dinosaurs. Hadrosaurs were the deer of the Late Cretaceous and were likely the prey of choice of large carnivorous dinosaurs contemporary with them. Hadrosaurs evolved the most complex teeth of all of the plant eating dinosaurs with up to 1200 teeth in their mouths and could chew any plant material.

Now I have coveted a dinosaur egg for some time for my own rock collection, to which I've so far contributed any dinosaur parts I've been able to silver pick inexpensively over the years at the Tucson Show, such as Spinosaurus teeth from Morocco, lapidary grade Utah dino bone from unidentified species, and sauropod egg shell fragments from Argentina.

But so far I have yet to spring for an entire egg in spite of finding it rather remarkable that with such intense interest in dinosaurs by the public at large, you can acquire a dinosaur egg on the open market for a couple hundred bucks. After all, it's not like they are making these any more, the rock cool factor is clear off the scale, and they do make one hell of a paper weight.

Oviraptor eggs are shown and offered as well. Oviraptor is a relatively small, late Cretaceous Mongolian theropod dinosaur reaching 6 to 8 feet in overall length. It had a short, parrot-like head and a massive pair of toothless jaws shaped like a beak and a powerful bite.

There seems to be some question regarding the appropriateness of Oviraptor (egg eater) for the name for this dinosaur, due to a change of interpretation of a fossil Oviraptor found with a clutch of eggs that were initially presumed to be that of another dinosaur. The initial interpretation involves the Oviraptor having lunch. However a more recent study revealed an Oviraptor embryo inside one of the eggs. Other examples of Oviraptors associated with nests have been found and the current interpretation involves nest tending and brooding, and ultimately that Oviraptor and other dinosaurs may have been exothermic (warm blooded). An alternate interpretation of the Oviraptor's dentition suggests hard shelled marine life such as clams as a mainstay of its diet.

Another interesting feature is an unusual crest above Oviraptor's snout filled with air passages and openings for its nose, similar to the passages in lambeosaurine (duck-billed) hadrosaurs. Oviraptor is known from Mongolia and North America, which were connected as the supercontinent Laurasia during the Cretaceous.

The clutch detailed above right contained 9 Oviraptor eggs and wanted $4000. Individual Oviraptor eggs were priced from $300 to $450.

Shown above right is some cover art from the book Eggs, Nests and Baby Dinosaurs, A Look at Dinosaur Reproduction by Kenneth Carpenter, ISBN 0-253-33497-7, which comes highly recommended by Eons Ago Company owner Lowell Carheart as a thorough, up-to-date synthesis of our knowledge about dinosaur reproduction and development. Over 300 photos and illustrations lavishly illustrate Eggs, Nests and Baby Dinosaurs. An extensive directory of dinosaur egg and baby discovery sites is included. This one looks like a great read and reference. It is available from Indiana University Press for $35.00. I'll be getting a copy and reading this one after the Show.

Shown in hand at right is one of the Oviraptor eggs which has undergone several hours of further preparation by Lowell's sister Christine with an air tool that sprays a fine stream of aluminum oxide abrasive.

Christine was learning how to do this from other preparers at the Show and she related that this egg was actually the fruit of her first go at using this technique to clean a fossil. This additional preparation can add several hundreds of dollars to the cost of an egg but I think this is a no brainer must-do considering the very appreciable difference this makes in the presentation of the specimen.

I note that dinosaur eggs feel pretty good in hand. Sooner or later, I'll be back...

Eons Ago Company also showed several tables loaded with plates of the crinoid Scyphocrinus elegans from the Atlas Mountains in Morocco. These fossils are of marine animals from the Upper Silurian/Early Devonian, approximately 415 million years ago. My hand provides some scale for the 19.2 pound plate depicted below. Prices on these crinoid specimens started at $25 per pound with discounts beginning at 10 pounds. I think it's probably safe to assume you could negotiate the 20 pound price break for this piece, which would put the cost at $432.00 to take it home for your own fossil collection.

Pretty rocks are they not?

Eons Ago Company, Arizona Mineral and Fossil Show at the Mineral and Fossil Marketplace (1333 North Oracle Road) - WWW: Email: 15 Old Creamery road, Andover, NJ 07860 - Phone: (973) 786-5113 Fax: (973) 786-5379

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