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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Mineral Show: Vendors hope to strike it rich at gem expo

    Doug Coulter from Norman, Okla., examines a piece of sphalerite with chalcopyrite and dolomite in his hotel room at the Best Western Executive Inn, 333 W. Drachman St. Coulter is in town for the Tucson Gem, Mineral and Fossil Show.
    Doug Coulter from Norman, Okla., examines a piece of sphalerite with chalcopyrite and dolomite in his hotel room at the Best Western Executive Inn, 333 W. Drachman St. Coulter is in town for the Tucson Gem, Mineral and Fossil Show.

    Room 116 is not like most hotel rooms.

    It has two beds, a bathroom and on the dresser, where the TV normally sits, is a glass case containing dozens of objects sculpted from woolly mammoth tusks.

    Lynda Cruz, a Latin American studies senior, manages the menagerie of carved ivory figures, necklaces, chess sets and bracelets.

    A tourist accidentally knocked over a set of 1-inch-tall figures of a man with a bamboo shoot.

    “”It’s OK,”” Cruz said. “”It’s very durable material. It’s from the Stone Age.””

    Room 116, better known as the Siberia Room, is just one of many at the Executive Inn Mineral and Fossil Show at 333 W. Drachman St.

    This particular location is just one of many hotels, exhibition halls and giant tents set up across town to coincide with the annual Tucson Gem and Mineral show, which concludes Sunday.

    Cruz is no stranger to the fossil and mineral business; she managed last year’s expo at the Executive Inn.

    This year Cruz works two jobs, one as a sales agent for the Siberia Room and another as a freelance agent for Best Western’s Executive Inn.

    Cruz’s involvement in minerals is a position she fell into by accident.

    “”It was a fluke actually,”” Cruz said.

    Cruz had been talking with the hotel’s manager and eventually began arranging for Spanish-speaking dealers to sell their wares at the hotel’s mineral show.

    Although she is taking a break from running the show this year, next year she plans to take another crack at managing the entire show.

    “”My focus for next year is to bring in dealers from Latin American countries,”” she said.

    Cruz estimates dealers from more than 30 countries are represented at this year’s show, which causes problems if not all of them speak English.

    Cruz recounts an incident when a dealer from China arrived with $1 million worth of merchandise and couldn’t speak a word of English.

    “”He’s nervous, we’re nervous,”” she said.

    The situation was cleared up in five minutes, when another dealer who spoke Chinese and English was found.

    “”The dealers are really a family,”” Cruz said. “”They watch out for each other at this hotel.””

    Elsewhere, David Bradfield, a dealer from Ithaca, N.Y., showed a pair of potential buyers a meteorite.

    “”This looks like a piece of shrapnel because it exploded in the atmosphere,”” Bradfield said.

    The chunky brown space rock, which today is going for $38, is one of many in Bradfield’s collection, which includes meteorites collected from Antarctica, the Sahara and Australia.

    Behind the counter, Bradfield, who collected his first rock 40 years ago, is operating a humidifier because “”it pulls in the tourist from the East Coast.””

    “”One of these days I’ll fill it up with Everclear and see if it loosens up people’s wallets,”” Bradfield said.

    The minerals and fossils at the show range from lapis from Afghanistan and opal from Australia to sharks’ teeth from the bottom of the sea and mammoth ivory from the frozen North.

    “”The best quality stuff comes from Siberia,”” Cruz said.

    The ivory carvings came from woolly mammoth tusks discovered in Siberia and carved in Hong Kong. The off-white color of the ivory is due to its age and differs from its elephant white-ivory counterpart, Cruz said.

    “”We don’t want to have anybody buy something from an endangered animal,”” Cruz said.

    Items in Cruz’s room range in price from $27 to $5,000.

    This particular show has had a long history at the Executive Inn, said owner Rampal Yadav.

    Yadav estimates the hotel’s mineral and fossil show is in its 35th year, which was part of the reason he bought the hotel last May.

    “”I didn’t want the hotel, but I wanted the show,”” Yadav said


    Yadav said his hotel only hosts legitimate dealers who have passed through customs.

    “”They’ve got to have absolutely impeccable integrity; otherwise, we won’t take them,”” Yadav said.

    This year, a French dealer was stopped by customs after he tried to ship his goods through customs in an endangered species crate, Yadav said.

    “”We let him go,”” Yadav said. “”His room is already gone. I had nothing against him (personally).””

    Some of the show’s most treasured artifacts wait outside.

    “”What we have to go to is the tent, the one tent, that brings in all the people,”” Cruz said.

    Just outside the rear of the hotel stands one of the main draws to the fossil show, a full mammoth skeleton standing about 10 feet high, which sells for around $1 million.

    “”It was found by pure accident in the Arctic Ocean site,”” said Konstantin Soyfer, a Russian wood and fossil ivory carver who now lives in Arizona.

    Joining the skeleton underneath the tent are several polished mammoth tusks, which can fetch $26,000, Soyfer said.

    Among the smaller pieces in the mammoth tent is an intricately carved chess set featuring 6-inch pieces shaped like medieval soldiers.

    Each piece varies in the amount of time it takes to carve from the fossil ivory, Soyfer said.

    “”It depends how you are inspired,”” Soyfer said, translating a comment from a fellow carver.

    Soyfer anticipates carving each new piece of wood or fossil ivory.

    “”It so moves you because it has so much potential to become anything,”” he said.

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