Sunday, April 17, 2016

Why We Love the Mineral Business So Much!

Most people have no idea that the Fine Mineral Collecting sub-culture even exists.  Sure, everyone has been to a rock shop at least once in their lives, and who hasn't picked up a rock and taken it home?  But the average person has no idea that there is anything even called a "Fine Mineral" - to them it's all amethyst geodes and polished spheres.  Jan and I were lucky enough to have stumbled upon this industry thanks to a friend of ours who said we should go to the Tucson Gem & Mineral show because he knew we had a vague interest in fossils and nice jewelry.  We took him up on that suggestion not knowing the chain reaction of events that it would set in place.

We immediately fell in love with mineral collecting, and the people involved with it.  We had no intention of getting into the mineral business and becoming dealers, but things moved very quickly after our first Tucson show, and here we are today.  Just two weeks ago I announced that I was retiring from the Video Game business and selling my company because I wanted to focus entirely on Greenstone Fine Mineralia.  I had been in the video game business my entire life, and my company, Pangea Software, has been around for almost three decades, so making such huge career change was no easy decision.  I know that the fine mineral trade will never be as lucrative as the software industry, but life isn't just about making money, and at my age I felt like it was time to focus on something new that my wife and I could do together.

So, why do we love the mineral trade so much?  Well lots of reasons:


We go to every mineral show that we can, but not to sell; to buy.  The thrill of the hunt really motivates us, and we can spend 5 straight days from 9am to closing doing nothing but walking around looking at rocks.  Most people find that hard to imagine, and it is hard to explain, but we get so focused on our treasure hunting at these shows that we often forget to eat or take a break.  Every vendor at every show has something different, and you never know what special treasure is hiding in a cardboard flat under a table.  We have found several incredible specimens that way.  Most recently in Tucson we found the most beautiful and exquisite prehnite-epidote specimen either of us had ever seen  hiding in a flat.  We still talk about the thrill we had finding that one!


With very few rare exceptions everyone we have met in the mineral trade has been incredibly friendly, informative, helpful, and inviting to us.  Everyone knows everyone, and everyone is happy to work with each other.  We find really enlightening!  If there's any competition going on you wouldn't know it because all of the various dealers are happy to help each other out.  Some of that is simply because there's a huge amount of inter-dealer trading that goes on, but also because the type of people this business appeals to just have that sort of personality.

The big shows like Tucson are giant melting pots of people from around the world.  Nobody talks politics - it's all just people with a common interest having a good time.  Going to Tucson is like getting a glimpse of what the world would be like if everybody just got along and was nice to each other.  We really enjoy talking with our friends that we've made from Pakistan to Australia to Mali to Brazil.  I don't think there's a country on earth that isn't represented at the large shows.


The way I try to explain the Fine Mineral business to my friends is that it's Fine Art without all the snobbery.  A lot of people assume that the Fine Mineral trade is just a bunch of crystal worshiping hippies, so I try to explain to them that there is virtually none of that.  It's all about the science, beauty, and investment potential of the specimens.  Nobody ever talks about magic unicorns!

The minerals and fossils that we have in our collection are spread around our house.  Most of them reside in a single, large, lighted display case in our living room, but many pieces, especially the larger ones, are displayed as art in different rooms.  While you tend to see the same species of minerals everywhere you go, the variety among them is endless. We're always trying to find something that speaks to us, and has that kind of appeal that only art can have.

A lot of the mineral and fossil specimens are the kinds of things that anybody can appreciate.  If it's shiny and colorful most people will be drawn to it, but then there are the things that take a more refined appreciation.  The longer we are in this business the more we are finding that we really like certain things which earlier we would have had no interest in or appreciation for.


Part of the fun of finding and buying a new specimen is the wheeling and dealing that goes along with it.  Jan is best at this since she's been in sales most of her career.  Most dealers are willing to make us good deals on the specimens that we buy, but even the ones that stay firm on their prices are usually fun to negotiate with.  It's all part of the experience and getting to know people.

In many ways this business is the Wild West because there's no pricing manual that says what a specimen should cost.  You can find a rock on a table under a tent outside for $200, and that same exact rock on a $8 acrylic base in a nice display case in a hotel can be $2000.  Beauty (and apparently value) is in the eye of the beholder.  This makes it easier to negotiate pricing.  We have a pretty good idea of what we can sell things for, so we try to negotiate purchase prices around that.  Some dealers with a wealthier clientele are able to charge 10x for a specimen compared with what we could sell it for, so we have to alway tell ourselves when it's time to just walk away from a deal.  Sometimes, however, we fall in love with a specimen which means we end up paying too much, or when we get it back home we put too high of a price tag on it because we don't want anyone to take it away from us.


Many of you may be familiar with the video clip from "Big Bang Theory" where they're in the car headed to Tucson.... "Rock Show, Rock Show, Rock Shoooooooowww!!!".  That's how Jan and I feel every time we head out to one.  We live in Austin which is a good central location for many of the big shows.  It's a relatively easy half-day drive to either Tucson or Denver, and the various other shows in Texas are pretty easy to get to.  We really like our drives to Tucson and Denver, however.  Not the most exciting scenery, but there's something strange about waking up in Texas and being somewhere totally different in our own car in time for dinner.  Being able to drive the Jeep to the major shows really cuts down on expenses too because we never have to ship our purchases, and we don't have to worry about transportation when we get to where we're going.


In my early 40's I was pretty convinced that there was nothing new to discover in life.  I had pretty much done it all, or so I had thought, and I was having a hard time finding a hobby or anything new that really interested me.  I had been through my travel-the-world phase, my sports car phase, my outdoor adventure phase, etc.  Then this came along and I found a new interest that really gave me something to focus on.  We are continuing to learn new things every day, and that keeps things fresh and exciting.  We're constantly meeting new people and making new friends, and the rotating art exhibit in our house gives us something to appreciate at the end of every day.

In summary, we love this business!  We love the rocks, we love the people, we love the adventure of it all!  Some day we'd like to get into the mines and do our own digging.  Unfortunately, there's not much of that in Texas (at least anything worth the trouble), but eventually we hope to do some traveling out of the state to some places where we can try to find some treasures that aren't already mounted on an acrylic base.

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