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Mineral ShowsMy first Tucson show

9th Jan 2016 21:59 UTCAntoine Barthélemy

Hi everyone,

I am very excited to say that I will attend my first Tucson show this year. I have read quite a lot on the web, but I still have one or two questions about it ...

First, about the transport of specimens. My plan is to buy 5 to 10 pieces in the low/mid $XXX range. But I still do not know to best way to bring them back to Belgium. It does not appear wise to put them in the checked luggage. I have heard that transporting them in the hand baggage could cause some trouble at the security checks at airports. And finally I do not feel comfortable shipping them myself (filling the customs forms, packing them correctly ...). Do you think dealers would be OK to take care of the shipping ?

Second, about the high end dealers. Besides finding pieces for my collection, I plan to see as much as I can, and in particular the top pieces that I cannot afford. Do the high end dealers agree to have anyone entering their rooms at the hotels, or do they accept only potential buyers ?

Finally, on my way to Tucson, I will stop at Harvard to visit a friend. Is the Harvard Museum of Natural History the only museum I should consider visiting in Boston for minerals ?

I could add others questions later, but in the meantime, thank you for your thoughts !

9th Jan 2016 22:56 UTCBob Harman

HI and I hope you enjoy Tucson!. Buying and traveling by air with mineral specimens.....especially the more delicate not so easy these day so just be aware of that from the start.

The very best situation is if you are flying directly into Tucson. There, the airport security people and other personnel are generally aware that many travelers, at that time of year, might be carrying fragile mineral specimens. But they still will want you to go thru the usual security checks.

Your options include packing the specimen(s) and putting them in your luggage. However, some might just be opened as they might appear suspicious on the x-ray screens. Be very careful about this. If you can open your luggage yourself, in person, in front of a screener and then re-close it up and let go into the cargo area of the plane, that might work.

Second option is to carry it on with you. THIS IS PREFERRED, but have it packed in such a way that it can easily be unpacked, examined by the security, and then be repacked with care in a secure area and carried directly onto the plane as part of your carry-on baggage with you. This is preferred.

Your best option that I have seen there at the rock show is to look for special packing kiosk area that will package up your specimen(s) right at the rock show into secure packs that will pass security if you do not open them until you arrive home. The specimens are sealed tight with security tape that the screeners recognize. For higher end examples THIS IS YOUR BEST OPTION, but there is a fee for the service. Remember that you absolutely cannot mess with the security tape!

Virtually all the high end dealers will allow you in to browse in their hotel rooms and stands at all the shows. Be sure to see the hi end Westward Look show as those dealers will have specimens to blow you away and they are trying to sell them! They have no idea whether you are looking for $20 or $20,000 specimens and want to maintain good customer relations as you might just be a very private hi end buyer.

Remember you will need a car for some of the shows, but there is a shuttle to many (but not all) of the shows as parking can be a problem. Use the shuttle whenever possible.

I am sure there are several places to see minerals while in Boston, but I have been to the Harvard mineral museum displays and they will take considerable time to see. Some specimens will blow you away! Enjoy your holiday. CHEERS.......BOB

9th Jan 2016 23:43 UTCMichael Croxell

As Bob said Tucson airport is very used to seeing minerals. I always take a rollon bag that I can put two flats (2"-3" tall) in. I also bring a few small boxes to put minerals in incase you buy something that doesnot come with one. You can also buy boxes at the Inn Suites if needed. I bring rubber bands to hold lids in place so easy to inspect. Travel international I havenot done, did hear that radio active things are a concern. If for some reason they willnot let you board with your rollon I just pull my flats out and carry them onto plane and store under seat or in overhead compartment.

You will have a blast!

9th Jan 2016 23:51 UTCHolger Hartmaier

Hi Antoine,

I have travelled by air from Canada several times to the Tucson show so I can only give you some limited advice based on my personal experience.

Your first question, regarding transport of specimens. I have always had good luck packing my specimens in my checked baggage. On my last trip, I had say 3-4 flats worth of specimens, many of which were delicate "higher end" material. The trick is to wrap each specimen very well and tightly so they don't shift around. Watch your luggage weight- you may need to shift the flats around to stay under the weight limits. You can ask dealers for any spare empty flat boxes for packing. There was a previous thread on this forum about packing specimens which you should have a look at (search "packing minerals for shipping"). On my last trip, the only specimen I decided to take as a carry on was a very fragile Indian zeolite, which was packed in a plastic tub. I told the security screener what is was and they just put it through the x-ray scanner and I didn't have to open it up. I would personally not recommend asking the dealer to pack and send it for you. I've never gone this route and I suspect that most dealers would also be unwilling to do this due to the risk involved. My impression is that there would be a greater chance of your specimen becoming damaged or lost, if it was set aside somewhere in the already crowded dealers' rooms.

With regard to visiting the dealers' rooms, they are all open to the public, so don't feel intimidated. Always ask permission before taking any photos of materials on display.The only areas where there are some access restrictions are the wholesale areas where you need to show proof of a business license before you are allowed to buy. However, sometimes you can browse through the area to see what is available.

Your greatest challenge will be overcoming the shear volume of mineralogical sensory overload, especially after the first day, when you realize that each and every room has something new and wonderful to see (and buy). Another piece of advice, if you see a specimen you like and the price is right- buy it then and there. Don't expect to comparison shop going from one dealer to another to try to get a deal. Once you realize that the first specimen was really the one you should get, you will either forget which dealer had it or it will be sold when you get back there.

I don't have any information regarding the Boston area, but I'm sure other Mindat members can help you with that question.

Best of luck at your first Tucson show! I'm sure you will make plans for a return trip.

10th Jan 2016 02:48 UTCLynn Thayer

I have visited Australia, Spain, and Morocco twice and have had my carry-on full of minerals. the American TSA were the most efficient? as far as scrutiny. coming back from Morocco I learned when you get to the security check point tell them before they ask that X-ray will show blank spots and have a few specimens to show them. Usually waltz right thru. Example: I had a spiny trilobite from Morocco in a clear case, every TSA agent had to see and wanted to know if it was alive! In Spain had a purple fluorite on barite from Berbes, showed TSA Spain and "Muy Bonita!" go on thru.

10th Jan 2016 05:41 UTCAlfredo Petrov Manager

Most mineral specimens are OK to carry on board in hand luggage. The only exceptions could be large heavy rocks (they worry you could use it to break a window), big crystals with sharp terminations (I even got called out on a long stibnite once, which isn't sharp at all, but they eventually let it through), Some people have had trouble with radioactive rocks, but I haven't (not at airports anyway). Most collectors don't realize that even their "hottest" rocks are pathetically weak emitters compared to things like fissionable isotopes or the synthetic medical isotopes that the TSA is really worried about. The security people who make trouble over radioactive minerals are the ones who really don't know much about the topic. I've been lucky to mainly run into security people who were well trained about radioactivity and they tend to know enough to not be concerned with natural rocks.

10th Jan 2016 07:25 UTCHerwig Pelckmans Expert

Dear Anthoine,

Send me a PM and I will give you my cell number. Being from Belgium and having visited Tucson quite a few times, I think I can answer most of your questions. And it takes less time (at least for me) talking than typing. :-)

Cheers, Herwig

Vice President MKA

11th Jan 2016 21:00 UTCAntoine Barthélemy

Thanks to all of you :)

Bad news, I'm flying to Phoenix. I look forward to the show, but I had not foreseen these transport issues when I decided to come ...

Another thing : if I choose to pack (at least some) specimens in my hand luggage, what about customs ? Do I just have to pretend the "rocks" are worthless ?

Thanks Herwig, I just sent you a message.

11th Jan 2016 21:23 UTCAlfredo Petrov Manager

Antoine, Unlike entering Europe or Japan, in the USA you do not have to pay any customs duties/import taxes for natural rocks and minerals, regardless of value! (Only polished stones, gemstones, jewelry have to pay tax.) However (and this is very important!), as a foreign visitor you are not allowed to sell minerals in the USA, because selling is considered to be "working" and working is prohibited for visitors. So you won't have to pay tax for your rocks, but if the customs officer has any suspicion that you might sell them, he could take them away from you, or refuse your entry to the USA, which I'm sure you would dislike even more than paying a tax ;-)

So, how to defuse this situation? First, don't try to hide them by burying them under clothes or other stuff; keep them up on top so they're the first thing the inspector sees. Mention them in writing on the paper customs declaration form. Nothing makes officers more suspicious than seeing someone try to hide something. And watch the quantity - bring only a few pieces, what someone could reasonably be expected to be bringing as gifts for friends. Anything that looks like a "commercial quantity".... you're in trouble. What's the definition of "commercial quantity"? There isn't any; it is entirely up to the mood of the officer who interviews you.

Most visitors are lucky at Customs and have no trouble. If one has bad luck, there is nothing you can do - Arguing just makes your situation worse. A well-known European museum curator was once bringing minerals to display at a U.S. show, not sell or swap, and she showed the Customs officer a letter from the American show organizers specifically requesting her to bring rocks for temporary educational display. It didn't do any good; the rocks were taken away from her at the airport. She had to pay a private customs broker company a few hundred $$ to file the complicated paperwork for getting her museum's valuable specimens back. (The money was not "tax", just for the broker's fee.)

Again, I should stress that most visitors bring rocks into the USA with no trouble at all... but a few get unlucky. At the Denver show last year (as has already been discussed on other threads here), enforcement was more strict than usual and several Europeans had trouble. What will happen in Tucson this year, of course we don't know yet...

11th Jan 2016 21:33 UTCKnut Eldjarn Manager


I have visited the Tucson shows more than 20 times during the last 25 years flying in from Europe and back through Sky Harbour in Phoenix. I have never encountered any problem taking specimens back to Europe - neither in the checked luggage, nor in my hand luggage. I have printed sheets of paper for the boxes of specimens in the checked luggage explaining that they contain mineral samples for scientific study and added "fragile" in large letters. Also - be friendly at the security check points and be prepared to unwrap any of the specimens in your hand luggage.

Due to the unfavourable currency exchange rates, escalating prices and (in my view ) less interesting specimens offered, I will not be going this year. But I wish you a nice trip. Happy hunting !


11th Jan 2016 23:19 UTCSusan Robinson

The mineral collection at Harvard U. is wonderful, and many of their minerals are from now-defunct old classic localities, especially those of the northeastern U.S. You should allow at least 2-3 hours to look it over. If you have any extra time, a look at some of the "glass flowers" next door to the minerals is well worth it. They were made by Czech master glass artists for the botanical study collection at Harvard. They are incredible, and it's hard to believe they are glass and not the real thing. You won't be disappointed with the minerals nor the "flowers".

12th Jan 2016 00:03 UTCJake Harper Expert


I think this might qualify as "commercial" quantities? Denver, 2014.

Flying Denver, CO to Sacramento, CA probably has far less issues but we still had inspection tags in all of our checked bags and several unwrapped specimens also. It was expected though.

12th Jan 2016 16:10 UTCPhilip Persson Expert

Hello Antoine,

First off, I would encourage you to try and see as much of the show as possible. This is difficult to do, even if one has weeks to do so, because of the sheer scale of the show, with over 40 different venues and separate events, some quite large on their own. Having a rental car is not required but is very helpful, as you will see that Tucson is a typical Western USA city, very spread out and suburban, and the shows, while concentrated around the city center, are also fairly spread out over the city. The main shows for good minerals are the Hotel Tucson City Center (better known as the 'innsuites') with about 350 mineral dealers, the Riverpark and Pueblo Hotels along the highway (a lot of beads, cheap fossils, metaphysical polished crystals, etc, but also some very good minerals), and of course the 'main show' at the convention center over the last weekend (Feb. 12-14 this year I think). But, many of the smaller shows are also worth seeing- for good deals of quality minerals, I recommend at least looking briefly at the Executive Inn and Mineral/Fossil Markeplace Shows (on Oracle Road ~1 km. from Innsuites show), and the Tucson Electric Park show, off Kino Parkway, is also worth a check- you will have to filter out ~95% stuff you are probably not interested in, but in the remaining 5% will be some great minerals at prices much lower than some of the more 'established' shows. Same goes for some other smaller shows like the Miner's Co-Op (better quality minerals, especially from the western USA) and the Howard Johnson/Days Inn shows further south along the I-10 highway.

As far as shipping- for a small number of specimens as you suggest, I would recommend taking them in your carry-on. Even at the Phoenix airport, the security people are fairly used to people traveling with rocks, so I don't think they will give you too much trouble, but expect at least a few of them to be unwrapped and examined. Otherwise, I recommend the US postal service 'flat rate' priority mail boxes; inexpensive shipping to Europe compared to FedEx or UPS. Just wrap well and of course on the customs form declare 'gift' and 'nominal value.'

As far as the 'high end' dealers and seeing the 'creme de la creme' of the show- do not be intimidating by visiting these dealers and examining their specimens. Remember, they are there to serve you as the customer, even if you are not in the end going to spend $10,000+ on a specimen. There are some truly world-class things to see, especially at the Westward Look and Innsuites shows, and I think you will be surprised how international this in as well- not uncommon to hear deals in Mandarin, French, Italian, Spanish etc. If the dealers don't have time for a quick question from you or a request to look at something closer, then I would say don't bother with them. They too (at least the good ones) were once 'humble collectors' of average specimens and should realize that most collectors, while probably not their target audience, are still worth encouraging and interacting with.

Enjoy your visit to Harvard and give my best regards to Raquel and Kevin. They have been doing some great things there recently, and in the systematic collection not on display you will find treasures not seen elsewhere on this earth. There are several other small university geology museums in Boston, but none I can truly say compare to Harvard- they are more academic and less specimen-oriented.

best regards,

Philip Persson

Denver, Colorado

12th Jan 2016 20:15 UTCAntoine Barthélemy

I am glad I opened this topic : so many useful information !

Alfredo : I come to Tucson as a buyer only, so my concern was rather coming back to Europe with the new specimens.

Knut : no customs problems in your case, to "import" your pieces into Norway ?

Susan : thanks, I will plan to spend some time at the museum then.

Philip : thanks for the shows advice. I am in Tucson for almost two weeks (minus a 3 days trip in Bisbee), so I guess I'll have time to see a lot ...

19th Feb 2016 12:39 UTCMario Pauwels

Antoine, you must be back home at this time. So I was curious about your impressions and how you experinced your first Tucson show?

Best regards,

Mario Pauwels

19th Feb 2016 13:18 UTCJohn Montgomery Expert

Yes, I second Mario's motion. For me,one of my great pleasures was meeting you Mario. I hope we will meet again in the near future. One of the things I love about Tucson is meeting Mindat people whom I only knew my name (like Mario) and meeting again those whom I have known from the past but only see in Tucson. ...PS. the minerals are great too.

19th Feb 2016 13:25 UTCHenri Koskinen Expert

A word of warning about carrying "rocks" in hand luggage. A few years ago after field collecting in Spain I flew to Finland and packed most of my stuff in checked luggage. But some of the best I packed in my hand luggage and those didn't make it through the security check. This might be just bad luck and I didn't have any documentation to show and the "rocks" surely didn't look like expensive crystals.

As others have had no troubles this might not be a very big risk but I wouldn't take that chance again with hand luggage.


19th Feb 2016 13:43 UTCMario Pauwels

It was a great pleasure for me to meet you to John, and I enjoyed our conversations a lot. I am sure we will meet again !

Best regards,

Mario Pauwels

19th Feb 2016 13:51 UTCJohn Montgomery Expert

I had the same fears as Henri returning to Canada with my "haul" of minerals from Tucson this year. I received much advice including declaring any dollars over the "limit" (for Canadians $800 Can.) ..putting them all in checked luggage etc.

In the end I decided to carry them all in my carry-on. Most I didn't have receipts for.I cleared customs at Tucson airport without even a glimpse into my backpack. In Ottawa they waved me through as well. Perhaps it all comes down to "luck".



19th Feb 2016 17:44 UTCJolyon Ralph Founder

Rock in hand luggage problems vary from airport to airport. In the US I have, so far, had no problems - one time I was carrying a large(ish) galena specimen and it was stopped at the x-ray, but when I opened it up and showed them they were curious and impressed with what it is - at no point did anyone there suggest I could have used it as a weapon.

The only time I have been stopped at the security and prevented taking rocks through was coming back from Iceland - and by pure luck at that point I had paid for an additional checked bag that I was not using, so I simply exited the queue for security (this is of course not always possible!), returned to check-in desk and had the bag with minerals checked in. All returned safely with me to the UK.

I would not attempt to take any quantities of rocks and minerals at all out of Russia/Kazakhstan/Belarus etc as the rules there are very strict on the export of mineral specimens without a licence from the appropriate state ministry. I've taken single specimens out in my bag before without drawing attention, but even so I wouldn't risk taking anything of value this way. Getting stuff out of these countries legally is... very challenging. What I have done before is left stuff with Russian dealer friends and picked it up from them at the Munich show. Of course this would be stretching friendship for more than a couple at a time.


23rd Feb 2016 22:43 UTCAntoine Barthélemy

In a nutshell : I loved it :)

My favorite show in terms of purchases was the one at the Hotel Tucson City Center. There I found many interesting things at prices that I could afford. At first I have been overwhelmed by the quantity of good pieces that I could add to my collection, but then I understood I just had to pick the ones for which I really had a crush and no need for compromises (except the ones too fragile or too big to bring back with me). For instance, I have struggled to find a decent Milpillas azurite in Belgium, while in Tucson they were everywhere !

I also really enjoyed the Fine Minerals International house and the Westward Look Show. I tend to prefer well-presented, world-class aesthetics pieces over rarities, so, to me, it was better than the museums I have seen so far. The Main Show was excellent too, especially for the exhibits and presentations.

However, I was mostly disappointed by the other shows I have attended. One the one hand it was nice searching and finally finding one little piece at a high end dealer seemingly lost at the Pueblo Show. But on the other hand, there was really too much stuff I had no interest for.

As for the transport ... I finally decided to take my 8 purchases in my hand luggage. It was 7 small miniatures and one small cabinet (a cerussite crystal in a vug of massive galena). I had some receipts but not all. The people at the security checks didn't seem to care about the small ones, but they asked to unpack the cerussite both in Phoenix and in Boston. They said it was because they could not see through it on the scanners (it indeed looked like a black hole on the screens :p). They also tested my bag for explosives. They did not mention using the rock as a weapon (it was not that large though). Surprisingly, the verifications were more thorough in Phoenix than in Boston. There, the guy unpacked the piece himself, removing all the layers of plastic and also testing the rock for explosives. He was friendly, respecting my instructions for handling the piece safely, but I was happy nonetheless that the specimen is not a fragile one.

Mario : I would have liked to meet another Belgian in Tucson ...

Henri : what happened to the rocks that "didn't make it through the security check" ? That was really what I was scared about ...

23rd Feb 2016 23:51 UTCJohn Montgomery Expert

Glad it was a good experience,Antoine... and you made it through the "gauntlet, minerals intact!!

Too bad you didn't meet your countryman, Mario. He is a fine gentleman.


24th Feb 2016 14:56 UTCMario Pauwels

Unless you are carrying specimens with you who are radioactive or who can be used as a knife security checkpoints are not really something to be afraid of. And IF they don't allow you to take your specimens with you, repack your specimens and try again at another security gate. There is a good chance that they let you go thru without any problems.

Thank you for you comments Antoine. And we did not meet in Tucson, but you live pretty close to me. So you are always welkom to come to see my collection whenever you are interested.

Thank you also for your kind words John. See you again on a next trip!

Best regards,

Mario Pauwels

2nd Jan 2017 11:23 UTCSamina Gulzar

I read all the comments. Very nice information. It is very difficult to handle specimens and minerals during travelling for any exhibition. I normally ship them through DHL, UPS some I take in handcary.


Samina Gulzar
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