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Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines show 2010.

[June 24-27]

Bill Larson, proprietor of Pala International and The Collector shop in Fallbrook, California, visited the Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines show again this year and filed this day-by-day report for us, giving an idea of what the show is like from the viewpoint of a visiting dealer (and collector). He, along with his sons Will and Carl, had a good time as always, even aside from the intense concentration on minerals. (For illustration, Jeff Scovil has provided some photos he took of specimens at the show, not necessarily referred to in Bill's report.)

It was mid-May when I received a text from Mark Kaufman, our traveling partner to Ste-Marie-aux-Mines for the past several years; it read simply: "Have you checked the cost of flights into Europe lately?" He usually books our flights so we can be on the same carrier. I realized that the cloud of volcanic ash from the ongoing eruption in Iceland was going to make travel this year to our favorite mineral and gem show expensive! I checked and, sure enough, prices were 50% higher and the connections were not good. However, since I had 500,000 miles accumulated on United Airlines, I reserved three tickets for the Larson clan. Off to Europe we went. Mark went on a separate flight and had a connection through Canada, which caused him no small consternation. But we all arrived safely in Frankfurt on Tuesday morning, June 22--Mark was a bit late since his plane had spent time waiting on the tarmac in Toronto. We ate a bratwurst and got our Volkswagen semi-van (an icebox on wheels) from Avis. I was "elected" to be the driver of last resort since we planned to go to Idar-Oberstein for a brief sojourn while Mark returned to California before the rest of us.


The drive to Ste-Marie was pretty easy, since there was little to no traffic and by now all of us knew the roads. We arrived at the show by noon. We had been emailing and texting various friends for days, but none of our Euro dealer friends could name a new find or a fine collection that was going to be offered. When we arrived we did see that the same phenomenon that has plagued U.S. shows had come to Europe: dealers opening earlier and earlier. In previous years there had been no one set up yet in the theater on Tuesday, but this time it was almost completely set up and half of the dealers were already open for business; it turned out that some selling had started on Sunday!

As we entered the theater, we saw that Gilles Eminger had a beautiful cavansite in his hand that he had just purchased, so we knew we were late. We passed Jordi Fabre's set-up, but he was not in; he was out hunting. At his stand we did notice some nice specimens of malachite and azurite on quartz, one of which is large, perhaps 10 cm, from a new find in M'Cessi near Alnif, Morocco. He also had a few small specimens of cerussite on drusy velvet malachite from Bou Beker, Morocco--also new, and very cute.

Next door was Superb Minerals sans K. C. Pandey, but his efficient staff had a good-looking booth in his absence. We saw a beautiful large specimen of gem calcite on a stalactitic quartz matrix. The people in charge at the booth explained that the specimen has a simple repair and the price reflects this. So we negotiated a bit, the staff reminding us that we had not purchased from Superb Minerals in a while; we were tempted with some fine small pieces, including a lovely fluorite ''ball" from Jalgaon. A deal was struck, and our first purchase was made.

We were especially anxious to get to our good friend Christophe Gobin, since we had brought a special bottle of Anejo Tequila from San Diego's "El Agave," that we planned to open in his booth on our last day in Ste-Marie--Party! This cheered Christophe up a lot, but he told us "I have been everywhere I usually go, my brother has traveled as well, and we have nothing new to show you." In fact, his brother Brice, sadly, did not even come to the show. We looked at his specimens, which included many cute, small, new things and a potentially exceptional blue Namibian jeremejevite which needed trimming, but most of the finer examples we recognized from before. He was not kidding when he said "fine minerals are hard to get!"

We moved on to visit the booth of our "partner in crime" at the Westward Look and TGMS shows in Tucson: Alain Martaud. He is the finest example I know of a person who always strives to do his best for all, and his lovely wife Caroline was also there, helping him set up. He had told me in advance about a few specimens he had obtained from visiting French and German collectors. One particularly fine piece is an old Prince of Wales Island, Alaska epidote with a quartz Japan-law twin perched on the main crystal. This piece will need some cleaning and trimming, but we bought it: with the euro being down to 1.23 to the dollar, we (and all the other U.S. dealers and collectors here) can afford to bring specimens back to America. Alain also showed me another fine Moroccan erythrite to add to the ones I had bought from him during a quick trip to Paris just a month before (I do love France!). Alas, he said, this would be the last piece from his source; the pocket, found the year before, was exhausted and no more specimens were available. He showed me a flat of fine Kaokoveld dioptase, but he was also honest enough to tell me that the specimens belong to Stephan Stolte, so we reserved the best five pieces to talk with Stephan about later. Paul Stahl, German collector extraordinaire, was also visiting dealers, shopping as intensely as we were, and probably getting a few fine things before we could see them. First days at shows can be crazy.

We moved up onto the stage of the theater, and there was Marcus Budil's booth. He was in a great mood since the booth was almost completely set up, he was ready for business, and the German national team was doing very well in the World Cup. While Marcus was feeling proud for his team, the French dealers were so upset with their national team that they were rooting for other teams. Like Gobin, Marcus remarked that there was "almost nothing new," even though he had many fine things on display.

The Watzl brothers then came over from their booth next door. My son Will had previously seen, via the Internet, three fine small Chinese specimens that they had reserved for him. The booth was not completely set up yet, but I spotted a fine small miniature of French rose-colored fluorite on matrix that Alain thought highly of, even though it is repaired. The Watzls have great taste, and we were excited by many of their fine minerals; we promised to come back the next day and select a few more specimens.

In the back behind a curtain was the booth of Ennio Prato; he always has good things for many collectors, so we spoke through this curtain and he said quietly, "legrandite." He then brought out a bright yellow crystal cluster; it was beautiful and priced right, so we bought it. We were very excited to have had such an upbeat beginning, and it was only mid-afternoon.

Next to Ennio was Andreas Weerth, who always has great Pakistan/Afghanistan minerals. But he had just started to set up, so we promised to see him later. He had visited Peshawar just recently, which was interesting news because most people have stayed far away since the Continental Hotel bombing there earlier this year.

We left the stage to visit the many other fine dealers in the theater who were in various stages of set-up, or busy with customers. Marcus Grossmann was set up, for the most part; he brought out from under his showcases two lovely old German cabinet specimens, a fluorite and a barite, each of museum quality. Next door the French-Madagascar dealer Laurent Thomas had not even started to set up, and just looking at him getting flustered with all he still had to do made us tired. We said hello, but we also realized that jet lag was beginning to set in on all of us, even Carl and Will, who are both only in their twenties! So for me and Mark it was truly slow-mo. We walked to the car and headed for the apartment we had rented (thanks to Eric Asselborn) in the fir tree forest.

First, however, we made the obligatory stop at the local supermarket to get melons, juices, a "runny" brie, and sausages. When we arrived at the apartment we immediately felt at home, having stayed there each June for the past several years. After a small but enjoyable dinner we all turned in early, knowing that we would have to get up early tomorrow.


We were all up by 7 a.m. on Wednesday morning. Alain had to put the finishing touches on his booth, so he and Caroline left first, but we were soon behind them. This was a bit early for non-show dealers to be allowed in, but I had two VIP badges (courtesy of show promoter Michel Schwab) and hoped for the best. I let the boys and Mark off at the front entrance gate, then went to park the car. The small lots close to the show are normally full by that time, but I was lucky, and got the last open spot in the second small lot.

I walked to one of the back entrances. Security there was set up much better than it had been on Tuesday, but my VIP pass gained me entrance along with the show dealers. I saw several other early-bird Americans, including Scott Wershky and Herb and Moni Obodda, already looking around. I received a text from Will that they were being held back at the gate, so I walked over there to see what could be done. As I approached the gate from behind the security guys, I pointed to my group and uttered the magic words "Michel Schwab" while waving my VIP pass in the air; entry was granted.

Most of the Ste-Marie show is held outdoors, so we swarmed down the street looking at the various dealers lining the main road. As in the theater on Tuesday, most of the dealers were already largely set up. Wolfgang Wendel of Wendel Minerals always has a selection of good minerals here; today he showed me a superb 14-cm slice of liddicoatite with typical triangular patterns of various colors. On a parallel street we visited Mikon Mineralien where we harassed Matthias Rheinlander and he harassed us, but he is a long-time friend, and sells great gemological and mineralogical equipment (which I buy for my suppliers in Asia, especially Burma). He also tends to have lots of rare species and occasionally fine cut hauynes.

Moving on, we passed by the theater because Mark wanted to visit the foreign (non-French) dealer area early. More than a hundred dealers there were setting their goods out on tables. Mark specializes in faceting rare species, so he wanted to look for small or broken gemmy pieces of various rare minerals. He has been coming to Ste-Marie long enough that many dealers save these especially for him. He also had received an order for fine Ethiopian opals, so he needed to visit the gem show about a kilometer away in order to get an early selection.

As we entered the first building, an Indian dealer was unwrapping a large lot of fine, uncleaned eavansites. He was quick to point out how well they would clean up and he was, of course, quite correct. He allowed us to select a half dozen that should clean very well indeed. He also agreed to accept US dollars, since the dollar is strong these days whereas last year it was "sorry, we only take euros."

We continued hunting there, along with many other dealers doing the same. Some pieces had been saved for various dealers, and others were brought up in bags from under the table; a good time was had by all. New mineral finds and the finer specimens do not last long, so there is always that element of competition and fever on the first morning of set-up. This proved to be an especially good area to buy minerals to sell via our website,, as we were able to select some fine miniature specimens at a quite reasonable price to offer in our Ste-Marie update.

We checked back in the Theater and it seemed quite busy. In the booth of Yevgeny Pljaskov we saw some fine new cuboctahedral fluorite groups on tan quartz from the Nikolaevskiy mine, Dalne-gorsk, Russia, some to 7 cm across. We were also shown (by Werner Radl) some deep pink, etched corundum crystals with muscovite and scapolite, from a new find at Mawingu, Tanzania. By 1:00 p.m. we were finished, in more ways than one, and it was time to meet Mark, so I texted him and he was on his way to meet us for lunch at the Tavern du Mineur ("Miner's Cafe") across from the main entrance. After so many years the ladies in the cafe recognized us. And yes! we shall all four have the roast pork leg. We recognized almost everyone else in the restaurant, as they were all fellow collectors and dealers.

After lunch we returned to the theater, as Luis Burillo had told us to come back in the afternoon. He and his partner, the French Minerama dealership, had purchased a large new pocket of hub-nerite, fluorite, and quartz from the Huanzala mine in Peru. I had already seen some photos from Gilles Emringer, so I was fairly excited to see the real things, even though I knew others had seen the best before me. We saw several French collectors who were already selecting hubnerites and had various piles which they were guarding and adding to. Will spotted a beautiful fluorite group in the bottom shelf of a glass case that, amazingly, was unsold. It was priced a bit high for resale, but as a fluorite collector himself, Will could justify its purchase. Luis was going in several directions at once, but was kind enough to give us an empty flat for our selections, and then he showed us flats from under the table to let us select a few fine things. Carl and Will were looking as fast as they could, as there was a kind of small, crowded feeding frenzy going on. We did get a nice new Peruvian coquimbite from a flat of newfound specimens similar to those described by Tom Moore in the last Tucson Show report. As we left, more people were keeping the feeding frenzy going.

We went down across the street to Gilles Emringer's booth. He is a long-time fluorite collector and is always upgrading, so we always think that his rejects may be our treasures. Since we do a lot of cleaning and trimming, it is always possible that we might be able to improve his old pieces! He showed us four flats he had told me about in advance, and we picked out about 15 fine examples, from miniatures to cabinet pieces. His booth was busy and we looked it over as well, but most of the cutest treasures had already been reserved. He also told me to come back tomorrow to see two "killers," but gave no description.

We walked down to the crossroads and into another area where we visited Patrick of Miner K, another friendly competitor with me in Burma. He reaffirmed that there has been little or no production from Burma recently and so he had nothing new to offer. Next door to him was our good friend Dr. George (Guanghua) Liu, a Germany-based dealer in Chinese minerals. He also had little new material, just some nice, typical specimens of fluorite and a few rhodochrosites from China.

Moving on, we came to the booth of Prima Materia, run by Hans Peter, a dealer in minerals and fine books. He had a nice small lot of Pala tourmalines with an old Krantz label, and he showed Will a group of reasonably priced Japanese minerals that Will could purchase and sell at the next Japan show in Ikebukuro. Just beyond Hans Peter, in an open-air booth under a tree, was Renee Daulon, a dealer from Paris I have known a long time, who offered me an espresso while Carl and Will looked over perhaps 40 flats of nice Chinese things. It was relaxing to be in the lovely outside air in the shade, drinking a coffee; this is the best of shows, is it not?

The boys made their selections, and after negotiating a bit we had another nice lot of minerals. We continued on and saw the rest of the area which, although full of mineral people and dealers, did not yield any further purchases; we were not lucky, or we were too late.

Thus our second day came to an end, and we rejoiced to learn from Marcus Grossmann that one of our two favorite restaurants, the Auberge an Zahnacker in Ribeauville, was open (some years during the Ste-Marie show it has been closed for vacation). We left the show at 5 p.m. and joined Christophe Keilmann, Marcus Budil and many other German dealers at their local hotel to watch the World Cup on a large-screen TV that Christophe had brought all the way from Munich! We all sat outside on the patio, enjoyed good beer and watched Germany defeat Ghana (with occasional changes of channel to see America defeat Algeria). Afterwards we drove to Ribeauville where the chef-owner of the restaurant, who knows us very well, greeted us. He introduced us to a French waiter who had spent time in America and whose English was better than ours. The food and wine in the Alsace region is epic: that's all there is to say. Our waiter was fun, helped us with specials, and generally made the whole evening great. As our evening came to an end, we asked our waiter for another reservation on Friday, since they are closed on Thursdays. Then we asked him "the question": What do you think of the French National soccer team? He looked downcast and only muttered "You are so mean," but with a twinkle in his eye! All that day at the show the French dealers had been grumbling or outright rooting for the French team to be defeated and end the pain! Wish granted!


On Thursday we arrived later than before, by which time the parking lot was far more filled and we ended up out at the distant end of the main parking lot, 2 kilometers from the show. After walking there we began in the theater, mostly just to look and listen. All the booths were by then fully set up and had many lovely minerals for sale. It was just a matter then of looking for whatever we or our customers needed.

Thursday was also our day for photograhy; Carl took the lead and photo-documented many people, minerals and booths. We visited KARP and were jokingly offered a breakfast beer. I declined, but did accept a coffee. Ivo Szegeny said that it had not been easy to get fine minerals from Russia, and the few great Russian things that he did get he had sold immediately in Russia to Russian collectors! We all contemplated the ever-changing world of mineral collecting. We left KARP and headed toward the front steps of the theater.

Gilles motioned us over and showed us two boxes, each containing a fabulous Romanian stibnite cluster, certainly among the finest I have ever been offered, but the price reflected their quality and their fragility made the purchase risky, so we thanked him and moved on. At another stand we saw large fluorite specimens from a find in Spain in early May of this year. The fluorite crystals range in color through a beautiful blue, teal and purple. I was shown a photo of a piece that was sold (for a very high price, rumor has it) to a Chinese mineral museum. The specimen is huge, with a nice, apparently undamaged, cubic crystal of fluorite on white matrix.

We got into the catacombs under the theater, where Jeff Scovil was set up for professional photography. Jeff and I shared information so we would not miss too many new things or fine specimens. He had several new finds that Spirifer, the Polish group with which Jeff had traveled to Madagascar and Morocco, had brought over to show him. All these new finds were from Morocco, including a few of the erythrites, some nice roselite from the Agoudal quarry, Bou Azzer district, some cute loose clusters of azurite from Kerouchen, and a few acanthites from Imiter.

After lunch we decided to visit the gem show. The small train was not working yet, so we walked a kilometer and worked off a tiny bit of the great cuisine we'd enjoyed so far. In the past few years the gem show has improved considerably. We went with Mark, as he had already scoped out the show and saved us a lot of time. We saw Dennis Gravier as we walked into the main building and were shown his offering of a large private collection of hundreds of gem species, but only to be sold as a collection. It was interesting, but more for a museum than for a dealer. We were mostly interested in visiting the Opalinda Company, as they have submitted an article to Gems and Gemology on the Wello opal locality in Ethiopia, so we wanted to see what they had. They gave us an appointment for the following day and we continued to look around this show. I saw Nicolas Flurot, who sells fine gemstones and rare books. He had an interesting lot of books among which I found an old 18th-century French mineralogy by Lavoisier.

Outside the main building of the gem show, we visited some individual tents. An Australian dealership I've been friendly with for a long time, Cody Opals, had brought a fabulous collection of Black Lightning Ridge Australian opals to this show for the first time; it was quite impressive for Ste-Marie. Cody had just visited us in Fallbrook only weeks before, so this was a nice surprise. As we left his booth we realized it was late and we had made a reservation at our other favorite restaurant: Auberge la Meuniere. As we entered, the owner, Francesca Dumoulin, said, "Oh it's you!" and gave us all hugs! We were escorted out to the patio, in the gentle air, with a view of the sunset, the mountains and the nearby castle. Francesca opened a chilled bottle of the local pinot noir and we all toasted her; it does not get any better than this!


Friday was our last day at the show, as we were going to Idar-Oberstein the next day. This was the day to view the special exhibit, a tribute to the La Gardette mines, with superb specimens from many French collectors shown off in a circle of glass cases at the center of the theater's stage, many rivaling anything in the best museum collections. It was also the day to pay the bills and pack our specimens. We spent the rest of the day mostly talking with dealers about what they hoped to get for the Munich show or, for those who come to the Denver show, what they hoped to bring. Daniel Trinchillo showed up, and all of us had fun laughing at his late arrival while enjoying his good company. We met up later with Federico Pezzotta and Federico Barlocher and made an agreement to see their minerals in their car, as it was parked in the far lot near ours.

Since this was our last day, it was time for "El Agave" in Christophe Gobin's booth. We got many cups from the concession stand and handed out superb tequila to many, amid toasts and later expressions of adieu. We then set out to see the Federico minerals, and noticed that both Federicos still had cups in hand as we started the "long journey" to our cars to see their goodies. We were all in a great mood and did purchase a few fine things.

That night we returned to Auberge an Zahnacker, where our waiter from Wednesday had not forgotten us. He told us as we walked into the outside dining area, "I knew you were coming so I tried to get the night off but, alas, no," and then showed us into our reserved seats with the same twinkle. This was the night we always come to Ste-Marie for. The chef came out and recommended a wine and his specials for the evening. We added to his selection and the dinner was epic. Our waiter was awesome; later he did not want to leave, even though the restaurant was closing, but the owner-chef came out, released him, and sat down at our table with a special wine he opened with flair. Saying "you cannot buy this one." he poured and told us about his vacation, scuba diving in the Philippines. It truly does not get better than this.


We began the day with a wine tasting, arranged by Francesca from Auberge la Meuniere. Then it was straight to Idar and visits to a few dealers. We checked in at the Park Hotel and then drove to the Mosel Valley for some sightseeing. We shopped at a local antiques and flea market, buying some German soccer paraphernalia so we could later dress as hooligans German-style as we watched the game with all the hotel guests, chefs, and staff; Germany defeated England! Loud horns were heard throughout the rest of the evening!

As I write this, Mark Kaufman has already reserved his flight for next year's Ste.-Marie-aux-Mines show--and you should too.

by Bill (and Will, and Carl) Larson
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Publication:The Mineralogical Record
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 1, 2010
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