Slabs

The Tucson Show, January 24th – February 6th 2017

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I was a dealer at the Tucson Gem Show for two weeks. My room was in the Hotel Tucson (AKA The Inn Suites), the show of preference for many agate dealers .

My agates on display in my hotel room
just one wall of the showroom, a very nice place to show.

Please send an email to TheAgateTrader@gmail.com with the word subscribe and I’ll gladly add your email address and name to our emailing list so that you can hear about new material added to our ETSY stores and our schedule of shows in the coming months.

A gathering of agateers at Agate Corner, Hotel Tucson

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HELLO FELLOW AGATEERS, 

Here’s a group photo from the show at the Hotel Tucson. Andres Carillo (on the left below) brought me polished agates from the Coyamito ranch in Mexico and next to Andres is another friend, Joshua Ritter, who sold me some superb Fighting Blood agates from China. The rest of the group are also agate lovers.

In the next couple of days I’ll be opening a new offering in The Agate Shop with many new specimens from Mexico, China, Argentina and Morocco. One by one I’ll rejuvenate the rest of the stores in this order: jaspers, thundereggs, slabs and then cabochons.
 As I update each store I’ll be sending email announcements so please send your name and email address to info@theagatetrader.com. 

                                                   Peace,
                                                          Thom

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From left to right: Andres Carillo (Mexico), Joshua Ritter (Germany), Fady Kamer (The Netherlands), Ricardo Birnie (Argentina), Thom Lane (US), Hannes Holzemann (Austria), Dave Polson (US), Cedrine and Jerry Schaber (US)

The 2016 Agate EXPO in Wisconsin This Past July

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Here are a few photos of good friends at the 2016 EXPO, it was the best agate show of all times.

Back in my booth I'm with my new friend Chuck Mosher - Thom Lane
In the back of my booth with a new friend Chuck Mosher

Other good friends I saw were Jeffery Anderson, Veronica Woods, Uwe Reir, Holger Quelmaltz, Hannes Holzmann, Alan Meltzer, Pat McMahan, Eugene and Brent Stewart, Ana de los Santos, Joshua Ritter, Roger Clark, Lorie Peterson and Steve Wheeler to name just a few.

Most photos by my famous sidekick, Norman Eberhardt.

I must mention that Dr. Goetze was kind enough to allow me to make a selection of my favorite thundereggs from his outstanding exhibition of the agates of Saxony. I also obtained some fine Moroccan agates from Joshua Ritter and many other fine pieces which will be appearing in my stores.

Hans Gamma – Master of the World of Jaspers: Author, Collector and Artist

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I first met Hans Gamma when I was hanging out with Gene Mueller and Jake Jacobitz in the mid 1980’s at the desert rockshow in Quartzsite, Arizona. Han’s wife Esther took off to go rock snooping around the show with Jake’s lifelong partner Beverly Hardin and Hans joined us to talk jaspers.

Hans would often prospect with Jake and was building an amazing collection, one of the finest in the world, which he documented as only a Swiss gentleman would. The catalogue of his collection has photos of every important piece with the date he got it and the exact location of its origin and its number in the catalog is finely written in black ink on each piece.

Hans and Esther became interested in Jaspers when they began visiting from Switzerland in the 1950’s. They got a pickup truck and traveled around the western US collecting jaspers. In 1985 Hans retired from the family printing business and settled with Esther in the hills outside Phoenix where they raised their three daughters. Esther passed away in 2015 is sadly missed, she was a true lady. She was from an area in Switzerland not far from Hans birthplace and was working as a translator in Philadelphia when they met.

owyhee-jakeHans Gamma has always made his knowledge and collection available to the rest of us, a very great kindness. Many of the photos in Agates II and III in the section on Jaspers that he wrote at the request of Johann Zenz are from his personal collection. In 2011 Hans published his first book: Picture Jaspers, treasures of the Owyhee Area, Oregon. This book features over 75 recognizable varieties of picture jaspers from the Owyhee caldera and many of them were discovered by Hans’ close friend Jake Jacobitz. This book presents the many varieties and is also a tribute to Jake, they collected together in this area on numerous occasions. The specimens are all from Hans’ collection and the book shows Hans’ artistic eye.

In 2015 Hans published a second book with a wider scope: Picture Jaspers from the Northwest. This volume includes the jaspers from the areas of McDermitt, Blue Mountain, Bruneau Canyon and Willow Creek and has new locations added to the Owyhee area. Hans collection is so vast that none of the specimens in the first book were needed for his second! These books can be ordered from his website.

nwest-jaspersHan’s website, World of Jaspers, features jaspers from all over the world and is an introduction to the vast artistic resource of jasper. His website is an almost psychedelic experience on a par with the worlds great museums. His daughter Corinna participated in the design and implementation, they are a great team. In addition to being a museum of his visions in jasper it is also an orderly tour of the most beautiful jaspers from around the world, focusing of course on those from the western United States.

As a painter I enjoyed cutting Morrisonite more than any other lapidary material but when I saw Hans’ cabochons I realized I was in the company of a true artist.

He recently allowed me to acquire many of his morrisonite cabochons (above) and very fine collector slabs (below). Each one is a painting in stone. These pieces will be appearing in The Cabochon Shop and The Slab Shop. Having these historic pieces available to purchase is a unique opportunity.

I will always be grateful for the kindness of this gentle gentleman for the hours we have spent together, the education he has offered me and the beautiful specimens from him that are among my finest treasures.

Slab Collecting is a Great Opportunity for Collectors Today

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In the early days of rockhounding in America it seemed like there was an endless abundance of wonderful agates and jaspers. The hobby of making cabochons grew so large that it was second only to woodworking as the most popular hobby in the US. During that time the great agate discoveries were exploited freely and many were quickly exhausted. Beautiful material was usually cut into slabs and the slabs were used to produce cabochons. It is still possible to find slabs that were set aside by collectors or were never cut into cabochons but it was uncommon to cut a rock in  half and polish the face. Toward the end of that period I was making my living cutting cabochons but I was also a collector and a painter and when I saw a slab that was highly artistic I rarely cut it into cabs, it went into my slab collection.

Morrisonite, the king of Jaspers - Thom Lane
Morrisonite Jasper Slab

Those who wish to collect the fine early materials should recognize that for the moment it is still possible to collect fine slabs and they offer many advantages to a collector. They are easy to store and display and they are reasonably priced given their rarity and beauty. Slabs and half nodule specimens can be combined in a display with the heavier specimens in the foreground and slabs mounted on stands above and behind them.

A few dealers at today’s rock shows still offer fine polished slabs of the rare early materials but it is not often that one sees a specimen of great beauty that is a saw cut rock with a polished face.

Precision polishing of a flat surface requires special equipment and knowledge and that may have further lessened the interest in flat lapping during the cabochon era.

What Makes Some Rock Specimens So Expensive?

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A big factor in the value of an agate, jaspers, and thundereggs is fashion.

Between 1950 and 1980 there was such an abundance of fine agate coming out of the ground in the US and Mexico that the supply seemed endless. People made a hobby of digging up agates or getting them at shows or at the hundreds of rock shops all over the country. Slabs of this material were used to create cabochons that were worth ten or twenty dollars which was a good profit from a top quality slab or a pound of Laguna rough, either of which might cost less than $5! A half nodule of beautiful agate had little value so good rough was usually cut into slabs. Now, cabs are almost worthless because of mass manufacturing, mostly in the Orient, and half nodules have become very expensive, so this represents a great change in taste and value. The large quantity of slabs left over from the earlier days are inexpensive in comparison to the value half nodules.

If you consider the agates from antiquity very few had flat surfaces. Modern lapidary equipment makes it possible to flat lap an agate so that the pattern in the stone is presented as if looking at a painting and that is now the style. In earlier times a domed surface was considered more desirable because the cutter could bring out the pattern and remove blemishes and thus create a piece that would be seen as the art of the lapidary. Sawing a rock in half and polishing the surface is a craft that requires great skill but little art. Agates that are cut according to the current taste have greater value, at least for the moment.

I cut the specimen below from a chip I picked up while I was working at the Morrisonite deposit. It had damage around the edge and the piece was thin. By doming it I was able to remove the damage and also save the pattern. The price would go up if it had the same pattern with a flat surface.

Morrisonite Jasper mined and dome cut by Thom Lane, The Agate Trader
Morrisonite Jasper mined and dome cut by Thom Lane, The Agate Trader

Another factor that affects price is the condition of the specimen itself. If the face of the agate has a crack, even a tiny one, or a chip on the edge or even a flake off the back the value of the specimen is less. Even minor flaws in the condition of the agate will affect the price. Other factors are the size of the piece and how it sits. A specimen that has to have an elaborate support is less desirable. A small specimen is difficult to appreciate but a large piece shows off the details of its pattern, size does matter. A specimen which has little contrast and is dark is rarely as valuable as an agate which has striking colors and pattern.

There are factors that depend on the life the agate has led such as having been in a famous collection or played a role in history. Some collectors desire specimens which have been featured in publications or major exhibits.

As everyone knows, from a dealer on the street to a graduate from the Harvard Business School, the main factor is supply and demand. If a material floods the market prices will drop and rarity will usually enhances value. Since agates are a surface phenomenon once a good deposit is located it is usually not long before it is worked out. Of course if social or political forces stop production or the source is very large and widely distributed it may be around for a long time. When a type of agate rough is no longer coming to market the price is sure to shoot up.

As with paintings aesthetics are very important. If viewers are struck by the art, the beauty and the elegance of an agate it can bring a fantastic price… the value of an agate is whatever buyers are willing to pay in order to add it to their collection and most collectors are very sensitive to beauty.

The agate below is very valuable because it is at the top of all the above criteria, you can go down the list and each criteria has been met in spades.

Circle Triangle Laguna, Gorn's Rock shop, El Paso - Thom Lane
Circle Triangle Laguna, Gorn’s Rock shop, El Paso. Texas. around 1960- Thom Lane

I look forward to hearing your comments on this topic, as a dealer I don’t set the prices, ultimately you decide.