Tucson Gem/Mineral: Acres of Ammonites

Judging from the fossils that I have seen at the Tucson Gem and Mineral show, ammonites once ruled the world. I have only seen one small section of the displays but ammonites are by far the most abundant group of fossils, numbering in the thousands. You can buy them individually, by the bag, and by the the pound. They range in size from less than an inch to four feet in diameter.

A gaggle of ammonites

They come from places as diverse as Morocco, Russia, Columbia, and Madagascar. Most are whole. Some are split in two, revealing mineralized chambers. Many have been polished. Others are pyritzed. At one display, in a hotel room, the ammonites have been mounted elaborately with wee ones glued to bigger ones and split with whole. I also saw one massive ammonite-choked chunk of rock from Morocco that had been drilled out to create a wine rack.

A rafter nifty specimen from Canada

I was lucky to see the massive four foot diameter specimens. They had sold to an undisclosed buyer from Austin, Texas. He had paid $9,000 in cash for two of the giants, both of which had been cut in half. According to the guys getting ready to box and ship the ammonites, one was going to the buyer’s home and one to a museum.

A boy and a very, very big ammonite

My only disappointment was in how little information was listed with the fossils. A handful had the scientific name, age, and locality, but most had nothing but price. Still the show of ammonites is impressive.

A table of ammonites from Madagascar

Best Building Stone Site on the Web

By far the most interesting site on the web for building stone is Peggy and Pat Perazzo’s Stone Quarries and Beyond.  Clearly a labor of love, the site is packed full of photographs, scans of articles, details about quarrying, and state by state lists of buildings and their stone—basically everything one could want on building stone history. 

From Stone Quarries and Beyond

Of the two, Peggy is the collector and organizer and Pat is the web master.  Peggy’s interest in stone started in a graveyard.  In the late 1990s, as part of a class she was taking on local history at Los Medanos community college, in Pittsburg, California, Peggy decided to survey and photograph stones in local cemeteries.  She wondered where the stones came from and discovered that such information was not easy to find.  When she did locate a point of origin she found that much of the marble, limestone, and granite wasn’t quarried nearby.

Some stone arrived from other areas of California but tons came from Vermont and Italy.  Finished cemetery stones (minus such important info as name or dates) are called blanks and could be ordered through places such as Vermont Marble Co., but also Sears and Roebuck and Montgomery Wards.  Finding who sent the rock, however, didn’t always help.  For example, Vermont Marble had quarries as far away as Alaska. 

From Stone Quarries and Beyond

From cemetery stones, she expanded out to bridges, buildings, and other structures and then attempted to match the stone with its origin quarry.  As her piles of data grew, she decided to establish a web site.  “I already was maintaining a genealogy/history web site for the Yolo County CAGen Web Project for which Pat was the web master,” says Peggy.  He agreed again to help.  “It’s a joke between us now that he thought he could get it done in two or three weeks!”  The web site went on line in 2001 and the Perazzos add content practically daily. They report that they had over 2,000,000 hits in 2008.

Peggy’s favorite part of putting together the web site is researching the state by state listings.  “It’s like I’m touring the state in person and meeting the people,” she says.  Each state has its own personality.  “Researching coastal states is very interesting because of the sea transportation and quarrying along the coast; but when you go inland, you find other kinds of quarrying and people.”  

Her state sections are the site’s most useful and interesting.  Each one lists geology resources, research resources, quarries, quarry links, and background history.  In addition, Peggy has put together a list of structures and monuments that use that state’s stone.  It is an astounding amount of information, particularly the accumulation, copying, and posting of historical articles and pictures.

“My biggest surprise is learning how really important and publicly valued the quarry industry was to our country in the 1800s and early in the 1900s, although our quarry industry is very “young” compared to the industry in other countries, Peggy says.  “Many times people see these “holes” in the ground as eyesores; but if you read the old magazine articles, the stone industry was well respected, well-known as producers and employers, and valued in the past.”  Fortunately for many, Peggy and Pat are helping to make sure those stories will stay alive.