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UA Mineral Museum selling part of collection

Hundreds of specimens set for sale this week at gem show to help bolster an endowment

  • Updated
The UA Mineral Museum has a vast array of specimens, including wulfenite, above. The facility is selling some "duplicate" specimens.

For the first time since it opened in 1892, the University of Arizona Mineral Museum is selling off part of its collection. The effort is meant to make the organization self-sufficient.

The liquidation involves more than 700 pieces worth as much $3 million. Proceeds will bolster the museum's endowment, which when fully funded will cover staff salaries and operating expenses.

Currently, the UA Department of Geosciences funds the museum's day-to-day business. The museum has one paid employee: assistant curator and collection manager Mark Candee. His salary is paid with funds given to the museum last year by Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc.

The company established the endowment with $750,000, asking the museum to match the amount within two years.

Museum curator and director Bob Downs said the organization has already sold between 200 and 300 pieces for $400,000. Mineral Zone, which is headed by Marcus Origlieri, won a bid to sell the minerals on consignment, getting to keep 10 percent of the proceeds.

Downs said Mineral Zone will sell about 500 additional pieces at the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show Thursday through Sunday at the Tucson Convention Center. Most of the pieces on sale range from $50 to $5,000.

The museum retained more than 19,000 pieces in its permanent collection, Downs said.

Downs said the museum is selling only duplicates, but the term is a misnomer because mineral specimens are unique. What Downs means by "duplicates" is, for instance, multiple pieces of quartz from the same area in California. The minerals for sale were selected by the Mineral Museum Advisory Board.

"What we don't want to do is damage important parts of the collection," Downs said.

Candee, who was president of the Tucson Gem and Mineral Society from 2007 to 2009, said the selling of duplicates will make a bright future for the museum.

"It's absolutely vital for the future," Candee said. "It looks so much rosier than it did."

Candee said the museum will remain part of the Department of Geosciences, but by becoming self-sufficient will gird itself against any future cutbacks.

The endowment "will ensure there will always be a (curator) position here," Candee said.

Contact reporter Phil Villarreal at 573-4130 or

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