Showmanship - Preparing Displays for the Tucson Show Competitions

Nov 19, 2016

By Lauren Megaw (read more about her journey in minerals here)

Lauren Megaw as a child posing in front of her award-winning Tucson Show mineral display

Lauren Megaw as a child posing in front of her award-winning Tucson Show mineral display

Competition is about more than just having the best specimens – though definitely a critical component – it is also about displaying those specimens in the best way possible so that they truly shine. This is Showmanship. It is a critical component to any display, but a skill honed in competition.

Case Size

Competitive cases are broken up into different classes, and each of these classes have different parameters for size and number of specimens allowed in a case. These classes also commonly determine the best size case. A display of large cabinets will require a different set up from a case of thumbnails (read: you don’t want thumbnails in a four foot case). It is important when deciding your setup to determine what will best display your pieces. When I started with 22 small miniatures and thumbnails, I used a two foot case because that what I could fill. By the time I competing for Desautels, I had constructed a 3 foot platform for inside my four foot case to optimize the space that I had. The important items to take into consideration when determining a case size (unless you’re competing for Desautels when you have to use a 4 foot case), is “what size case do I need so that every specimen can be easily seen without great swaths of open territory existing?” Taking the specimens out and arranging them in a loose sense will give the novice competitor a general idea of what size case you’re looking for.

Liners Matter in Showmanship!

While the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show will provide liners for displays, I think that a competitive display should put their own liners together. The main reason being that each collection is unique, and to best highlight your own pieces the competitor should but their display together. There are a couple of factors to take into account with liners: number of risers, color and type of fabric.

The number of risers gives you elevation adding dynamic flow to the visual of your display. The thickness of the riser should be determined by the size of the specimens, cabinets pieces will require thicker risers so specimens in front don’t block those behind them. Conversely though, you want to ensure the risers aren’t too thick or they will dwarf the specimens which is distracting. The number of risers should be determined by the specimens and the displaying style you’re aiming for. It is common to see many risers allowing for a single straight line of specimens, and while that might work for thumbnails it is difficult to accentuate multiple specimens as well as running into labeling issues (see below). I try to aim to be able to at least make “rainbows” and “triangle” sets among specimens on a given riser platform allowing the eye of the viewer to flow along. On average two risers is a good place to start.

MVC-012F-lauren-megaw-mineralsThe color of the liners should be become essentially invisible allowing the specimens to do all the talking. Here is the tricky part: finding a fabric in a color that allows red, blue, and green to pop without losing either your dark or clear specimens. I find that either a light beige or a grey works great. As you compete more, fiddling with the color is a fun way to optimize your display. Be careful with getting too light or too dark with your liner colors. I suggest going to the fabric store with a clear quartz crystal and a dark mineral (nothing fancy), to make sure either doesn’t completely disappear. Also remember that the competitive displays use incandescent bulbs, and fabric stores usually have fluorescent lighting making the fabric appear more blue then it will be on the show floor.

Fabric type is also important, a suede or matte fabric is best. You want something with a slight bit of stretch to go around the cardboard or foam core used to make the liners, but not too much or lines will appear. You don’t want anything fuzzy, or that snags easily because if you do either the fuzz will end up on a specimen, or a specimen will snag the fabric and you will lose showmanship points. When you put your liners together you want to ensure the fabric is flat and tight, however, you will also want to bring straight pins and clear tape to ensure it stays so. Furthermore, one of those compressed air cans and a lint roller will help you ensure that there aren’t any little pieces of distracting detritus on your liners.

Labeling for Showmanship

Labeling is another component to keep in mind for your display. Each label should have the name of the specimen and its locality.

“Each specimen shall have a label showing the following information:

The name of the mineral species and the name of the variety of the species, if applicable.


Names shall not be modified by extra or descriptive words such as:

gray GALENA crystals.

Descriptive terms used to point out unusual features should be in parentheses.

AZURITE (pseudo-cubic crystals) or QUARTZ (Japan-law twin)

The font should be something that is easily readable and non-distracting. Labels should be there to give information if people want it, however they should also disappear enough that the display can be taken in without noticing them. The lucite bases with the bases are nice, however, be aware that once the base is set you can’t change the angle or move specimens around as easily as such more pre-show planning is required. Personally, printing onto thick clear acetate (too thin and it curls under the light) is the best option especially for newer collectors whose collections are morphing more. I prefer to cut my labels to be rectangles form fitted to the text, but others will make the same size boxes.  This is a personal preference, but realize that Azurite from Tussitt, Morrocco will look small on a big square versus a cramped Olmiite, N’Chwanning Mine, Kalahari Manganese Fields, South Africa. It is also important to take in consideration the size of the labels with the specimens, and balancing “dancing partner’s” labels as well.

Display Theories in Mineral Showmanship

There are many ways to display your specimens, but here are some tips and tricks that can help you make the most of case you’re putting together.


Setting up your case so that each riser has a series of “rainbows**”. Rainbows (represented in Fig. 1 by the yellow arcs) both give a flow to the display, and also allow for the creation of pods. For example:

Pods (represented in Fig. 1 by green arcs) allow for the competitor to highlight pieces through contrast. Each specimen in a pod should complement each other, while a rainbow should allow your eyes to flow across them.

Pods (represented in Fig. 1 by green arcs) allow for the competitor to highlight pieces through contrast. Each specimen in a pod should complement each other, while a rainbow should allow your eyes to flow across them.


Growing up the specimens that I used in competition were called “the team”, and within the team specimens had “dancing partners”. Dancing partners are specimens that are similarly size, and directly compliment each other. They reside on the opposite side of the case from each other, but within the same arc (dancing partners are represented by blue stars in Fig. 1). Together that make each other look their best, just as good dancing partners do in real life. Dancing partners can be important as you shift pieces around to make sure that specimens are in the optimal spots, because commonly the specimen’s dancing partner will need to move to the converse spot as well. Dancing partners also provide better balance within the display case which is important for creating visual flow.

*When I learned this concept I was 6, so Mary called them rainbows.

While different collectors will have varying theories on showmanship and mineral display, this is a great way to start! More information about showmanship is available in the TGMS Competitor Handbook