Tom Campbell Wins the Desautels (and the Lidstrom, too!)

Jun 6, 2024
Tom Campbell’s Desautels-winning mineral exhibit at the 2024 Tucson Gem and Mineral Show. Photo courtesy of Christi Cramer and The Mineralogical Record.

Intro by Rob Lavinsky

“Tom Campbell is one of my oldest online customers (we think we started in 97 or 98) and later became one of my longest time friends after we met in person and he helped me, simply as a friend, at shows and with mentorship in the rare species and science of minerals as my own website and business developed. It has been an honor to be able to convince him to be associated with our company as a contractor/consultant on various projects after his formal retirement from a long career in economic geology, resources and mining, during which we get to have him in Dallas frequently. Every time we do business or travel together or go through a collection together, I learn something. I saw him give a talk at University of Texas Dallas perhaps 7-8 years ago, which really served to convince me that, yes, pegmatites are damned interesting and maybe I could learn a little bit about how they form. His combination of bubble diagrams and casual talking style filled with self-deprecating jokes and pictures of his wife next to giant beryls, made me pay attention more than I have paid attention to many other science talks. I started to see pegmatites the way he does, as a cornucopia of variety and it gave me deeper appreciation in particular for the crazy combination pieces and weird but beautiful giant crystals of rare species – such as his collection is so strong in. (Happily/Sadly for him, it also made him an easier customer since I could target what he needed, all the better!).

As I saw his collection grow, and expand after his “retirement” gave him more time to play with minerals, I have long encouraged him to exhibit. He had the idea to combine the exhibit with educational content about how a pegmatite forms and gives such variety, and had initially planned to enter it as educational content at TGMS. However, the minerals are competition worthy and beautiful, and I was happy to push him over the hill to the trials and tribulations of competitive exhibition and lugging his babies to Tucson for this!

The Desautels award is named after Paul E. Desautels (1920-1991), a mineralogist and the former curator of the Department of Gems and Minerals at the National Museum of Natural History (AKA the Smithsonian.) 

The Tucson competition is different than most mineral shows in that above all levels of “standard” competition for displays ranking minerals in a case by quality, diversity, labelling, condition, etc, there is also a category above for “best overall case in show.” It is hard to define what this means, but you know it when you see it, at most shows – and the judges usually don’t quibble for long or over the details in a good year. The Desautels award and competition is named after this former Smithsonian Curator, who preached quality over all else and said something to the effect that he’d rather have one good specimen than ten mediocre ones. The award is a tribute to his legacy of influencing the rise of quality and condition as criteria among top dealers and collectors in the 1970s-1980s. To earn this award, you generally have to beat others out on QUANTITY of DIFFERENT QUALITY SPECIMENS of DIFFERENT SPECIES! In other words, you cannot win this by duplicating species much,  or without putting in as much breadth of beauty and diversity as you can. (interesting side note – this is why thumbnail collectors win so often! It is not about size and value, right?! So a thumbnail case can feature 50-80 fine specimens of different species and if they grade highly, they can easily beat out a case with fewer but more valuable large specimens). THE way to win is through diversity, combined with quality.  

Tom showing off his mineral display at the 2024 Tucson Mineral and Gem Show
Tom showing off his mineral display at the 2024 Tucson Mineral and Gem Show

A word about Tom’s score and intellectual diversity here:

Other than a case of thumbnails, there has seldom been so much breadth of species in a competition case, much less a winning case. And for minerals in the miniature to small cabinet size, this might have the most breadth and quality of each species, yet represented in Tucson competition. It is very much not just a case of beauty but an intellectual case with multiple items to puzzle both judges and viewers that left people saying “huh, what is that?!?” Such breadth and depth, in this quality, took Tom nearly 50 years of mineral collecting knowledge and searching to build.

We are happy to share what Tom wrote when asked how he felt: 

I was thrilled and honored to be awarded both the Desautels Trophy for the “finest individual display of crystallized mineral specimens entered in the show” and the Lidstrom Trophy for “the outstanding single mineral specimen entered in the competition” at the 69th TGMS Show in 2024. I had no expectations of winning anything, as my main purpose was to show the tremendous mineralogical diversity that granite pegmatites can have to the collector community (the science nerd side of aesthetics collecting!). Since the show theme was Pegmatites and I dedicated all of my life to that theme, it seemed reasonable to also dedicate all of my mineral entries to that theme. My display consisted of 49 specimens from thumbnail to cabinet size that represented 55 mineral species in total. Many of the rare and unusual species are some of the finest available in the size class. I wanted the collector community to be aware that there are a lot more beautiful, interesting, and well crystallized pegmatite species out there other than just the usual tourmalines, aquamarines, kunzites or topaz… although I had those too! This diversity is what makes collecting pegmatite minerals so fun, and so challenging; and I wanted to share it in a way that showed science and beauty together.

White beryllonite crystal on hydroxlherderite
Tom’s Beryllonite on hydroxylherderite from Shigar Valley, Pakistan won the Lidstrom Trophy at the 2024 Tucson Mineral and Gem Show, a part of the display that also won the Desautels Trophy. 6.4cm tall. James Elliott Photo.

My absolute favorite specimen in the display, which was also the one I chose for the Lidstrom Trophy competition, was the stunning, almost snow-white Beryllonite crystal. It resembles a snowflake perched on a gemmy, complete, doubly terminated Hydroxylherderite crystal from the Shigar Valley, Skardu, Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan and it measures 6.4cm tall. I treasure it for the unusual aesthetics and combination, which is so beautiful and unprecedented for this mineral species. Other notable pieces in the exhibit included the large, twinned Amblygonite crystal from Brazil (ex. Eric Asselborn collection via Rob), a beautiful and analyzed Fluor-liddicoatite Tourmaline from Madagascar (ex. Federico Pezzotta), a gorgeous lemon yellow (large for the species!) and gem Montebrasite crystal from Brazil (ex. Steve Smale collection via Rob), an exquisite specimen of Tiptopite and Fransoletite (with Montgomeryite) from the Tip Top pegmatite in South Dakota that represents the syntype specimen for the two species that I discovered and co-described as new minerals, along with many others that are unique and exceptional for the species like Wodginite (which I purchased myself when in Brazil), Simpsonite, and Behierite-Schiavinatoite (this one from Federico Pezzotta’s private collection).

This was my first competitive exhibit ever and I want to thank my friends (including all the folks at Arkenstone!) and colleagues for their support and encouragement in this endeavor!


Additional information can be found here in the Mineralogical Record, Vol. 55, No. 3 (May-June 2024).