The Houston Gem and Mineral Society (HGMS) was originally founded as the Houston Rock and Lapidary Club on December 7, 1948. The name was changed to the current one in April, 1955. The club’s first exhibition show was held at the Houston Garden Center in April 1957, and the first dealer show was held in April 1963 at the Shamrock Hilton Hotel. The club experienced rapid growth in the 1970s. Their first Regional Federation show was held in 1977, and their first National Federation show was held in 1982.
The Early Years
The Houston Rock and Lapidary Club was formed on December 7, 1948 by Mr. W.V. Vietti by letter to the Texas State Federation of Mineralogical Societies and by drawing up a set of bylaws. Initially it consisted of 28 people and had regular meetings at the Houston Public Library on McKinney Ave. In 1955 the club revised the bylaws and changed its name to The Houston Gem and Mineral Society. It started exhibiting cases at local events and in 1957 conducted its first official show at The Garden Center. This was followed in 1962 by establishing The Garden Center as its regular meeting place. Then in 1963, the Annual Show moved to The Shamrock Hilton and morphed into what we know today.
The Rise to Stardom (1970s)
By the end of the 1960s, the club had about 145 members. To keep the club informed, it began a bulletin called The Backbender’s Gazette in 1969 which was edited by Viola Hazzard. About the same time the club was having regular classes for mineral ID (Dr. Al Kidwell), fossil ID (Dr. Richard Zingula), lapidary (Myrt Yarbrough) and faceting (Robert Hilty). These groups then organized and were recognized by the club as official “sections,” with Mineral led by Ed Pedersen and Paleo led by Irene Offeman.
In 1970 the club scored big when it managed to get a NASA moon rock (which were in very hot demand at that time) for their Annual Show. This was followed in 1971 with the largest show the club has ever had, with an attendance of 11,000. By 1974 the club had grown to over 300 members and the burnt orange vests were created. In 1977 the club hosted the SCFMS Federation show for the first time, and separately, obtained 501(c)3 educational tax-exempt status. Finally, in 1979 the show had grown enough that it was too large for The Shamrock Hilton and moved to the Hofheinz Pavilion.
Maturing of the Club (1980s)
In 1980 the club was still meeting at The Garden Club but had a shop on Alder Drive in Bellaire. However, an adjacent building burned down and took our shop with it. We then moved into a building in the Ashcroft Industrial Park in SW Houston. However, this convinced the club to begin looking for a permanent clubhouse. One was found and purchased in 1985 in another industrial complex at 10805 Brooklet, near the intersection of I-59 South and the Beltway. Work on this new clubhouse continued throughout the year, completing in time for the Christmas party In 1986. During 1987, all meetings gradually shifted from The Garden Center to our new clubhouse.
In the meantime, the club hosted its first AFMS national federation show in 1982, drawing lots of national and regional attention. In 1983 the show moved to the Albert Thomas Convention Center and then to the huge George R Brown Convention Center when it was complete.
Growing Pains (1990s)
The club continued growing in the 1990s now that they owned their own fully-outfitted clubhouse. In 1992 the lapidary and jewelry-making classrooms were completed, and in 1993 the club finally received approval from the Harris County Appraisal District (HCAD) as a non-profit organization, removing any property tax burden. In 1994 the club hosted their second AFMS national federation show in the Astro Arena.
However, the club was heavily burdened with the clubhouse mortgage note, which was set to expire in 1994 with a balloon payment the club could not afford. Fortunately, the mortgage was refinanced as a 6-year note with no balloon payment and no penalty for early payoff. However, budgets were still tight because of decreasing revenue from the Annual Shows. Therefore, the club decided to go to two shows per year in 1995 and 1996. These shows were a lot of work to put on, and in the end did not provide the needed revenue, leading to even tighter budgets in the latter portion of the 1990s. But the persistence of the club paid off, with the mortgage note being paid off in November 1998. The club could finally take a deep breath.
The Remaking of the Modern Club in the New Century
The first thing the club needed to do in the new century was to reinvigorate the Annual Show, which had suffered greatly in order to pay off the club mortgage note. Therefore, in 2001 the show was moved to the new Humble Civic Center and was refocused on having sound economic fundamentals, a vibrant educational program, and making sure both our dealers and our customers were happy. Therefore over the next few years, the show became once again the largest and best show in Texas.
At the same time, and perhaps as a consequence, club membership also grew. Membership stood at about 400 at the start of the new century, but it grew past 500 by 2006, and youth membership surpassed 100 in 2007. Also in 2007 a Beading Group formed, which became established and was made an official club section effective January 2009. And in 2010 an Archeology Group was formed, which in turn became an official club section in late 2011.
In the meantime, the Annual Show hosted the SCFMS regional federation show in 2004 and the AFMS national federation show in 2008. However, the late September date was susceptible to hurricanes, which occurred on the show date in 2005 (Hurricane Rita), causing the show to be cancelled, and in 2008 (Hurricane Ike), which caused the AFMS personnel to pull out although SCFMS personnel still attended and the show was successful. But because of this intrusion on our best-laid plans, the show date was moved from September to November.
Art Smith and Scott Singleton collaborated to write a three-page summary on The Downward Spiral and Rebirth of the Houston Gem & Mineral Society Annual Show. The article was published in the October 2006 issue of Mineral News. To read the article, click here.
Scott Singleton, 2006 HGMS President, studied the HGMS archives quite extensively. His findings are serialized in five articles written for The Backbender’s Gazette. They are available here and in the May, June, July, August, and September 2006 BBGs.