How to Start a Mineral Collection

Mineral Collecting

Mineral collecting is the hobby of systematically collecting, identifying and displaying mineral specimens. Mineral collecting can also be a part of the profession of mineralogy and allied geologic specialties. Individual collectors often specialize, for example collecting of the various colors and forms taken by the mineral calcite, quartz or pyrite. Mineral collectors often cross the lines of collecting just minerals to gemstones, fossils and sometimes shells or other related hobbies. Once you've caught the collecting bug, it's hard to get rid of it!

A rock hound is an amateur collector of rocks and minerals. Although it’s not difficult to become a rock hound (just pick up a rock!), there are a few ideas and concepts that can help you get started on your rock collection. You can base your collection on many different factors, like color, shape, texture or anything that you find interesting. Many rock hounds try to collect all the related rocks from the area where they live. Others look for unusual rocks from every place they visit. As your collection and interest grow, you can start to learn more about different rock classifications.

 

Your rock collection can start with rocks you find in your own backyard or neighborhood. Look for stream beds or areas of erosion which can often reveal unusual rocks. Interesting rocks can also be found in places where industries have cut into the earth, like quarries, ditches, roads and construction sites. Be careful when visiting those sites and always make sure to let an adult know where you’re going. If you are an adult, make sure you know where YOU are going.

 

Remember, it is usually illegal to collect rocks in state parks, national parks or national monuments. If you are rock hunting on private property, make sure you ask for permission from the landowner or its custodian.

 

Mineral collectors find a variety of reasons to collect minerals. Many minerals are strikingly beautiful and collected for their aesthetic value. Others collect to learn more about mineralogy, the local mining industry and/or local geology. Some simply enjoy exploring the outdoors and socializing and trading with other mineral collectors.

A Great Example of a Mineral Collection 

The Steps to setting up a Mineral CollectioN

Step 1: Be Interested!

Having a passion for your hobby is the only way to be into what you're doing! Finding other people who are into it as well is another great way to quickly learn and advance. We will tell you about that later...

 

Start close to home, by exploring your area's geology – what minerals and rocks are present in your current locale? Are there any interesting geological features, or caches? By familiarizing yourself with the minerals available near your home base, you can get used to using the tools of the trade, and practice your collecting skills, without venturing out into unfamiliar territory. 

Step 2: Read and Learn

It's a great idea to invest in a good reference book, or other resource materials and publications. John Sinkankas' book - Field Collecting Gemstones & Minerals is an excellent choice, as is the periodical publication The Mineralogical Record. Visiting your local Library, bookstore or even garage sales can also be a great way to dig up great reference materials.

Step 3: Go Collecting

Go out and have fun. Be careful of course. Casual collecting on a walk, or walking on the beach for beach stones are great ways to build up a collection. This is the early phases of getting your collection going, so it can be what you find interesting and inspiring to keep and display. If you're going to be digging or chipping away at rocks, see the "Other Advice" section below on tools to bring.

 

Advice: Start Cataloging Your Collection Early

Label field collected minerals immediately. We have seen collections acquired solely from field collectors or "self-collected". Most commonly these collections are stored in a garage in old beer flats or egg cartons. Each specimen is wrapped in the same newspaper it was wrapped in the day it was found. Not a label or identifier to be seen anywhere.

 

Take the time after each trip to at least label the flats with the date and location where the minerals were collected. Even better, don't let them sit around. Unwrap them the same day, clean and trim them. Discard the ugly ones that can't be cleaned. Trim away excess matrix taking up space. Then take a Post-it and add a label to each specimen you keep. Someday you will be thankful for that little label.

 

Don’t wait until you have 200 or 500 specimens in your collection - start now. It is never too early. And it has never been easier because now we have computers and database software. You can buy off-the-shelf cataloging software, but a spreadsheet works very well too. We suggest you record at least the following:

 

· Number Identifier (unique to that specimen)

· Picture of the Specimen

· Mineral (the true mineral name) plus any varietal names

· Country, State, Town, Mine, Mine specifics (i.e. 700’ level, station 192)

· Year it was mined

· How you acquired the specimen

· Purchase Price

· And for the detail-oriented, also record: size, crystal sizes, weight in grams, year acquired, fluorescence, previous collection it was in, the estimated current value (this must be revised periodically), and in your collection where it is located so you can find it quickly.

 

Of course not every mineral will have information for every one of those categories, but if you are setting up a database you should consider these as the basic requirements. Just think how great it will be once your collection is cataloged. You will be able to bring up on your screen every Wulfenite you have, or all minerals from a locality. If you record where the minerals are stored in your home, you could list all minerals in the "left display case" and generate an inventory list to be kept in that display case. Start cataloging your minerals today. It's a good thing. It will make your collection much more valuable to any serious collector down the road!

Step 4: Visit Museums and Other Collections (even online)

Museums, online collections, rock collecting sites, eBay and retail collector websites are great ways to learn, get inspired and see what is out there. Just beware that this type of looking can set your expectations higher for what you want your collection to be. That's OK, just be realistic and remember that these folks have collections that span decades and even centuries of looking and organizing their examples. We recommend Cranbrook Institute of Science, the A. E. Seaman Mineral Museum, U of M Natural History Museum and the Wayne State Geology Mineral Museum as great places to go if you're in Michigan.

Step 5: Join a Mineral Club or Clubs

There are hundreds of mineral clubs out there. It is very likely there is at least one near you. Some are more focused on mineral specimens, and others are more involved in gems and working with minerals – cutting, polishing and so on. Mineral clubs can provide great opportunities to:

  • (1) Meet People.  When you are first starting out, it’s really nice to be able to meet and talk with others in mineral collecting. If you are going to find local friends in mineral collecting, you will likely meet them this way. You may also be lucky enough to come across one or more mentors who enjoy teaching beginners. Many people involved in mineral collecting are very generous with their knowledge. I’m a long-time member of the Walker Mineralogical Club in Toronto and the Bancroft Gem and Mineral Club, and have developed many friendships through them!

  • (2) Learn From Excellent Presentations.  Mineral clubs often arrange to have excellent speakers make presentations about various mineral topics. Some presenters have beautiful and fascinating slide presentations and some will even bring specimens along to display along with the presentation.

  • (3) Go Field Collecting! (It’s worth my mentioning again in this context.) Mineral clubs very often either lead field collecting trips or are affiliated with an organization (like a club federation) that leads these trips, so mineral clubs can be a great way to be introduced to field collecting. Many mineral club members actually quite enjoy teaching others about how to collect, and about the mineral occurrences they visit, so these can be excellent experiences. Mineral clubs and federations can often manage to arrange permission to collect in localities that are otherwise not open to casual collecting, so your local mineral club will often be your ticket into mineral localities you will want to visit.

  • (4) See Other Mineral Collections.  Many of the serious collectors in your community will be members of the local mineral club. Even if this is not always the case, some will be, and some of them will be quite happy to have you visit to see their own mineral collections. Any chance you have to go and see a mineral collection, it’s a great opportunity.

Step 6: Go to Mineral Shows and Collect from Reputable Sources

There are hundreds of mineral shows worldwide every year. Typical mineral shows will include dealers of both natural mineral specimens and various things involving minerals such as jewelry. But mineral shows are not only for buying, and in fact, they can be a lot more valuable for other things. As with museums and collections, mineral shows offer you the chance to see mineral specimens in person. Many mineral shows include educational content – presentations, guest displays from collections, and even in some cases mineral activities for children and locally-organized field trips. And usually mineral shows are attended by others in your area who are involved in mineral collecting, so mineral shows can be great for connecting with others.

 

You can start locally, and if you’re lucky enough to be located near any of the large shows, or lucky enough to be able to travel to any of them, you should not miss the chance. The world’s largest annual shows include Tucson, Arizona (more or less the first two weeks of February, this is the largest and most mind-blowing of them all), Ste Marie aux Mines, France (late June), Springfield, Massachusetts (August), Denver, Colorado (September) and Munich, Germany (October). If you live near Southeast Michigan, go to the Greater Gem, Mineral and Fossil Show in October. See here.

Step 7: Make Your First Purchased Mineral Acquisitions Intelligently

So if you’ve read this far and you haven’t clicked off into the wild blue yonder, it seems you have the makings of a real mineral collector. This is totally awesome...

 

If you are going to buy mineral specimens for your mineral collection, we have learned through over 125 years of real experience collectively (some great experiences and some not-so-great!) that the key is to do it intelligently, thoughtfully and carefully. We hope that this and other sources of information will be truly helpful in developing a lifelong passion for mineral collecting. It is a wonderful pursuit and you will love it.

 

Only purchase from reputable dealers and sources. Unfortunately, there are people who will try to cheat you or mis-identify minerals and try to sell them to the less educated. It has been our experience that good dealers will spend the time to get you what you're looking for and explain to you their sources and quality. Face-to-face interaction is best, and use your gut instincts to tell guide you. If it seems to good to be true, it most likely is. If you can buy wholesale or haggle a bit on the price with a person who is receptive to dealing with you, then a dollar saved is a dollar saved.

 

Advice: Keep Those Labels and Boxes

Labels are important to your collection. They are the only evidence to distinguish an ordinary green tourmaline from Brazil from that rare tourmaline from the Gillette Quarry in Connecticut. Recently we assisted a collector in identifying minerals and localities because, when he started collecting minerals he appreciated them for their beauty only, and had discarded all the labels. Then, as he became a more advanced collector, he realized that a common mineral can be very rare at some localities.

 

An example of that is the madness eastern collectors have for the 1-5 mm sphalerite crystals from the zeolite cavities in the trap rock quarries like at Southbury, Connecticut. It is a common mineral in the Midwest, but sphalerite from Southbury commands a big price.

 

The label is all we have to identify the locality and give the specimen status as a rarity. After locality, a label can tell the history too. A label from a pre-eminante collector is more important than a generic label. Surely anyone will agree that this is a rarer, and therefore more valuable specimen, than a similar specimen without such documentation.

 

So you can see that the label is for more than merchandising. It is your evidence of the uniqueness of your minerals. So find a way to keep your labels. Whether you file them in a card file and put numbers on the specimens, or glue the label to the bottom of the specimen the way the old dealers did. Find a way to keep this valuable record with the mineral specimen.

 

The Boxes from Dealers and purchase sources are often tagged with information or at least, are the correct size to keep the specimen in. Keep these around even if your not using them to help keep your collection organized in storage cabinets.

Other Advice

 

Store Minerals Properly to Protect Them from Damage

Storage drawers or cabinets are meant to protect mineral specimens from dust and greasy fingers. So don't stack minerals one on top another. Don't store minerals in drawers without separators between minerals to keep them from touching. It is hard enough finding undamaged minerals (at reasonable prices), don't add damage to a specimen after you have acquired it.

 

Don’t Collect More Than You Can Display

There is probably something psychologically unique about collectors. Whatever it is, many collectors get out of hand and focus on the hunt, on gathering all they can. The result is a garage or basement filled with minerals in boxes. And what good are they in boxes!!? If you can’t find it, you might as well not own it.

 

So invest in a cabinet or display case for your collection and display them. It doesn’t have to be a glass-front cabinet, a chest of drawers stores minerals very efficiently yet makes sharing your collection with others convenient. If you have more than you can display, then choose your best to display. Then take a hard look at what is left in the boxes. Do you really need them? If not, then take a few minerals to the next show or club meeting and offer them to friends or one of the dealers. If you do need to keep the specimens then spend some more money on display cases. 

 

Does it make sense to invest in nice mineral specimens then throw them in second-hand storage drawers? Of course not! Set aside a percentage of your mineral budget to acquire nice display cases and storage drawers designed for mineral specimens. Five percent of your acquisition budget might be appropriate.

 

Good storage should be a mix of display cases and drawers. Display cases should be well illuminated and protect against dust accumulation. Drawers should be fully extendable and each specimen separated from others to prevent damage. Needless to say, storage cases should prevent heat, humidity, acidity or other environmental factors from ruining your minerals. (Tip: don't store your native silver next to your sulfur specimens.)

 

Go through your collection and weed out the junk every so often. Every two years? Every five years? When your closet door won't close anymore? It doesn't matter how often. Just do it. Over time your collecting tastes change. You may evolve to focus on a particular mineral group or a specific mineral locality. You may have acquired better specimens in your collection, making your earliest mineral specimens redundant or substandard.

 

Review your collection, sorting all of your minerals. As recommended above, sort your best specimens into one group. After your collection has been reorganized give your lesser specimens away to a beginner or sell them on eBay or trade with club members at a swap. Eliminating specimens from your collection is a good thing, not bad. The minerals you are getting rid of can be traded with another collector or you can offer them to a dealer as partial payment for that killer he has. Most dealers will gladly allow you to trade up, though don’t expect to pay for the entire purchase in trade. Trading is not to be underestimated. The key to a good trade is both parties get something they want. When you are trading up, offer a flat of minerals for that one killer you just have to have. Often the best trading is when you travel to another region. Offer minerals from your home region for mineral from the other guy’s home region. It is likely that each of you will be getting rid of minerals that you are up to your eyeballs in and can’t give away at home.

 

Develop Relationships with Dealers

Once you are an impassioned collector you will develop a specialty in your collection. This is often collecting the same mineral from many different locations or collecting many minerals from one location. Whatever it is, you will be on the lookout for those unique mineral specimens that fill the gaps in your collection. The best advice I have is to develop a relationship with several mineral dealers that you have bought from in the past. Take the time to tell them your interest, give them your want list, check in periodically to see what is new. Dealers see more minerals in a year than you could ever hope to see in a lifetime. If they have you in mind, you will have a better chance of building a unique collection.

 

There is a down side though. If a dealer finds you something that you have requested, you run the risk of spoiling the relationship if you do not buy the specimen. I am not suggesting that you buy everything that is offered. But understand that a dealer will eventually drop you from his list if you don’t occasionally purchase his offerings.

 

Buy the Best You Can Afford

When you buy, get the best you can afford. Remember the last mineral show you went to that had display cases. Which was more impressive or memorable: the case stuffed with 50 specimen each worth $20 or the case with one specimen worth $1000. Though the dollars may vary, we all remember that "killer" at the last show. Yet both collectors invested the same amount.

 

Set a budget for mineral purchases in the coming year, decide how many specimens you must buy during the year to satisfy your urges, then divide your budget by the number of specimens to set the target range for you purchases. For example you say you want to spend $600 in a year and you go to six shows a year and have to buy something at every show. The advice to buy the best possible minerals says you should the buy one $100 mineral at each show - rather than buying ten $10 minerals. At the end of the year those $100 minerals will look better than a collection of $10 minerals.

 

How much did you spend on minerals last year? Take the time to add it up. It will probably be more than you expect. Use last year’s purchases as a guide to set your budget. Then divide that budget among the fewest specimens possible. You won’t spend any more than you intended, but you will end up with a much better collection.

 

Do Nothing to a Specimen that's Not Reversible

This may seem obvious, but too many collectors don't think about how foolish it is to permanently put numbers on specimens with finger nail polish, or glue specimens to Styrofoam using epoxy glue. It is permissible, even preferable, to carefully trim a mineral specimen. But that is the only permanent action that a collector should do to a specimen. (If a specimen has been illustrated in a book or magazine it is not advisable to trim the specimen - it is a "figured" specimen. Trimming will change the appearance from the published illustration.)

 

Otherwise, do nothing that cannot be undone in the future. Do not use permanent glues like epoxy to glue anything to the specimen. Do not use any permanent markers or ink when numbering specimens. Do not use finger nail polish, India ink, sharpie pens or other markers. For numbering a specimen, it is best to print out small numbers on a laser printer, cut out the numbers and glue them to the specimen using Elmer's Glue.

 

At the same time, it is necessary to put a tag or code on each specimen for identification. The tag should be both durable and removable. The BEST solution is to tagging minerals with a code that is both secure and reversible:

 

  1. Print out your tags on a laser printer or copy with a Xerox. Don't use water soluble inks.

  2. Cut out the tag

  3. Adhere the tag to the specimen with Mineral Tack.

 

The mineral tack is quite secure yet removable if necessary. It is also water proof. Mineral collections labeled this way is the best system currently available. Another great way to do this is to purchase or make your own acrylic or wooden sealed mounts and use mineral tack and label the specimen on the mount so that the mineral is not altered. But you have to be very careful with this method as the minerals can become separated from the mount.

 

You are only the temporary caretaker of your specimens. You should not alter specimens in any way that will take away from the future study of them.

Click on this image to download and expanded PDF document on Rock Hunting tools.

Mineral Collecting Tools

A magnifying glass and a geologist’s hammer are the basic tools of any rock collector. The head of a geologist’s hammer has two sides, a blunt end, and a pick end. It can be used to break off rock specimens and trim them to display size. Always wear safety glasses when hammering rock to keep sharp chips from flying up and damaging your eyes. Other useful equipment could include a field guide to rocks and minerals, gloves, newspaper to wrap rocks, a box or backpack to carry them in, labels and a felt-tip marker. Steel toed boots and knee protection should be considered as well. One that often does not make the list is a really good flashlight or two is even better! And never forget that if you're going off on your own, bring a buddy or at a minimum, let someone know where you are at in case you get into trouble. And remember to always get permission before going on private lands.

 

A smartphone with GPS can also be very useful, provided you have a signal in the area your in. The more remote the locating, the less likely you will be able to use your handy phone for GPS navigation so bring a compass too. Sometimes using your phone as a camera to document your finds can be quite handy.

A Little History Lesson

Generally considered the "father of mineralogy", Georgius Agricola (1494–1555) was also an avid mineral collector. He wrote several books, including two of enduring significance: De Re Metallica, an early treatise on mining, and De Natura Fossilium, the first (1546) modern textbook of mineralogy. Another famous 16th-century mineral collector was Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II (1552–1612). He built a large mineral collection while employing Anselmus de Boodt(ca. 1550–1634), his court physician and another avid mineral collector, to expand and tend his collections.

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