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Seven Easy Things You Can Do to Start Mineral Collecting
Posted by: Raymond McDougall on 12.10.2013 | Filed under: Beginners

 

CavansiteOk, like anything new, mineral collecting can seem daunting, but there are thousands and thousands of collectors out here and we all started somewhere. So don’t be shy about it – if you are interested, come on in! If you find that you have a love for minerals, you will absolutely not be a beginner for long – you will graduate very quickly to become a learning collector and then soon, a knowledgeable collector.

If you have arrived on this page without reading Mineral Collecting: Is it For Me?, feel free to read that too.

There are seven concrete steps you can take to start on your way. Before I get to them, I’m going to start with an idea that may sound unhelpful, but believe me, this is important to keep in mind: There is no one way to collect minerals.

Mineral collecting, like the appreciation of many other fine things in life, is of course partly about real, established criteria (discussed more in Seven Keys to Building a Great Mineral Collection), but it also truly subjective. Beyond the criteria and factors to consider, in the end, what you like is what you like. Every mineral collection is personal, and reflects the collector, so every collection is unique. And your mineral collection is supposed to be fulfilling and rewarding for you, so as you read and learn, focus on what you like – make mineral collecting be what you want it to be. Don’t lose sight of this, amidst all of the things you may read and all of the advice and opinions you may receive (even on this website). Remain confident about what you like!

So where do you start? Well, the steps below are the ones I took, and many collectors have taken these steps in varying proportions – usually learning from others, and then passing them down.

1. Read!

Start today. Read mineral publications and websites (more about that below). If it is ultimately about what you like, it’s a pretty good idea to discover what that is! (all these years later, I’m still discovering…) Nothing is more important for your mineral collection than learning, and there are many ways to do that. Learn about the different groups and species of minerals, their properties, and the places where they are found. To me, photographs are as important as text when it comes to learning about minerals. When I first began, I absorbed all I could from all the books I could find on minerals.

While many collectors would agree that we live in a Golden Age for mineral collecting, with so many amazing things from all over the world available for our collections, we also live in a Golden Age of writing and publication about minerals. Never before has such a broad array of excellent quality publications and superb photography been available to beginning collectors.

And the internet includes some phenomenal resources. Certainly the world is different from when I started (!).

There is no single read that will make you a mineral collector. (Thankfully! How boring would that be?) But there are some exceptionally good publications out there and I have set out a list of my favourites at Favourite Mineral Reads – they are worth every penny, if you can find them.

There are several types of writing out there, and I recommend that you just throw yourself into it. Don’t wait to find the perfect introductory text that leads you through – you’ll just pick up on things as you go.

One type of mineral book is the “Field Guide”. For many of us, a “field guide” was our first mineral book. One of the great benefits of the classic field guides is that they provide descriptions and pictures of anywhere from 100-300 minerals (nothing standardized about which they include and do not, beyond the most common ones), and they are usually organized by mineral group (minerals classified by their chemistry). I personally think of the minerals you would find commonly described in most field guides as the “Top 200″. Yes, there are more than 4500 mineral species in the world and you could easily be overwhelmed if you try to bite off on that all at once, but realistically most collectors will spend most of their time enjoying the Top 200, so that’s where to begin. Of course you can challenge yourself to become one of the few who ventures far beyond the Top 200, but particularly when you are starting out, the Top 200 are good ones to learn.

Another important kind of book is the collector-oriented publication, a genre in which there was almost nothing available when I was starting out. Some of these books are primarily collections of fantastic photographs of stunning specimens, and they include writings on some of the key characteristics of great mineral specimens. Other books include views on mineral collecting as a hobby, and overviews of world localities. And finally, in the world of collection-oriented publications, there are the publications dedicated to some of the finest private collections ever assembled – these are fantastic learning resources.

Among periodical publications, there are three mainstream truly excellent English language ones published for mineral collectors – each is a little different from the next.  The Mineralogical Record is an excellent, high quality publication, with issues every second month since 1970.  Articles vary, often featuring the minerals of a particular locality or region, also featuring collections, collectors, historical matters – I read every issue cover to cover. It is focused specifically on fine minerals and often on higher-end specimens, and varies from easy reading to technical material for amateurs. A fantastic group of publications is produced by Lithographie LLC, including a set of monographs published every several months since 2001 – these are wonderful quality and great reads – I can’t recommend them highly enough. A third and the longest-running, dating back to the 1920s, is Rocks and Minerals, which is another with issues published every two months. Rocks and Minerals covers a very broad scope of topics, from minerals to fossils, and is fairly accessible, rarely technical. Two other excellent English language publications are the UK Journal of Mines and Minerals and the Australian Journal of Mineralogy. In other languages there are several top mineral publication including Lapis and Mineralien Welt, both in German, Le Regne Minerale in French and Rivista Mineralogica Italiana in Italian.

There are several other kinds of books in Mineral World. Wonderful individual books are often geographic, focusing on the minerals of a particular area. Some collecting books including guides to field techniques and then there are many guides to actual collecting localities.

Once you have tested the waters a bit, you may have an idea about whether all minerals fascinate you or certain ones more so, and, more important, what it is that you like about minerals. This will help you hone in on what you’d like to read next.

2. Learn Online

Although it was not possible when I was starting out, the internet is an incredible way to learn about minerals, and the learning resources (at this site and others) are free. I’ve been learning this way since the late 90s. You can find excellent detailed information, discussion threads and lots more at www.mindat.org. Dedicated to providing information and even community, mindat is a website like no other. A small number of sites, like McDougall Minerals, offer both mineral specimens for sale and interesting content (some noted at Favourite Mineral Websites).

Beyond these, there is real learning to be done about the world of mineral collecting and mineral dealing, just by observing and making distinctions about what you see available from mineral dealers online. I think of this as one of the greatest of opportunities in the modern mineral collecting era for two reasons:

(1) This is the way to keep up. There is simply no better way to keep current, and to truly understand what is being found in the world today. Most new finds and discoveries are reflected in what becomes available from mineral dealers. In the past, it used to be that dealers would only “debut” new finds at major mineral shows, but now new finds often make their way to websites as soon as they are available. If you subscribe for updates from our website (here) and your other favourite sites, an email will tell you when there’s something new, and you’ll be in-the-know. And when you attend shows, you will have much better context and knowledge for evaluating what you are seeing available.

(2) The internet provides the fastest way to learn how to comparison shop for minerals, and how to build the mineral collection you want to build. Take all of what you have learned, as you learn it, and apply it to minerals being offered for sale online. Think as critically as you can about all of what you see out there. Certainly if you can’t make it to a museum or collection locally (see below), you can apply exactly the same kinds of critical questions to the specimens you see online.

On these sites, the minerals themselves can teach you a lot. The minerals available online represent every band on the spectrum of mineral specimen collecting, from the best to the worst. Look carefully and come to your own conclusions.

Some things to note in particular are: (a) Quality – Is there any damage (since most mineral specimens are not perfect) and if so, is it inconspicuous or visually distracting?  (b) Accuracy – has the specimen itself been rendered accurately and carefully by the website? Are the colours representative of the specimen or are they overly saturated? This could be your computer monitor too… (You can tell about the level of care that has been taken by reading about the photography used on the website, if the website provides this information – on this website, please read About Our Photographs)

Has any part of the specimen been noticeably left out of focus? (sometimes I have seen people leave damaged portions of specimens out of focus in a photo). And then there are some obvious distinctions to make about the dealing side of what you see out there. Price comparison is obvious. There is often an evident reason for differences, based on the qualities and characteristics of mineral specimens themselves, BUT there is very often not a good reason you should necessarily pay a lot more to one dealer over another – the reasons for price discrepancies can be very complex and may have very little to do with what you yourself will receive. Have a look at Wild West Economics? Mineral Buying and Mineral Prices. An excellent way to start comparing mineral specimen prices online is by using the website www.minfind.com.

3. Visit Museums and Collections

Books and high quality photographs are awesome, but there’s something special about seeing mineral specimens in person. I think partly this may be because so many of us love the feeling of thinking “that can’t be natural – it can’t be real” when we see an amazing specimen. Seeing it in person helps to bring home that it’s real, it really is that colour, it really is that lustrous, it really is that shape.

Experience minerals in person however you can. There are excellent mineral collections on public display all over the world, particularly in museums and at universities. I have spent hours at a time at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto (a fantastic collection, if you’re ever in the neighbourhood do not miss it!). During my undergrad in Montreal at McGill I often pored over the large collection on campus, displayed in the former layout of the Redpath Museum.

Of course it’s a great thing to experience this kind of natural beauty face to face (ok, face to rock). But it’s more than this: you can learn a ton this way! Try to notice which things draw you. Ask yourself “If I could have only five of these in my collection, which ones would they be?” Then ask yourself, why those? Think critically when you view each of the specimens in a collection – is it an excellent specimen? Is it not? Why?

Museums and collections can also be very interesting windows into the history of mining and mineral collecting. They often include specimens from the history of mining and mineral collecting that are difficult or nearly impossible to obtain today. So I always  learn that way too when viewing collections.

And finally, perhaps the most universal reason people attend museums and collections – they often contain some truly amazing, inspiring mineral specimens.

4. Go Field Collecting!

If you’ve read About Me,  you’ll know mineral collecting in the field has been the foundation for everything I’ve done in mineral collecting, and that’s true for many of us who have gone on to become seriously involved in the world of mineral collecting. That first true collecting trip to the Bancroft Area was the one that opened my eyes to the fun, challenge and adventure of chasing minerals. (In case you’re curious, that trip was to the York River Skarn Zone, a locality near Bancroft, Ontario,  famous for grossular garnet and diopside, among other minerals – sadly, currently closed to collecting.) When you collect in the field, you will learn things about minerals that you just don’t learn any other way.

When you are out in the field, whether it is at an active or inactive quarry, mine or prospect, or natural rock exposure such as along a shoreline, or in the mountains or woods, you see the way the rocks and minerals occur in the ground. You may see veins, pockets and vugs containing minerals, and this gives you amazing context for all the other things you will see and read in mineral collecting. You also immediately develop an appreciation for just how uncommon it is to find beautiful things out there – this helps you to value the things you do find yourself, and also to value the specimens you buy.

No matter how amazing a collection including killer specimens you may ultimately be able to build for yourself through purchases, you will always truly love and appreciate the fine mineral specimens you collected yourself. There is just nothing like the feeling of opening a pocket or climbing into a vein and pulling out something beautiful that has never before been seen by anyone.

Aside from the minerals themselves, for many of us, mineral collecting is fundamentally about getting out to different places, near and far, many of which involve adventure and being out in nature. Most of us wish we did far more field collecting than we ever seem to have time to do.

Since the nuts and bolts of field collecting comprise a rather broad separate topic(!), you can read more introductory thoughts about it in Field Collecting. What I want to say here is that I can’t recommend it strongly enough. Even if this is not how you plan to build your collection, and even if you only go out once, perhaps as a participant on an organized club trip (see below), it will open your eyes to what mineral collecting is all about in a way that nothing else will.

5. Join Your Local Mineral Club

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. As I’ve noted above, any chance you have to go and see a mineral collection, it’s a great opportunity.

6. Attend a Mineral Show

There are hundreds of mineral shows worldwide every year. Chances are that there is one you can get to, if you want to.

Typical mineral shows will include dealers of both natural mineral specimens and various things involving minerals such as jewellery. 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.

In Bancroft, for example, we actually have two great shows, one in late July and one at the start of August (discussed in About Bancroft).

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).

And although not the largest by size, I love the annual Rochester Mineralogical Symposium (April), which is as good and well-rounded an experience as you will have at any mineral event anywhere. The Rochester Symposium is focused on sharing and learning, and includes some phenomenal speakers on mineral topics from around the world. Rochester also includes a room of amazing guest displays from museums and private collectors, and also a section for those interested in micromounting. Of course there are mineral dealers and opportunities to acquire specimens, but Rochester is a lot about sharing the world of minerals and enjoying the company of good mineral friends.

OK, let’s get back to where we were going, and sorry to go on about Rochester – but if you can get to it, it’s so worth it.

And so… once you’ve been to a mineral show and taken some or all of the other steps above, if you are still keen, well now you’re on the dark path… you can start building a fine mineral collection, and acquiring fine mineral specimens.

7. Make Your First 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. Which is totally awesome.

If you are going to buy mineral specimens for your mineral collection, I have learned through over 25 years of real experience (some great experiences and some not-so-great!) that the key is to do it intelligently, thoughtfully and carefully. Through this website, I share some of what I have learned about minerals and mineral collecting, with many posts under Collectors, including Seven Keys to Building a Great Mineral Collection.

I 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.