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Posted by: Raymond McDougall on 12.12.2013 | Filed under: Beginners | Comments (0)

 

Mexican AmethystIf you could choose anything in the world, imagine for a moment what would you want out of your ideal hobby, pursuit or passion?

Maybe it would include relaxing quiet time and comfort. It could be something that is individualistic, and allows you to be a little different from others, and it might also be something you could share with others who enjoy it too, developing interesting friendships and connections along the way. Perhaps it would involve some history and art. It could involve adventure, time outdoors and greater connection to nature. And is it maybe something you would want to involve learning and personal growth? Ultimately would it be something that could enable you to contribute to the happiness of others?

Slightly intense start I’ve set off on here, I know, but hang in there with me for just a little. Because now I have two final questions for you. What if mineral collecting could give you all of these things? And what if you could choose which ones are most important to you, and create the perfect hobby, pursuit or lifelong passion with as many or few of these factors, all scaled in exactly the proportion you design?

Ok, so if you’ve never thought much about mineral collecting before, you may be thinking I’m crazy. (Maybe I am, but in a good way.) To me, it would be much worse if you are concerned I’m trying to sell you something. I’m not at all. Not everyone is going to find minerals interesting. If you don’t think mineral collecting is for you, but you do spend some more thought and discover what is for you instead, that’s awesome – I’d love to know that you manage to find whatever pursuit it is in the world that gives you these kinds of things.

Many people are never lucky enough to find it. On the other hand, if you are still with me and now simply curious as to how the heck I’m going to substantiate the suggestion that mineral collecting can be all of these things for you… well, it is all of these things for me, so here we go:

Growth and Learning

Mineral collecting offers endless learning for those who are curious and love to learn and grow. Nobody can ever learn it all and nobody can never collect them all, so the challenge is wide open. You can sure do well to meet whatever challenge you set for yourself, and most important, the journey is great. About learning, a lot of this is possible even from the comfort of your own home. We live in a Golden Age of mineral publishing, with many excellent books and periodical publications written for people of all levels of background. There is always a small stack of things I am dying to find time to read by the fire. Some of my favourites are listed under Favourite Mineral Reads. In addition, the internet is an incredible source of resources for learning (you might like to look at Favourite Mineral Websites). And of course there are lots of many other amazing ways to learn (please see Seven Easy Things You Can Do to Start Mineral Collecting). With all that is available in this era in which we are living, you can come from any background and develop lots of knowledge about minerals, and even ultimately develop real expertise in one or more areas.

Connection with Others

Mineral collecting involves the chance to develop friends and connections around the world. Together with the opportunity to meet people at mineral shows attended by people from all over the world, the internet has of course enabled community and friendship across all borders. Mineral clubs are active all over the world, so you may well have a local club you can join, to meet local collectors. Even more than this, mineral collecting may lead you to friends with whom you go field collecting, and friends with whom you travel the world in search of the next adventure (and maybe the next pieces for your collection).

Individuality and Personal Achievement

Even though mineral collecting is something most of us enjoy sharing with others to some degree, on the other hand, it is also a personal, individualistic pursuit. Within mineral collecting circles, and just more generally among family and friends, every mineral collection and collector’s focus is purely personal and will stand out as unique. And of course, the development of all knowledge and of any mineral collection you’ve challenged yourself to build, at any level at all, is a source of a deep feeling of personal accomplishment and achievement.

No Two Are the Same

Just to highlight how broadly this concept of individuality applies to mineral collecting, no two of anything are the same. At all. You can have two specimens of the same mineral, they will not be the same – in fact they may even be so radically different from each other as to be incomparable. You can have two single crystals of the same mineral, from the same locality, even from the same pocket, and they will not be the same. Like snowflakes. (Of course snowflakes crystals of ice, which itself is a mineral…). And among collectors, no two are the same. Everyone has a different taste, different collecting focus, different sense of aesthetics, and can place more or less emphasis on any single characteristic of a mineral specimen. If you were to send me, together with my collecting partner David Joyce, into a room full of excellent mineral specimens, and you told us we could only choose one, we would each choose a different one almost every time.

Always Something New

Every day, somewhere in the world, new mineral specimens are discovered. Sometimes these discoveries come as the result of exploration, development or commercial production in the mining industry. Often, discoveries are made by people collecting mineral specimens. Discoveries are sometimes made very close to home, and other times somewhere far away. No matter where they arise, there are new things found all the time – these finds emerge both on the internet and at mineral shows. It’s one of the best things about the world of minerals – it is always changing and no two days are the same.

New discoveries can be anything – they may be finds of a new occurrence of beautiful or interesting mineral specimens, which may be different from any find before, and in fact a new discovery may be a new mineral, never before found or described in science. And it’s not that hard to keep up, really – simply keeping an eye on this website and the sites of a few other good mineral dealers, reading on mindat.org and reading the “what’s new” updates in the Mineralogical Record (and the ones on its website too) will keep you up to speed.

Connection with Nature

Mineral collecting involves a strong connection with nature, both through the minerals themselves, and also through any travelling into the wild to collect them oneself.  Spending time admiring the natural perfection and beauty of minerals in your collection is a wonderful experience. Many specimens are so amazing it’s hard to believe they are real. If you take a moment to lose yourself in any of them, you’ll see what I mean. It is inspiring and can be pretty humbling. I hope some of this comes through in the photographs on this site, but if you are like me, you are likely to feel it even more with the more contact you have with specimens in person, whether at shows, in museums, or in your own collection.

Adventure

Mineral collecting can involve as much adventure as an individual can ask for, or can be a hobby that is a relaxing and fulfilling from the comfort of one’s own home. If you’re looking for adventure, you can let mineral collecting take you anywhere in the world – mountains, deserts, forests, jungles, ocean and lake shorelines, river valleys, caves, old and new mines – you name it, and as close or as far away as you choose. Group trips arise through clubs and other organizations, and there are intrepid individuals who lead privately guided adventures. Of course, it’s not possible to go everywhere we might like, but once again publications and internet sites like this one make it possible to share in some of the adventures you haven’t yet been on yourself.

Contribution

Ultimately, for those who become truly passionate about minerals, there are many ways to contribute, including teaching young people and beginners, making presentations to clubs and symposia, and volunteering to advance the hobby and the science of mineralogy.

So…

If you’re still reading, maybe you’d like to explore a bit more? If so, have a look around our site and see what catches your interest. I’ve organized the content on this site with a view to making it easy to start at the Beginners page and then move on to the Collectors page. You don’t have to buy anything on our website. In fact, I want to add that you can begin a love for minerals with little or no money. It’s all up to you.

Internet sites like this one, libraries, public museums, local mineral clubs and local mineral shows are all inexpensive windows and avenues into the world of minerals. I started as a kid and for a long time (maybe 15 years or so) – I enjoyed minerals without spending much money at all. You get to make the decisions about how you want to engage in the world of minerals and what kind of collection you wish to build (hopefully some of the articles under Collectors will be helpful in this regard). I hope you can find fun and more in minerals, and I hope that through this website I can help you do just that.

Posted by: Raymond McDougall on 12.11.2013 | Filed under: Collectors | Comments (0)

 

Building a great collection of fine minerals involves a few fundamentals. Excellent articles have been written on the subject of what makes a connoisseur, what connoisseurs consider, what makes mineral specimens desirable, and what it takes to build a world-class collection of minerals. I list selected ones at the end of this post and I highly recommend every one. These authors are connoisseurs with decades of experience, and it’s our privilege to be able to learn from them.

My own perspective here is just a little different. It is of paramount importance to know what is involved in connoisseurship, and in fact many of us happily strive until we get there – it’s a great challenge. However, for me, the fun and the amazing experience is in the journey itself. Enjoying mineral collecting doesn’t require anyone to start with world-class specimens, or even have a world-class collection or specimen, although we may all aim for that and we may be lucky enough to arrive there some day. You can be anywhere along the road and enjoying the experience, having a great mineral collection that makes you happy every day, and you have a significant role in refining what “great mineral collection” means for you personally.

So here are what I think of as seven keys to building a great mineral collection – master these, and you will be there.

1. First, Think Through What You Really Want

Most of us only really think of this much later on, once we’re way into it, even if in hindsight it would have been so great to have started here. Of all of the fundamentals, this one is probably the hardest to get a handle on, in part because real experience helps you answer it for yourself (and so to start with it can be a bit of a chicken and egg problem, but anyway…). I would strongly encourage you to think about this early, and often, as you invest years and a lot of money in a collection. It is something you will keep thinking about as you progress.

What do you want from mineral collecting and your mineral collection? You might consider this by referring to the points I set out in Mineral Collecting: Is it For Me? where I describe the things I personally get out of mineral collecting. I would also recommend Rock Currier’s writings in this context (see reference below). Which ones are important for you? If mineral collecting for you is more about personal connection to nature, for example, than other factors, you will build a different collection than you would if significance and competition was most important to you.

Regardless of how you answer this question, mineral collecting is for your enjoyment, and the best part of this gig is that you get to set many of your own rules, so set yourself up to enjoy it and succeed by understanding from the outset what you will enjoy, and what you will define success to be. Define what a great mineral collection means to you, so that you can achieve it!

It’s really worth thinking this through. Once you have some concrete ideas about it, I would even suggest writing notes in your smartphone (or somewhere) so you can remind yourself at important moments – for example, when you are at a mineral show or a great website and want to buy everything in sight because they are all just so cool – it’s really good to be able to remember your own goals.

It would be really easy to say “my goal is to have the best” – and that’s a critically important thought every collector should include in a particular way, so I’ll come back to it under Key #6 below. But if you set out with nothing more in your mind about your collection than simply that you want really only “the best” – by which I mean a collection of mineral specimens that are truly world-class by the standards of the mineral collecting elite – you are setting yourself up for some really hard moments unless you have unlimited funds, unlimited time, unlimited space and resources, and are uncommonly able to be in the right place at the right time. You may well have world-class specimens in your collection, now or in future, but if the only thing you have in mind is “the best”, you’ll miss out on a lot of amazing things in the world of minerals!

Once you’ve thought about this a bit, just take the bull by the horns. (You can refine and change later – most of us do, in some way.) What kind of collection do you think you’d like to build? What drives you? What fascinates you? And what practical considerations like financial and space resources come into the equation? Do you want a wide-open, no-limits kind of collection? Would you prefer a collection that has focus? Would you limit yourself to higher-end specimens only? Does the challenge of collecting as many species as possible beckon to you?

If you are not new to mineral collecting, you will know about ther kinds of collections people build, and you may already have a focus or a specialty (or none at all). But in case this is a new topic for you, there are various ways to approach this and here are some examples:

Wide Open – No Limits

You can choose to be unlimited in what you collect. I personally chose this route. The great part about it is that you can add anything you like to your collection.

Ultimate freedom to love the mineral specimens that grab you. Nothing suggesting what you “should” add to your collection. The challenge is endless. And it’s a great way to go. You do need thorough knowledge of the factors that are considered to characterize fine mineral specimens and connoisseurship, and after that, it’s all open. But this does have some potential drawbacks for some people, so you might want to think about whether these matter to you personally: it is hard to achieve significance (if having a collect that stands out in comparison to others matters to you), it is hard to become a true expert, it could easily be more expensive than any of us can afford or reasonably justify spending on minerals and so it (if this last one doesn’t apply to you, that’s awesome), it can take more space than you have, and your collection will likely always be very “incomplete”. I personally had no problem facing up to any of those – in fact, for example, I always loved it that the collection could never be called “complete”. If your collection is very far from “complete”, that means a new challenge is always out there – who the heck cares if you’re missing representatives of key minerals? You can always see those in other ways. You have mineral specimens you enjoy, and a challenge that never runs out, and so what could be better? However that was just my choice. Many people specialize – in part, because they can achieve greater significance with their collection, in less time, and in part because it may seem like it will allow them to get closer to “the best”, although… turns out it’s not that simple…

Specialization by Mineral Type or Geography

The great thing about specializing is that you can scale your mineral collection to suit you. You can choose a single mineral species, or a group of species. You can choose geography or locality – a very common way to specialize – and your choice can be something broad like the minerals of the United States or the minerals of Canada, something more limited like the minerals of a particular region, province or state, or you can even specialize in a single locality. The advantages are obvious – you can collect a mineral specimens within a much more limited scope, you can become an expert, and you can stand out from many others. You can also devote your time and money within one specific field and so you may develop a higher calibre collection (taken as a whole, if that matters to you) than you might have done otherwise. But of course nothing in life is perfect, and there is a disadvantage, which you may or may not care about and may or may not be relevant to the specialization you choose: depending on what you choose, you may well not be the only one with that specialty, and in fact there may be many people with that specialty, so there can be serious competition for specimens within a specialty. It’s no issue at all if you don’t care about such things, or if an area of specialization is any of a large number of broader ones, but it does mean that it can be just as hard, or sometimes harder, to be as close to the level of “the best” or “complete” as you might like.

In contrast to the ultimate freedom of the wide open collection, having a specialty will drive your collection in a particular direction. For example, if you specialize in one mineral, and there is a significant new find of that mineral, you should add a specimen from that find. Or if your geographic region produces something new of significance, you will feel that you should add it. The good news is, obviously, if you’ve chosen your area of specialization well, you’d be naturally inclined to add those specimens anyway even if you had not chosen an area of specialization!

Other Specializations

There are of course many other ways to specialize. Explore whatever inspires you. For example, it could be something like “gem minerals”, or minerals from a particular type of deposit (such as pegmatite minerals or ore minerals), or maybe fluorescent minerals. Or it could be a specialization related to the kind of specimen – a collection of single crystals, for example (crystals with no matrix).

Limiting your Collection by Size

For so many reasons, size is an important thing to think about, regardless of whether you use it to limit your collection. In fact, I feel so strongly about this one that I have written a separate post about it  – Size Matters!. I favour at least a little bit of flexibility when it comes to size – personally I think of size considerations more as guidelines than actual rules – (Captain Barbossa’s view of the Pirate’s Code… but I digress…). Some collectors are very strict about this, and impose size restrictions to dictate the development of their collection, which can be as good a way as any to define your collection. And certainly if formal competition matters to you, size specifications are often strict. Size restriction does relate to other aspects of what you appreciate about minerals – the smaller you are willing to go, the more likely you are to achieve incredibly high quality, and of course many of the mineral species simply don’t occur in larger sizes, so if you are interested in a large number of species, small specimens will work well anyway.

2. Quality, Quality, Quality

“There are three things that matter in property: location, location, location.” Often attributed to British real estate tycoon Lord Harold Samuel, this has become a timeless statement of a principle in the real estate industry. Of course there are more things that matter in real estate, but we get the idea. When it comes to collecting fine minerals, the three things that matter are quality, quality, quality.

Like real estate, sure, this is a major over-simplification of a complex subject. There are many factors to consider and you will want to know them all cold, and you should have your own view on every one of them.  They are discussed more in Key # 3, next.

But to me, quality rules the day.

Of course, insisting on “perfect” quality can also be taken to extremes and will leave you in an absolutely impossible place – if you inspect perfect-looking cabinet or even miniature specimens with magnification, you will almost always find a nick or a chip not immediately visible to the eye, particularly once you get to magnification. True perfection is most often unattainable (micros excepted). At some point, an insistence on high quality can verge on obsessive and unhelpful, and yes, I have been there. If you insist on complete true perfection, you could find yourself unable to enjoy the vast majority of mineral specimens, even fine ones. Some level of damage (hopefully nominal, often only visible with magnification, or peripheral) is going to be part of virtually all mineral collections – it’s a matter of what level you choose is acceptable for you. Some minerals, particularly the very rare, are not even available in undamaged specimens – or if it is possible to obtain one, the price may be beyond the reach of any mere mortal. And some specimens you field collected may have perfection in many regards, like a perfect crystal or more, but may not be perfect all the way around – you’ll still treasure the specimens you collect yourself.

So what level is “right”, or acceptable? It’s personal, but within some guidelines. There should be no visual distraction from damage. Of course that’s a subjective statement – what distracts one person may not distract the next – but if you are looking at a specimen, think about whether a reasonable knowledgeable collector would say that there is damage which is visually distracting.

My best advice is set the bar as high as you can, particularly when buying minerals. This will enable you to have a top quality collection and enjoy the minerals all along the way. My own personal level of acceptable damage is none evident visually, or extremely low and not visually distracting from the main viewing angle, and I hope that’s obvious from this website.

I insist upon excellent quality from the front, main, optimal viewing angle. I do not typically insist upon 360 degree freedom from damage, and certainly not 360 degrees in all dimensions – because it’s almost impossible and I’d be able to enjoy few minerals if I did that. Almost all specimens have points where they were originally attached to the host rock and had to be removed, so there will be points of attachment or rough broken rock evidencing that removal. (On this subject, it is possible to find “floaters” – specimens of crystals that are complete all around and formed suspended in a liquid with no points of attachment – but floaters are relatively limited in occurrence.) There are collectors who do expect every specimen in their collection to have only a point of attachment at the bottom of the specimen, and for the specimen to be otherwise damage and contact-free in 360 degrees. Exclusive club.

Before I move on from this subject, just a note about the terms “damage” and “contacts”. Usually the term damage is used to denote damage caused by human activity, although it can also apply to naturally broken crystals. There is another concept which affects many mineral specimens and that is the notion of a “contact” or that a specimen is “contacted”. A “contact” on a mineral specimen is an area of the specimen where the crystals naturally grew up against something else – sometimes it was another crystal, and others it will simply have been the other side of the vein or pocket, where the crystal cavity did not leave enough space for proper crystal growth. Contacts are obviously viewed as a detraction from specimen perfection, but are not considered to be the same kind of issue for a specimen as damage. Contacts may or may not be visually distracting, which again is a personal consideration. But usually contacts don’t cause the same kind of grief for people that damage does – they are a natural aspect of the mineral specimen’s history and are judged on the basis of how distracting they are. Many specimens cannot be extracted without some kind of contact at least around the periphery.

I’ve written about quality and damage elsewhere on our site too, including in Guidelines for Buying Our Minerals.

Finally I feel I should note that when it comes to some mineral specimens – pieces that are so significant as to stand out among all minerals for what they are – quality becomes only one of many considerations. Maybe it’s like real estate where a unique historic castle on a nondescript out-of-the-way hill will not be considered on a location basis the way a normal house on the same hill would, but in mineral collecting, a world-class specimen for the ages may have been damaged and repaired and/or restored and that fact seems to be overshadowed by the significance of the specimen. If you’d like to read more about mineral specimen treatments and alterations, see Beware the Hand of Man: Fakes, Treatments, Repairs and Other Alterations.

3. Become Super Knowledgeable! Part 1 – Essential Criteria for Fine Mineral Specimens

I could have started with knowledge as Key #1 , as your own knowledge is what will make the difference as to the mineral collection you are able to build.

If you’ve already read the articles I cite at the end of this post, you’ll know that each of them contains a full discussion of various criteria and factors that should be considered by all collectors of fine minerals when buying minerals for a collection, and in particular a display collection. If you haven’t read the articles, they are thoughts from some of the top people in mineral collecting, so it’s really worth tracking them down! Since they already more than do the topic justice, I’m not going to write about the different criteria at any length.

However, in case you have yet to read any of them, here is a list of some essential criteria that everyone in mineral collecting would agree are important in determining the desirability of a mineral specimen, to at least some degree (and depending on the context of a particular specimen) and they will typically impact a specimen’s price:
– overall aesthetics (yes, this is both objective and highly subjective at times)
– condition/quality
– excellent crystal development
– physical attributes including colour, transparency and lustre
– rarity
– matrix
– size
– provenance (history as to the find and former collections in which the specimen has been included) and
– balanced proportion (size of crystal(s) on matrix).

Very few mineral specimens hit on all of these – they are just each factors to consider. Many will not apply to a given specimen – for example, if a mineral is black, colour won’t matter, but crystal form will, likely; some minerals from a find never have matrix; many specimens have no important provenance, and so on (and we could discuss provenance as a factor some other time… some people rank it highly and others do not). My purpose here is simply to highlight that these are fundamentals, and they are discussed in good thought-provoking writings. Whether or not you ultimately agree with the points made in these writings (you will at least rank the criteria in your own order and may discard a few of them as less important to you), they would be considered generally to be the most commonly applied criteria in discerning differences among – and pricing of – fine mineral specimens.

Once you’ve spent time thinking about these essentials and applying them to the specimens you see (in your collection, online, at shows, in museums and collections) you will have developed this body of knowledge and will be able to refine your thoughts.

4. Become Super Knowledgeable! Part 2 – Minerals and Localities

Part 1 was the easier one. If you’re going to build a great collection, it’s all in the facts you know about minerals and localities. The more you know, the better your acquisition decisions will be. Many people in Mineral Word love sharing and helping others to add to their knowledge – I know I do, and hope that will be obvious from the website.

No matter what help you obtain, the challenge offered by this Key #4 will take you the rest of your life and you still won’t know them all – there is always more we can learn (I love that!). Don’t be daunted – just absorb as you go and you’ll pick things up quickly.

Knowledge of minerals can include: for a mineral, its attributes, how it occurs, what other minerals are often associated with it, how common or rare have fine specimens been over the long term, how many fine specimens have been found, how frequently are specimens available on the market, what are the best specimens that have ever been found and which are the finest in collections.

Knowledge of localities can include all of the factual details (location, history, production), and specifically how many fine mineral specimens has the locality produced, and of what minerals; how often has the locality produced; is the locality still producing fine mineral specimens; how likely is it that the locality will continue to produce specimens, or, if not producing, produce specimens again in the future…

The good news is we really do live in a Golden Age when it comes to fine mineral publications and information (I know I’ve said this in other posts too – it’s true though – this is an amazing time for excellent publications!). There are many high quality enjoyable sources of information on minerals and localities in print and online.

5. Understand Pricing

Mineral specimen pricing can be all over the map, and if you are going to build a great collection it is essential that you develop a feel for how minerals are priced, how different dealers price minerals, and ultimately a good sense about good mineral prices. I feel strongly enough about this issue that I have written a separate post on it – Wild West Economics? Mineral Buying and Mineral Pricing.

6. Golden Rule: Buy the Best You Can Afford

A golden rule of mineral buying, we’ve all learned this one along the way. Buy the best mineral specimen you can afford at the time. When you are building a mineral collection, there is always the temptation to buy many specimens of all sorts of different minerals – they are all so cool – can’t resist! Just one more small one! Be as disciplined as you can. Life is long: you will have lots of time to buy more, and lots of time to rue truly lesser purchases. Buy the highest quality, finest specimens you can. (Of course if we took this one to the extreme we’d all just save indefinitely and never purchase specimens for our collections, so obviously there is moderation and balance required in applying this!)

7. Don’t Let Anyone Shake Your Confidence

Depending on where you are in your mineral collecting, it may be some time before you have developed enough knowledge to have confidence, but if you haven’t, you will. Of course it’s always key to keep your mind open to learning new things, no matter how much you’ve read and experienced, since one of the great things about mineral collecting is that you simply can’t learn it all – there is always more we can learn. But once you have confidence in your knowledge, this last key will become relevant. As with many other things in life, you will likely come across people out there who will voice their opinions about your specimens or your collection. There will be other collectors with their own views, and you may well come across dealers who try to steer you in particular directions. If you’ve read and absorbed what the top writers and collectors in specimen mineralogy have written, and you’ve learned well from trusted dealers, you know your stuff. Once you know the essentials, the mineral collection you build will reflect you personally – your taste, and your own understanding of why you collect minerals. Listen politely and then stay the course, building the great collection you have happily chosen to build.

Articles – Recommended Reading:

Currier, Rock H. About Mineral Collecting (2009) Series of essays by the author published in The Mineralogical Record, compiled into a single inexpensive soft-cover publication. Impossible not to become engaged by the writing style. I think this is one of the best reads ever put together for mineral collectors! (I can’t recommend this highly enough.)

Halpern, Jack.  “Criteria for Selecting Crystallized Mineral Specimens for a Display Collection” published in the March-April 2005 issue of The Mineralogical RecordPerhaps my favourite article on the criteria that make a fine mineral specimen.

Smale, Steve.  The Smale Collection: Beauty in Natural Crystals. In the “Introduction”, the author describes his perspectives on the criteria that make a great mineral specimen. (Edited by Gloria Staebler and Gunther Neumeier, Published by Lithographie LLC). Beautiful Jeff Scovil photographs of a remarkable collection, and in particular the author’s insight into the concept of “horizons” in viewing mineral specimens is great.

Thompson, Wayne A. Ikons: Classics and Contemporary Masterpieces (2007) Supplement to The Mineralogical Record. In particular, the chapter entitled “Desirability Factors in Mineral Specimens.” Amazing publication with many insights and lots of photographs of world-class mineral specimens.

Wilson, Wendell E. “The Discerning Eye”, an essay published in Bartsch, Joel A. and Wilson, Wendell E., Masterpieces of the Mineral World – Treasures from the Houston Museum of Natural Sciences  (2004) (Published by The Houston Museum of Natural Sciences and The Mineralogical Record.) Remarkable publication with photographs of wonderful specimens from the museum’s collection.

Wilson, Wendell E.Connoisseurship in Mineral Collecting”, an essay in the January-February 1990 issue of The Mineralogical Record. A great early article on the issue, which preceded many subsequent writings by others in the field.

Posted by: Raymond McDougall on 12.10.2013 | Filed under: Beginners | Comments (0)

 

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.