Mineral collecting is an educational and interesting hobby – and/or passion – for many people around the world. When you attend your first few gem and mineral shows, it’s hard not to get swept up into the thrill of searching for just the perfect specimens to add to your collection without breaking the bank.
There are as many ways to go about collecting minerals as there are mineral collectors. The hobby spans everyone from PhD Mineralogists, Geologists, Scientists, Gemologists and Miners to the casual enthusiast who collects purely for aesthetic reasons, or to share an educational hobby with their family.
Probably the most extreme of the collectors are the solitary miners or prospectors who have spent hundreds of weary man hours hammering and chiseling in the field on a small claim, or road tripping from mine-to-mine seeking out the finest mineral specimens to add to their personal collections or to bring to market.
Other collectors simply join a local Rock or Lapidary Club and attend the meetings, go on the club field collecting trips, participate in small shows or local rock swaps, and bid on silent auctions to acquire specimens. For these collectors, enjoying the friendly company of like-minded enthusiasts is as much a part of their hobby as their case of specimens are.
For some mineral lovers, enhancing their collection with an expensive or extremely rare museum-quality ‘trophy specimen’ is what the hunt is all about. There are professional high-end mineral traders who cater specifically to this group of collectors, though you would be hard-pressed to identify them at your typical rock and mineral show.
No matter what the collection style, taste, specialty or budget, every mineral collector from young to old wants the same thing – to find as nice of a desired specimen for the collection as possible for the least amount of money. The best way to start a collection without breaking the bank is to have a plan and follow it. Here are some easy tips for confidently beginning a mineral collection of your own:
1. Decide what to collect. Sounds simple, but it’s hard to do. Are you interested in aesthetics, a price point, specific colors, groups of chemically-related minerals, their localities or regions, just crystal groups, geodes, ores, gems, etc? Being focused will help you acquire minerals to enhance your collection, rather than detract from it.
2. Stick to your plan. Once you know what you want to collect, set some ground rules, stick to your plan and start hunting. I have a good friend who only collects minerals that cost her 20 dollars or less each. My passion is geodes. Every year I buy just one “Tucson Geode” to add to my case, but it has to be structurally and aesthetically different from all the other ones I own – every year, this set of rules gets harder to follow!
3. Visit museums. Most science and some art museums, both large and small feature fine mineral or gemstone exhibits or have their own collections. I will never forget a stunning case of cut colored gemstones I unexpectedly encountered in an out-of-the-way mezzanine exhibit case in the Allentown Art Museum.
4. Make some friends. Connect with other collectors via Mindat.org, GemCrowd, Friends of Minerals, Facebook and Instagram. Many great specimens can be found from old collections being sold off – especially those from localities that are now mined out, closed or just plain difficult to acquire. It’s easy to brag and tag a photo of your latest specimen on social media and spread the word about what you’d like to buy, swap or sell.
5. Educate yourself. The more you know about the minerals you are hunting for, the greater the chance you’ll discover a bargain hiding right in front of you. Often, a disinterested heir to a collection wants to sell off the specimens and undocumented rocks and minerals. If you know what you are looking at, you can have the confidence to buy unlabeled specimens at good prices because you know the materials locality from your research.
6. Go to shows. Attend every Gem and Mineral show you can to keep learning about what’s new, rediscovered or ready to be added to your case.
7. Labels are imperative. Always ask for labels for minerals you buy that specify the locality or place of origin, the date the mineral was collected, and history – especially if you are not the first owner. Always keep the label with the mineral, and add when, where and how much you purchased it for.
8. Document your collection. Keep a personal catalog of your numbered specimens with photocopies of the labels. If you ever sell part or all of your collection, the mineral labels and your catalog enties go to the new owner for their record keeping.
9. Become a part-time mineral dealer. Buying flats of similar specimens ‘in bulk’ can help you get you a great deal on a stellar individual specimen for your personal collection at the “flat only” price. Then, you can sell off the remainder of the flat at retail price to your rock clubmates or online, which will often recoup most or all of the cost of the entire flat, plus you get to keep the star of the lot.
10. Trade what you have for what you want. Always be on the lookout for nice specimens at modest prices that you know someone will want to or already collects – and trade with them for cash or for desired specimens for your own collection. And, never be afraid to upgrade or do a “I’ll trade you two great for one awesome” type of trade.
Mineral collecting has never been a more fun, easy to do, or more interesting hobby. Good luck on your next hunt, and I hope to see you at the shows!