Introduction to collecting rocks and minerals

This exclusive excerpt is from the new book Collecting Rocks, Gems & Minerals, Identification, Values, Lapidary Uses by Patti Polk (Krause Publications, 2010). Learn more at

Why do people collect rocks and minerals? There are as many reasons to collect them as there are types of collectors: for their beauty or rarity, for their monetary value, for lapidary or jewelry-making uses, metaphysical purposes, for scientific study, and for fun. Children especially love to pick up pretty and unusual rocks; it seems to come naturally to them.

People have been collecting and using rocks since the beginning of time for adornment and more practical purposes, such as toolmaking or as currency used in trade between tribes or cultures. Materials like obsidian or chert have been used for millennia for making knives, axeheads, and arrowheads; and copper, bronze, or iron was used for many of man’s earliest hammers and tools. Some of the very first known uses of stones date to prehistoric times when simple necklaces and bracelets were strung together with pieces of bone, teeth, shell and stones for personal adornment.

The earliest signs of metallurgy appeared around 7,000 years ago when humans began using forged copper to make jewelry, and jewelry making is still one of the primary ways that people utilize rocks and minerals today. The metals gold, silver, platinum, and copper are just some of the minerals that have been mined throughout the ages and are used extensively in the art of modern jewelry making, combined with many beautiful precious gemstones like diamond, ruby, and sapphire, and semi-precious stones like quartz, agate, and turquoise. People interested in the art of lapidary generally prefer the semi-precious stone group for stone cutting and cabochon making, as their durability, color, and variety are best suited for those purposes.

One of the most common uses of gemstones is for faceted gems for fine jewelry. Most people have at one time or another worn a favorite ring or necklace set with a sparkling gemstone large or small that is special and meaningful to them in some way. Almost everyone is familiar with their personal birthstone and the qualities associated with it, and jewelry set with birthstones is often given as a gift for important birthdays and memorable occasions.

Sometimes stones are used in more unusual ways, such as for metaphysical purposes like crystal gazing, healing ceremonies, or wearing as personal amulets. Many people believe in the healing energy of stones, and use them for everything from stimulating their creativity to calming and relaxing their senses.

Another use of minerals is the hobby of collecting specimens for display. People collect them in many ways: by their size, such as micromounts or cabinet specimens; by their locality, mineral group or chemical class; by rarity; or by special properties such as fluorescence, to name just a few.

Mankind’s diverse uses of rocks and minerals has grown over time from crudely chipping stones around a makeshift campfire into a prestigious, multi-million dollar industry, ranging from hometown rockhound or lapidary hobbyists who enjoy hand collecting their material in the field and polishing cabochons for fun or profit, to internationally renowned gemstone experts, jewelers, and mineral collectors who travel around the world to collect and purchase their valuable and prized specimens. Gem and mineral shows are held throughout the year locally, nationally, and internationally and are enthusiastically attended by thousands of people worldwide. In addition, numerous museums, clubs, organizations, publications, and websites are dedicated to the various aspects of rock and mineral collecting.

Due to the extensive scope of the rock, gemstone, and mineral collecting field, the focus of this book is primarily on the rocks and minerals that the majority of people would be interested in collecting for jewelry or lapidary use or for mineral specimens to display. As this book is intended to be used as a field guide, ease of use is a priority, with special emphasis on the beginning collector. And, above all else, always remember that rock and mineral collecting is a fun and fascinating hobby full of adventure, enjoyment, and education about the beautiful and enchanting treasures that Earth so generously provides for us. ?


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