Digging for Information: 10 things to consider before collecting fine minerals

By Bryan Swoboda

The fine mineral collecting world is full of passionate collectors, dealers and investors, some with backgrounds in geology, mining and/or field collecting, and others who just took their interest in “rocks” to a whole new level.

Despite these collectors living in every country in the world, we still see ourselves as

Rabbit Ears tourmaline

Rabbit Ears blue cap tourmaline, from the Queen Mine, Pala, Calif. (Photo by Harold & Erica Van Pelt).

one family that welcomes new collectors with open arms. We’d like to share some considerations which can help you decide if fine mineral collecting is for you. I thank those industry icons and professionals (listed below) who provided valuable thoughts beyond my own.

1. Realize it’s a unique collectible. Unlike most collectibles, fine minerals are not man-made. They are earth’s one-of-a-kind natural sculptures and treasures, formed in the rough over thousands or millions of years in a combination of fluid, heat and pressure. However, like other collectibles, their value may vary with rarity, beauty, quality and condition; origin, size, shape or form; balance on the matrix or base; “gemminess” or transparency; and provenance.

2. Evaluate your interest. Like many of today’s collectors, maybe you have a passion for the hunt. Or maybe you fell in love with a beautiful red rhodochrosite or a multi-colored tourmaline and decided to find out more about it. Or maybe you discovered a beautiful little quartz when you were a child and, through collecting, you’ve rediscovered that sense of wonderment. Whatever your motivation, it’s good to analyze what prompts your interest in starting a collection. The basis of your interest will play a role in what drives your focus.

3. Develop that focus. Regardless of what you collect, you are limited in time, storage space and funds. Therefore, it’s wise to think through, early on, why you are collecting fine minerals and what your collection should include. Maybe you want to collect specimens by type, color, localit, or even by size. Dr. Rob Lavinsky, owner of The Arkenstone, suggests you “decide whether your goal is to be an investor of pieces that are of value, or a collector of pieces you love; sometimes you can do both, but articulate what your goal is.”

4. Plan a budget. As you start collecting, you’ll realize that some of the best quality specimens can quickly eat up your annual budget. While legendary collector Dave Wilber will readily tell you it’s “OK to start small,” and it is, but do you want a variety of lower-quality specimens to “fill-out” a sample collection, or do you want a few higher-quality show pieces?

fine mineral DVD

Recordings of many of the largest fine mineral trade shows and symposiums are available on this DVD for more information and education. Contact Shannon Marshall via email at Shannon@bluecapproductions.com, or visit www.bluecapproductions.com for more information or to order a copy.

5. Tap the abundant resources. Yes, there are great books on fine minerals, but also subscribe to the top three publications: Mineralogical Record, Rocks & Minerals and Rock & Gem. Network with potential mentors, dealers and curators at your local gem and mineral society, and develop context by seeing as many collections as you can in person. Consider attending regional mineral shows, as well as one or more of the big four international shows: The Tucson Show (the largest mineral show in the world), The Munich Show in Germany, The Denver Mineral Show and St. Marie-Aux-Mines in France. Join forums, like Mindat.org or the Friends of Minerals Forum, where you can ask questions and learn from experienced collectors. And check out some of the great mineral auctions online like Heritage Auctions or The Arkenstone to see the latest specimens and get a feel for pricing.

6. Visit museum exhibits. Seek out gem and fine mineral exhibits large and small; curators are another good education sources. Of course, there’s the Smithsonian National Museum in Washington, D.C., but also the Perot Museum in Dallas, The Natural History Museum in Los Angeles, the Rice NW Museum in Oregon, the W. M. Keck Museum in Reno, the University of Arizona Mineral Museum in Tucson, the Houston Museum of Natural Science, the American Museum of Natural History in New York and the Denver Museum of Science & Nature, to name just a few.

7. Develop dealer relationships. Dealers make a point of attending many of the national and international trade shows, the symposiums and sometimes the mines. Let a dealer you respect know what you’re looking for, and they can keep an eye out for you. Their websites are also wonderful resources for photo galleries, articles, news about finds and forums.

8. Purchase quality. As you learn about mineral characteristics and what constitutes a quality fine mineral, buy the best you can afford. You can purchase from dealers, other collectors or from online auctions. High-quality fine minerals can also be purchased through reputable and well-known auction houses like Heritage Auctions based in Dallas, which now holds at least two large fine mineral auctions annually. During Heritage’s October 2014 Fine Mineral auction, the top three lots included a fluorite, baryte, sphalerite and calcite specimen, which sold for $125,000; a bright yellow legrandite mineral that commanded $93,750; and a bold blue spray of Tourmaline, which realized $81,250.

9. Keep those labels. Hopefully all the minerals you buy will come with labels specifying

Rhodochrosite

Rhodochrosite specimens like this one are some of the most sought after minerals, and often vary in color from light pink to bright red. Photo by Bryan Swoboda

mineral type, origin (name of mine and location), when it was mined, history (previous owners), current owner, etc. This is part of the provenance and helps to value your piece. Who knows, your piece may have been owned by Andrew Carnegie, Washington Roebling (builder of the Brooklyn Bridge) or even famous pianist Roger Williams or composer James Horner, all of whom were avid Fine Mineral collectors. Once in your collection, keep that label but also note when you purchased it and at what price.

10. Create a database or catalog. Once you’ve collected a handful of specimens, number them and start your own catalog with all the label information. Eventually, you’ll be able to search this database by type, color, origin, etc., and if you ever sell your collection, your catalog becomes part of the provenance.

Bryan SwobodaAbout the contributor: Bryan Swoboda is owner & operator of BlueCap Productions, and son of famous mineral collector Edward Swoboda. Bryan started BlueCap when he realized many of the great mineral-related stories he heard growing up were disappearing. A documentary filmmaker, Bryan and his partner started BlueCap to preserve the rich history of the mineral world through film, the Internet and other electronic media.

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