Collecting Minerals

Most mineral hobbyists would describe what they do as "collecting minerals", and indeed that is exactly what most mineral collectors do. The reasons why are interesting to examine, just as it was long ago said that the unexamined life is not worth living.

Analyzing ones own or someone elses motives for doing anything can be a perilous business. Most people have a hard time being honest with themselves, if not with others. Most mineral collectors would say simply that they enjoy minerals, at least I hope so. Minerals are beautiful in many cases, and interesting in most. However there is a human side that can be tricky to sort out.

Some people just have a "collectors itch" or possess a "collectors bone" in their body. They would find satisfaction and interest in collecting butterflies, orchids, stamps, antique tools, or any number of such things. I recently became interested in doing some woodworking and decided I would be well served to purchase a wood plane. Somewhat to my surprise, I discovered that these are a hot item among collectors, with certain models and years being much in demand, and examples in good condition with an original box can command an impressive price. While scanning listings on Ebay, I noted one plane being described as well worn, but a good "user". A visit to a local used tool store led to a talk with the fellow behind the counter and the discovery that he has at his home a collection of over 100 wood planes.

Many mineral collectors imagine that they are somehow different, but I am not so sure of that. While roaming the recent show at Tucson, I was on several occasions asked "do you have goosecreekite". Well actually it was not goosecreekite, and I don't remember exactly what species was being offered in each occasion, but somehow the concept behind the question bothered me. At a symposium in California a fellow with an interest in zeolites pressed a paper into my hands and asked if I might be able to supply some of the missing species on his list. I had to disappoint him. I find the desire to "be the first on your block to collect them all" to bother me for some reason - though really there is nothing wrong with it. I have become aware that Fleischers book has little check boxes in it so a person can keep track of which species he does and does not have in his collection. I also find this vaguely disturbing.

I have met people on mountain tops (and elsewhere) who are busy with the process of climbing all the summits on some list generated by someone somewhere. I like to climb mountains, but something about this also bothers me a little. At the same time a part of me feels drawn to start just such endeavors. There would be absolutely nothing wrong with this, and there is likewise absolutely nothing wrong with trying to get as many mineral species as you can -- yet I draw back from goals like this.

So what minerals do I collect? I collect what I like. I have some minerals favorites that I am always pleased to find new examples of. I like to acquire new and unfamiliar species so I can enlarge my own knowledge. I avoid "buying labels", in the sense that I turn down a vague smear of color on a rock with an exotic label. I would rather get my hands on nice crystals of fluorite from a new and interesting location than to get an indistinct crust of a rare mineral species that I don't have in my collection. I like to feel that I am in control at every step rather than ever "having to get this to complete my set".

I was recently conversing with a long time mineral dealer and asked him if he had a collection. He told me he did not. He explained that on one hand he felt it put him in competition with his customers, but on the other hand he found he obtained the same satisfaction in pursuing and collecting materials for sale that he would collecting materials for himself. In fact, he admitted that a large part of the satisfaction in mineral collecting lies in the pursuing and acquiring, not in the having! I felt that he was precisely on target and heartily agreed. A good friend claims that much of the motivation in the hearts of mineral collectors is avarice and acquisition, and he may well be right. (How many of us take time to just enjoy and study the items in our collections?) I find in my own case, that I can easily become an auction addict, and I believe the attraction is the thrill of acquiring each new item. All this is well and good until the garage becomes full and the budget depleted. This same quirk of human nature, with just a little twist becomes the slot machine zombie and gambling addict.

I am sure that some as they read this, have become gradually outraged and upset that I am not recognizing their mineral collecting activities for their great scientific merit. They are not mere accumulators of purple bottles and mining artifacts and antique wood planes - their collections have significant value to science, and all the more so because they have been cataloged and organized using the Dana system. I am not sure of the proper way to burst this bubble. In fact, why burst it at all, if the person is having a good time. I will say though that the real measure of the scientific value of a collection is whether it is providing material for scientific studies.

And a final topic is that of numbers. I am a micromounter and keep a record on my computer of the mounted items in my collection. This makes is quite easy to take inventory and give an accurate measure of the size of my collection at any given time. And perhaps the number of "mounts" is a good measure of the caliber of a collection - unless those numbers are conciously or semi-conciously inflated by making dozens of mounts of the same item from the same place, or by producing large numbers of poorly done mounts (or nicely done mounts of poor material). This is a close relative of the pursuit of "all the species" - if it has become an end in itself.

So, in conclusion, what can be learned from all of this? Most of all, don't take ourselves too seriously. This is a hobby, we do it for enjoyment. We can be serious about it, without being too serious.

Feedback? Questions? Drop me a line!

Tom's Mineralogy Info /