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Upsides and Downsides to Collecting Styles

Last Updated: 14th Jan 2009

By Phil M. Belley

by Philippe M. Belley and Stephen Callaghan

An article for those new to the hobby - it is meant to guide you in your decision on how to collect and what to do after you have made your decision. It also explains briefly the different types of collections. The downsides are there to provide you with possible aspects you may want to avoid, but be aware that the downsides are very minimal compared to the upsides and the joys of collecting minerals!

There are three ways to acquire mineral specimens: field collecting, buying, and trading. Many collectors acquire specimens by doing all of the latter.

Field Collecting
- The joy of making a find and extracting it.
- Finding new things, whether it's new minerals, habits, or locally important specimens.
- You have good memories attached to the specimens you have collected.
- Field experience provides much knowledge and identifying specimens you have found brings new challenges

- Time consuming: finding localities, travel time, collecting, trimming
- Equipment and gas costs: requires less than the typical yearly mineral purchases, however.
- Risks and bad weather: as long as all the correct safety measures are taken and common sense used, the risk factor is not very significant.
- Getting dirty: A must if you want to find good minerals. Some like it, some don't.

If you want to start field collecting, the best place to start is a mineral club that is active in field collecting. Mineral collecting guidebooks are also a good resource. It is my personal opinion that finding your own specimens is the best manner of collecting.

There are different price categories in minerals for sale. It is recommended that instead of buying several specimens, you save up that money to buy a single, much better specimen. Minerals range from $0.50 to over $100k. Those priced in the thousand dollar levels are referred to as high-end.

- A lot of variety, minerals from all over the world.
- Many different qualities to suit your budget. Higher end minerals are probably better than what most could field collect.
- Requires less time to invest.
- Making contacts and having mineral dealers keep an eye out for material you want to buy.

- Costs money, of course.
- Can be damaged in the post: though usually rare of occurrence, poor packaging or ruthless customs sometimes damage your prizes.
- Dishonest dealers: thankfully they are rare, but it is always good to have advice from someone you trust before buying expensive specimens, especially when you are new to the hobby.
- Little sentimental value attached to the purchased minerals.
- If you are planning to invest in specimens, be aware that it is risky. As an example, if a very large find of a mineral you had bought the previous year for X$, it may be worth much less after the find hits the market.

If buying minerals is of interest to you, the mindat directory has a list of online mineral dealers and mineral shows.

This manner of acquisition is dependent on buying and/or field collecting. You may eventually end up trading when you have acquired enough spare specimens that are of interest to other collectors.

- Getting rid of excess minerals and replacing them with new ones.
- Able to acquire minerals from less common localities.
- Making new friends and contacts from across the world.

- Minerals can get damaged in the post: Happens rarely.
- Being dissatisfied with what you received or the other person being dissatisfied with what you sent: exchange good photos by email prior to trading (if trading long-distance) and agree on what you will send.
- Dishonest swappers: Thankfully, this happens rarely. To reduce/avoid the chance of loss you can ask someone you trust and who has traded with that person how well the exchanges went or organize a lower-value exchange before starting with better minerals.

You can find people that exchange minerals at mineral shows/events/clubs and in the mindat Swap Shop messageboard.

Types of collections
There are plenty of different styles when it comes to keeping a collection:

- Size of crystals/specimen: Microscopic, Thumbnail, Miniature, Cabinet, Oversize. Many sizes exist between these. Thumbnails are popular due to easy storage in transparent boxes, eye-visible specimens, and the fact they take little storage space.
- Mineral/Chemical group: These include mineral groups such as the tourmaline group and chemical groups such as phosphates.
- Locality or geology: Many collections have a focus on a certain geographic region. Others collect minerals occurring in certain geologic features, i.e. pegmatites, skarns, etc.
- Systematic: Systematic collectors gather as many different mineral species as they possibly can. Many of the rare mineral species occur as microscopic crystals.
- Personally collected: Owning only mineral specimens that you have collected in the field.

A side note on microscopes
Microscopes are extremely useful for field collectors and micro-collectors. To the field collector, a microscope is a fantastic tool to aid in the identification of small crystals and to locate micro-minerals of interest. A good advantage of collecting microscopic specimens is that you get impressive, well crystallized specimens as well as rare species for very good prices.

Good luck, happy hunting and most of all, have fun!!!

Thanks to Daniel Russell, Dagmara Lesiow and Eddy Vervloet for their suggestions and ideas.

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