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Re: Are specimens a good investment?

Posted by Jon Mommers  
Jon Mommers August 15, 2008 10:57AM

I do not wish to offend anyone, which means I will no doubt offend someone.

You wrote:
"I often get told in Australia (where I live) that minerals are a good investment",

please remember not all used car or vacuum cleaner salesmen/ sales persons sell vacuum cleaners or cars, some sell minerals too.

I have dealt and collected minerals for more years in Australia, than I wish to accurately count. I buy and collect minerals for the joy, I do not buy them as an investment, nor would I recommend them as such. I do make a living from them.

The prices that high end minerals are bringing worldwide is soaring, whether you are able to tap into that market and sell ( not just buy), is a challenge for any collector wishing to trade in the worlds best mineral specimens. There is a lot of money to be made at 20 to 30% markup at the top end of the market. There is also a lot of risk.

If you bought gold ten days ago, you would be very unhappy with the return you would be receive if you sold today.

As in any market, it is knowledge and skill that wins out.

Overall in the mid to lower range of minerals on offer in Australia, especially those being recycled from old collections, I have found that they are a lot cheaper than those on offer in the retail market in either the US or Europe ( for comparable pieces).

The best in Australia brings very serious money. It is the ability to find those pieces before they go off shore or disappeared into someone's collection and then on sell them, that will give you the returns that you are seeking for investment purposes.

You are not likely to see the very best on offer on the tables at mineral shows here in Australia or elsewhere, it is only through networking with dealers and other collectors, that you get the opportunity to see or hear of such pieces.

Knowledge is money, especially in any collectable market, so study and see as many good minerals as possible and I wish you well in making a good return on your mineral collecting. I wish you every joy in the journey. As an old friend of mine once said "Money is but dust in the wind, something written in stone last forever, trouble is you can't eat the stuff."



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 10/22/2008 07:27PM by Rock Currier.
James Spann October 23, 2008 04:16AM
Minerals are a good investment in my marriage. We play and enjoy mineral collecting together. Now that is priceless!

Gail Patricia Copus Spann
Bill Morgenstern October 23, 2008 05:46AM
Amen Gail. . . amen!!
Jon Mommers October 23, 2008 05:54AM

I wholeheartedly concur, there is nothing more enjoyable in a relationship than sharing a common interest. Sheryn and I have found mineral collecting a source of constant joy and amusement, especially when the kids get involved. You definitely can not put a price on that.

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 10/23/2008 08:45AM by Jon Mommers.
Alexander Ringel October 23, 2008 07:54AM
first i have to say, that Specimens are not a real Investment. If you want make Specimen to Money because you need some in an defined time you will get a real hard lost or have to wait (too) long for a deal which gets a good part of buying prize (The half of Buying prize IS a good part for a fast means a succesful sale in less than a month).

For a real Dealer its a other story. He has the Time and the mass of Specimen to earn Money with them. Sometimwes he must wait Years for a customer of an defined Specimen, but thats his buisnes. If a Dealer finds the right words and waits long enough, he can even sell Scrab for golden Prizes. The Silver in Arsenic Specimen from Pöhla are a good example. In Germany was it a mass product with low prizes and no buyers. In US some people earned hundrets of Dollars with them.
Alfredo Petrov October 23, 2008 01:37PM
Contrary to what some dealers would like you to believe, minerals are almost never a good investment if you are buying them from a retail dealer, even if the dealer tells you he's giving you a big "discount". When you want to resell the specimen, you'll probably end up selling it to another dealer, not a collector, for a wholesale price. No one ever made money buying collectibles at retail and selling them at wholesale! (Same for jewellery, coins or anything else.) Mineral collectors save minerals for fun and education, rarely for profit.

If, on the other hand, you can buy minerals at far less than retail prices, as for example by recycling old collections you purchase from unappreciative heirs, or wholesale lots directly from miners, then you could make a profit. But that, I suppose, falls under the category of "business", not "investment" ;-))
Jolyon & Katya Ralph October 23, 2008 03:00PM
Minerals, like any other collectable, are a good investment if, and only if, you have expert knowledge of the field.

Plus you need the luck to see the right things at the right price and buy them before other people do.

As a short term investment it's tough if not impossible to make a return, but longer term it's probably pretty safe, especially if you collect classic material that isn't found so much these days (so spend your money on Tsumeb Dioptase or Cornish Liroconites, and not on Chinese Fluorite or Indian Zeolites regardless of how good the piece is)

I don't treat mine as an investment primarily, which is why I break my own rules and buy pieces that I like even if they have no obvious resale value. But I always keep my eyes open for those 'sleepers' that are undervalued and overlooked, and I've got some great pieces that way (for example, lovely Cornish Herodsfoot Bournonite last year at Denver for $100). And that's not just an investment, it's a beautiful piece in my collection.

David Weiss October 23, 2008 03:25PM
Alfredo Petrov Wrote:
> Contrary to what some dealers would like you to
> believe, minerals are almost never a good
> investment if you are buying them from a retail
> dealer, even if the dealer tells you he's giving
> you a big "discount". When you want to resell the
> specimen, you'll probably end up selling it to
> another dealer, not a collector, for a wholesale
> price.
No one ever made money buying collectibles
> at retail and selling them at wholesale! (Same for
> jewellery, coins or anything else.) Mineral
> collectors save minerals for fun and education,
> rarely for profit.

I agree with Alfredo. I used to collect coins and fell under the spell of the siren's song of "good investment". Collectables are not good investments (even in the long term), if you can only obtain them at retail prices. The wholesale-retail spread is just too large to be matched and exceeded within a persons lifetime. The only exception to this rule is if you are buying very high end pieces sought by other collectors at the high end. But that isn't where most collectors are at...

After my expeience with coins, I will never collect anything for profit. Only for enjoyment.

...and what's wrong with Indian zeolites?
Jolyon & Katya Ralph October 23, 2008 03:27PM

How to own a zeolite mine in India.

1. buy some land somewhere in the deccan area.
2. dig a hole
Joan Kureczka October 23, 2008 03:34PM

I would not put down buying the very best of what's plentiful and well-priced today if you are indeed thinking of long term value.

Many things that were extremely plentiful in the '80's when we began seriously collecting have now become much less available, and so the best pieces are indeed today commanding high prices. Think things like fine Illinois fluorites, Elmwood calcites and dioptase (it was everywhere in the early 1980s) and other Tsumeb minerals. Even Himalaya tourmaline which was abundant for many years is now much less so, and the price much higher. The key is buying the best you can afford -- even if you have to stretch a little bit to afford it.
David Von Bargen October 23, 2008 04:03PM
I am not even sure about the high end of the market. My gut feeling is that the markups in the high end have increased over the years. If you look at the high end art market, they have found out that the prices can go down as well as up.
Jolyon & Katya Ralph October 23, 2008 04:06PM
I totally agree with that, but the problem is that over the last few years the price * of indian zeolites has skyrocketed to ridiculous values, mostly because of inexperienced collectors prepared to pay over the odds. The time to buy good indian zeolites cheaply was probably 10-15 years ago.

And some chinese minerals are good investments - things like the pyromorphites and wulfenites (especially) are unlikely to be available in such quality at such relatively low prices for long. But they'll probably be coming out with fluorites, scheelites, cassiterites and cinnabars of great quality for as long as I live.


* the retail value has climbed. resale value to a dealer probably hasn't gone up so much.

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 10/23/2008 04:08PM by Jolyon Ralph.
Chester S. Lemanski, Jr. October 23, 2008 04:15PM
You don't know what "HIGH END" is until you have tried to acquire top end Franklin, NJ, specimens. Talk about a niche market and dedicated collectors (myself and friends included)!!!!
Alexander Ringel October 23, 2008 04:41PM
buying "High End" Pieces is no problem if you got the money.

The real problem is to buy no name Specimen. Its much harder to get a 90 Gram Thorianite or a 300 Gramm massive and pure (!) cinnabar from China then getting an exclusive and perfect 10.000 $ Tourmaline. Money dosnt help you with your search and if you try to do this you will learn that "High End" is not really the rarest stuff on market. Its only the most expensive...not more.
Alexander Ringel
Stephen Moreton October 23, 2008 05:34PM
I am told that prices have generally increased over the years, but do not know if this is just inflation. What I do know is that the mineral market is rather limited, at least here in the UK it is. I have noticed that whenever I have something new to offer it does quite well for the first few shows then begins to diminish. After it has done the rounds a few times it becomes very slow to sell as everybody has a piece. I now have a garage full of stock that has "done the rounds" and is now back on the shelves for 20 years until the market recovers. A friend of mine is stuck with a mountain of Tunisian celestite for the same reason. There is also the danger that one may buy a rare specimen, let us say of "somethingite", for a huge sum. Then a few years later somebody in Outer Mongolia discovers a million tonne deposit of the stuff and the price crashes. Or, if one's preference is for locality pieces, then there is the danger that one day the mine may reopen and suddenly material is available again. I tend to agree with the sentiments expressed by others above. Buy minerals because you like them, not in the belief that you'll make a buck or two. Unless you really know what you are doing, the chances are you won't.
Ray Ladbury October 23, 2008 05:42PM
A few words about "investment". A decade ago, my nephew was convinced he was going to fund his college education from his investment in beanie babies. He carefully followed the quoted value of each limited edition plush toy and struggled to get his hands on the ones he saw as most promising. Hey, he was no worse off than most stock investors.
The thing is that an "investment" is only worth what you can get someone else to pay for it when you want to sell. You have to consider not just "value," but also liquidity--how readily you can find a buyer who will pay you something close to that value. There simply are not that many people who collect really high-end specimens, so unless you have a standing offer to purchase your treasures, it is unlikely you will reap full value for your "investment". For cheaper specimens... forget about it.
Knut Eldjarn October 23, 2008 06:06PM
I wholeheartedly agree with the spirit of Gail's answer. The profit harvested from time and money invested in mineral specimens can be measured in "quality of life" units. It is all about the social interaction with mineral friends and interested family memebers, the fresh air and hard work during collecting expeditions, the visual pleasure of studying beautiful pieces of "natural art" or the delight of acquiring and studying exceptional specimens of real rarities. If at the end of the day you just recover the price originally paid for the specimen (or even less), you have still had the pleasure of finding (in the field, at a show, on the web or in a shop), displaying and studying the specimen and thus enriched your life.
On the monetary side, I agree with those stating that only rarely will a specimen be a good investment and then it is when you are in the position of selecting the best or the rarest of its kind. Such opportunities are rare for the ordinary collector. But as with the Bournonite mentioned by Jolyon - there are sleepers out there. I really envy you finding a Heredsfoot Bournonite for $100 !

Joseph Polityka October 23, 2008 09:41PM
Hello, everyone,

I really enjoy reading your posts. Everyone here has offered their unique perspective into the hobby, all of which make sense to me.

I am in the hobby for the enjoyment, fellowship and the joy of finding that special specimen. How much is that pleasure worth? I would say it is priceless. Because of my hobby I have met many nice people, I have travelled around the country to mineral shows and museums and have stimulated my aging brain by doing research on the earth sciences.

While billions of people are wasting their time sitting in front of the TV, gambling in casinos or drinking their lives away in some pub, we mineral collectors (and other people with hobbies) are stimulating the economies of the world and our native countries. What could be better than that?

One word of caution, though: before you look at minerals as an investment you have to take into consideration the cost associated with acquiring a specimen. Travel, lodging and food add to the cost of acquiring all commodities. The further and longer you travel, the more a specimen will cost. That is why we should place a high value on the non-monetary aspects of the hobby such as personal satisfaction and fellowship. As Alfredo implied, the closer you are to the source, the better your chances are of recovering money spent on a specimen. The source might be a local mine or a recycled collection in your area. In any hobby mobility coupled with persistence and research always pays off.

I don't know if I will make money on my collection and I don't care. I am sure I could get some of my money back but I could never put a price on the pleasure I get, and have gotten, from the hobby.

Best wishes,

Mario Pauwels October 23, 2008 11:01PM
Alexander Ringel Wrote:

buying "High End" Pieces is no problem if you got
the money
. The real problem is to buy no name Specimen. Its
much harder to get a 90 Gram Thorianite or a 300
Gramm massive and pure (!) cinnabar from China
then getting an exclusive and perfect 10.000 $

Hi Alexander,

When you talking about the real "high end" specimens, I think there is much more money in the world then there are real "high end" specimens. So even when you are prepaired to spend the money, but you have also a certain taste and are also selective on damage and repairs, it is a problem to find real high end specimens...

And about the Thorianite and the Cinnaber... Thorianite is black, mostly dull and is also radioactive, and the Cinnaber is unstable. Specimens as these will never reach the price level of those attractive and stable "high end" specimens.

So dont get my wrong Alexander, I quoted you, but I realy understand what you try to say, but all minerals at a certain level are hard to get, but for the more fancy ones will always be a bigger market.

Mario Pauwels
Justin Zzyzx October 24, 2008 01:07AM
Meh, buy books instead. They have pictures of pretty rocks in there that I can not afford and books usually retain or go up in value. Well, books about minerals and mineral locations that is.
Richard Dale October 24, 2008 02:21AM
Hey Y'all,

An observation on Joseph's "close to the source" comment... Obtaining specimens directly from miners in a special (and enviable!) situation & requires years of contact cultivation. Trying to purchase from collectors in a given area, however, can be very costly. Bisbee specimens are often most expensive in Arizona. I have found Colorado Rhodochrosites cheaper in France than in Denver. Peruvian specimens can be cheaper in Tucson than in Lima, etc.

Craig Mercer October 24, 2008 02:35AM
As stated in some of the other previous posts, it's based on the price you get them for in the first place, whether they be high end specimens or not. A specimen that is purchased for $1 and then sells for $10, well that's a good investment in my eye's.

Alexander Ringel October 24, 2008 06:51AM

So even when you are prepaired to spend the money, but you have also a certain taste and are also selective on damage and repairs, it is a problem to find real high end specimens...

And about the Thorianite and the Cinnaber... Thorianite is black, mostly dull and is also radioactive, and the Cinnaber is unstable. Specimens as these will never reach the price level of those attractive and stable "high end" specimens.

So dont get my wrong Alexander, I quoted you, but I realy understand what you try to say, but all minerals at a certain level are hard to get, but for the more fancy ones will always be a bigger market.

Yes i know. Thorianite and cinnabar will never reach an high End prize. (It would be very bad for me). I talked only about needed efforts to get them. I can get many high end Stuff without problems in internet. It feels like it is not enough place on the stores for all the "superrare" stuff :S. Every Mineral Show like Tucson or Munich or Hamburg shows masses of Material in the top classes. Every Corner shows Tourmalines and Rubys and best and perfect "rare" Diamonds, Emeralds, Topazes, Ajoite in Quartz,... . But if you try to get something from outside of the mainstream you will have a problem....
Alexander Ringel
Ray Ladbury October 24, 2008 12:41PM
Craig said: "A specimen that is purchased for $1 and then sells for $10, well that's a good investment in my eye's."

This depends on the level of effort you have to put into selling it. If, for instance, you put an hour into cleaning it and then devote, say 10 minutes each at 3 rock shows, you're below minimum wage and would have been better off (from a monetary view) taking a second job at Val de Mart (Walmart). Very few people make a living selling mineral specimens. Almost nobody gets rich off of it. I remember flying home from my first trip to Sri Lanka, I met a gem dealer in the airport at Colombo. We discussed how things had gone on our respective buying trips. I was very happy with my ekanites, spinel crystals, kornerupines and on and on. He was lamenting the high price of sapphires. When I suggested that many spinels were equally beautiful at a tenth the price, he said, "Yes, but I could never sell them. Nobody wants to buy anything but diamonds, rubies, sapphires, and emeralds. I would go broke if I had your attitude. I can't afford to fall in love with the goods."
It has been my experience that you have to take such an attitude if you are really serious about buying minerals or gemstones for "investment". And that price, for me, is just too high.
Joseph Polityka October 24, 2008 06:21PM

I should have been more specific. What I really meant was be close to the source when a "collection" is being sold. In other words, get as close to the first pick as possible. There is a long standing East Coast adage which goes something like this: "If you want to buy Maine tourmaline, don't go to Maine". I agree with your observation that prices are higher at the source. Plus, based on acquisition costs (airfare, hotels, meals, etc.) that pyrite you buy in Peru is a lot more expensive than the one you can get in the states. However, if a person is seeking the adventure of visiting an exotic place then the travel expenses are worth it.

Best wishes,

Michael Hatskel October 24, 2008 08:43PM
When thinking about investing in minerals, one must take into account the alternative income lost over the time you hold the investment specimen.

You buy a $1,000 specimen and plan to hold it for 10 years, hoping to benefit from its price appreciation. Ten years later you sell it for let's say $2,000. The price difference is $1,000. But that's not your gain. If you invested that same $1,000 in the market for 10 years at let's say 5% annual interest, your investment would grow to become $1,630, so your investment income would be $630. Therefore, your specimen investment income is $1,000 (price difference) minus $630 (lost investment income) equals $370. And that's over 10 years. And before taxes, of course...

Money that you invest into buying specimen material and fairly quickly selling it with the profit margin of 20%, with or without benefitiation/cleaning/other improvement, is not an investment - it's a working capital that you are turning around.
Jon Mommers October 27, 2008 11:01AM
Are minerals a Good Investment ?

This is a question that each individual must answer for themselves. For every collector will have their own diverse response.

If you buy specimens solely as an investment, then you are in business and must set all emotion aside. You need to act swiftly and decisively. You are in the mineral dealing business and not the mineral collecting hobby / obsession. It is business, treat it as such.

Personally, I collect minerals for the simple joys that they bring; intellectually, socially and I guess spiritual. They satisfy a compulsive need.

Golfers and Mineral Collectors have a lot more in common that most of us wish to believe. We are both groups of crazy, passionate people who spend a large amount of our spare time and cash chasing across the countryside after little white balls ( or blue, pink….. insert your favourite mineral here ). When we find that elusive little white ball, we beat the ground around it, in the hope it will pop out in just the right way. Like golfers, many a mineral collector has been known to curse and even cry when they hit that little white ball the wrong way.

A Golfer will realise very little financial return for his / her old collection of clubs and associated paraphernalia, when they retire from their past time. A mineral collector can expect little more. Both however, will be rich with memories of the game and the camaraderie shared in the field and at the 19th.

If the Golfer has diligently applied themselves and improved year after year, through toil and study, they may have a trophy or two to show the grand kids and be rich with memories of the game and shared camaraderie. What tales they can spin about adventures lived. Financially ?,….. it was never about the money.

If they are really good and know the game, they may realise financial rewards as a Golfing Pro during their now business career and may even amass sufficient financially to be comfortable in retirement. They too will have great memories; intertwined will be memories of the struggle of providing for themselves and their dependants as a small business operator.

It is no different for the Mineral Collector.

If you are an astute mineral dealer, then minerals can be a good financial investment. As a mineral collector I think not, but we are like the golfer rich in so many other ways.
Paul Siegel October 28, 2008 02:16PM

As both a mineral collector and golfer I can only say.............................amen.

Greg Peterson (geminerals) October 28, 2008 04:35PM
Hello All,

Interesting thread. I have to buck the trend here and say that I do think that mineral collections are a good long term investment.
Over the past 30 years, specimens have appreciated quite handsomely and should continue to do so over the next 30 years given
the constant pace of monetary expansion. If nothing else, they should keep pace with inflation and not lose vale as in the case of the
almighty dollar. Some very important caveats howeve, they are not liquid, so as such, when you intend to divest yourself of your collection,
it has to be done over time to the right people to maximize returns. It is an investment that has to be bought and held for the long term, not bought today for sale 6 months to a year later. Just like in stocks; bargain hunting is essential, and most of you have touched on that point, buying good quality (damage free) specimens from classic localities at good prices and holding them for the long term; not buying high and selling higher.
Again, many may disagree with me, but the proof is in the numbers. My father amassed his collection in the 60's for something under a $1,000; now that same collection is worth somewhere north of $10,000 in the very low end of my estimate. That coupled with the joy of the collecting process and enjoyment of the specimens by myself and my friends/family make it much more satisfying that sitting around talking about a portfolio of stocks or bonds. One last thing, as an upshot to the illiquid nature of them, at least the don't gyrate widly and/or drop in value by 50% in a two week period like many of my other 'investments' out there right now, lol.

Thanks for listening to my crackpot ideas....
Greg Peterson
Van King October 28, 2008 07:42PM
When I was staff mineralogist at Wards Natural Science Est when the gemstone "investment" craze was still going on in spring 1980, I had someone call asking to buy gemstones. After telling them that the company did not sell gemstones we had a short conversation. He told me about his purchases of aquamarine for $300/carat and such. I then asked him why, if he were spending tens of thousands of dollars, "Why don't you buy wholesale?" He must have dropped the phone as the silence was deafening. As many have pointed out, investment means that you can liquidate your holdings at a higher price than the acquisition price. Lions of industry who got hooked on gemstone and collectible investments would have had collectibles dealers for lunch, but for the fact they were on the ignorant side of the turf. The easiest person to sell to is a businessman. Larry Conklin once told me that anyone can sell $3 vitamins, the good salesman can sell $100 vitamins.

The bottom line is anything can be an investment. A bad investment is measured by how long it takes to make a profit. An analysis of a famous USA stamped cover with three Zeppelin stamps cost about $13 on day of issue and 50 years later sold for a thousand times the purchase price. Economists felt that the $13 should have brought more returns after so long a time period, if used in the normal buying and selling of inventory for a business. If speculation hits your area of collectibles, the best advice is to consider selling before the bubble breaks and buy back your specimens after the collapse. The recent run-up of crude oil prices is a case in point. The rise was speculator-driven, not market-driven. There is still a residue of high prices for the consumer, however.

One of my principal activities is mineral appraisal. The last two years have seen an upswing in prices of good things. Ordinary specimens have been affected only slightly. At Tucson this year, I saw the first openly priced specimens for over $100,000, some priced on the tag to $400,000. There were also a number of POR specimens that actually sold for over $2.5 million. I am awaiting the current point of view available from next year's Tucson. Certainly money has dried up in many areas, but I suspect that next year's "high end" dealers will be no less courageous than last year's.

A measure of whether a specimen sold at at good price is how long it takes for the average worker to have purchased it or how much a necessity cost in the time period. A beryllonite purchased by William Vaux in 1889 for $125 was a large fraction of the purchase price of a small rural farm in the time period. Today the specimen would probably sell for about $5000. The same $5000 would not be a large fraction of a down payment on the same farm. The specimen was a bad investment over time. However, the Roebling apatite sold for $250 in 1913 and was still a large fraction of the selling price of a rural farm. Today, the Roebling apatite might fetch $3-5 million, with which you could buy a pretty good farm and have some money left over. That was a good investment.

The summary is that minerals are not investments in the ordinary sense. They are assets, however. Instead of going on vacation trips or regularly to restaurants, etc., minerals tend to accumulate and represent items that can be converted to cash at some level. Spouses tend to decry the money represented by collectibles, even if the annual outlay is low by comparison to the family income. If the money had been spent in some way that did not result in a visible pile of evidence ( a collection), there would be no decrying.

One New York City collector used to report to his wife that the prices he spent were 10% of what he actually spent. As they lived in a small apartment, the collector was allowed to use the hall closet for his specimens. Occasionally, there would be mineral nights where collectors would assemble around the closet and the non-collectors would assemble around the coffee pot in the kitchen. Often, the collector would search in vain through the tightly-packed closet for a particular treasure in a box. One day, it filtered back from the coffee-pot area to the closet area that the wife had regretted they did not have a bigger apartment (or a bigger closet), so the wife would occasionally toss a few specimens in the trash so there would be new room for the collector to fill. After all, the minerals were sooo cheap and the collector got so much enjoyment from each new treasure. The lack of a faithful financial accounting for hobbies is not restricted to minerals, however.

Best Wishes, Van King
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