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Investment potential of minerals hits the Big Time!

Posted by Jim Houran  
Jim Houran May 21, 2012 05:54PM
Just some recent observations from a fellow collector....

I just attended the NYC Metro Show - a show that intending to reach new collectors and especially wealthy individuals who already had a taste for art and an eye for investment opportunities. This is a touchy subject I know. Mindat has the "Money-Grubbers" section (a name that makes sense to some while is arguably offensive to others), and then you get extreme reactions to publications like the MR's Texas Collectors supplement by those who felt it merely represented a wealthy and uninformed segment of the hobby versus "real collectors." Full disclosure: I had a chapter in that supplement but I'm not rich by any means (though I would say I'm informed). Oh, and then there was John Betts' editorial on the Forbes piece that he posted on his website (5/8/2012). He concluded, "Buy Apple stock as an investment. Buy waterfront real estate as an investment. But you should buy minerals because they are beautiful."

Of course, buying minerals because they are beautiful is not mutually exclusive to selecting specimens also for their investment potential. Yes, there are many solid examples of minerals having great investment potential and not just for dealers but for "normal collectors" like the rest of us.

So living in New York I read with great interest this Forbes article on the topic:

No doubt articles like this will be regarded by some as controversial. That said, I thought it would interest Mindaters and hopefully elicit a thoughtful discussion on the subject. It's not everyday that mineral collecting makes the "headlines."


Alfredo Petrov May 21, 2012 09:21PM
On a tangentially related note, Newsweek, the last December 12th issue, had an excellent article titled "Why does art cost so effing much?" (their choice of words, not mine :-) ), or "Art inflation". It's about paintings and sculptures, not minerals, but much of what is written there could be transposed almost word for word into an article about the high end of the mineral business and still make a lot of sense.
Vik Vanrusselt May 21, 2012 09:27PM
Hello all,

I've read the article and noticed not 1 but 2 typo's: "flourite" (= fluorite) and "odalisque" (= obelisque).

I would think the article would have been proofread before going online, especially when coming from such a reputable magazine.

I would love to own a tanzanite in the shape of a odalisque (= i.e. a concubine in the Turkish sultan's harem). :-D

On the subject, I collect minerals as a hobby, not as an investment.
Sure, it would be nice to see my specimens fetch great prices at auction, but since I never intend to sell any of them (what my heirs do with them is their choice), I will not be around anymore to enjoy the profit.


Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 05/21/2012 09:28PM by Vik Vanrusselt.
Tim Jokela Jr May 21, 2012 10:46PM
I for one look forward to the incoming hordes of vapid millionaires driving up prices of Arkansas quartz and other rare treasures. We need more people in the hobby that like pretty rocks because they're pretty rocks, nevermind the science and chemistry and book stuff. I'm sure this will be a major improvement to our hobby.

Jolyon & Katya Ralph May 21, 2012 10:49PM
Well, I look at it like this - the REAL spenders, the multi-millionaires, are buying rocks I could never afford - but they're putting money into the hobby, helping making it cost effective for people to re-open old mines, do more digging, brining more stuff to market including things that are in my price range.

Rather than increasing prices across the board, it will tend to increase prices at the high end and leave prices at the low to mid end more or less the same, if not lower because of increased supply.

Joseph Polityka May 22, 2012 01:41AM

I could never afford six figure specimens even if the prces were lowered to four figures and I don't care. On the other hand there are millions of mineral specimens in circulation and in the collections of us regular people which will provide a never-ending supply of things we knowledgable collectors appreciate, for many years to come. Personally, I see mineral collecting as a hobby and not an investment because I don't intend to sell my collection until I am too old and feeble to know I have a collection or at the point my wife and I need financial support. As for the prices of top mineral specimens, they will never compete will the top levels of human created art and sculpture nor will they compete with the largest and best quality gem stones. They never have and they never will.

I agree that we need the top end collectors to keep the miners mining; however, most of those collections I have seen are very weak in classic material and very strong in recently-mined large and flashy specimens. Only time will tell if this stuff is an investment or a tax deduction when the collector donates their specimens to a museum.

I appreciate seeing collections of common minerals as much as I appreciate those expensive rarities and there are many collectors like me--that's what seperates the serious collector from the snob who thinks only high priced specimens are worthwhile. Either way, there is room for everyone in the hobby even though we might collect at different levels. There is nothing more boring to me than to see a display case loaded with the same gemstone from the same location; yes, there might be value in the display but mineralogically and scientifically speaking those type of displays lack educational value unless the exhibitor wants to impress their friends.


Stephen C. Blyskal May 24, 2012 04:40PM
I agree with most of what everyone has said here. We do need the high end collectors to drive the production of specimens. Since there are only a few "perfect" specimens in any deposit, the vast majority will find their way to the ranks of beginning to mid-range collectors.

I do object to your statement about the "extreme" reaction to the Texas collectors special issue. The main reaction was to Wendel Wilson's forward to the issue, which stated that MAD and HAMMS were the only "real" mineral collecting groups in the state of Texas. As a 35 year member of a group of mineral collectors within the HGMS, a group started 5 years before I came to Texas, I joined our senior collector in protesting the exclusion of legitimate mineral oriented groups within the "rockhound" societies. We have novice and advanced collectors and members who are also in HAMMS. We accept collectors at any level, and as long as they are willing to learn we'll teach them.
Peter Andresen May 24, 2012 08:31PM
Promotion of minerals as a big buck investment thing might have a positive effect on mineral specimen mining, but for the general rockhounder I think it's a disaster.

With mineral specimen being worth fantizillions of golden coins, landowners will tend to think they are in possession of incredible values having a quartz point of a centimeter pointing out of a vug, making it impossible to ordinary rockhounds getting permissions to collect plain, beautiful, but not valuable specimens for their own collections. It will limit collecting even more than it is today, and I don't think that benefit any of us any good...

As a note; last week a collector was arrested in Norway because of illegal collecting in the silver mines in Kongsberg. No serious collector in Norway do support this kind of collecting on protected area, but the way it was presented in the newspapers, was in a way that collecting minerals was an easy way to make a fortune...

Most of us know that making a fortune out of collecting is just a dream. The dream can come true for a few, but that number is limited to a handful worldwide. And we are seriously worried that Norwegian landowners will forbid collecting because of this "silver miner", not making a fortune, but sure making money from his actions....
Miranda May 24, 2012 09:03PM
WOW! $50k for a sliced up slab of Rhodochrosite from Argentina

So shocking I had to laugh!

Joseph Polityka May 24, 2012 09:15PM

Stated by scientists and collectors much smarter than me:

The late Arthur Montgomery said in most of his lectures, that "We must assume that the best specimens are still in the ground!" Montgomery was a legendary scientist, philanthropist and field mineral collector. He also told us not to be frustrated by high prices because there are countless mineral specimens in collections world wide.

The late Neal Yedlin said, There are ways around high prices" and guess what? He was right.

Fred Pough said, in his publications and lectures that we should specialize because we will never be able to compete with the vast accumulations of the museums. I happen to agree.

A deceased dealer who had a world wide reputation told me if a specimen was shown to me it was already rejected by wealthy collectors for one reason or the other. He also told me not to assume my specimen was better or worse than others because many collectors don't show their specimens especially wealthy individuals.

I told myself, live and let live, go to museums, go field collecting, buy what you can afford and don't take things too seriously because no one really cares unless they own a better one. LOL

Best wishes and good collecting,


Best wishes,

Bart Cannon May 24, 2012 10:07PM
Mineral specimens are fine art sculptures that not even Michelangelo could get close to duplicating.

There should be no upper limit on their value.

And petrographic thin sections when viewed under polarized light are finer than the Mona Lisa.

I have been a professional field collector since 1966 when I gathered up what were at the time the World's finest realgars from the Green River Gorge in King County, Washington. I sold (at modern pricing) $100,000 worth of them to Walt Lidstrom at the Northwest Regional Show in Seattle for the sum of $88.00. My dad was ecstatic and we made a trip back to the location the next weekend. I upped my prices and sold the newer collected material to most major museums at prices that still seem reasonable. Especially since I think most of the specimens quickly converted to orange powder.

The late Joe Nagel (Nagle ?) of the M.Y. Williams Museum in Vancouver, B.C. was an early proponent of the notion that fine minerals should be valued in the neighborhood of Picasso's art. I think he was wrong. THEY ARE BETTER !!!

Alfredo Petrov May 24, 2012 10:55PM
i agree entirely with Bart. What one man has painted, another can reproduce. But you cannot reproduce fine mineral specimens. Over the long term, they are more irreplaceable than manmade art, and should therefore be valued more highly. So, considering the 8-figure prices achieved by famous paintings, minerals are still rather inexpensive. :)-D
Reiner Mielke May 25, 2012 12:39AM
What I don't like is the publicity high prices bring. If someone wants to pay a lot of money for some specimens that is fine with me, but the publicity creates a false sense of value to the general public making it more difficult to self collect. Like Peter Andresen says " landowners will tend to think they are in possession of incredible values having a quartz point of a centimeter pointing out of a vug, making it impossible to ordinary rockhounds getting permissions to collect plain, beautiful, but not valuable specimens for their own collections".
Bart Cannon May 25, 2012 12:45AM
The Seattle Mineral Market concluded Saturday the 19th.

Nice specimens were selling for as little as $1.00. Representative specimens were given away to kids.

I think average mineral specimens are more affordable now than they have ever been.

Joseph Polityka May 25, 2012 01:01AM

Fine mineral specimen are being created and reproduced as we speak. When I die I expect that everyone who supports high prices on mineral specimens will approach my wife and/or daughter and offer them 50 to 75% of your perceived value for the classics in our collection. And, Alfredo, respecting your opinion, the lines are a heck of a lot longer to see the Mona Lisa than they are to get into mineral museums in any city.


I agree with you 100 percent. I know of one locality in the East that was restricted to collecting because one jealous rat ran to the quarry owner and told him how much some dealers were asking for specimens mined at his quarry. Luckily, with the passage of time, things went back to normal and collecting was again allowed. I want to support all aspects of the hobby not just the high end people, some of whom are in an obvious contest to beat out the next guy. I look at it this way: many of the specimens I see in the six figure range are magnificent specimens and unique in many ways;l however, it doesn't matter to me if someone is asking $100,000 or 5,000, I can't afford it at either level. Also, I like to keep my personal business to myself; the last thing I would do is broadcast how much someone paid me for a specimen, not that that has happened. You can be sure the IRS is watching these transactions very closely now that the one percenters are being asked to pay their "fair share"! LOL.. The state tax people have become very aggressive at mineral shows in the East, so I assume that anyone who sells a $100,000. mineral specimen in New York City pays the almost 9 percent sales tax.

Best wishes,

Jenna Mast May 25, 2012 03:38AM
I've said it before, but I'll say it again. The funny thing about specimens is the price one can actually get for them depends on who that person is.

I'm pretty convinced that some of the high end dealers can command a much higher price for a specimen than I can because they've built a good reputation and have a good customer base....they can also get better photos of the specimens, which seems to play a big part in whether a specimen sells or not.

So I think it's difficult for average collectors who want to sell specimens to profit significantly even if they have very nice specimens sometimes.

I do have a few specimens which I could probably turn a small profit on...very small. These are specimens that for one reason or another I just happened to get a good price on. I have a few specimens from a "new" locality that I had been getting for an excellent price until the specimens, and the dealer who was selling them, got "discovered" and suddenly the specimens started going for 14 times what I had been paying for them, in some instances. That's unfortunate for me because I had wanted a few more!
D Mike Reinke May 25, 2012 04:36AM
Joe and Jenna, you sum it up very well.
Don Swenson May 25, 2012 08:46AM
I will start with the obvious: there are numerous mineral collectors who have many different collecting goals. Therefore, no particular collecting strategy works for everyone. That being said I'm concerned with Jenna's statement:

I'm pretty convinced that some of the high end dealers can command a much higher price for a specimen than I can because they've built a good reputation and have a good customer base....they can also get better photos of the specimens, which seems to play a big part in whether a specimen sells or not.

I don't disagree at all. My concern is that SOME of these people, who obviously are trying to make money (not a problem for me) have learned to "manipulate the market" and are essentially extorting the unwary. In the short term they maximize their profits, but I fear the long term effect of their strategy is detrimental to the bulk of the collecting community.
Valere Berlage May 25, 2012 08:58AM
Hi to all

Intersting topic! To my opinion, the more the media talk about minerals, the better!

Such publications might have many positive aspects and risks too, added to the ones already mentioned above:

- To increase the industrial mine owners awarness that slowing down extraction works, to save minerals might be useful, for science and also can bring them profits. In Europe, when archeological sites are discovered during building operations, everything is often halted to save what can be saved, why not the same in mines when a great pocket is met, instead of blasting the whole thing...
- To increase public awarness of the beauty of a world that is still very confidential, to bring more peoples in museums, which will means more budget too. less than 1% of the population is aware of the beauty and interests of minerals, compared to more than 10% that can enjoy the beauty of art objects (paintings, architecture...)
- To bring better protection to museums and universities collections (too many have been dispersed lately because of lack of interest, or because the general manager is more interested in stuffed mices.), protection meaning more curator jobs, more job for geologists, who have to protect these collections from cherrypicking of the key pieces. Many Geology departements closed in universities...
- To give minerals the status they deserve, they bring emotions similar to the arts!
- To have more countries having a conservation policy, like for cultural treasures. Many countries who gave mineral treaures have none left in their institutions!
- To bring extra incomes for miners in poor countries

The risks, are, I think,

- to have great speciments disapperaring with owners who are not nature lovers, but money lovers
- the risk of overpricing bubble followed by a collapse
- to have some carpet sellers of the mineral business (fortunately, a minority), to overprice common speciments when the meet wealthy buyers who are not educated yet.
- to make some collectors snobbish
- to have new fiscal rules interfering with the hobby

In any case, exactly like in arts or wine tasting, nothing replace education, sharing, advices from mentors and knoweledge! Exactly like for energy, food, space, water... Minerals are limited ressources, often unique, and soon or late, a huge interest should spread beyond the collecting community!

António Manuel Ináçio Martins May 25, 2012 09:33AM
Hello I am Martins of Stone and I'm addicted with Minerals :-)
Collecting minerals is a compulsive psychosis and for me a new batch of minerals is like a meal. I do not want money or is an investment or something else. Dealers and field work or exchanges feed me :-) and maybe when I die my family put my addition of a lifetime by a barrier below with the recollection that it was a crazy stone man.

Martins da Pedra.... for ever
Bart Cannon May 25, 2012 09:42AM
I don't think this concept has been brought up.

Maybe it was Tucson 1982 that Bob Jackson and I had a crummy dinner at the crummy diner near the Desert Inn.

As two experienced field collctors who had handled great self collected stuff, I wanted to know why he didn't have a better collection of his self collected specimens.

I said that I had saved all of my best self collected specimens.

He replied that if he had retained a specimen worth $500 that such was the same thing as buying the specimen for $500.

I could not argue with that premise, other than to say that it only cost me knuckle skin, blood, and sweat.

I consider my collection to be my retirement fund, and recently, I have started selling a piece or two per year.

I only look at them once or twice per year anyway, so I think that getting them into circulation and using that money to pay my real estate taxes is not a bad idea.

I may not have made a big mistake to retain my specimens. 30 years later the $500 pieces are worth $5,000.


Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 05/25/2012 10:44AM by Bart Cannon.
Rock Currier May 25, 2012 09:46AM
On May 20, 2012 in New York Heritage auction house had an auction of "Fine Minerals".

After looking at the sales price on their web site which I think included the buyers premium I determined that:

There were 169 items offered of which 71 sold which meant that only 42% of the items were sold.
There were 25 fluorescent items offered of which 21 sold which gave an 84% sales rate.
There were 144 non fluorescent items offered and of those 46 sold giving 32% that sold
There were 70 mineral specimens of which 26 sold or a 36% sales rate.

Many of the high ticket items did not sell. What does this mean? Fluorescent specimens were popular, at least at this sale. It would also appear that many of the estimated prices were off the mark. What else does it mean? Your guess is as good as mine.

Rock Currier
Crystals not pistols.
Joseph Polityka May 25, 2012 11:28AM

The billionaires have spoken!

I wish everyone good luck with every aspect of the hobby and hope I can find an occasional sleeper. We don't have five grand for a specimen, unless it is the Hope Diamond, so I'll have to look at those extraordinary specimens from a distance. I just watched the Blue Cap Productions DVD of the 2011 Munich Show for the third time in two days, so I feel those killer specimens are now part of my collection locked away in a box to which I have no key. I can fondle them with my eyes, of course.

Best wishes,

Ray Ladbury May 26, 2012 01:20AM
I think this is part of a general trend. There is a lot of money out there, and a lot of people are scared to put it anywhere. They have driven gold and platinum to astronomical prices and are now afraid of the bubble they've created. Same with oil. Now they are looking for someplace--anyplace--to put their money that isn't already inflated to ridiculous levels. And with minerals, you at least have something you can show your rich friends. Of course, the mineral bubble will burst, too, probably just as soon as people stop being scared of stocks, bonds and real estate.
Jolyon & Katya Ralph May 26, 2012 08:04AM
If larger numbers of rich people are now investing in minerals, it shows (as the Forbes article points out), that high-end mineral specimens can be a good investment. Certainly in historical terms the value has only risen.

As with any investment, you need to know your stuff to benefit from it well, but it's certainly more safe than the stock market.

Frank de Wit May 26, 2012 11:08AM
The stockmarket is like the lottery. Only a happy (smart?) few really make money with it. And almost nobody makes money with it fast.
Monkey's still are better at the stockmarket than "professionals" ->, so, avoid professional advice :)
Banks earn money from you losing/wasting it. Lottery companies get rich from people's stupidity.

So: better invest in stuff that will definitely make you happy in the long run.
Some mineral specimens might be a good investment in the long run, most are not.
Better invest in your own body... eat healthy food, avoid stress, work hard but not too much, make love, travel much: give your body and mind movement, climb mountains, walk a few hours per day, leave your car and ride a bike, find/buy minerals to make fun with. Go outside, go collect minerals. Breath fresh air. Go to mineral fairs. Have fun.
Avoid fast food & fast money : it will not make you happy in the long run ;)
Ray Ladbury May 26, 2012 11:10AM
Any commodity can blow a bubble. As long as the buyers are knowledgeable and buying for beauty, that is one thing. However, when people start buying at high prices only to sell quickly at higher prices (the bigger-fool strategy), that is when we know we have a bubble.

Minerals are safer than stocks only because there are fewer fools in the market. I'd say the Forbes article may mark the begnning of the end of that safety. Forbes has a lot of subscribers who are fools.
Ryan L. Bowling May 26, 2012 03:55PM
Well Said Frank!
Joseph Polityka May 26, 2012 05:00PM

Interesting discussion but I like Frank De Witt's advice best. We just have to look back one week to see what happened to average investors who put their money into Facebook stock. Not much works in the short run unless you are selling at the beginning whether it be stock or minerals. To make money as an average individual you have to be in for the long run. There's an old saying on Wall Street which applies to any commodity: : "Bulls can make money on Wall Street and Bears can make money but Pigs never make money".


Ray Ladbury May 27, 2012 01:19AM
Joseph, I think the saying goes:

Bulls make money. Bears make money. Pigs make sausage.
Joseph Polityka May 27, 2012 02:19AM

Your version is cute but in the 30 plus years I worked in the Insurance/financial services industry in Manhattan near Wall Street I never heard it put that way. The phrase was coined by Ray Brady, who was the chief economics correspondent for CBS Network from 1977 to around 2000. He was a gloom and doom economist who felt the unemployment rate could be too low, which would make it difficult for businesses to find qualified employees for expansion. He claimed he always made money in a bear market and was not always a fan of tax cuts. I know because he was one of my professors when I was going for my Master's Degree at New York University. Both statements make the point but I was only familiar with Brady's version.
Michael Beck May 27, 2012 05:26AM
Jim cramer on cnbc afternoons also has a version bulls make money bears make money and pigs get slaughtered
Anonymous User May 27, 2012 02:48PM
I think bart and Alfredo make some great points :
"Mineral specimens are fine art sculptures that not even Michelangelo could get close to duplicating.

There should be no upper limit on their value."


"What one man has painted, another can reproduce. But you cannot reproduce fine mineral specimens. Over the long term, they are more irreplaceable than manmade art, and should therefore be valued more highly."
Joseph Polityka May 27, 2012 03:47PM

Thanks for reminding me; I had forgotton about Cramer's version. Regardless, every version has some truth in it. The hard part is knowiing "When to hold them and when to fold them" as Kenny Rodgers sang.


Matt Ciranni May 31, 2012 03:55AM
It may just be me, but I have noticed a HUGE price surge over the last 10-15 years in mineral specimens. I see some online dealers offering relatively common minerals (albiet choice specimens of these minerals) for upwards of $100 and sometimes even more; whereas 10, 15 or so years ago, such specimens might have been had for only around $15 or 20. For some semiprecious stones such as kunzite and the colored tourmalines, this price inflation seems even greater- I purchaced a really nice 2" kunzite back in '83 for around 15 dollars that would be worth at least $120 today, and if it had appreciated at the normal rate of inflation, that would still make it worth only around $30 in today's money. I remember seeing decent crystals of multi-colored tourmaline going for less than $30 back then- good luck finding one for under $100 today. What I worry about is mineral collecting turning into the same status as coin collecting- where there is so much price inflation that everyday hobbyists with modest budgets will be priced out of the hobby. Then you will have these suit-and-tie types bartering "officially sealed" crystal and mineral specimens at auctions just so they can have the exclusive privelege of storing them in a vault somewhere.
Jenna Mast May 31, 2012 05:15AM

That's pretty much what most people do with gold, store it in a vault somewhere...unless you're making computer chips and so on. Occasionally, someone will open up the vault and move some gold around. When countries make transactions with each other, that usually entails a guard opening up one under ground vault, placing a few gold bars on a dolly or fork lift, and moving it to another vault a few feet down the hall.

It's kind of silly when it's put in perspective.
Spencer Ivan Mather May 31, 2012 11:26AM
I believe what Peter Andresen wrote is right, once this takes off, then mine owners will not allow the odinary collector to go on to their property, and then the overall price of all minerals will rise to extortionate prices!

Van King May 31, 2012 04:57PM
When I was staff mineralogist at Ward's Natural Science Establishment, the rare collectibles investment bubble was inflating. A man called who wanted to buy gemstones from us, but I explained we didn't sell gems. He told me he was investing in gems (e.g. aquamarine @ $250/carat, etc.) I asked him, "Why don't you buy wholesale?" The telephone seemed to go dead. When he regained his composure, I told him that he shouldn't invest at retail, because he would have many costs associated with liquidating his investments. (This assumes that the investor knew how much to pay - either retail or wholesale. Of course, the only real "wholesale" is on-site buying from the primary producer, but often it is cheaper to have purchased from a dealer thousands of km away from the source. At Tucson, "wholesale" is only a dream and dealers buy from dealers and eventually one of the dealers has just the "right" customer at the new price level.) Clearly, the Forbes' writers are naive at best. Dumping an army of grass-green investors on the mineral market will benefit the high-roller dealers and the consequent liquidation auctions will be a lesson learned. Oh, wait, the "investors" have a short memory or they would remember the collectibles collapse of the 1980's.

Best Wishes, Van King
Ray Ladbury June 02, 2012 01:10AM
What I am seeing is rich folks employing "knowledgeable experts" to get deals for them. There were a couple of agents looking at Teofilo Otoni last year--although they weren't spending much time at the Main Event. Most wealthy collectors wouldn't be able to tell a quartz crystal from a sapphire. They are looking for showy, rare and appreciating value.
David Von Bargen June 02, 2012 10:48AM
When "investments" get noticed by the mainstream press, it usually is time for a crash.
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