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Mineral and rock pricing - how's it done?

Posted by Erin Orchard  
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Erin Orchard June 12, 2018 03:14AM
I've taken a recent interest in calcite, esp so because it's "local" to me here in Iowa. There's a little shop here in Davenport, IA that has been selling little chunks of it and I just think they're super cool and pretty!

Here are two pieces I bought (around 3" wide to 2" wide). They both have inclusions of marcasite.



Me being me, I started Googling to learn more about this stuff. Specifically the stuff from Linwood Mine in Buffalo, IA. And I come across some sites selling the stuff for like $60 - $100. From what I can tell, they are similar in size, but far less pretty. Here's an example: https://www.minfind.com/mineral-551891.html

I paid $4 for mine. Why the huge price difference?
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Alfredo Petrov June 12, 2018 03:49AM
Distance from source; how many middlemen's hands it went through; which group of customers is being targeted; how abundant the seller thinks it is (the further from the source, the less knowledge the seller may have of its abundance); seller's overhead expenses (does he sell from his mom's garage, or from a warehouse, with employee salaries to pay?);... etc, etc.
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Hiro Inukai June 12, 2018 04:07AM
Pricing is highly subjective and variable, which could be a good thing if you are adept at comparison shopping. Many factors go into the price, but I would broadly classify them into two groups: extrinsic and intrinsic. Intrinsic factors are objective attributes involving the actual specimen in question, so things like specimen size, presence of damage, species and locality rarity, and evidence of treatment or repair. These are things on which an educated observer or prospective buyer should be able to make a reasonably unbiased assessment. Extrinsic factors are things that either do not relate to the particular specimen, or when they do, are so highly subjective that it is frequently a matter of individual taste; so things like dealer reputation, type of purchase (retail, online, wholesale, show, etc), aesthetics, and overall quality. There is of course some overlap, as well as other factors that I might have missed.

The extrinsic factors, for the most part, are what makes pricing so variable. A specimen that is worth $10 to you might be worth $100 to someone else, or vice versa, because of these factors. And even the objective properties may not reflect the price in an obvious way; for example, extremely large specimens are not proportionally more expensive, because the market of buyers who are able to transport and display them is quite limited compared to thumbnail collectors. As a collector of smaller scale specimens in general, avoiding anything that is bigger than "small cabinet," if you showed me a 30 x 30 centimeter chunk of fluorite or malachite, I wouldn't know what to do with it except resell it or donate it to a museum.

In relation to the examples you've provided, I would guess that apart from dealer markups, the specimens you cite on minfind generally seem to exhibit larger individual crystals as opposed to groups of smaller crystals. But this inevitably gets into subjective territory. The bottom line is, a specimen is only worth as much as you feel it is worth. If you find a $5000 specimen of a 6mm cube of boleite to be a great deal because you like that specific piece, then that's what it's worth. But if you don't think a $5 water clear quartz weighing a kilogram is worth even $1, then it's overpriced.
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Jim Allen June 12, 2018 04:20AM
Erin

Those pieces are pretty, and at 4 bucks, you did well. The most important thing, of course, is that the piece appeals to you. That said, I think most collectors would advise to buy the best quality you can afford.

What I would look for to justify a higher price among the same species, from the same locale, includes

(1) Absence of damage, including lack of broken crystals, and crystal tips free of chipping.
(2) Large, well-separated crystals.
(3) If the piece has an area where it broke away from the host rock, it's not prominent when displayed.
(4) Absence of distracting cleavage planes within the crystals.
(5) I prefer to have some matrix or "background" in addition to the main species. The specimen in the link you provided has that.

Cheers

Jim
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Steve Hardinger June 12, 2018 04:08PM
I believe it was famed mineral dealer Herb Obboda who said, "If it sells it was priced too low."
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Owen Lewis June 12, 2018 04:41PM
Steve Hardinger Wrote:
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> I believe it was famed mineral dealer Herb Obboda
> who said, "If it sells it was priced too low."

Another take on that same logic is 'Always leave something in the deal for the next man'. The experienced (non-gem/mineral) dealer who gave me that thought some 50 years ago thought that 'something' should be around 20% of the ultimate attainable price in any given market. Though neither he nor I knew it at the time, this accords with the Pareto Principle, beloved of statisicians.

But, with skill, one can to better then this by buying in one (cheap) market and selling into another (expensive). Not so easy, hese days wiht internet trading and the globalisation of markets.
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Don Saathoff June 12, 2018 06:11PM
Years ago, When my wife & I would set up at a venue, we would price our mostly self-collected specimens at the price we would be willing to pay - and that was the only criteria used. We were told on several occasions
by successful dealer friends that the reason we weren't selling some of our nicest finds was because we were pricing our material TOO LOW! It seems that there are a number of "silver pick" collectors who buy based solely on the value as determined by the seller - not on their own assessment of the specimen! This is why we no longer sell or attend large shows.....

Don
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Steven Kuitems June 12, 2018 09:04PM
Steve, I believe your quote was from the late
Larry Conklin
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Reiner Mielke June 13, 2018 01:53AM
"If it sells it was priced too low." Does that mean that if it does not sell it was priced just right? Is there a third option that I am not aware of?
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Alfredo Petrov June 13, 2018 05:01AM
Rock Currier, my mentor in such matters, used to say that the best way to price minerals was to hold the rock in one hand, hold your pen in the other hand, and write down the first number that entered your head. And it had to be the first number, no lengthy cogitation allowed. Then, if it didn't sell, it was too expensive; if it did sell, it was too cheap (as all collectors are looking for bargains; nobody is looking to buy a rock that isn't a "bargain"). The second part is obviously a joke, but I think he was serious about the first part, and his advice has served me well over the years.
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Ed Clopton June 13, 2018 01:33PM
For most collectors, knowledge of the specimen's locality of origin contributes significantly to its value. A specimen without a locality is not worth much unless it's a precious metal, a facetable gemstone, or really extraordinary in some regard. To preserve a specimen's scientific interest and collector value, preserve its locality info with it. The more precisely the locality is known (with certainty), the better--"Linwood mine, Buffalo, Iowa" is more useful than "U.S.A." Check out this thread, https://www.mindat.org/forum.php?read,19,400174,411318#msg-411318, regarding specimen labeling to preserve value.
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Rolf Luetcke June 13, 2018 01:46PM
I have an example with pricing. I used to make sample collections and sold them for $3 each, wholesale, back in the early 1970's. Most I sold them to doubled them and made a profit. One fellow put them at $12 and when I went back to see if he needed more he had almost all still there with the high price on them. When I approached him about how high he had them priced he said after he paid for them they were his and he could price them for whatever he liked. I never sold him another one.
My wife said one word about the above thread - "Greed".
I think it is important for the buyers to know the prices they are paying also.
We often had people wanting discounts for our very fair pricing and I always said our prices were very fair and below most other places so sorry but no discounts. I think both buyers and sellers need to know values or just enjoy the pieces they get and not worry so much if they paid too much.
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Steve Hardinger June 13, 2018 02:45PM
I price my specimens based upon what I might be willing to pay for the specimen. And I am not a rich man.
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Holger Hartmaier June 14, 2018 04:43PM
Hi Erin,
Thanks to the internet, collectors can research mineral prices from around the world. Unfortunately, some sellers will ask outrageous prices for material that resembles road gravel. Mineral pricing is a favorite recurring topic here on Mindat. As noted above in the previous posts, there are numerous ways sellers can set prices. Some are based on a reasonable markup over embedded costs, others could be purely arbitrary, asking whatever the seller believes the market will bear. What is harder to find out from an internet search is the actual selling prices realized for a given quality range of specimen material. Even this approach would not be hard and fast as each mineral specimen is unique, but at least you could determine if something is priced anomalously high or low compared to what others have already paid. In any case, there is nothing to stop anyone from haggling with a dealer and making a reasonable offer.

If you are going to obtain minerals for your collection by purchasing them, I would recommend you decide early on what your focus will be so that you spend your limited funds on pieces that are the best that you can afford and each specimen adds further to the overall value of the collection as a whole. Go out in the field and try collecting minerals to get a better appreciation for how difficult it is to find "nice" pieces. This will also help you establish a threshold for what you are prepared to pay a dealer for a specimen that someone else collected for you.

Here is a mental exercise to give you some kind of baseline reference for comparing mineral prices to some standard that I've been trying. The price of gold is currently around $1300 (US) per Troy ounce (31.21g) = $41.65/g. Convert the asking price to $/g to compare it to the gold price (many online sites provide specimen dimensions and mass (weight)). For example a miniature size specimen weighing 150 grams, priced at $6247.50 would be equivalent to gold in value. You would have to ask yourself if you would rather invest in gold or the specimen. Another approach using gold as a reference is that a gold mine ore grade of 1 troy ounce/tonne (1000 kg) is considered relatively high grade as an overall average. This equates to $1.30/kg of rough rock or roughly $0.60 per pound. It is plain to see that the prices of mineral specimens are equivalent to the gold ore grade of the richest mines in world!
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Erin Orchard June 14, 2018 04:52PM
Ed Clopton Wrote:
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For most collectors, knowledge of the specimen's locality of origin contributes significantly to its value.

Read that, and this: https://www.mindat.org/article.php/1263/Making+Labels+for+Mineral+Specimens

Fascinating stuff! I don't have any sort of labels attached to mine, but some (most) are in boxes with labels *near* them. Most of my stuff is all low-value stuff, too. I do not suspect (though I said this about lava lamps way back in the day) I'll end up with a huge collection, but the information is fascinating to me.

I'm still so pleased with my little cheap pieces of calcite from a somewhat local mine!



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 06/14/2018 05:22PM by Erin Orchard.
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Erin Orchard June 14, 2018 05:11PM
Rolf Luetcke Wrote:
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My wife said one word about the above thread -"Greed".

I think she's quite right about that! When I think about pricing on these things, I keep coming back to... they're just stuff from the ground! In most cases, nothing is really done to them! I guess it's good my tastes (so far) are cheap!

I went to Crystal Caves near Dubuque, IA last weekend and their gift shop was just downright depression. Poor lighting, overpriced items and the whole area just looked... dated. Later in the day, we went to a placed called "Center of I am" in Dubuque. Tons of beautiful rocks, minerals and gems. A tad pricey, but not horrible. The place was more spiritual than scientific, but it was cool to see such a variety of specimens. Oddly, I didn't buy a thing.



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 06/14/2018 05:21PM by Erin Orchard.
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Erin Orchard June 14, 2018 05:15PM
Don Saathoff Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
Years ago, When my wife & I would set up at a venue, we would price our mostly self-collected specimens at the price we would be willing to pay - and that was the only criteria used. We were told on several occasions by successful dealer friends that the reason we weren't selling some of our nicest finds was because we were pricing our material TOO LOW! It seems that there are a number of "silver pick" collectors who buy based solely on the value as determined by the seller - not on their own assessment of the specimen! This is why we no longer sell or attend large shows.....
Don


Now that's just odd! I like that pricing structure, esp since it was stuff you self-collected. I can see why you stopped selling!
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Erin Orchard June 14, 2018 05:21PM
Hiro Inukai Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
Pricing is highly subjective and variable, which could be a good thing if you are adept at comparison shopping. Many factors go into the price, but I would broadly classify them into two groups: extrinsic and intrinsic. Intrinsic factors are objective attributes involving the actual specimen in question, so things like specimen size, presence of damage, species and locality rarity, and evidence of treatment or repair. These are things on which an educated observer or prospective buyer should be able to make a reasonably unbiased assessment. Extrinsic factors are things that either do not relate to the particular specimen, or when they do, are so highly subjective that it is frequently a matter of individual taste; so things like dealer reputation, type of purchase (retail, online, wholesale, show, etc), aesthetics, and overall quality. There is of course some overlap, as well as other factors that I might have missed.

The extrinsic factors, for the most part, are what makes pricing so variable. A specimen that is worth $10 to you might be worth $100 to someone else, or vice versa, because of these factors. And even the objective properties may not reflect the price in an obvious way; for example, extremely large specimens are not proportionally more expensive, because the market of buyers who are able to transport and display them is quite limited compared to thumbnail collectors. As a collector of smaller scale specimens in general, avoiding anything that is bigger than "small cabinet," if you showed me a 30 x 30 centimeter chunk of fluorite or malachite, I wouldn't know what to do with it except resell it or donate it to a museum.

In relation to the examples you've provided, I would guess that apart from dealer markups, the specimens you cite on minfind generally seem to exhibit larger individual crystals as opposed to groups of smaller crystals. But this inevitably gets into subjective territory. The bottom line is, a specimen is only worth as much as you feel it is worth. If you find a $5000 specimen of a 6mm cube of boleite to be a great deal because you like that specific piece, then that's what it's worth. But if you don't think a $5 water clear quartz weighing a kilogram is worth even $1, then it's overpriced.


THIS is expertly said! Thank you so much for your input! I don't much care about the value, just that I like it. I'm very simple in my collecting.
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