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How do you organize your micromounts?

Posted by Jeff Weissman  
Jeff Weissman November 29, 2012 05:17PM
I am getting some new micromount / thumbnail storage units that will hold maybe 1000 items, so this present both an opportunity and a challenge in terms of collection organization. If this work out, I will get more storage units to hold maybe 5000 MM/TN samples.

Right now I have perhaps three interweaving organizations of my MM/TN samples – by specific locality, by number sequence in order of acquisitions, and by region. For example, by region - all of my MM from New Jersey, except Franklin / Ogdensburg, are in one set of flats; by locality - all of my MM’s from A/S Granit Quarry (thanks Peter!) in a single flat, and maybe 50-80 other one locality groupings each in their own flat(s). The balance are in numerical groups (#’s 1 -999 in one set of flats, 1000’s in another set, etc…), but not organized within these groupings.

What I want to avoid is the “empty hole” issue, in which a drawer in the new storage unit may get filled, and then one or two or six may get replaced or traded away. Worse would be trying to insert a new specimen into an already filled drawer, into order to maintain some organizational protocol. I don’t want to have to periodically shuffle 1000’s of little boxes every so often.

Was wondering how other people organize their MM’s and handle issues of locating specimens, additions and removals, while maximizing usage of their space.
Douglas Merson November 29, 2012 06:16PM

While I have a far fewer number of micromounts, I organize them by locality and numerically within locality.
Frank Ruehlicke November 29, 2012 07:39PM
I think the only way to avoid having to re-shuffle from time to time is if you organize numerically. That way as you add new items you append them to what is already there. Once your container (storage box, drawer, etc) is full you start filling the next one. However once you have sub-categories (such as by locality) then challenges crop up as you try to fill your space. For example, say your planned storage of 1000 pieces is in 4 drawers that can hold 250 pieces each. And say you have 200 pieces from Franklin/Ogdensburg and 50 pieces from A/S Granite Quarry. That will fill 1 drawer but not leave you room to add to either locality without doing some shuffling around. So say you put the Franklin/Ogendsburg pieces in one drawer and the A/S Granite pieces in another. So you have room for 50 pieces from Franklin/Ogensburg which might be a reasonable buffer. But lets say you fill it up with 50 more pieces. What happens when you get the 51st additional piece - are you able to get another container and append it to the first? And the container with your 50 A/S Granite pieces either has a lot of empty space in it (since it can hold 250) or you've included other stuff in there as well which will lead to a problem.
I'm in a similar position as you - I have a lot of pieces in boxes and have acquired some storage units (drawers). I'm trying to think of the best way to organize my collection and utilize my storage drawers. I'm leaning to organizing in a hybrid way. I have a few favorite localities and will keep those items organized by locality and then alphabetically within a locality. The rest will be in my "general" collection organized alphabetically or by chemical class. Organizing by chemistry makes the most sense to me but alphabetically seems simpler. Granted numerically would be simpler still. I really need to put off procrastinating on this.
Interested in what others have to say.
Owen Lewis (2) November 29, 2012 08:51PM

I've been designing and building a data recording, cross-referencing and indexing system that not only lets me find any specimen quickly but also lets me to locate and view all information text, numeric and graphic I have on them. This system is currently in its eighth revision but (I sincerely hope) the last major revision is finished and there are only one or two minor amendments still to come. The system, as I have it, is optimised for gemmological requirements but I think the principles would adapt with easy modification to a mineralogist's requirements.

The basic problem is that a logical and easy-to-use physical organisation of a collection (e,g. all Garnets in this tray, subdivided by variety) starts to fall apart the moment it is built. Additions to and deletions from the collection cause a large, very error-prone and, ultimately unacceptable, burden of re-labelling and shifting about data in the spreadsheeted records of a collection so organised, as it must reflect the continual changes in the number of boxes and ordering of specimens within the boxes. This all comes about because of the human tendency to prefer to to use eyes and a fixed physical ordering to find and correlate data on actual specimens. This causes continual revision of the data records to become an unacceptable amount of work.

So do it another way.......

I use a single design of storage boxes, each containing five rows of ten clear acrylic containers in which to keep my specimens and with a fixed three/four-digit numbering system for all specimens. Boxes are serially numbered 1 to xx as the collection expands. The first one or two digits of the specimen number the number of its box and the next two digits locate the position of the specimen within the box. A hyphen breaks the box from position indicating digits. So, the first specimen to be booked in goes in Box 1 in the top left of the 5 rows of ten positions within the box and is labelled 1-01. The last stone to completely fill the box is placed in the last (far right) position of row 5 and is labelled as 1-50. The next specimen logged in will go in a new box as 2-01 - and so on indefinitely as the collection grows.

All very simple - but the stones are stored in no logical order - so how to keep and find the information on each? And how to know where (say) all one's Tsavorite Garnets are?

The system I use is a series of linked spreadsheets (workbook). The key page I name 'gemlog' and on this are entered details such as species, variety, chemical formula, crystal system, colour, physical dimensions, dry and wet weights, declared place of origin, and from who obtained for every new acquisition. This is the 'booking in' sheet. Behind this, with tiled tabs, are another six sheets for recording information developed on each specimen through testine and examination. Relevant parts of the 'booking-in' information are automatically copied across to each of the subsidiary sheets (pages). There are separate pages for:
- The semi-automated calculation of RIs, biref, optic character and optic sign; comparison with a standard reference data base and acceptance or rejection as satisfactory for the species and variety claimed. There are not infrequent adjustments to the specimen description when this data has been cross referenced with that on all the other pages below :-)
- Similarly worked and compared SGs,
- UV fluorescence and polariscopy
- Magnetic susceptibility testing.
- Photography. Hyperlinks to macro and microshots, the latter sub-divided by 'in air' and 'immersed' and with recording of FOVs
- UV-VIS-NIR spectrometry with hyperlinks to spectrum records.

All columns on each page are hyperlinked to each other, so one can step from one type of data on a specimen to another with no more than two mouse clicks. No hunting about in hundreds of columns.

So far so good - but with only this, finding how many (e.g.) Tsavorites I have and where they are gets to be a real bore. This is solved by developing an index page that (for my purposes) lists in alphabetical order:
- All the gem mineral species.
- Under these species (and colour/justification differentiated) are the alphabetically listed varieties.
- Against each variety and in numeric order, the number IDs of each specimen of the variety that is held. These numbers are hyperlinked to the 'gem log' page entry for that specimen (and hence giving mouse-click access to all data on any selected specimen. They also give a neat listing of how many of each species/variety are held and where they are in each display box.

Clearly you will wish to develop only some of these types of information and to include other data that would be of no concern to the likes of me. But the principles set out should adapt easily to your purposes.

What to do when stones leave the collection:
- On the booking in page, delete all data except for the column (box-position) number. This will automatically remove some of the entries on the subsidiary pages.
- On the subsidiary pages remove all manually entered data and hyperlinks to external directories (e.g. for photos), being careful to leave embedded formulas undisturbed.
- On the index page, remove the hyperlink to the specimen that is no longer in the collection.
- Re-fill empty columns with new acquisitions as these arrive and before extending the collection numbering and further.

The other potential issue is where one has removed several stones at the same time, complete with their acrylic containers.... how to ensure that each of several stones of the same type are replaced in their correct positions in the collection. On the base of each acryllc container is a small label recording its box and position number, the species/variety and ct wt in air to 3DP. This is sufficient to ensure that the right stones are replaced in the correct containers and the containers all replaced in their correct positions.

This system works well for a growing personal collection with a low amount of 'churn'. It is unsuited to use with a trading stock with a relatively high rate of turnover. For that, I used a workbook of different (and much simpler) design, recording item details, stock levels, purchase prices, sales prices and auction details

That's it. Good luck!

Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 12/06/2012 05:36PM by Owen Lewis (2).
Jeff Weissman December 05, 2012 10:40PM
Thanks for the comments and some PM's as well, I appreciate the input.

I decided to continue on the strategy of a primary organization by locality (what constitutes a locality is a different question). The provides a convenient single location for similar specimens and any notes, results of analysis, and literature. The remanding 50% which do not have a critical mass to fall into a locality grouping will be filed numerically, in order of acquisition. A good database is called for, I am using Excel - still haven't learned macros, but using lookup functions and pivot tables to prepare reports and cross-referencing.

I also create an output file suitable for loading on a smartphone, so I can take a compact version of the database with me or when I am working with the collection.
Ron Layton December 06, 2012 11:12PM
Excel is my weapon of choice-thank goodness there are tutorials on you tube to get the most from this database or I would still be writing things down in a composition book.
Donald Peck December 07, 2012 04:19PM
I recently switched from Excell to Access. I like the Access better because it is designed to be used as a database, not as a spreadsheet. BUT, the learning curve is kind of steep (understatement of the year!). I am still a long way from having it where I want it, but I am getting there sloooowly with the help of "Access for Dummies".
Ron Layton December 07, 2012 06:22PM
Hi Don
Can you export data from Excel to Access? I'm just thinking if Access is a better data base I may try it but I would want to export my present work (about 5,000 specimens) to Access rather than start all over again.

David Von Bargen December 07, 2012 06:30PM
Yes, you can import an excel file into access (you have to be careful about empty rows or columns)
Peter Andresen December 07, 2012 10:31PM
I use the Microsoft Works Database, or mBase, the littlebrother of Access, and are satisfied with it, easy to use and easy to export to Execel and Wold. Now I need to take a cople of pictures how I organize my collection... It's divided in five parts:

One section of 24+24 drawers contain my larvik plutonic complex collection (24 drawers with micros, each drawer takes 70 samples, 10 are full, and about 1o contains un-identified and unsorted micros, and about 20 drawers contain miniatures to cabinets, about 20 samples in each drawer.

Then there is cabinets with 72 drawers, each taking 96 micros - far from filled up taking a total of 6912 micro boxes, only about 5000 are filled.

Then i have ten cabinets with ten drawers, containing all my miniatures, my rock collection, meteorites, fossils, MSH-, Kola -, Greenland alkaline-, Eifel- and Gjerdingen collections.

Abowe the miniature/small cabinet drawers, are my exhibition cabinets, 9 of them with 7 shelfes each - still need to get a propper light system into them...

Then I have at least 300 flats of unsorted material...

Except for two part and a half part (unsorted, exhibition, meteorites, rocks and fossils), all are organized after the Nickel-Strunz 10th edition.

Sounds organized until you se my desk and unsorted material... ;-)
Donald Peck December 08, 2012 04:43PM
Ron; As David pointed out, you can export data from Excell to Access. In order to keep from scrambling the data, every Excell cell must have content. Before you try it, make a backup of your Excell file and use it for the export file. I filled all the empty cells with a single character ( ~) . It was time consuming as I did it cell by cell. However, I am reasonably sure that one could write a macro that would automate the process and be less prone to error.
Dana Morong December 08, 2012 05:19PM
I did my own micromount numbering system by letter and 3-digit number with the letter signifying certain geographical divisions, the number sequential after that. Not perfect but if I am looking for specimens from a certain locality it reduces the amount of larger boxes (those that hold the little boxes) to search through.

A later puzzle was how to find specimens from a locality in an old micromount collection given me. It had been set up by Dana number - hence by species (with file cards). As this is a static collection, I numbered the tray-boxes, to find the individual specimens (a list helps), but the problem of finding by locality still got me. I thought of various computer schemes, came down to Access as a good possibility, but as that would entail lots of computer-learning for me (I'm better with learning from books than the type of 'logic' used in programs), I finally just used word files, organized by geography. (at least when the program gets outdated - as so many seem to be made that way to sell more programs - it will be easy to shift the data to the new program).

I like to keep the little 1" square boxes in containers that can stack, close well, with real hinges and real hasps. Most of the plastic stuff on the market isn't any good (usually no real hinges), but I've found that old metal photo-slide boxes (the type once used to store those 2" square framed photo slides) are useful. I get them sometimes at yard sales, but they aren't as common as they used to be. I use a complex procedure to remove the dividers within (easier once well known). But once they get processed, and two trays made up (with insulation foam strips to separate rows, so one can have finger room to grab one out of the row), I can store up to 130 of those little boxes in the slide box.

The real problem is the real (and messy) one of all the interesting stuff that hasn't yet been processed - and what to do with the extra material salvaged from a road cut that isn't going to be accessible pretty soon.
Ian Jones December 08, 2012 06:07PM
I throw mine in the bin
Dana E. Wilson December 08, 2012 11:16PM
I've arranged my collection by Strunz classification.

That makes sense if you want to look at various examples of one species, compare species within mineralogical groups, etc. On the downside, Strunz has been revised so I am locked into an earlier edition than the current one. That's not necessarily bad, but it gets increasingly more difficult to find the old classifications. You could do the same thing with any of the other major classifications. In addition, as new species are identified one must make a best guess into which Strunz group it fits, and that's not always straightforward.

In my database each specimen (along with any duplicates) gets a unique number, along with its Strunz number (linked to each species in a related file). I use FileMaker Pro and went through a difficult time when I converted from v.5 to v.11; for a short while I thought my entire database might be in jeopardy. I panicked and paid a very expensive consultant for a few hours save me from possible disaster and years of lost effort.

As a first approximation of the allocation of drawer space I started with the number of species listed for each Strunz category, e.g. with 10 drawers, and 10% of recognized mineral species phosphates, 1 drawer devoted to phosphates. That breaks down in a hurry if you have proclivities to collect particular species; I have special storage locations for wulfenite, pyromorphite, etc.

If I'd been a more active field collector and/or had specialized in a particular locality or region, I'd much prefer to have my collection grouped that way. Certainly, as a research resource this is extremely valuable for people who might want to study the locality in the future or even try their own luck collecting there. It may become a unique historical record of a defunct locality.

Mine is simply another way to do it, hardly perfect but I'm too old to change horses in midstream. ;-)

I am aware of an extensive, world-class private cabinet collection that's been organized simply by alphabetical species name. Personally, I find little to recommend that approach. Spessartine, grossular, almandine and uvarovite are widely dispersed through the enormous display on two floors. Garnets do belong together.
Christian Auer January 13, 2013 06:25AM
Just a few thoughts about organizing - and I have to organize over 50.000 micros ;-)
My goal was to find any micro in my collection within 3 minutes, otherwise it wouldn`t make much sense.

Storage: I use pizza cardboards, micros fit exactly into them! Of course no used ones but you can buy them in 100s units.
I store them per locality and within a locality by chemistry; so beginning by elements (if there are any at that place) and ending with silicates.
Some cardboards are almost full with only one species of a locality, especially when there exist many different habits of xtls.
On the outside of the cardboards I only write the localities name and a series number like Leogang Erasmus adit 1, Leogang Erasmus adit 2, ....
The cardboards are stored then by province (of Austria - as I collect only Austria).

EDV: I`m working with an Access database. Every locality got a number, every species of that locality got also a number.
So when I`m searching for azurite from Leogang Erasmus adit I find a number like 213 (for the locality) - 14 (azurite is the 14th species within that locality). This number 213-14 stands in my database and ON the micro itself.
Every species is documented as following: species name, locality, sub locality, province and general geology (like Carinthia, Millstatt pegmatite unit); habit, the specific number (like 213-14), date, some other info (self collected, dealer, price ...), date. Unfortunatelly I never added how many of each species I stored (and now its too late to start). So I only can guess how many micros I own, the last guess was over 50.000 ;-)
Steve Rust January 13, 2013 09:57AM
I arrange my UK micro's by location then species, Anglesite to unknowns last.
David Zimmerman (2) January 13, 2013 03:14PM
Very interesting discussion about the numbering of specimens and databases. I just undertook the large project of re-organizing my old collection and thus put a lot of time into numbering systems and such. I had a few goals when doing the project:

1. I wanted to keep it simple
2. I wanted to be able to find any specimen in less than a minute or so
3. I wanted to keep the numbers small enough so that I could put the number on the piece itself
4. I wanted to keep put it all on a good database
5. I wanted it to be expandable with no limits

After much research and thoughts about the numbering system about the different organizing tricks one can do with a numbering system, I came to the conclusion that the number doesn't matter at all. That may or not be a wrong conclusion, but I look at my specimen "number" as one would look at a barcode on a product in a store. I keep the information about the specimen on the database, and the sole purpose of my specimen "numbers" is to be small and unique. The "unique" part is certainly not difficult to achieve, but the "small" part actually involved a lot of thought. I did not feel that I could make a true number small enough to fit on my specimens and still be able to read it, so I decided to "number" the specimens using letters instead of numbers. You can fit 26 unique identifiers(A-Z) that can be used in each character space using an alphabetical (base 26) system as apposed to just 10 with numbers (0-9). So in my collection, the first specimen (rather random fashion) is an A, second B,...BC, BD...... all the way up to ZZZZ, which equals 456,960 numerically, which is more than enough for me. Also, one of the advantages with this system is that it is very easy to add new minerals to the collection and database....I just choose the next available "number".

The formula that I wrote to do this task is this:

=IF(A1="A"," B",IF(MID(A1,1,4)="ZZZZ","A",IF(MID(A1,2,3)="ZZZ",IF(MID(A1,1,1)<>" ",CHAR(CODE(MID(A1,1,1))+1),"A"),MID(A1,1,1))))&IF(MID(A1,2,3)="ZZZ","A",IF(MID(A1,3,2)="ZZ",IF(MID(A1,2,1)<>" ",CHAR(CODE(MID(A1,2,1))+1),"A"),MID(A1,2,1)))&IF(MID(A1,4,1)="Z",IF(OR(MID(A1,3,1)="Z",MID(A1,3,1)=" "),"A",CHAR(CODE(MID(A1,3,1))+1)),MID(A1,3,1))&IF(MID(A1,4,1)="Z","A",IF(MID(A1,4,1)="","",CHAR(CODE(MID(A1,4,1))+1)))

One just needs to paste this in cell A2 and put the letter A in cell A1 and it will spit out a B in cell A2. Then copy cell A2 (not the formula in the formula bar!) and past cell A2 to A3 and you will have a C as a result. If you get a B in cell A3, then you are not copying the cell.

Also, for all of us Excel novices out there, the best thing I ever did was install an add-on called ASAP Utilities which is a phenomenally powerful tool that helps to automate so many menial tasks with Excel. Like it could automatically fill in blank cells in your database, which the laborious task was described above. I've used it for probably 8 years now and just love it. It is also free for personal use. One last note about Excel use...if you have not mastered the use of Excel's Autofilter, please do is a god-send for spreadsheet organization! The mastery of that tool is also critical when deciding how you want to organize your criteria on your spreadsheet.

So, once I got the specimen label part figured out, the rest was rather easy. I labelled the boxes in my cabinets using numbers, and that is included on my database. So, I know that specimen ABC is in box 55, for example. I've also made a 3-ring binder with my database in as it is easier to add the pieces in the book first, then add them to the computer later. It is also easier to run around the basement with the binder than it is with a laptop.

Hopefully this helps out some people if they are thinking about starting or redoing their labeling system. I'd be curious how many other people came to the same simple conclusion that the only thing that a label number needs to be is unique.

Have Fun!

"Look ma, I'm in a friggin geode!"
Martin Stolworthy January 13, 2013 05:34PM
I use Access and have done so since discovering Paradox for DOS back in about 1993. Everything you need to do can be done by using Queries and Reports. My collection starts at No1 and is now at No12883. Every specimen has a draw or box number on the record and labels or specimen cards are very easy to produce. I have also just started creating Hyperlinks to photos of the specimens kept in a separate folder, with the Access datafile.

Martin Stolworthy
Donald Peck January 14, 2013 04:22PM
I recently needed to downsize my collection and sold nearly all of the display specimens. But I kept my micros. I was using Excell to catalog them but took the opportunity to switch to Access. I like Access, but the learning curve is a bit daunting. I have not yet learned how to print labels from it, and my reports need some refinement. Storage of specimens is now a problem as my wife and I are in a four room apartment. The photo attached shows the case I made and had to give up.
open | download - Cabinet_Drwrs2.jpg (253.4 KB)
David Zimmerman (2) January 14, 2013 09:46PM

Very nice cabinet you have there. It looks custom made. Also, stating that MS Access has a steep learning curve is an understatement! I have lots of respect for those that have a working knowledge of that program. Likewise for the Visual Basics code writers. I've got spreadsheets in Excel that have up to 25,000 entries or so, but Excel really does start to get slow and buggy with large data sets like that though.

Have Fun!

"Look ma, I'm in a friggin geode!"
Tim Jokela Jr February 02, 2013 07:19PM
Some interesting stuff in this thread.

Whatever happened to organizing by alpha order?

Seems like a no-brainer to me, but mayhaps I'm pathetically old school.

You want to study calaverite, boom, go to the C drawer.

3 seconds, not 3 minutes. And if the computer is down, who cares?

Sub-collections segregated but also alpha order.

Perfect, no. But surely it's the least imperfect organization system!
Owen Lewis (2) February 02, 2013 09:03PM
Depends what you want to do, Tim.

If you are content just to have a method of physical storage that allows you put your hand an any particular specimen and you only have one of each species, what you describe does OK but it starts to creak as the content of your collection keeps changing ( can you remember perfectly what pieces are in your collection when you continually to buy and sell items? And it becomes plain unreliable should your collection of 1,000 specimens of quartz, includes 250 specimens of rock crystal.

In short, you need not only to box your stuff, you may want to develop information about each piece (or some of us do) and it is the accurate and tidy creation, sorting, maintenance. re-filing and deletion of information on each and every specimen in a changing collection that we have been discussing.

How much information? For some of us it can include several hundred of lines of information on each specimen. Of text, numbers,indexes, mathematical calculations, other logical operations, graphs, photos and even maps. It is keeping this wealth of information in an orderly, instantly retrievable and accurate way for a changing collection that makesmemory unsufficient and paper and pencil distinctly unhandy.

These records are just as valuable to those of us who make and keep them - if not more so - than the specimens themselves. Not only is each record valuable information in itself but the whole record system can incorporate a quick and sure method of comparing the information on all specimens of the same type or given characteristic; this makes the value of the complete record system worth well more than the sum of its individual entries. The record system contains everything of use that we have been able to find out or that we can work out about the items in our collections.

But, yes there will be those who just want to keep a dozen of so rocks in a box and with memory as the only record of just a very little information. I know, because was one of those for quite some years :-)
Donald Peck February 03, 2013 05:28PM
Owen, your post intrigues me. Are not the way one stores a collection and the way one documents the collection essentially separate.

While I agree that when the number of specimens of a given species becomes large an alphabetical system becomes unwieldy, when the number of localities is very large and the number of specimens from a given locality is small a locality based system is a bit unwieldy. For me, given the nature of my collection, I use an alpha base with certain localities from which I have a significant number of specimens segregated. It is a mongrel system, but it works for me.

When it comes to documentation, mine is in Access and the organization has a unique number for each specimen. It is not the specimen catalog number because I want some specimens to be cataloged as two or more different species. The database can be set up to contain any information I want, but I have learned not to put into it fields on which I will not sort the database and which can be looked up in books. The shorter the field list, the easier it is to maintain the database. Even so, I have twenty fields. Mine does include a memo field for free form comments.

I have been told that Memo fields and links can cause problems in Access, especially Memo fields with extensive comments. An alternative is to use a short field that references an external document, perhaps an MSWord doc, that is specific to the specimen. The same technique can be used to reference photos.

I hope this makes sense and that others will continue to jump in. I think we all struggle with cataloging and storage.
Owen Lewis (2) February 03, 2013 06:41PM
Donald Peck Wrote:
> Owen, your post intrigues me. Are not the way
> one stores a collection and the way one documents
> the collection essentially separate.

Hi Don,
I see them, as perhaps you do, as different but - and by all means we can discuss this further - essentially related tasks, One needs quickly to find all the information ( a relatively complex task) and also to put one's hand quickly on any particular specimen - and to unerringly link the two.

As I only collect thumbnails and micromounts this is relatively simple. The more complex task is the creating. logical storage, sorting and retrieval of information and this is best achieved by assigning each part of each record set a common, unique numeric tag. It follows that the simplest tie of specimen to its record then also becomes that numeric tag (the physical location of each specimen being an integral part of its data record. This numeric tag is written on the bottom of the transparent container in which each specimen is stored. containers are held in boxes of 50 and stored within each box in numeric order. To prevent confusion where several like specimens have been removed from their containers simultaneously, in addition to the record number written on the label of each box is the specimen/variety of the specimens and also the weight or each, recorded in carats to three decimal places. Thus specimens should never be returned to the wrong container or containers to the wrong box. If it happens (human error) then it is simple to detect and correct such errors.

Should I need to check how many specimens of any species/variety I have, I look up the record index (alphabetically listed, by species and varieties under species). This will show me instantly the record numbers for each specimen of that type that I have. These entries in the index are hyperlinked to the records for each specimen, so it is just mouse-click to pull up the complete record for any specimen.

> While I agree that when the number of specimens of
> a given species becomes large an alphabetical
> system becomes unwieldy, when the number of
> localities is very large and the number of
> specimens from a given locality is small a
> locality based system is a bit unwieldy. For me,
> given the nature of my collection, I use an alpha
> base with certain localities from which I have a
> significant number of specimens segregated. It is
> a mongrel system, but it works for me.

If it works for you, Don, then that's enough reason for it. My system works for me (and has taken a few years to develop and refine, starting from a blank sheet and with a couple of false starts along the way. Personal collections are all different and people's requirements for data creation, collation, storage and retrieval are all different. The trick seems to me to be to build and maintain a system that meets one's own particular needs. There is no merit in standardisation for its own sake.

> I hope this makes sense and that others will
> continue to jump in. I think we all struggle with
> cataloging and storage.

Amen to that.
Donald Peck February 04, 2013 05:07PM
> The trick seems to me to be to build and maintain a system that meets one's own particular needs. <
>There is no merit in standardisation for its own sake. <

Owen, I heartily agree. That said, I hope others keep the conversation going. Every once in a while I pick up a good tip from others. The best and latest example is one from Rock Currier. He suggests that display specimens (I guess larger than thumbnails) should have a small computer generated label with at least the locality information glued to the back/bottom of the specimen. I took it to heart and have labeled all my mostly hand sized specimens. My labels in 5pt type have species, catalog number, and locality on them.
Rock Currier February 20, 2013 10:17AM
All my micros are alphabetical by species, and then within each species, those from specific localities are then ordered alphabetically by country, state, county and mine name like the reverse locality strings that we use in the best minerals project. That way when you want to locate a quartz from a particular locality in say New York, you can quickly do so without referring to a catalog or a computer. With very few exceptions, your catalog or computer are very user unfriendly to anyone but yourself. Some old and wise micro mounters use this method, but maintain separate locality collections where where they put all their micros from a particular locality together and then alphabetize them within that locality. There is much to be said for this practice especially when you have many mounts from a particular locality.

The database program I use has about 59 fields where you can enter data about your specimen and some of them are non specific and you can name them and use them for anything you want. You can also create as many check boxes as you want for any number of specimens properties you can dream up. You can search for stuff in any of the fields or combination of fields. I usually only use a handful of these fields and think that filling them all in would be overkill for sure.

More and more I have come to believe that the best solution for labeling is to make sure that the locality and species are glued right onto the specimen and covered with something like clear nail polish. Once this is done, the specimen will be protected from the ravages of time much better than one that is not labeled in this way.

Rock Currier
Crystals not pistols.
Donald Peck February 20, 2013 04:45PM
Rock, you convinced me about a year ago that a label, including the locality data, should be glued to the back or bottom of the mineral specimen. It makes a lot of sense and I have done it. But for the micros it is not so easy. I can't write that small! :-D However, I use the black paper liners with my mounts, and I have taken to placing a label under and stuck to the liner where it is not likely to get lost.
Owen Lewis (2) February 20, 2013 06:12PM
It would really go against the grain for me to stick a label on my specimens, many of which are cut gems. It suits me far better to organise as follows:

- Cases that hold 50 clear, cylindrical acrylic containers of 25mm internal diameter. in five rows of ten containers
- Cases are numbered 1 to xx
- Positions in each case are numbered 1 - 50, starting top left, numbering left to right, commencing with the top row (nearest the lid hinges).
- Thus, each container has a unique numeric identifier by box and position - e.g. 2.49. This is also the unique identifier by which is retrieved all data, observations and images of the specimen in the container of that number.
- Each specimen has a unique physical identifier which is its weight, recorded to the nearest 0.001 ct. On the base of each container is attached a 20x10mm white label, on which is recorded the unique location number, species, variety and dry weight in air. The combination these details assure the unique identification of the specimen contained to better than a probability of several million to one.

Given my age and the fact that all the acrylic containers are seated in plastic foam, reducing exposure to UV, light, IR and simple solvent evaporation, I see no likelihood that the labels will fall off. In fact, empirically, it's shown that labels affixed several years ago and then stored in this way are, if anything, more tenaciously attached to their containers than when they were first affixed. In the event that any labels should become detached whilst several containers are out of their boxes, it would be a simple enough matter to differentiate from the specimen from others out of position at the same time as the label was lost the specimen contained (by its characteristics) and to re-label and return to the correct position.

The use of a unique numeric identifier, common to both the physical location of each specimen and its entire (voluminous) record are many and great. The sole disadvantage (AFAIK) is that without access to the data record, physical access to any given specimen would become clumsy and slow. With access to the record, however, I believe that physical access to a given specimen would be as fast or faster that the 'human memory' organisation that Rock and others prefer.

The situation is directly analogous to the organisation of of 10,000 stock lines within a busy warehouse. For a couple of thousand years, storage had to be in a manner logical to humans, else nothing could ever be found. This changed with the advent of computerisation, permitting (with great savings) the 'chaotic' placement of goods, the certain retrieval of which is now more certain and faster than the old 'human logic' methods can manage. Many warehouses, these days, have fully automated stacking and retrieval, with humans only entering only for systems maintenance purposes.
Rock Currier February 20, 2013 06:50PM
It would appear that if your specimens are small like TN or micro specimens or faceted gems or translucent to transparent cabochons, the best answer to labeling them is to put them in a plastic box, container or cylinder of some sort and then label the box in some way that lets you see the specimen and has the label attached to the box. I think Donald's method of putting the label inside the micro box facing out so the data can be easily read is about as good as you can do and is especially applicable to micro boxes with black paper liners. One collector I know made labels that when folded a bit could occupy all four inside walls of his micro boxes and therefore could contain quite a bit of label information should he care to use up that much space.

Rock Currier
Crystals not pistols.
Owen Lewis (2) February 21, 2013 12:42PM
Rock Currier Wrote:

> .... I think Donald's method of putting the label
> inside the micro box facing out so the data can be
> easily read is about as good as you can do ......

Yes. Its very neat and avoids any problem with failing adhesives. However, so far and for me, that problem is theoretical rather than than real so I expect I shall continue with sticking a label on the bottom of each container However, were I now starting out, I'd certainly use Donald's method for preference..

> ....One collector I know made labels
> that when folded a bit could occupy all four
> inside walls of his micro boxes and therefore
> could contain quite a bit of label information
> should he care to use up that much space.

But some (like me) have relatively large amounts of information (including images of inclusions and spectrum graphs) could not be satisfied by this. However, I can see that, for those who want a record of species, variety, place of origin, date of acquisition, cost and not too much else, they should be well satiusfied by this simple method.

We return to the underlying point that there is no single perfect system. Only systems that best suit the purposes of their users.
Jeff Weissman February 21, 2013 01:11PM
Thanks for all the comments, I am glad I started this thread!

I have recently been using Donald's method of printing the key information on a small label placed inside either a micromount or thumbnail box. To address Owen's concern, if there is supplemental information - analytically data, labels, etc., I place a code on the small label insert ("A", "L"...) Additionally, I have been printing 3x5 data cards with more detailed information - brief description of species present, acquisition details, prior history - these cards are placed in the box or tray with the minerals.
Steve Sorrell February 23, 2013 09:49AM
To those that use an alphabetical system, how do you deal with a specimen containing say stanleyite, minasragrite and patronite, and you only have the one, not three?

Donald Peck February 23, 2013 04:54PM
Hi Steve, Tis a problem. I file the mount under the mineral that is best displayed. Then I enter into my catalog three times. Once for each mineral. Messy, but it works for me.
Tom Mortimer February 23, 2013 07:04PM
As commented by the earlier contributors to this thread, how one organizes the storage of their collection is driven by personal priorities. I belong to the camp that places the greatest importance on efficiency of storage. For me, this means one size drawer for micros, one for TN’s, others for miniatures, small cabinets, cabinets. Within a drawer, specimens are stored in numerical catalog order. Having some woodworking tools and skills, when I need a new TN drawer, for example, I build another one, (although I usually build drawers in batches, trying to anticipate future needs). A collection stored this way avoids maintaining many partially filled drawers for prolonged periods.
Numerically ordered storage by size dictates the need for a collection catalog that maintains an entry for size: I use uM, TN, MN, SC and CB. With the specimen numerical range on each drawer front, specimen location is easy.
This discussion also includes the associated topic of the specimen catalog. The catalog software of my choice has yet to be mentioned, so I will give it a plug: Handbase by DDH Software. This data base program is designed to run both on a Windows desktop/laptop PC and on your iPad, iTouch, iPhone. This data base can be examined, sorted, or edited from either platform, and synchronized with the other platform when desired. You have full freedom to custom design your database fields and their presentation views. The biggest plus of this database is that I can carry my collection catalog in my shirt pocket! I can take it with me to a mineral show and get a quick answer to “Do I have a Fletcher Mine phosphoferrite?” or “How many Wise Mine fluorites do I have, when did I buy them, and what did I pay for them?”

ps: Yes, for you EXCEL folks, you can import your EXCEL database into Handbase.

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 02/23/2013 07:14PM by Tom Mortimer.
Luca Baralis February 23, 2013 08:20PM
Well, nowadays you can take your Excel database on your mobile phone or palm pc, too (many of them at least).
But reading it can be a pain, I've to say.

Luca Baralis
Stephen Shimatzki March 20, 2013 05:05PM
I have started to keep a "QR" code on the base of my perky boxes. The QR Code is the funny barcode that can be printed out and scanned with a smartphone. You can put lots of information in it, including collection details, links to MINDAT location info, etc.. It can then be printed onto a label and cut to fit the bottom of the perky box.

I wrote it up back in December of 2011 for our club, if you need details.

Really, for those who know about the QR codes with their smartphone, it should be straight forward.

Steve S.
Donald Peck March 21, 2013 03:25PM
Steve, interesting idea. I am pretty certain that the QR code could be made to fit in or on a standard micromount box, also. But my one concern is how long this technology will persist. I use paper liners inside a black box with my label glued to the bottom of the box. And a second label placed on the bottom of the liner, face down. The second label is my insurance against the first one dropping off or becoming defaced. I could get more info on a QR label. Worth considering. Thanks
Owen Lewis (2) March 21, 2013 07:17PM
I am seriously out of love with my mobile phone. Hasn't yet ended in a permanent separation but she stays dead in a drawer all except for one or two days a quarter. When I was in business, love it or not, the thing was a 'must' but since retirement..... it's just another way to spend money on services that I no longer require.

However, I can see the attraction of the bar coding idea - if you really can squish all the info you need to record into a bar code, it'd be a neat way to go. But I couldn't do that. If and when my records are ever completed (and that's a very big if), each record will run to over 100 words/numbers, with numerous logical and mathematical operators embedded and with hyperlinking to databases of images, graphs and the collection index.. This makes the collected records very much the focus of my collection's organisation, even to driving the system of physical storage of specimens. However, it's not the records that I spend quiet evenings with, admiring yet once more and never tiring......
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