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Maintain Your Collection For the Future: More Advice for Mineral Collectors

by John H. Betts, All Rights Reserved

In my first article of advice for beginners, I outlined some basic rules for beginning mineral collectors. However, I recently purchased a large mineral collection from a well known collector. I was surprised, then maddened, at how poorly the collection had been managed. The collector's family was very disappointed at the low value of such a large and old collection. But the low value was directly due to the neglect of the owner. A mineral collection must be maintained and curated. As a result of this experience, I have assembled several more recommendations for beginners - or any other mineral collector:

  1. Do nothing to a specimen that is not reversible.
  2. Never use a permanent glue to mount specimens.
  3. Store minerals properly to protect them from damage.
  4. Use a cataloging system that aids retrieval.
  5. Separate your best specimens from your reference specimens.
  6. Invest in storage and display cabinets.
  7. Label field collected minerals immediately.
  8. Clear out the junk periodically.

Let's look at each of these recommendations one at a time:

Do nothing to a specimen that is not reversible.

This may seem obvious, but too many collectors don't think about how foolish it is to permanently put numbers on specimens with finger nail polish, or glue specimens to Styrofoam using epoxy glue. It is permissible, even preferable, to carefully trim a mineral specimen. But that is the only permanent action that a collector should do to a specimen. (If a specimen has been illustrated in a book or magazine it is not advisable to trim the specimen - it is a "figured" specimen. Trimming will change the appearance from the published illustration.)

Otherwise, do nothing that cannot be undone in the future. Do not use permanent glues like epoxy to glue anything to the specimen. Do not use any permanent markers or ink when numbering specimens. Do not use finger nail polish, India ink, sharpie pens or other felt-tip markers. For numbering a specimen, it is best to print out small numbers on a laser printer, cut out the numbers and glue them to the specimen using Elmer's Glue.

At the same time it is necessary to put a tag or code on each specimen for identification. The tag should be both durable and removable. Sounds contradictory... The BEST solution I have seen to tagging minerals with a code that is both secure and reversible:

  1. Print out your tags on a laser printer or copy with a Xerox.
  2. Cut out the tag
  3. Adhere the tag to the specimen with Mineral Tack.

The mineral tack is quite secure yet removable if necessary. It is also water proof. I have purchased several mineral collections labeled this way, and believe it is the best system currently available.

You are only the temporary caretaker of your specimens. You should not alter specimens in any way that will take away from future study of them.

Never use a permanent glue to mount specimens.

This is an extension of the previous rule. Permanent glue like epoxy or Duco cement will discolor with age. A beautifully mounted specimen, where the glue is colorless and transparent, will be ruined after a few years when the glue discolors into an ugly brown color.

Instead use moldable clays, available in art supply stores, to mold a base for specimens. These clays harden on exposure or after baking on low heat. Once they are hard, they should support the mineral specimen without additional adhesive.

Or use non-staining, non-hardening putty like Mineral Tack to adhere the specimen to a base. It is highly recommended to use only Mineral Tack brand instead of plumber's putty or other soft putties available at the local hardware store. These common putties may harden or stain the mineral in time.

If glue must be used to mount a specimen, use glue that can be removed at a later time. Hot glue guns use glue that can be softened with rubber cement thinner or other solvents. Elmer's Glue is water based. After soaking a week in water it will be soft enough to remove from the specimen.

Store minerals properly to protect them from damage.

Storage drawers or cabinets are meant to protect mineral specimens from dust and greasy fingers. So don't stack minerals one on top another. Don't store minerals in drawers without separators between minerals to keep them from touching. It is hard enough finding undamaged minerals (at reasonable prices), don't add damage to a specimen after you have acquired it.

Use a cataloging system that aids retrieval.

Organize your mineral cataloging system around retrieval. The system should allow you to locate any specimen listed in the catalog, quickly and easily. And the cataloging system should allow rapid retrieval of information about any given specimen in your cabinets.

The best way to catalog for retrieval, is number each specimen with a unique number. However, if the catalog is not in numerical order, finding an entry for a specimen is impossible. One collection I saw recently had the minerals numbered, but the catalog was alphabetical! Finding a numbered entry in the catalog was impossible unless you knew what mineral it was which is not always easy.

In addition to organizing the catalog by the number identifier, include a field in the catalog listing where the specimen is stored. This may be cumbersome to manage if you frequently move your minerals around. But imagine how nice it would be if a friend stops by and want to see your best novacekite. You can go to your catalog, see is stored in drawer 14, or in flat 57, or on display in your left display case. Within seconds you can show your friend the specimen.

Your collection catalog is tool to facilitate the enjoyment of your collection. Design your catalog carefully and keep it maintained.

Separate your best specimens from your reference specimens.

Most collectors maintain two or three collections: showy display specimens, reference specimens, and self-collected specimens. (I love that phrase "self-collected". I have been collecting for many years and have yet to see a mineral specimen collect itself. Imagine that -mineral specimens jumping into your bucket as you walk through a quarry. These should be labeled "personally collected".)

Your reference collection is usually the minerals from your area of personal interest. They are in your collection to fill a gap in the collection. Mineral specimens from field trips usually are reference quality too.

Your display specimens are your best specimens. They should be separated from your reference collection. Simply, your display specimens should be on display. Your display specimens should not be rattling around in a drawer where they can be damaged. And your reference collection should not be grouped with your best minerals where they drag down the quality level.

It is best to segregate your best mineral specimens into a nicely illuminated display case of their own.

Invest in storage and display cabinets.

Does it make sense to invest in nice mineral specimens then throw them in a second-hand storage drawers left over from WW-II? Of course not! Set aside a percentage of your mineral budget to acquire nice display cases and storage drawers designed for mineral specimens. Five percent of your acquisition budget might be appropriate.

I can hear the field collectors out there saying, "I field collect all of my minerals. I don't have an acquisition budget." Wrong. Every mineral collector spends money to acquire minerals. Field collectors have to buy gas, food, overnight lodging on long trips, etc. Often there are collecting fees, highway tolls. And there is the cost of owning a car: insurance, depreciation, etc. Field collectors should figure they are paying $.33 per mile just for travel expenses. You do have expenses in acquiring minerals. Set aside part of that money to get some quality display cases.

Good storage should be a mix of display cases and drawers. Display cases should be well illuminated and protect against dust accumulation. Drawers should be fully extendable and each specimen separated from others to prevent damage. Needless to say, storage cases should prevent heat, humidity, acidity or other environmental factors from ruining your minerals. (Tip: don't store your native silver next to your sulfur specimens.)

Label field collected minerals immediately.

I have seen collections acquired solely from field collecting. Most commonly these collections are stored in a garage in old beer flats. Each specimen is wrapped in the same newspaper it was wrapped in the day it was found. And there is not a label to be seen anywhere.

The old collector knows exactly what each specimen is and where it was found. Wrong.

Take the time after each field trip to at least label the flats with the date and location where the minerals were collected. Even better, don't let them sit around. Unwrap them the same day, wash and trim them. Discard the ugly ones that can't be cleaned. Trim away excess matrix taking up space.

Then take a Post-it and add a label to each specimen you keep. Some day you will be thankful for that little label.

Clear out the junk periodically.

Go through your collection and weed out the junk every so often. Every two years? Every five years? When your closet door won't close anymore? It doesn't matter how often. Just do it.

Over time your collecting tastes change. You may evolve to focus on a particular mineral group or a specific mineral locality. You may have acquired better specimens in your collection, making your earliest mineral specimens redundant or substandard.

Review your collection, sorting all of your minerals. As recommended above, sort your best specimens into one group. And sort your worst specimens into a group. After your collection has been reorganized give your lesser specimens away to a beginner or sell them on Ebay or trade with club members at a swap.


The recommendations above are made from the perspective of viewing over a hundred mineral collection. To date I have never seen a perfectly curated collection (especially not my own). And rules are meant to be broken. You may disagree or your collection may be so unique that different solutions are needed. The bottom line is: collections must be maintained. Do not neglect your collection - keep it happy.

See my first article of advice for beginners...

© John H. Betts - All Rights Reserved

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