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Valuable References for Mineral Collectors

by John Betts, All Rights Reserved

One of my favorite stories is about Albert Einstein. One day a visitor stopped by to chat. As the visitor departed, the need arose to get Einstein’s telephone number. The visitor was surprised to see Einstein walk over to the telephone book and look up his own telephone number. When asked why he did not know his own number, he responded, "My dear boy, I have so many things to remember. I never bother to memorize anything that I can easily look up."

A subject as complicated as mineral collecting (where minerals are discredited, countries change names, new finds are always being made) requires a collection of good reference books to look up the information that cannot be memorized.

Your reference books are your "working" library. They are there to be used, annotated, added to, highlighted, book-marked. Though many of these references are out of print, you can still obtain reasonably priced copies of them if you settle for less than fine condition. Remember, this is your "working" library, you do not need a leather bound, first edition, inscribed by the author to a noteworthy mineralogist. All you need is a copy with an intact binding or even a facsimile reprint.

This article is about what references are needed to look up questions about minerals. Beginning and advanced collectors are always encountering new problems to be solved while collecting minerals. Whether it is identifying the mineral species on a specimen, labeling new specimens received in trade or from an old collection, or writing an article for the local mineral club newsletter. If you are like me, when you acquire a new specimen for your collection, you want to read as much about the occurrence to understand the subtleties of the specimen. But what are the best references? What are the "must have" references mineral collectors should own?

Following is a list of the essential references (in my opinion) that every collector should own:

1. Glossary of Mineral Species

2. Mineralogy

3. System of Mineralogy of James Dwight Dana - Descriptive Mineralogy (6th Edition)

4. Gemstone and Mineral Data Book, Sinkankas

5. Mineral-Periodical Index (MinDex)

6. Mineral Database (MinData)

Glossary of Mineral Species

by Michael Fleischer and Joseph Mandarino (1999) by Mineralogical Record, Tucson, Arizona

Also known as "Fleischer’s" this is the single most important reference in any collection. It is the final authority on proper spelling of mineral species. It is the most up-to-date list of accredited mineral species. And it is a handy reference on crystal form and chemical composition.

I use this book so often that I never return it to the bookshelf where it belongs. It is always sitting out for easy access.

For example, when labeling a mineral specimen you can look up and find out there is no accepted mineral species "manganapatite" a mineral that is well known to New England and pegmatite collectors as an olive green apatite that commonly fluoresces yellow-orange under SW UV illumination. (It is uncertain what this species should be called. I suspect "Fluorapatite variety Manganapatite" is correct.)

There are software programs and Internet resources that have the same information as the Glossary of Mineral Species, but it is so much easier to pick up this book rather than booting up the computer or surfing the Internet to answer a simple question, like the proper spelling for "Fluorrichterite".

In addition, the appendices include mineral groups listing the minerals in each group and their chemical composition, and chemical "word formulas" that give the equivalent for various minerals (e.g. Albite = Sodium Aluminosilicate).


by John Sinkankas (1986) ISBN 0-442-27624-9

A general reference is needed for mineral collectors about the mineral species commonly encountered. There are many available, usually under the category of "Field Guides." My recommendation is the excellent Mineralogy by John Sinkankas. This was originally published in 1964 under the name Mineralogy for Amateurs but has been revised and updated in 1986.

Why this book? First, it is the most concise, lucid explanation of mineralogy I have ever encountered. Sections on the fundamentals of mineralogy include mineral classifications, crystal growth, crystal systems, physical and optical properties, and tests and identification.

In the descriptive mineralogy section each mineral is described and often illustrated with photos and/or crystal drawings. Entries for each mineral include pronunciation (very useful for beginners), varieties, crystal habit, physical and optical properties. For each mineral species it lists noteworthy occurrences of the mineral around the world is reasonably up to date (certainly more than most other general references).

A very useful feature under each mineral is an entry for Distinctive Features and Tests that helps in distinguishing a mineral from commonly encountered look-alikes.

If that isn’t enough to recommend the book, there are also a series of identification tables sorting mineral species by hardness, luster, refractive index, specific gravity, and fluorescence. Using these tables and a few simple home tests most minerals can be quickly identified.

The book does not include every mineral species, but does cover those commonly encountered. As with every book that Sinkankas has written, it is a clear, concise reference with the right balance of thorough information without getting into minutiae.

Note - Three other books deserve mention for a basic mineral reference:

The Handbook of Mineralogy by John Anthony, Richard Bideaux, Ken Bladh, and Monte Nichols is a much more thorough book and the authors have attempted to research all noteworthy occurrences of each mineral species. Unfortunately the series is not yet complete. Only three volumes have been written out of five planned (volume four of the Handbook is at the printers/binders) and each volume is relatively expensive, about $100. However, what books does John Sinkankas use? The Handbook of Mineralogy. So serious collectors should consider this a valuable addition to their library.

Peterson Field Guide: Rocks & Minerals by Frederick Pough (ISBN 0-395-91096-x in paperback) was updated with the 5th edition in 1996 with all color photographs by the noted mineral photographer, Jeff Scovil. This Field Guide has passed one milllion in sales, more, probably, than all other mineral books in total. One advantage of this book is it’s size, it is small format and compact. Great if you are compelled to take a book in the field or on vacation. There are no crystal drawings under the descriptive mineralogy section, and the minerals described are limited (for example no entry for boleite) and the entries for occurrences is brief, though it has been updated. It is also less expensive than the two books above, at about $18. If you cannot get a copy of Sinkankas’ Mineralogy then this book is a good alternative.

My latest addition, and my second most-used reference book is Minerals and their Localities by by Jan H. Bernard and Jaroslav Hyršl available from Mineralogical Record for $145. Yes, that is a steep price, but this book is worth every penny. To begin with, it is the most up-to-date reference book on the market and it covers all mineral species known as of 2004. It lists mineral properties and common localities with mineral associations. A large proportion of the mineral entries have full color photos too. This would book would be perfect if it had simply listed the Type Locality for each mineral too, but they didn't so you still need Fleischer's Glossary on Mineral Species above.

System of Mineralogy of James Dwight Dana - Descriptive Mineralogy (6th Edition)

By Edward S. Dana. Originally published by John Wiley & Sons, NY in 1892 with Appendix I (1899), Appendix II (1914), Appendix III (1914)

Commonly referred to as Dana’s System of Mineralogy, 6th edition. Though this reference was published in the late 1800s, it is an excellent reference to collectors that have old specimens, with old labels using obsolete nomenclature.

(This is the last edition of Dana that included silicates. Dana’s 7th edition never was completed and is divided into 3 volumes making it more difficult to use. The new 8th edition of Dana is so inaccurate and incomplete that I sold my copy within a month of getting it. In fact, there are so many errors that if I see an article that references Dana’s 8th I call the article into doubt. One of the authors confided that before going to press the co-authors identified thousands of errors, but the publisher went to press without making the corrections because it was behind schedule. It is so error-ridden that there is a web site set up to submit corrections. In the future, the second printing of the 8th edition may be a good reference worth owning.)

There are many reasons to recommend the 6th edition of Dana’s System of Mineralogy. The best is the identification of varietal names that are obsolete or foreign origin. Just last week I got a specimen of "Whitneyite" and quickly found this was the name of arsenic-rich sulfide of copper. The 6th edition also has crystal drawings, often several per species with specimens from different localities illustrated. (Crystal drawings were eliminated in the 8th edition.) For example, under vanadinite there are six crystal drawings: two specimens from Arizona occurrences, one specimen from a New Mexico locality, one specimen from an Argentine locality, and one theoretical crystal form.

Under each mineral species there are entries for known occurrences, the first listed is known as the "Dana Locality" meaning the location where the mineral was first found and identified, thereby becoming the standard for the species. At the back of the book is the Catalog of American (and Canadian) Localities of Minerals, a state by state listing of known mineral localities and the minerals found there. And the 6th edition list many old occurrences for the mineral species that are not found in recent literature.

Obviously the 6th edition is out of print. And book collectors have driven the price of fine copies up beyond the reach of ordinary mineral collectors, about $350. But remember, this is your "working" copy. You don’t need a perfect copy. Mine is an old library copy that was cut down (the outer margins were trimmed to eliminate damage) and simply rebound. But all of the text is there and that is all you need. I paid $75 for my copy from a used book dealer. Look around, they are out there.

Gemstone and Mineral Data Book

By John Sinkankas (1988) ISBN 0-945005-01-6

This great book is a compilation of all kinds of information on minerals and lapidary. Information that cannot be found in any other reference can often be found in this essential reference. There is even a section on weather year-round in various localities around the world!

Probably the most significant reason to own this book is the section on mineral cleaning. In a mineral-by-mineral listing it gives solubility in acids and common techniques for cleaning. Some of them are uncommon chemicals that can be used to restore a specimen to it’s natural beauty. Under native copper for example, it gives four different formulas for cleaning. This book is my first choice when confronted with how to clean a particular mineral species.

Other sections of interest include a German/English mineral dictionary, chemicals and their uses for minerals and lapidary, determination tables for identifying minerals by specific gravity/hardness/cleavage, an interesting section on commonly faked mineral specimens and how to spot the fakes, and a section on lapidary information and abrasives.

The section on mineral cleaning alone makes this book worth owning, but there are so many other useful sections that it a "must have" book for all mineral enthusiasts.

Mineral-Periodical Index (MinDex)

By Lanny Ream (version 1.2, 1999) LR Ream Publishing, 208-659-3035  or

NOTE: You can now purchase this software directly from this site at: MinDex

I cannot say enough good things about this great software program developed by Lanny Ream, publisher of Mineral News. This database indexes all the articles in Mineralogical Record, Mineral News, World of Stones, Matrix, the last 11 years of Micro-Probe, the last 12 years of Rocks & Minerals.

I use this program at least once a day to find the correct spelling of a locality, to find out what province was listed for a particular mine, and to locate articles about a mineral or locality.

The program comes on a floppy disk and is easily loaded onto to your hard drive. In use you can search on multiple criteria and use incomplete spellings. For example, you can enter "ferrierite" under mineral and "Italy" under country and the program produces 7 entries with full locality, other minerals mentioned in the articles, the periodical, date, volume, number, page number, author, etc. Outstanding!

In practical use you don’t have to put in full spellings. You can enter mineral: "cinn" and state: "nev" and get 15 references to cinnabar from Nevada.

The only shortcoming is the lack of a complete index for Rocks & Minerals. Unlike all the other periodicals, Rocks & Minerals dates back 75 years. All too often the MinDex will not find any references to localities older than the last 30 years. Hopefully, Lanny will have an opportunity to fill out the rest of R&M entries in the future.

This is a super reference for any collector. Far more valuable than the unusable Index to Mineralogical Record. It is reasonably priced. And it makes all the articles buried in your collection of back issues accessible.

Mineral Database (MinData)

By Lanny Ream (version 3.1, 1999) LR Ream Publishing, 208-659-3035 or

Like it’s twin MinDex, MinData is a computer database of mineral species. I do not use it as often as MinDex, but it is a great tool for everything from searching for minerals by formula or characteristic or group.

As an identification tool you can do a few simple tests on an unknown mineral then search for a match. For example, color: black, hardness: 2.5, system: trigonal and get a list of 8 mineral species with full data on each. I like to use these simple tests plus streak, and specific gravity when possible and use MinData to narrow down the options.

It has quirks, but in general it is quick and easy to use. I wish that it had a search criteria for fluorescence - it would be great to search for "fluorescence=red" with the same search as above because fluorescence is a simple home identification test that does not use caustic chemicals or expensive equipment. It does list fluorescence under "information" but this field is not searchable for "fluorescent green" without yielding every mineral with green or fluorescence in that field. But that is not needed very often and it is not too time consuming to review a list of minerals that are produced by a search for this additional characteristic.

It is a small, fast program. It does not take much hard disk space, and is very fast at searching. There are no photos, but the most of the information you need is there, quick and easy.

Other References Worth Considering... (Part2)

Sources - Used Book Dealers

Rocks of Ages

John & Linda Stimson

P.O. Box 3503

Tustin, CA 92681


FAX 714-730-1644

Ed Rogers

P.O. Box 455

Poncha Springs, CO 81242


FAX 719-539-4542

Frederick Blake, Bookseller

11 Oakway Drive

Stony Brook, NY 11790


Michael Dennis Cohan, Bookseller

502-West Alder Street

Missoula, Montana 59802


Donald E. Hahn, Natural History Books

P.O. Box 1004

Cottonwood, AZ 86326


Fax: 520-634-1217

© John H. Betts - All Rights Reserved

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