New Issue of the Mineralogical Record hits the stands!

It’s that time again, when the smell of fresh UV coating emerges from the polythene shipping bag, heralding the arrival of the new issue of the Mineralogical Record. It’s a special time, a six times a year pleasure in the mineral enthusiast’s calendar.

This issue features an article by Editor in Chief Wendel Wilson on the beautiful blue-grey Celestines of Mahajanga Province, Madagascar, collector’s reminiscences of Minas Gerais, Brazil, and a remembrance of the Munich gem and mineral show by the founding editor of the Record, John S. White. As always, an issue to savour, then add to your permanent collection…

Waiting, Impatiently

Do you know how it is when you form an idea in your head, when you know that there is something that you need or want, and then find that suddenly, without warning, it’s taking longer than it should to actually physically put your hands on the thing that you know that you want / need / unreasonably desire?

That’s the position in which I find myself now. I’m waiting for a small parcel containing some old issues of Rocks & Minerals, so that I can write up a brief entry about American popular mineralogy literature. And it’s driving me mad, because, by rights, the parcel should have come by now. Therefore I’m left in the position of doing something which I don’t do well – being patient. I know that it’s supposed to be a virtue and all of that, but I can’t help thinking that even the people who say “patience is a virtue” know, empirically, that the very sentiment to which they’ve just given tongue is a load of dingoes’ kidneys.

So the post is delayed, because I’ll have some reading to do once I finally get the materials for which I’m waiting. In the meantime, I may have to tackle trying to write something more about crystallography, which is difficult, but will ultimately be useful. And I’ll just have to keep telling myself that…

The Innocent Joys of Cataloguing

I’ve had a long-term fascination with making lists, indices, and catalogues. It goes back to my early days of collecting, whether that be minerals, books, stamps, or coins. At the dawn of the personal computer era as I was, I tended to keep things in notebooks rather than on floppy discs, and had at one time an index card system for my books.

Eventually, though, I moved with the times. I’ve built databases, I’ve used card catalogue systems, I’ve even gone so far as to organise whole swathes of my library by subject and author. It’s just one of those things that I do. (I am not, however, mad enough or pedantic enough to organise by Library of Congress classification – some things are beyond the pale, even for me).

When it comes to minerals, I’m having fun at the moment building a new catalogue, one which is slowly growing in its thoroughness and descriptive power. Hopefully, when I eventually find the original notebook in which I catalogued and described much of my collection back in the 80s, I’ll be able to fill in some of the gaps in my memory. Eventually, all of this information will be taken out of spreadsheet format – a spreadsheet only gets you so far – and moved into a relational database. I’m thinking of using FileMaker Pro, because it’s quick and easy to get started, especially if you’ve already done a lot of the donkey work in the spreadsheet. But I might take this opportunity to use another, less-flexible database solution, just to see if I can make it do my bidding…

In the meantime, here are some tips, if you’re in thinking about putting the time into a project like this…

  1. Do you need a catalogue? Yes. Why? There are a few reasons: unless you’re incredibly lucky, you won’t remember everything, so cataloguing is a good way to keep track of details that might otherwise be forgotten in five to ten years. Also, catalogues are good ways for you to see relationships between minerals in your collection, or even minerals at large (their chemistry and chemical relationships become much clearer when aligned by Dana number in a table, for example). And finally, if you put the values and prices paid in, you have a handy reference not only for yourself as to how out-of-control your hobby has gotten, but for practical reasons like calculating insurance costs.
  2. Your catalogue should make sense to you, but also to others. At several points in my collecting life, I started assigning catalogue numbers to different minerals. I now have absolutely no idea what those numbers mean. So the new plan? Sync up catalogue numbers with new numbering system, based either on the Dana or Strunz classification system.
  3. Your catalogue must work for you. Whatever details you need to keep track of your collection – those are what you should be entering. For example, I like locality information to be broken up at least by Mine / City / County / Region / State / Country / Continent, so I have list entries for each of those headings and more, even if I don’t always have the information to hand. In that way, your catalogue also becomes scientifically and historically useful.
  4. Value matters. I’m recording, as best I can, the original prices paid on some of my specimens, going all the way back to the early 1980s. But one enhancement that I’ve planned is to estimate a current value. Minerals, due to the ebb and flow of supply and scarcity, tend to become more expensive over time. I will therefore build in an increase in value for specimens that I’ve owned for ten, twenty, or thirty years, respectively. It’s good for insurance purposes, and good for keeping track of just how out-of-control your hobby has become. =)
  5. Data matters, so get it right. Treat cataloguing as a scientific endeavour, but also as good fun – because after all, it is both.

Other than that, it’s up to you, really. Strunz-Nickel or Dana cataloguing system, or both? References to Mindat, or to page numbers in the Audubon Society Field Guide to Rocks & Minerals? Your call. Make it your own – make it work for you.

Cataloguing will bring you a lot of joy if you already like your mineral collection, and need an excuse to spend more time with it. Take the time to look at things through a loupe or under a microscope – you’ll be glad that you did!

New Issue of Rocks & Minerals Out Now!

Cover Image

Rocks & Minerals Magazine Cover, Volume 85, Number 5 (September / October 2010)

I wanted post a quick note to say that our copies of the new issue of Rocks & Minerals (Volume 85, Number 5, September / October 2010) turned up unexpectedly last Friday – earlier than usual, probably so all of the advertising for the Denver Gem & Mineral Show, which will be from 17-19 September, would still be current ;-). In concert with the Colorado theme, there’s a good article on the Creede, Colorado locality, and the upcoming 10th anniversary of Mindat, perhaps the best single source for mineral and locality information on the web. There’s also a piece on Colorado minerals found in Chicago’s essential Field Museum. This collection grew out of the minerals which were originally presented in the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, which I’ve found particularly fascinating every since I read Erik Larson’s gripping book, The Devil in the White City. Check your news-stands now!

Sadly, I’m not going to get to the Denver Show this year, but I’m planning, and scheming, to go next year, as well as to hit some other shows at more reasonable distances this year. It’s not that much of a drive (well, eight delightfully dull hours, but that’s another question entirely), but it requires more planning and laying of groundwork that I indulged in this time. Next year.

The early arrival of R&M breaks the rule that I normally adhere to, which is that the arrival of Rocks & Minerals normally signals the imminent apparition of the new Mineralogical Record. And yes, before you ask, I am enough of a geek to have developed my own private rule for just these circumstances.

Starting a Mineral Collection for Kids

I’ve spent what feels like a lot of time at gem and mineral shows over the years. One feature of these shows remains constant in my memory – there are always a lot of young boys and girls there, fascinated by the things that they can touch and see. At its earliest, mineral collecting is a hobby which has a broad appeal, to all ages

Not all of those fascinated children will survive the process of the public school system gradually beating curiosity out of them in favor of conformity and rigid adherence to learning whatever is going to be on the state’s standardized examinations (yes, I’ve heard the argument that teaching to the test can be beneficial, and yes, I’d like to see some good data leading to that conclusion before I just accept it as true). But some of them might, and to those, it will occur to them to wonder – how do I start my own collection?

Parents, this is where you come in. A hobby like this is not just “picking up gravel” – it involves some thought and some work. If you want to spend time with your child, and help them to learn something new and interesting – while learning soemthing new and interesting for yourself – then you’ll need to put down the mobile, turn off the telly, stop checking your email, and spend the time. I think you’ll find it rewarding, too.

Golden Guide to Rocks and Minerals

Now retitled as Rocks, Gems, and Minerals: Revised and Updated, and updated with a new cover, this volume remains in print, now from St. Martin's Press.

Once beyond the age of seven or eight, most children will have the patience and attention to detail to enjoy a collection. This will certainly become a fully-fledged entertainment by the ages of eight, nine, or ten, when – in my experience – the acquisitive streak really seems to kick in. This is the ideal time to begin your first rock, mineral, and fossil collection. Collecting is easy and fun, and you can begin, as a child, with the very simplest of tools. Here’s a quick list:

  • An egg box or a larger comparmentalized container will be useful for storage
  • A collecting bag for field work
  • Safety glasses (wear them whenever you’re holding your hammer)
  • A light rock hammer and chisel (use with caution or under a parent’s close supervision if you’re not familiar with tools!)
  • A small inexpensive magnifying glass (10x is
  • A notebook and pencil, plus labels (for recording information about your finds)
  • A bag or satchel in which to carry your finds
  • Newspaper in which to wrap your finds
  • A streak plate – unglazed ceramic tile, used to determine the color of the streak (a powdered strip) of the mineral. A simple determinative test
  • A glass tile – used for measuring hardness according to the Mohs Scale, also for some streaks
  • A penknife (again, only if you’re already comfortable with knives, or with the help of a parent) – averages a hardness of about 5.5 on the Mohs scale, or use a nail
  • A copper penny (find one dated before 1983) – averages a hardness of about 3.5
  • A good basic field guide to rocks and minerals – try to find a copy of the old Golden Guide to Rocks & Minerals by Herbert Zim (pictured above), in any of its editions.

My first collection ever was done a part of a requirement for the Scouts. I put twelve different minerals, rocks, and tumbled stones which I had picked up (or been given by my grandfather) into an egg box. Then came a second egg box. Soon, the egg boxes were replaced by other, more resilient containers. Within a few years, I was off and running. Any young collector can do the same thing, as long as they have a source at which to collect. You can choose to collect at a site, or to build your collection in a shop or at shows.

While collecting in the field is really the best way to get started, you may be limited by the geology of the region in which you live. For example, where I grew up – in the dead center of the American middle west – there’s very little, mineralogical speaking, to be found in the rocks apart from some interesting bi-colored calcite and occasional coatings of sphalerite, with other minerals occurring in minute percentages. So for me, building a collection as a child was dependent upon infrequent holidays out of the immediate region, and purchases that I could make with my pocket money at various regional gem and mineral shows. Find out what’s best for your area.

Local rock shops, while not a common resource in all areas, can be another good place to fill in gaps in your collection. In the Kansas City area, the largest and best used to be Ace’s Rock Shop, which was a great place to go as a kid both to look and to buy small items for a collection. Sadly, it closed a number of years ago, leaving a definite gap in the local market which I would like to see filled again one day. If you have a local shop, then patronize it! If you don’t, then be certain to go to the nearest show when it comes to town. Schedules of upcoming gem and mineral shows around the United States can be found in most issues of Rock & Gem magazine, as well as Rocks & Minerals (links in the sidebar, too.).

It’s easy to start small with your collection, or your child’s collection. As their taste and sophistication grows, so will the demands of collecting, but this particular hobby can also lead to a lifetime of enjoyment, and, in some cases, a career doing something that they genuinely love.