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.