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Gem & Mineral Research: How to Get Answers to Your Questions

by John Betts, All Rights Reserved


Part 1 Part 2
Magazine Back Issues Process
Mineral Clubs Geographic Names Information System
Libraries MasMils CD-ROM
Reference Books DeLorme Street Atlas USA CD-ROM
Out of Print Books Essential Reference Books
Internet Sources and Addresses
Advice Internet Maillists

How do you research the answer to a question about minerals or gems? Where do answers come from?

Every collector has questions, especially beginners. When we get answers, we increase our knowledge of the subject. The process of researching a subject often leads to unanticipated connections and discoveries. But where do you turn for answers to questions on gems and minerals? After all, you can’t go to just any bookstore or newsstand and pickup a book on minerals the way you can for computers or other popular subjects. The best way is to build a set of reference resources from a number of different sources.


As a beginner, a good place to start is back issues of magazines. But you are a beginner, you probably don’t have any back issues. Fortunately for you there are three indexes available for locating articles and one of the offers a reprint service.

For mineral collectors, the 25 year index of Mineralogical Record (M.R.) has just been published. You can research by mineral name, author, location etc. A great reference even if there are some errors. With this reference you can identify the issue needed and page number. Many of the back issues are still available for Mineralogical Record. If you are lucky the issues you need can be purchased for $10. Only very special collectors issues (like the series on Arizona) are out of print. In the future, there is talk that all of the back issues will be made available on CD ROM for those of you with computers. However you can be sure that the CD will not be cheap.

Another index available is for Lapidary Journal. It cover 44 years of publication and as in the M.R. index, you can search by mineral name, location, title, author etc. Lapidary Journal does not have back issues for sale though. To make the index useful they offer a reprint service. For a small Xerox fee, they will send you a Xerox copy of the article. (For an additional fee they will fax it to you if time is critical) I have used this service many times when researching a location.

Mineral News is a monthly 16 page newsletter specializing in new mineral finds, mineral locations, field trip reports and show news. Because of the smaller format their news is the most up to date available (at least in print, I still find the grapevine is fastest via phone fax internet). There is an index available of past issues plus they sell back issues. They even have a good deal if you want buy all back issues. Lanny Ream the editor and publisher works very hard to get good useable information. As a result, the back issues are an excellent source for collectors information.

If you want to build a collection of magazine back issues I highly recommend looking at the small mineral shows in your area. These shows have very small fees to allow anyone to setup and sell what was sitting in their basement. You will often find someone selling gem and mineral magazines.

Mineral Clubs

The best place to get information about your local area is to join the local mineral club. If you are lucky enough to have several in your area, then join them all until you find out which ones are best, with programs that match your interest.

You can find a complete list of the gem & Mineral clubs listed by state in the Annual Buyers Issue of Lapidary Journal. (Formerly the April issue each year, in 1996 it was moved to the May issue) or from Bob’s Rockshop on the Internet. Fortunately Lapidary Journal is carried at any good newsstand or bookstore. The club listings gives the club mailing addresses, the president, the meeting time and location. Contact the president to find about the club.

Then visit a meeting, these are usually open to the public. Then if you are interested, join the club (for insurance reasons you will probably be required to join the club prior to participating in any field trips). Once you get to know some of the members you can start asking questions of the more knowledgeable members. Usually there is one member good at sight identification, another knows collecting sites, another knows lapidary technique.

Be careful not to be a pest. Keep your questions reasonable. If you need lots of help be sure to ask them for a good time to talk, do not assume they have as much time as you do or live on the same schedule. Also be sure to return the favor in some way - tell them of secret locations, or give them a polished stone you made with their help, or invite them over for dinner.


Don’t forget to check the references of the articles you are reading. They will often list books that are still available or can be found at your library. Which reminds me, you should investigate your local library. Often they will have a surprisingly good selection of books (usually because a collector donated his collection to the library). If you are lucky enough to have a university or museum nearby they will have a good selection of research material. Many have back issues of Mineralogical Record, American Mineralogist, Lapidary Journal or Rocks and Minerals.

If you find references to back issues of Rocks and Minerals you are out of luck. Many recent back issues are still available from the publisher at mineral shows, however the really old ones are not available. The current publisher has not been the publisher through the magazines complete history. Your only choice is to haunt the mineral shows looking for a collector selling his old issues.

Reference Books

There are certain essential books that everyone should have as a reference. My recommended essential library includes any book written by John Sinkankas. If you are at a loss on which book to buy on a particular subject, look for his name and you can be assured that it is a perfect combination of in-depth up to date information, readability and well illustrated.

If you are a field collector, his book Field Collecting Gemstones and Minerals is the reference on tools, mineral deposits, how to find pockets, mineral cleaning, etc. Anyone who has the book and has been out collecting knows that this book is dead on with it’s inside information derived from many years of field collecting.

His book Mineralogy is an excellent species reference for the study of minerals. More complete and up-to-date than Pough’s Field Guide to Rocks and Minerals, less cumbersome than Dana’s Textbook of Mineralogy. This is the best all around reference for identifying minerals as well as the fundamentals crystallography, chemistry, and physical properties of minerals and gems.

The Gemstone and Mineral Data Book is a one-stop reference for mineral and gemstone data, formulas, and lapidary skills. Includes comprehensive mineral cleaning formulas listed by mineral, mineral determination tables, lapidary reference, coloring gemstones, and optical properties of minerals and gemstones, and much more.

Out of Print Books

Old books are also a good source of information. You will see these listed in the bibliography of any article. There are many good sources for out of print books. By getting on their mailing list and searching their catalogs you will be able to purchase reference books about locations, minerals, mining, etc. For example, in New England there is a single USGS report that is the best reference on the pegmatite mines. It is called New England Pegmatite Investigations 1942-45 by Cameron, et al and published by the USGS in 1954. There are maps and diagrams of all of the big mines active during WW II. You can get a copy through book dealer for $55 to $70.


Finally, in this age of computers you can use the resources on the Internet. If you have a computer with a modem, an online service like CompuServe or America Online you can browse the web sites for information. Many sites will "link" you to other sites of similar interest. Some are compiling all references or location information for research. It is in it’s infancy but there are some good sites out there now.

Your last resort should be joining a maillist like Rockhounds or Rocks & Fossils. These lists send you e-mail copies of all discussion on the maillist. Once you subscribe to the list, you can pose questions in the hope that someone else on the list can answer it. Unfortunately too many people use this as their first place to look. As a result many questions posed are remedial at best. And the answers are often grossly inaccurate or out of date. But if you need really current status on a collecting site, or need to find a source or supplier then this is the only place to get that kind of information. Just be aware that many responses to questions are being answered by people with old information ("Yeah, I was there three years ago...") and is really not accurate. Also this is not the place to get minerals identified. Any answer made to such queries without seeing the specimen is inaccurate and useless.


Finally, I would like to urge you to start a clipping file of magazine and newspaper articles. I keep a file for each state that I put collecting location articles in. Then when I am planning a trip, I can quickly pull out all articles for the region and get a quick idea of where to visit. If you are facetor, you could keep files of cut designs, a jeweler can keep files of settings, a lapidary can keep files on cutting material, etc. This is a very good way to develop a custom, focused information resource. Remember, the key is keeping the information organized so that you can lay your hands on a particular article easily. If you save them, but don’t organize them, all you have is a pile of paper. The same goes for books and magazines - organize them by subject or date or author so you can locate them quickly and easily.

Gem & Mineral Research, Part 2

This article is a supplement to my last article on researching mineralogical information. As you will recall, I covered back issues of magazines, libraries, as well as essential reference books. But recently a club member requested information on an old location that required resources beyond those previously mentioned. That is what I will cover in this article.


When a member inquired about an old location I started with my book collection that I have catalogued on my computer. I have key words for each book so I can quickly search for a specific region or state. Next I searched my file of magazine clippings. These are also sorted by state and kept in an accordion-type file. It is very easy to browse the clippings for any mention of the area of interest or their references. (This clipping file is essential to research. All articles in magazines are Xeroxed and sorted by state, even if I plan to keep the magazine in my collection.) Finally, I visited the library to read any books that I did not own, but were mentioned in any of the previous resources.

After reviewing all of the printed material I could get my hands on, I started to assemble the information into a useable form. I turned to my laptop computer and used some tricky little tools that may send everyone out to buy one, once you hear what it can do for you. In the computer world these are known as killer applications, or killer apps, that make everyone want to have access and buy a computer. The tools I used are the GNIS Internet website and linked US Census Tiger Map Server, the USGS MasMils CD ROM, and DeLorme’s Street Atlas USA software. This sounds like a mouthful but each of these performs a unique function that makes them essential to research.

Geographic Names Information System (GNIS)

As the name implies, this is an Internet server that you can inquire for the location of a geographic feature. The Geographic Names Information System (GNIS), developed by the USGS in cooperation with the U.S. Board on Geographic Names (BGN), contains information about almost 2 million physical and cultural geographic features in the United States. The Federally recognized name of each feature described in the data base is identified, and references are made to a feature's location by state, county, and geographic coordinates. The GNIS is our Nation's official repository of domestic geographic names information. Information about foreign geographic feature names can be obtained from the GEOnet Names Server, developed and maintained by the National Imagery and Mapping Agency.

Anyone with Internet access and a web browser can search by feature name, state, county, feature type, elevation range, or population range. For example, during my research I found mention of a location at "southwest of Moose Ledge". But none of my maps show where in the state Moose Ledge is. That is where the GNIS comes in. I log on to the Internet, call up the GNIS, enter "Moose" as feature name, enter the state, and hit "send query". Less than a minute later my screen is filled with a list of features starting with the name moose, including Moose Ledge. For each entry the server lists latitude, longitude, and the USGS quadrangle map that the feature can be found on. But that is not all - the best is yet to come. All you have to do is click on the name on the screen and it gives you the choice to view a map of the location. When you click on that option, it links your computer to the U.S. Census Bureau Tiger Map Server. It shows a view of the continental U.S. and the feature as a red dot. It also shows a detail map, showing surrounding towns, roads and other geographic features. At this point you can zoom in further for more detail or you can print the page for future reference. (My nephew once spent two weeks with the Maine state atlas counting each "Long Pond" shown. With the GNIS he could have done the same thing in two minutes.)

There are some limitations though. It is limited to geographic names in current use. When querying for all mines in Maine it only produced a list of six, none of which are what I was looking for. Now you need our next tool.


The MasMils CD looks just like a music CD but it contains a database of 220,00 mineral locations, mines, deposits, and processing plants in the U.S. and around the world. It was originally published by the USGS in September 1995 under the name Minerals Availability System/Mineral Industry Location System (MasMils). Only 500 were originally published and it was soon sold out. When mineral collectors heard about it, an enterprising computer enthusiast arranged to copy the CD and sell it for $15. Not a bad price considering the wealth of information.

To use the CD, you define search parameters from a wide variety of fields including name, state, county or country, type of excavation, commodity mined, map quadrangle, elevation, year of first production, year of last production, mining method, etc. It is truly an exhaustive list of variables. There are also logic statements that allow you to use "and", "or", "not" arguments. The query process is very simple, you start with a field (e.g. "state") and select a name from the list. If you are not too particular you can stop right there and get every listing in the database for the state. Or you can add another parameter (e.g. "quarry") and narrow it down. You can add as many parameters as you wish (e.g. "beryl") to narrow down your list. When you have entered all of your parameters you select search and the computer sorts through all 220,000 listings to list all that fit.

For each listing it gives latitude and longitude to six decimal places as well as all known information on the mine. You can also plot the list of locations by exporting to the built-in mapper program. You can create maps in several projections and plot the mines and mine information directly on the map. Finally, there is a built-in bibliography that lists every mention of the mine in known literature including company reports.

In practical terms it is best used as a search engine to find exact latitude and longitude. Because the mapper program does not show roads and towns you will need to create your own map for field use (unless you are willing to take you laptop into the field with you) compiling all of the information.

DeLorme Street Atlas USA CD-ROM

I first found this mapping program at a computer trade show. A salesman asked me if I could stump it. I asked for Helvetia, Arizona, a ghost town with no buildings or inhabitants, 25 miles south of Tucson surrounded by many mines. In 5 seconds up came Helvetia and it showed about 25 of the mines. I was impressed. I bought it on the spot and find it indispensable for producing field maps, including the ones in this newsletter for field trips.

Once again, it is a CD-ROM that you insert into your computer. Then you can search by city, latitude and longitude, zipcode, or telephone exchange. Once you are in the general area on the map, you can search by street address. This is great if you have direction to a location but do not know the streets. You can zoom in and out, make notations for directions, and show precise latitude and longitude.

That is where all of the previous tools come together. I make local maps of each region, locate the mines as determined by MasMils. I make notations on directions or roads, and generate several different scale maps (an overview for driving around, a regional map to understand the pattern of area mines, and a mine map with direction for hiking into the location). The DeLorme Street Atlas is unfortunately for use with driving and the topographic information is rather poorly detailed. If you are doing serious back woods exploration an up-to-date topographic map is essential. But the DeLorme Street Atlas will get you much closer than you would expect.

In conclusion, if you are adventurous and looking to find old, "lost" locations, these computer tools will be valuable additions to your search. In general they cost very little, though you must have a computer to use one.

Essential Reference Books

The foillowing reference books are essential to any library. No exceptions. Buy them and read them.

Field Collecting Gemstones and Minerals by John Sinkankas, 1988 Geoscience Press, Prescott, Arizona (ISBN 0-945005-00-8) Originally published in 1966 as Gemstones and Minerals: How and Where to Find Them. Prospecting, Tools, Field Collecting, Preparation, Mineral Cleaning

Mineralogy by John Sinkankas, Van Nostrand Reinhold Company, New York, NY, 1964 (ISBN 0-442-27624-9) originally published as Mineralogy for Amateurs. Good description of fundamentals of mineral sciences. Each mineral described has crystal, physical, optical, chemical properties, plus distinctive characteristics and extensive location listings of common occurrences.

Gemstone and Mineral Data Book by John Sinkankas, 1988 Geoscience Press, Prescott, Arizona (ISBN 0-945005-01-6) A compilation of data, recipes, formulas and instruction for the mineralogist, gemologist Lapidary, jeweler, craftsman and collector.

Reference Sources and Addresses

Magazines - Back Issues, Indexes, Reprints

Lapidary Journal Index 1947-1991 comes with certificate for one free reprint. Available from Lapidary Journal Book Dept.

P.O. Box 124

Devon, PA 19333


Lapidary Journal Reprint Bureau

60 Chestnut Avenue

Suite 201

Devon, PA 19333-1312



FAX 215-293-1717

$2.00 per reprint plus shipping

Mineral News

Mr. Lanny Ream

P.O. Box 2043

Coeur d’Alene, ID 83816-2043


$18.00 per year

Index and back issues available.

Mineralogical Record 25 Year Index

$35 plus $3.00 shipping & handling

and Back issues ($10-30)

The Mineralogical Record

P.O. Box 35565

Tucson, AZ 85740


FAX 520-544-0815

Reference Libraries

NY Public Library - Science, Industry and Business Library

188 Madison Avenue (at 34th Street, in the old B. Altman building)

NY, NY 10016

Open to the public Monday, Friday, Saturday: 10:00 A.M. to 6:00 P.M.

Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday: 11:00 A.M. to 7:00 P.M.

Excellent scientific libraries including mineral related books. Very old collecting magazines like The Mineral Collector are in their collection. They also have an Internet web site for more information and online research:

AMNH Library

American Museum of Natural History Library

79th Street and Central Park West

NY, NY 10024

Open to the public Tuesday to Friday 11:00 A.M. to 4:00 P.M.

Back issues of American Mineralogist and Mineralogical Record.

Small assortment of gem & mineral related books.

Book Dealers

These are a few of the dealers in out of print mineral and gem books. Each publishes a catalog. If you are looking for a popular book it is important to call immediately after receiving the catalog to place your order before another customer. They all take want-lists and will notify you when they get books on your list.

Ed Rogers

P.O. Box 455

Poncha Springs, CO 81242


FAX 719-539-4542

Frederick Blake, Bookseller

11 Oakway Drive

Stony Brook, NY 11790


Rocks of Ages

John & Linda Stimson

P.O. Box 3503

Tustin, CA 92681


FAX 714-730-1644

GeoScience Books

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

MasMils CD-ROM

Available from $15.00 from:

Gary Kindel

1021 Jones Ave.

Braddock, PA 15104

DeLorme Street Atlas USA

Approximately $39.00 from

DeLorme Publishing

P.O. Box 298

Freeport, Maine



Internet Maillists

Rocks & Fossils

Send an e-mail to with the command SUBSCRIBE in the subject line and your e-mail address in the text.

Internet Web Sites

Bob’s Rock Shop - This web site is the first on the Internet dedicated to gem and mineral enthusiasts. Host Bob Keller is not selling anything like the name implies, he is merely providing access to all the mineral related information he has amassed. He has a good index and access to collecting locations sorted by state. Also lots on Tucson where he is based. And he has links to other noteworthy mineral web sites.


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