Aesthetic Fine Mineral Specimens, Crystals, Gemstones for Rockshops, Rockhounds, Collectors and Mineral Clubs with Articles on Mineral Collecting, Mineral Locations, Mineral Research, Mineral History, Earth Sciences, Geology
John Betts - Fine Minerals, New York, NY
Dealers of Fine Minerals and Natural Crystal Clusters since 1989.

Journal of weekly news and commentaries about rocks and minerals and mineral collecting -
John Betts' Mineral Blog


8/1/17

Last week I wrote about the relative safety of collecting radioactive minerals, focusing on the storage of radioactive minerals. But I omitted issues regarding handling radioactive minerals.

I forgot to give advice on handling radioactive minerals, because I only handle a specimen once.

I mount radioactive minerals in Perky-style display boxes. Once mounted, I never touch them mineral again. This is because ingesting or inhaling the dust from radioactive minerals is the biggest danger. The decomposed autunite specimens from the Daybreak Mine in Washington are among the worst!

These are the steps I take with radioactive minerals:

  1. Lay down a large plastic dry cleaning bag on the counter.
  2. Wear disposable gloves, like the type used in the fast-food industry.
  3. Before handling any minerals layout the display boxes, in the open position, with Mineral Tack on the base to mount to.
  4. Transfer the mineral specimen from it's shipping box into the display box and close it.
  5. Dispose of the packing the specimen arrived in, with the disposable gloves you wore, wrapped the the plastic used to keep the counter clean.
  6. Dispose in the trash.

If you take care not to transfer any dust from the mineral that got on your gloves then you can safely handle the mounted mineral without ever actually touching the specimen itself. Just to be certain, wash your hands.

7/25/17

Older collectors, that lived through the 1950s when the fear of atomic bombs was ever-present, often react in fear at the thought of collecting radioactive minerals. Not surprisingly, younger collectors are mostly ignorant of the dangers.

But everyone should know: Collecting radioactive minerals is safe, as long as you follow a few simple precautions.

Remember: distance is your friend. Radiation exposure falls at the square of the distance. Therefore the dose received at 4 feet is 1/16th the dose at 1 foot. So store the minerals a few feet away from where you sit. And do not do as one collector did at a  mineral show when he placed a uraninite crystal he purchased into his front pants pocket. I chased him down the aisle and advised placing it in a shopping bag. And he was a radiologist!

Radon is the main issue when storing radioactive minerals. It is a radioactive gas, easily inhaled, that is created as a by-product of radioactive decay. The good news is that radon is heavier than air. If you have a basement in your home, then it is possible for the radon to accumulate there. Most homes built where there is granite bedrock have radon expulsion systems that actively vents accumulated radon to the outside.

Keeping radioactive specimens in Tupperware actually concentrates the radon in the container. Be careful not to breathe in as you open the container.

The dose of radon from your small specimens is not much more than is generated by granite kitchen counters in a standard home. If you had some REALLY HOT specimens like a large torbernite or cuprosklodowskite then I would advise storing them in your garage.

7/18/2017

Computer displays and digital cameras vary greatly. One way you can ensure that your camera is adjusted to the proper color temperature of your lights and that your computer display is accurate is to create a test image, then photograph it and view it on your computer. I use this image:


Click on the image for full size.

The color swatches selected at my local paint store. Complex colors were selected — not primary or secondary colors. Difficult to render colors were selected. Running down the center are a series of warm gray and cool gray swatches. If your setting are too cool or too warm the gray will not render properly. In the foreground I added a simple white swatch to see if there is a color cast to the image highlights.

You can make your own swatches and experiment with adjusting the color temperature of your camera shooting modes. It will assist you in capturing difficult minerals like prehnite, fluorite, datolite, etc.

7/11/2017

Last week I changed the light bulbs on my photo stage. I use Solux 4700° K color temperature Solux halogen bulbs to illuminate minerals when photographing them. I have photographed over 50,000 mineral specimens with these bulbs. When used in conjunction with the white balance set on my camera to 4700° K they yield the most accurate color rendition of minerals.

Note that I said "most accurate". The color rendition is good, but it is not perfect. Minerals like prehnite, datolite, cobaltoan calcite are difficult to capture due to the nature of digital photography only using red, blue and green sensors. (Would somebody explain how you can make the color yellow from only red, blue and green?)

But the issue of color rendition became more difficult when I replaced the Solux bulbs this week. The new bulbs were supposedly from the same batch as the old bulbs, but their color was certainly NOT the same.

Some bulbs age over time. Perhaps my old bulbs had shifted bluer over time and my camera was calibrated to the blue shift? The manufacturer reported no known issues with color shifts. Perhaps there was low voltage in the power feed due to overloading the circuit by running my window air conditioner. Color shifts have never happened in the past like this.

After struggling with photographing about 20 minerals, I shifted back to the old bulbs which were still OK. (I mistakenly thought one was failing.) But this incident illustrates to difficulties with accurately photographing minerals.

I wonder if other mineral dealers care about this issue and struggle the way I do?

6/6/2017

This week is the 900th weekly update of new minerals to this web site.

Twenty years ago I recognized the best way to run my web site was to post minerals every week on the same time and day each week. And each update was not 6-10 minerals like other dealers — I posted large updates between 60 to 80 new mineral specimens every week. I currently average 64 minerals each week because I am now providing more photographs for each mineral and that takes more time.

I do not post 52 updates every year. Usually 6-7 weeks are skipped during holidays and during extended travels. For example, this year the Independence Day holiday on July 4 falls on a Tuesday, the day I update the site. Since many collectors take the week off, or are too busy recovering from the holiday to check my site, I do not post new minerals.

Some day I will empty my warehouse and run out of new  mineral specimens to post.

I am rephotographing older minerals with my new camera. I hope to have no photographs remaining on this site that were taken with my old camera (pre-20015).

I am unsure how I will keep this site interesting when I run out of new minerals. If you have any ideas feel free to share them with me by emailing me at jhbnyc@aol.com.

5/23/2017

Intermediate-level mineral collectors often misunderstand the value of the history or provenance of a mineral specimen. They tend to overvalue the history and overlook the quality of the mineral itself.

The mineral specimen itself is of primary importance. A great history and chain of ownership does not make a mediocre mineral specimen into a good mineral specimen.

Always ask yourself whether the mineral specimen is worthy of your collection if there was no previous provenance.

One good reason for placing specimen quality first is because there are too many faked mineral provenances on the market. Years ago one dealer fabricated a whole backstory around a collection he was offering which was actually the tired inventory of another dealer that he purchased at a bargain price. Old labels are paired with contemporary or lesser specimens. Minerals from foreign countries are mislabeled as from classic USA localities. And museum numbers are added to specimens.

Most of these fakes are easily detected by knowledgeable collectors/dealers, and I consider part of my "value added" is that I detect these frauds and prevent minerals from being misrepresented.

You will note that I started this commentary stating  intermediate collectors overvalue the history. That is because beginners focus totally on aesthetics, price and size. They have not yet learned about quality, condition, history and mineralogical uniqueness. And advanced collectors understand all of these factor add to the desirability of a mineral specimen.

But if you are in the intermediate category of collectors you should always remember: mineral quality first, provenance last.

5/9/2017

I was surprised to discover that I had sold over 450 mineral books via my web site over the years. Though a few were from collections I purchased, most were from my private mineral library.

The bulk of my library was acquired at the carl Krotki book collection auction at Swann Galleries in NYC in 1994. Krotki was one of the notable NYC mineral collectors and had amassed a large collection of books, including highly collectible books like Sowerby's British Mineralogy and the like. In the auction I acquired his complete set of Mineralogical Record magazines. The auction house did not know what to do with the hundreds of USGS locality reports, geologic maps, and mineral collecting locality guides, so they bundled them all into several large lots, which I also acquired.

My focus on mineral books was always locality references for field collecting. Collecting minerals in the field was how I started as a mineral dealer. Even locality guides to closed locations can be a wealth of information for potential mineral collecting nearby. So I hoarded locality books over the years.

Now I am trying to downsize my library. My rule-of-thumb is to sell any book I have not used in the past 5 years. For non-locality books, I am selling any book I have not used in the last year. I have many books that I use every week (I never bother to remember anything that I can look-up in a book.)

I am now getting towards the end. I have probably only 100 books remaining to sell, leaving me with a core reference library of about 50 books.

As I sell my library, I am all too aware that many mineral collectors do not read books. They rely on websites like Webmineral.com and Mindat.org for all of their information. These are fine ways to access "facts" but they are sorely lacking practical information like how to distinguish botryoidal goethite from botryoidal hematite (streak) or differentiate celestine from barite (specific gravity) or dolomite from calcite (reaction to HCL acid). This information is readily found in books, so you need a library.

Some day everything you could ever want to know will be on the Internet, but we have a long way to go.

My favorite advice to beginners: Buy a good book and read it.

5/2/2017

Every collector knows the value of labels for the minerals in their collection. A good label lists the mineral species and location, but may also list date acquired, size, provenance, and other noteworthy information. So the labels are essential to maintaining and curating your mineral collection.

But labels can get mixed and confused.

That is why I recommend somehow guaranteeing that loose labels are associated with appropriate mineral specimens. There are several common ways to prevent labels being confused:

All of the above take time, but are foolproof.  I use the last option.

If you do not have time, I recommend that you take a photo of the specimen and with accompanying labels all in the same photo. Then place a disk, or printed catalog, of the images in a place where they can easily be accessed. Most importantly tell your family member where the photo catalog is located in case you are hit by a bus.

4/25/2017

Last week I received an email challenging my assertion that location is a significant part of the value of a mineral specimen. So I must once again explain about the value of a mineral. Value is determined by a simple rule: RARITY = VALUE

But rarity can be defined many ways:

These examples and many others illustrate the factors that affect rarity. A rare specimen is a more valuable specimen. (And value is also driven higher due to high demand.)

Novices focus only on aesthetics, but as you gain knowledge you will discover many other factors that drive rarity and therefore drive value. For further examples I suggest reading my article: Mineral Prices: Why So High?

4/11/2017

Next week is the Rochester Mineralogical Symposium. I urge everyone interested in minerals to attend. If you live in the northeaster USA you should make van effort to attend -- you will not be disappointed. It is fun, informative and reasonably affordable (if you have free the time). The symposium is 3-1/2 days of mineral lectures, exhibits, micromount viewing room, and mineral dealers selling minerals.

For a review of last years lectures go to Ray McDougall's write-up at: http://www.mcdougallminerals.com/blog/rochester-2016/

To see the abstracts of the lectures go to: http://www.rasny.org/minsymp/43rd%20RMS%20Program%20Notes.pdf

Lecturers for this year include John Cornish, Frank Hawthorne, Bob Lauf, Renato Pagano, Herwig Pelckmans, Les Presmyk, Jolyon Ralph, Jeff Scovil, and Ray McDougall. See the schedule at: http://www.rasny.org/MinSymp/44th%20RMS%20Prelim.%20Schedule%20Rev..pdf

I will be displaying my minerals on the dealer floor in Room #405 among about 25 other mineral dealers. If you attend I hope you will take the time to stop in and say hello.

Registration is available at: http://www.rasny.org/MinSymp/44th%20RMS%20Registration.pdf

3/28/2017

I regularly get requests for discounts on purchases from customers. My discount policy is:

- 10% off on orders over $200
- 15% off on orders over $400
- 20% off on orders over $600

These discounts do not apply to single specimens priced above these values, only on purchases of 4 or more minerals. These discounts apply to each transaction at the time of payment - they do not apply to orders with multiple payment methods or accumulate over multiple purchases. The discounts also do not apply to the high-end minerals in the Back Room which are priced as "net".

This discount is offered to motivate customer to purchase more than one mineral at a time. Wrapping and shipping mineral specimens is the most labor intensive part of running a web-based mineral business. Shipping fewer packages, with multiple specimens, reduces the shipping labor.

Please take advantage of the policy. But do not request addtional discounts.

3/21/2017

Some mineral collectors are prejudiced against minerals with surfaces on the rear that were sawn flat. The advantages of sawing a mineral is simple: it reduces bulky excess matrix, provides a flat surface to stand the mineral upright without an addtional base, and it does not risk damage like a hydrauling trimmer might cause. These collectors like the advantages of sawing a mineral, but they dislike the artificially flat surface. So they go to great lengths to abrade and grind the rear surfaces to look naturally rough.

Why??? You can't see a sawn surface when the specimen is on display. The specimen WAS sawn, and they will always be aware the matrix was "worked" and not natural.

Obviously, I have no objection against a sawn bottom. If I had the choice between a mineral that was trimmed by sawing, or a mineral that is too bulky and in desperate need of trimming, I will take the sawn specimen every time.

You can decide for yourself. You can always send the specimen out to a prep service and spend a $100-$200 to have the sawn surfaces obscured to look natural. But I'd rather spend that money on minerals.

2/28/2017

Recently a collector inquired in an online forum about the necessity of differentiating between the N'Chwaning No. 1 Mine, N'Chwaning No. 2 Mine and the N'Chwaning No. 3 Mine. He observed that all three mines exploit the same ore body at depth. He asked why bother with exact mine names. Does that information make the mineral more valuable?

Exact locality information may make a specimen more desirable, but it does not really affect the price - or should not affect the price.

Sometimes mine names distinguish WHEN a mineral was collected. And mines may be extracting ore from the same ore body, but most ore bodies have faulting and offsets that result in different minerals and different alterations.

In the old days 1880-1980 it was common to see a mineral labeled simply as from "South Africa" or "Minas Gerais, Brazil" because mineral dealers like Foote and English wanted to protect their sources of minerals and prevent their competition from buying from the same supplier. Then Mineralogical Record and Rocks & Minerals magazines elevated the connoisseurship and exhibit competitions at the Tucson and other AFMS Federation shows introduced higher standards. Detailed localities became more appreciated.

But not all specimens come with exact localities. And that is fine too. Smoky quartz crystals from Moat Mountain, NH occur over vast area. Exact localities do not exist, except for a few extraordinary spots known to collectors. The same is true of sites like Pedra Alta in Brazil, which contrary to what it says on Mindat.org, is not a mine but is simply a large hill where minerals are found in many locations on the hill. (Pedra Alta = High Rock)

So save the locality information when it is known. Label your minerals so that information is not lost in the future. But do not add value to a mineral because it has exceptionally detailed origin data. Do not pay more.

2/21/2017

When collecting minerals, many beginners focus solely on aesthetics. Luster, color ,transparency and sculptural form are what we respond to visually. But there are other aspects that influence desirability of a mineral specimen. One often overlooked it the Locality where the mineral was collected.

These are just a few examples of how locality affects desirability to collectors. Once you understand how rare some localities are, or how old the find was, you begin to appreciate localities. I personally collect the minerals from New York City. They are exceptionally rare to find now.

I hope as you advance in collecting, that you move beyond simply saying, "I have an almandine garnet in my collection, I don't need another," to the more advanced collector's attitude of, "I have almandine garnet in my collection from Connecticut, but I've never seen one like this one from Idaho!"

Locality matters...

2/7/2017

Recently I found about 7 flats of old minerals that were never posted to this site.

They were acquired about 20 years ago and showed at a few local mineral shows. Then they were set on a back shelf in my warehouse. When I started rearranging my warehouse, I uncovered the "lost" flats of minerals.

There are about 300 minerals in them. The items numbers of these lost minerals are under 24000 or there abouts. Most are thumbnail-sized specimens.

So you will begin to notice 4-digit and low 5-digit numbers in the new mineral listings this week and into the future.

Even though they have low numbers, they were never posted to this site before.

1/31/2017

It may seem like a contradiction, but I occasionally will describe a mineral as having "no damage" and having an incomplete crystal on the outside perimeter where it split during exctraction. That is because damage, in the context of mineral collecting, refers to external damage caused by collectors while extracting minerals or caused by geologic forces (like a glacier collapsing a pocket) after the crystals formed.

In general, damage ranges from chips in the edges or to the termination tip, or bruises caused by crushing against a prominent corner.

But a mineral specimen that has an incomplete crystal on the outside edge where it was separated from adjacent crystals still qualifies as undamaged. The crystals present do not have chips or bruises. But one crystal is incomplete. I hope this makes sense.

Of course, an incomplete crystal in the center of a cluster is damage. It was broken by outside forces, not because it split during extraction.

I usually try to break away any incomplete crystals on the outer edges to avoid this type of conflict in my descriptions. But it is not possible on all specimens. Either way I will be explicit in describing the damage.

1/24/2017

There is new information about the pyrite crystals from Milpillas Mine in Mexico. They were described here and on other sites as coated with bornite. But recent tests from two universities cannot narrow the coating down to bornite, After inquiring to my sources, it appears that even the first tests could only narrow it down to several minerals. But a wholesale dealer decided to sell them as coated with bornite.

It turns out that bornite is not the best guess for the mineral that coated the pyrite crystals.

The likely candidates are Chalcocite (Cu2S), Djurleite (Cu31S16 ) or possibly (but not likely) Bornite (Cu5FeS4 ). You will note that Chalcocite and Djurleite do not contain iron (Fe). The first tests detected Fe, but it is now assumed the Fe was the result of the underlying pyrite. But bornite cannot be ruled out without more advanced tests with better samples.

If the wholesale dealer was guessing, why did he select bornite?

The gray-metallic color of the coating is typical of chalcocite, not bornite. And there are similar chalcocite-coated pyrite crystals from Chino, NM. These were sold as "ducktownite" and later identified as chalcocite-coated pyrite.

As a result of this new information I have relabeled my specimens as "Pyrite with Chalcocite-Djurleite-Bornite coating."

1/10/2017

This week I was mentioned on Page 6 of the Mineralogical Record What's New in the Mineral World? The notable new minerals they wrote about were the pyrite crystals from the Milpillas Mine (I posted more today). Apparently I am one of the few dealers with the pyrite crystals on matrix. It was nice to get recognition for what I've been offering for the last 10 months on this site.

But they started by stating that I was closing my business in 2017. To paraphrase Mark Twain, "The reports of my retiring have been greatly exaggerated."

I am discontinuing my advertising in mineral magazines. I am stopping shows. My last show will be the NYC show in March 2017. I will continue to participate as a dealer at the Rochester Mineralogical Symposium as an outlet for my New York, New Jersey and New England minerals which I have hundreds. And I am tapering my mineral business down to get my inventory much smaller. If a dealer offered to buy it all, I would sell it.

But I will maintain the Online Mineral Museum as a reference to mineral collectors. I will continue to sell diamond crystals. And I will continue to write articles about mineral collecting. So do not panic -- I am not going anywhere in the near future.

1/3/2017

Thank you to everyone for making my half-price mineral sale successful. My warehouse has room again.

As usual, all of the minerals sold last year were added to my Mineral Museum. The museum now has 51828 mineral specimens illustrated with 105,460 images. 3080 new minerals were added to the museum, representing 12,395 images.

On the subject of year-end statistics, I shipped 958 package of minerals. I visited the Post Office 137 times, which means my average day was 7 packages shipped, with an average of 3 minerals per package. The average specimen sold cost $111, in spite of selling many at half price in my year-end clearance sale. I guess the 80 diamonds sold this year skewed the average higher. All in all, it was a successful year.

12/13/2016

Do not be fooled by the photo sizes when judging minerals for sale on my site. Because all of my thumbnail preview images are the same height, it is difficult to compare the relative sizes. Here are two examples from last week's update:

Quartz, Stilbite, Heulandite, Pyrite from railroad cut near Thomaston Dam, Litchfield County, Connecticut
#71712, Quartz, Stilbite, Heulandite, Pyrite, railroad cut near Thomaston Dam, Connecticut (m) $28

Prehnite, Calcite, Analcime, Quartz from Goboboseb Mountains, 43 km west of Brandberg Mountain, Erongo region, Namibia
#68510, Prehnite, Calcite, Analcime, Quartz, Goboboseb Mountains, Namibia (c) $75

The mineral on the left appears larger and the one on the right appears smaller. If you simply judged based on the thumbnail image and the price, you would guess that the left mineral was relatively less expensive for a larger mineral. And the mineral on the right is a high price for a small mineral.

Only when you actually look at the full description of a mineral, by clicking on it, do you discover the one on the left is 6x3x1.5 cm. and the mineral on the right is larger at 8x6x3 cm.

As an aide to assist you quickly comparing the sizes I add the letter code in parentheses.
(t) = Thumbnail
(m) = Miniature
(c) = Cabinet
(lc) = Large Cabinet

And the thumbnail preview images are larger for large cabinet specimens which might help. But large thumbnail previews are ALSO used for minerals over $400. So you still need to look at the letter code when scanning the available minerals.

12/6/2016

Now is the time to place your orders for Christmas mineral gifts.

If you order this week, your order will safely arrive before the holiday without paying for expedited shipping.

Do NOT procrastinate because shipping via Fedex is faster. Last year Fedex temporarily "lost" three packages that did not arrive until 5 days after Christmas. They are NOT to be trusted during the holiday rush.

And UPS is no better. UPS has the habit of delivering to incorrect addresses. When contacted about lost packages, UPS responds that the package were delivered and signed for. That is correct, they were delivered and signed for -- to the WRONG ADDRESS. They refused to correct the problem or accept the insurance claim for the missing packages.

I have shipped over 25,000 packages via the US Postal Service. During the holiday rush I will continue to use them. In spite of their reputation, they are better than Fedex or UPS, but they are slower. And a few years ago Consumer Reports placed accelerometers inside identical packages and shipped them via the three major carriers. UPS and Fedex submitted the packages to the worst abuse as recorded by the sensors, and the US Postal Service was the gentlest.

Do not hesitate - order your mineral gifts today.

11/29/2016

Local collectors are frequently amazed at the prices on Internet sites for their local minerals. Whether New Jersey collectors or Maine collectors or Connecticut collectors they frequently question Internet prices compared to prices they pay at local mineral shows. What these collectors do not realize is that local minerals are being sold to customers worldwide. New Jersey zeolites sell to zeolite collectors in Australia and Italy. Maine minerals sell to pegmatite collectors in Europe and Canada. Connecticut minerals sell to collectors worldwide.

These worldwide customers do not have access to sources of local minerals. They buy from Internet-based dealers using the search capabilities of Google. As a result mineral dealers, myself included, price minerals at what the worldwide market will bear, not the prices in local markets. This sometimes leads to wildly skewed prices that seem "aggressive" compared to prices at local mineral shows.

But worldwide collectors are also affected by currency exchange rates. I shipped a third of my minerals to Europe when the Euro was worth $1.35 USD. Now that a Euro is only worth $1.06 USD (a 27% devaluation) they must pay higher prices in Euros and their purchasing has diminished. So the minerals priced in anticipation of European purchases go unsold.

It is difficult to anticipate these changes, and there is no sense in trying to time the currency market. But understanding the market forces will help you take advantage of currency changes and that you are competing with other collectors around the world for fairly priced minerals.

11/15/2016

Last weekend at the New York Gem & MIneral Show a friend that is an experienced collector bought a specimen from another dealer. The other dealer had a flat of specimens from an eastern locality. The dealer fawned over the specimens, touting their high quality and rarity. My friend bought a specimen from the dealer.

He should have known better.

The mineral in question is readily available at shows in the northeast. He paid way more than market value given their LACK of rarity. And the site allows mineral clubs to collect there making it possible for him to dig his own.

The tip off should have been that the dealer had a flat of similar specimens. Any mineral that is available by the flat (12-15 specimens) is not rare. I have sold hundreds of them over the years and could get 20 more with a telephone call.

My friend would have known all of this if he attended more mineral shows, read mineral magazines, attended mineral symposia, or regularly watched Internet sites. Never stop learning: travel, read, subscribe...

Continuing your mineral education is the best protection from being misled by dealers, and the best way to identify good quality at a fair price.

11/8/2016

Last week a new mineral collector asked about possibly accompanying me on field trips to collect minerals. I prefer to collect alone or with a select few of advanced collectors, so I politely declined. I advised him to join a mineral club, but he responded that the club he joined only had monthly meetings with no field trips. Sadly this is the situation with the NY Mineralogical Club too. (When I was field trip collector for the NYMC we had up to 13 field trips each season.)

I advised the collector that he joined the wrong mineral club.

Not all clubs are equal. Some clubs have not evolved and are stuck in a rut doing the same activities, the same way that have for the past 30-50 years. Other clubs conduct many field trips and are members of  larger groups of clubs that host reciprocal field trips with other clubs. Lastly, some clubs lease mines or own claims for the exclusive use of their members.

If you are interested in field trips, then find a club that conducts many throughout the summer. Before you join the club, ask for copies or Internet access to past club newsletters to find out how often, and where, they go collecting. Contact the field trip coordinator of the club and ask about their trips. If you are lucky you will find a club that meets your needs.

In the northeast US we are fortunate to have many clubs in a small area. I maintain memberships in 8 clubs from Maine down to New Jersey -- clubs known for field trips. And we are also fortunate that old localities are being opened again for collectors, some offering the use of heavy excavators to assist in accessing bedrock.

All clubs are not alike. Research them before joining. Find the one that fits your needs.

11/1/2016

This week an old-time collector emailed me lamenting the high prices some mineral dealers are charging. I pointed out that it has been like that since the beginning of mineral collecting. Dealers like Conklin charged much higher prices than the rest of the mineral community. And the same is true in art and antiques. But now "aggressive pricing" is more visible because of the Internet.

I also pointed out that there are still LOTS of dealers with fair prices. Every year at Tucson there are cases displayed of minerals purchased in the previous 12 months for less than $50. Super quality and very aesthetic minerals are still available. So assembling a fine collection, on a modest budget, is still possible. But it takes work and long hours searching.

Also, the quality of minerals is MUCH better now than 30 years ago. When I buy old collections I can determine the time period the collection was assembled by the amount of damage on the minerals. In 1980 collectors tolerated lots of damage. Today's minerals are well-cleaned, trimmed, and today's collectors insist on "no damage." I attribute the higher standards to the introduction of connoisseurship into mineral collecting, driven by collectors like Dave Wilbur, and to the rise of Mineralogical Record magazine which illustrated fine mineral specimens in full color. Quality has also improved due to the availability of advanced mineral cleaning techniques using microabrasives.

We are fortunate to be living in the time of top quality minerals. Do not lament the higher prices. Instead search further and farther to find the dealers that offer quality minerals at reasonable prices.

10/25/2016

When buying real estate, the three most important criteria for selecting a property are location, location, location. When buying minerals, the three most important criteria for selecting a mineral are condition, condition, condition.

Of course there are other considerations, but condition tops the list.

Last weekend I helped another dealer price an old collection with many classic minerals, notably many from Tsumeb. He wanted help identifying the best pieces and help pricing them. I went through many flats and looked at every mineral specimen and label. The other dealer would point out what he thought were good specimens, possibly for keeping in his private collection. Many had good color, large crystals, excellent transparency and luster, but they were not in pristine condition. I did not hold them in the high regard that he did.

If you are going to build a quality collection, maintain high standards when it comes to condition. Look for specimens with no visible damage. Or damaged areas that can be trimmed away.

Not all collections need to consider condition. A locality reference collection, where the goal is a sample of every mineral species from a locality, can tolerate imperfections. And condition is unimportant for teaching collections for sharing with novices or students.

Lastly, accepting modest damage or imperfections in trade for a significantly lower price will help collectors with modest budgets build a fine collection with emptying the bank account. But a slightly damaged mineral specimen should be priced at least 50% less than a pristine specimen.

Remember: condition, condition, condition.

10/18/2016

Last week I mentioned I was posting some minerals this week that I personally collected. Many people inquired about them. I hope I did not oversell them. And I did post some of my minerals I collected in the Finch Mine, AZ. and at Lime Crest, NJ.

But I have been posting many minerals during the last few years that I personally collected - but I do not call attention to them out of modesty.

In fact, there are 42 other minerals are offered for sale on this site that I personally collected, mostly in the New England gallery and the New York-New Jersey gallery. I do not boast about collecting them personally, it has no place in the commercial side of this site. I do have photos of the minerals I collected separately on this site (not listed for sale) though the photos are three camera generations old and they do not meet today's standards.

Last week I said that because my costs were low on these minerals, I would be placing low prices on them. But as I was pricing them this week, I realized I know how difficult it was to collect them and that regardless of the low cost, they were so precious that I kept them in my own collection. I tried to be fair, but I am not giving them away either.

I have many more coming, so keep an eye out. I plan to post 10-12 each week into the coming months....

10/4/2016

This week I made changes to the layout of this web site to make it "Mobile Friendly." This is Google's way of saying that it renders well on smartphones, which now represent a third of all Internet traffic. Because the screens are small on smartphones, type should be big, links widely spaced to allow clicking with fat fingers, and page layouts are for narrow screens.

I have hesitated to make these changes for a long time. After all, Google's own page at Google Finance page is NOT mobile friendly. And smartphones do not have accurate color rendition, so I do NOT want people buying minerals from this site based on smartphone images (I have no doubt that the collector that wanted the "pink amethyst" I wrote about a few weeks ago made the purchase from his smartphone.)

But progress is progress. Now the right-hand column of links has wider spacing, among other changes. And I added new dedicated mineral galleries for aquamarine, azurite, barite, bournonite, celestine, cerussite, copper, ferberite/huebnerite, fluorite, galena, gold, hematite, Herkimer diamonds, magnetite, malachite, pyrite, rhodochrosite, silver, smithsonite, vanadinite, wulfenite. The mineral group galleries remain the same. For example a wulfenite specimen will still be shown in the locality gallery and the molybdate gallery as before, but will now also appear in the wulfenite gallery too.

I welcome your comments (email: jhbnyc@aol.com) and hope you find the changes helpful.

9/27/2016

Many minerals occur in environments where they are distorted or fractured after the crystals originaly formed. Sometimes the post-crystallization deformation is caused by metamorphic pressures. In the case of pegmatites, it is generally accepted the crystal-lined cavities rupture causing the crystals to come loose from the cavity walls, then the crystals continue to grow, healing fractured surfaces. And skarn deposits also exhibit deformed crystals. There are many causes and the phenomenon is entirely natural.

A good example of this phenomenon are the new pyrite crystals being found at the Milpillas Mine, Mexico. The pyrite formed complete crystals often with complex morphology. But after the pyrite crystals formed, they were fractured by an unknown force. The fractured sections of the pyrite crystals were then frozen in the white clay-rich matrix -- frequently in linear groups laid out in near-normal position with thin layers of clay filling the spaces between the joints. The red beryl from Utah shows the same phenomenon, as do the tourmaline crystals found in the Inwood Marble in New York City.

The interesting thing about the Milpillas pyrite crystals is they normally have a gray overgrowth of bornite on the surfaces and the bornite coats the rough surfaces of the fractured crystals. That means:

  1. Whole pyrite crystals formed
  2. They were fractured into segments
  3. Then all surfaces were coated with bornite
  4. Finally the crystal segments were frozen in matrix.

It is possible that the last two steps are reversed (i.e. the bornite formed after the matrix.)

Learning the processes that formed minerals and altered them tell us about the formation environments. As collectors the more you know, the more you will appreciate the story being told by the minerals. Collecting minerals purely for aesthetics is where we all start. But continue to learn about them and the story that they are telling you.

9/20/2016

When buying minerals from this website, or any other site, always read written descriptions.

I take a lot of time writing descriptions to accurately describe the color, luster, condition, clarity/opacity, size of crystals for each mineral specimen. These are meant to be the final verification of what you are purchasing. Always read written descriptions.

Why can you not rely on the photographs?

Because your smartphone has overly saturated color and your computer monitor/display is probably not color calibrated. Always read written descriptions.

Last week I had a customer order a specimen he described as "pink amethyst" which should have set off alarms. (To begin with, all amethyst is purple. Pink quartz is Rose Quartz.) But my written description clearly stated: "Lustrous transparent-to-translucent purple amethyst quartz crystals on an earlier generation of colorless quartz." So regardless of what he saw on his device, he should have known the crystals were purple. Always read written descriptions.

Needless to say he was disappointed when he received a purple amethyst specimen, and is returning the specimen for a refund. Always read written descriptions.

And you should avoid web-based mineral dealers that write inadequate descriptions. Lack of thorough descriptions is a sign that either the dealer is lazy or uneducated or both. (Though I am guilty of failing to thoroughly check grammar in my descriptions so I guess I may be in the lazy category...)

The final word on the subject: Always read written descriptions.

9/13/2016

Mineral photographs can never capture the complete beauty of a mineral specimen. Mineral specimens are three-dimensional objects and we view them with two eyes, each eye registering a different image that the brain combines and interprets into a "vision" that is greater than either eye sees alone. Photographs are two-dimensional representations of three-dimensional objects. They can never convey the complete beauty of a mineral.

But mineral photographs can come VERY close to capturing a mineral's beauty.

It is possible, using image processing software like Photoshop, to enhance the color, brightness, contrast and sharpness of mineral photographs. And digital images are viewed on a display (smartphone or computer monitor) that is illuminated -- you are viewing a glowing display that will always appear better than an opaque mineral in reflected light.

But I do not enhance my mineral photographs. Enhancing images would only result in disappointment when the purchaser receives the actual mineral. I regularly receive comments from collectors that the minerals are better in person (see below). My un-enhanced images reduces returns.

Yes, I could probably sell more minerals faster if I enhanced my images like other web sites. But what would be the point if it led to a high return rate and disappointed collectors.

I recently acquired a small collection from a collector that said he purchased minerals online "from anyone and everyone" but as soon as a mineral purchase fails to meet his expectations, he stops buying minerals from that dealer. I do not want to be one of those dealers...

9/6/2016

Collectors have many different ways of storing their minerals. Ideally what ever method you use, the storage should make the minerals easily viewable, protect each specimen from contacting adjacent specimens, and prevent dust from accumulating on the surfaces.

I do not like cotton-lined boxes and have written many times about it in my weekly commentaries. The cotton fibers are impossible to remove from minerals, especially from hackly specimens like native copper. I recommend dry cleaning bags instead for lining storage boxes. The polyethylene plastic used in the bags is Moh's hardness of 2, which means calcite will not be scratched. Using fresh, unused bags will ensure no abrasive crumbs or dust will abrade the minerals. Ask your local dry cleaner if you can buy a roll of bags from him or if he can refer you to his supplier.

Acrylic storage boxes are OK. Many collectors use them. I prefer mineral flats which are standard in the industry. Then for sub-boxes inside the flats, I use the fold-up boxes available from several dealers. I buy flats and fold-up boxes from Foothills Boxes, a subsidiary of Holgiun Minerals in El Paso.

The best method of all is to store your minerals in full-extension drawers, like the type that architects use to store large flat drawings. Place each mineral in it's own fold-up box and fill the drawers. Drawers conveniently provides instant access to your entire collection. And you can place a couple of flexible-arm lights on the top that you can use to illuminate the drawers when open. Lastly, you can combine drawers on the bottom of your display, with a glass display case above for your display-quality specimens.

If you have a better storage method, feel free to email me your suggestions and I will post them next week.

8/16/2016

I love my work. I love minerals and I love photographing minerals. And I am very proud of the online mineral museum of my mineral photographs.

But I do not enjoy selling at mineral shows.

Last weekend, while participating in the East Coast Gem & Mineral Show, I decided that I would not renew my show contract for 2017. After over 26 years of selling at mineral shows, I decided to stop selling at shows after the November NYC show.

Why? Because I am tired of minerals being damaged by inconsiderate attendees, I am tired of my minerals being shoplifted, I am tired of staying in mediocre hotels eating fast food. My daughter never had a normal birthday party because her birthday fell during the East Coast Gem & Mineral Show weekend. But most importantly, shows have changed and collectors have changed. When the Internet first started, collectors would not buy online and preferred to buy in person at shows. Now the resistance to buying online is diminished, and the best minerals sell quickly online -- making mineral shows less relevant.

I still intend on selling through my web site, at least until my hoard of minerals in the warehouse is diminished. However, if another dealer came along and bought my inventory, I would stop offering weekly new minerals but still maintain the online mineral museum, educational articles and field trip information for the benefit of the mineral collecting community. Though chances are remote of another dealer buying me out, I advise signing up for email notification in case I hold clearance sales to reduce inventory.

I will still attend mineral shows, I will still travel to Tucson, but now I will be on the other side of the table walking the aisles looking for minerals for my personal collection. And I will be disappointing other mineral dealers when they realize I found a sleeper (underpriced-underappreciated) mineral in their booth. (Though I am sure many dealers will be happy they no longer have to compete against me at shows.)

It has been a good run, but times have changed.

8/1/2016

Every collector is comfortable with certain dealers. They buy from a the same dealers via the Internet or visit the dealers at minerals shows. Very few collectors search every mineral available from every dealer then do any sort of comparison shopping. Their comfort level with the dealers makes it easier to make purchases knowing there is a preexisting relationship.

But when it come time for a collector to sell some of their minerals, often those dealers will not buy back the minerals they sold. Then collectors call me.

I routinely buy minerals from collectors that need to make space in the display case, or their focus has changed from when they first started collecting. I advertise that I buy mineral collections in all major magazines and 2/3 of the minerals offered on this site were purchased from collectors.

But collectors that buy from other dealers are often surprised at the value I place on the minerals when I buy them. They may have paid $100 for a mineral specimen that I value at $40 retail and will only pay them a wholesale value for. If these collectors bought from me regularly they a.) would not have overpaid for their purchases, b.) would have an existing relationship with me which make me more amenable to paying a higher price, and c.) they could take advantage of my trade-in policy to receive full retail value* of their original purchase. And if they paid fair prices originally and over 10 years have elapsed, most likely inflation will result in getting an even better price from me (many minerals double in value every 10 years).

So if you want to sell some of your minerals, inquire with the dealer that you purchased them from. You will find out then which dealer wants to keep you happy to maintain the relationship and which dealers are in the business for a quick buck. If they are the latter, you can always come to me and find out what your minerals are really worth...

*The full retail value can be applied to any purchase from this site, restricted to 50% of the total purchase. Example: trade-in a $100 and receive a $100 credit towards the purchase of a $200 mineral.

7/19/2016

Every mineral listed on this site has a unique item  number that was assigned in chronological order starting back in 1991. But a low number does not necessarily mean it is an old specimen.

Sometimes I get back specimens that were sold previously. Some minerals have been listed on this site three times as a result. I get mineral specimens back when collectors die or when they sell their collections because they are downsizing their home.

I may keep the original item number when I repost minerals. However, if I trim a specimen, or it was altered by the collector, I will assign a new item number. And some old numbered items went straight into my warehouse for a "rainy day", and were never listed on the site. They have low numbers, but are being offered on the site now for the first time.

But I also do relist minerals, especially this time of year when I am preparing for the East Coast Gem & Mineral Show, at different prices than previously. I may adjust prices up, as in my large gold specimens. And I may adjust prices down if the market was flooded recently with new mineral specimens from a locality. Of course there are occasional returns that must be relisted on the site, but my return rate is less than 1% so those do not account for many of the low numbers.

The bottom line: a low number does not necessarily mean a specimen has been on this site for a long time. 92% were listed since January 2015.

7/5/2016

Minerals cannot be identified based on photographs. Period. End of discussion.

Yes, a few are unique and can be identified, like cavansite. But mineral message boards are full of discussions where collectors offer their opinions. Sometimes these opinions are ignorant of the local mineralogy. These collectors may suggest a rare carbonate, when the deposit is a surface skarn where the carbonates leached away long ago. Their suggestions are wrong. Others offer their opinions based solely on color and shape (morphology).

Do not trust these "identifications".

This week somebody questioned a torbernite that I posted from Majuba Hill, Nevada thinking it was actually a zeunerite based on Mindat photos. Both minerals occur at Majuba Hill, and both minerals are square platy green crystals. They cannot be distinguished based on photographs. One is an arsenate the other a phosphate. Testing is required to distinguish them.

Referring to a reference book (OMG -- use a book!!!? What a shocking idea!) is where I start. In this case, I referred to the Minerals of  Nevada by Cator and Ferdock (2004). But since Martin Jensen wrote a good article on Majuba Hill specifically, I also went to his article in Mineralogical Record: v.16 #1, pages 57-72. (1985) The Majuba Hill mine, Pershing County where there is a specific discussion of both the torbernite occurrence and the zeunerite occurrence. It specifically observes that zeunerite, an arsenate, occurs with other arsenates, and that torbernite, a phosphate, occurs in other regions of the mine.

By reading the subtleties above, you can see that identification based on photos is absurd. And because both mineral were collected long before the invention of the Internet, there are few Internet-based images for these two minerals from Majuba Hill.

The lesson is: please use a reference book on the locality or please refer to authoritative reference articles in Rocks & Minerals or Mineralogical Record magazines that were peer reviewed. Do not trust message boards.

6/28/2016

It is becoming difficult to obtain uncut diamond crystals. EVERYTHING is being cut.

In the old days brown diamonds were never cut because they were not accepted in the jewelry trade. Now the jewelry company Zales is marketing Chocolate Diamonds and brown diamonds are being cut. The same is true for yellow diamonds. And now non-transparent diamonds are being cut. These are the lowest grade of diamond that are generally translucent (milky) gray. Yes, they are being faceted (why???).

Part of the reason for this is that the diamond trade is being squeezed for profits because the economy is sluggish. So the intermediary wholesale dealers are sending their rough to be faceted to maximize their return on investment. As a result, EVERYTHING is being cut.

Fortunately I can haunt the diamond district in New York and still find stray parcels laying forgotten in the safes of family-run diamond cutters. And there is a good connection with rough suppliers from the Diavik Mine in Canada, the Argyle Mine in Australia, and the Anabara Mine in Russia. And the low-grade translucent gray diamonds from the Democratic Republic of Congo seem unending (I generally avoid these poor diamonds unless they are unusually large or have a rare morphology.)

But the great yellow Brazilian diamonds from 20 years ago are long gone. As are the large perfectly spherical Ballas diamonds. And the diamonds from the other mines in Canada and the African countries are difficult to find. The only good news is that Venezuela is cleaning up their act and seeking to participate in the Kimberley Process again, so their diamonds may be obtainable in the future (current production from Venezuela is illegal to import currently).

I am not ready to stop selling diamonds, but if I cannot get a reliable, steady supply, I may be forced to stop selling them.

6/21/2016

The few of you who actually read my written descriptions will notice that metallic minerals are described as yellow-metallic (as in the pyrite above) or gray-metallic for galena, bronze-metallic for pyrrhotite, etc..

Why not just say metallic? Or just say yellow...?

Because yellow and yellow-metallic are two different things. Sulfur is yellow. Pyrite is yellow-metallic.

Have you ever wondered why metallic minerals like gold, silver, galena, copper have different colors? I heard one physicist explain that there is no good answer. He explained that light does not enter the atomic structure on metallic minerals. So there are no color centers or chromophores like there are in transparent minerals. It makes sense. Then why do they have different colors?

I don't know... You should ask somebody smarter than me.

6/14/2016

One of the frequent comments heard at mineral shows is about price escalation over the years. I have written in the past about many reasons for the new pricing:

Another reason some minerals are priced higher now is that they stand out as better then the mediocre minerals commonly available on the market. I see so many "ordinary" minerals when I buy mineral collections. When I see a special mineral specimen, I price it higher. As collectors, you should be looking for better-than-average minerals. A higher price is a good indicator that there is something important about the specimen.

Of course, it is possible my prices may sometimes be skewed too high. You should always use your own judgment to assess the quality. And do not hesitate to take advantage of my two week no-questions-asked return policy if a specimen does not meet your expectations.

6/7/2016

Writing descriptions of mineral specimens is troublingly repetitive. For each mineral species the description must describe the same attributes:

There are only so many variations how a description can be written. The order may be varied, but the same adjectives are used again and again. Here are some examples of description of fluorite specimens from this site:

  1. "Lustrous transparent green interconnected cubic fluorite crystals with milky internal phantom-growth zones and bladed brown inclusions of possibly mica. The fluorite crystals are on all sides of the cluster and can be displayed in several orientations. No damage."
  2. "Translucent bi-colored cubic fluorite crystals with silky surface luster and complex growth-hillock patterns on the crystal faces, calcite crystals coat some areas. The fluorite crystals are translucent yellow with a 5 mm transparent blue outer zone. Though the crystals are clean and in good condition, a few show damage upon close inspection, but they are minor compared to the relative size of the specimen."
  3. "Lustrous transparent green-gray cubic fluorite crystals to 14 mm with coating of metallic chalcopyrite crystals to 0.5 mm and translucent colorless calcite crystals to 12 mm on the rear plus transparent red-brown sphalerite crystals to 2 mm on bottom. No damage to the front of the specimen, but a calcite crystal on the rear of the specimen is incomplete, apparently where it intersected another crystal."

The same adjectives are used in each. In school we were taught to vary phrasing to avoid repetition. But how many ways can you vary the same attributes?

And these descriptions are almost always incomplete sentences -- totally lacking verbs. Most of the words are adjectives or adverbs. And I arbitrarily set a limit of 255 characters to avoid the verbal diarrhea common to some dealers. It is no wonder the descriptions sound repetitive. Of course the accompanying photographs fill in the story.

And I wonder if anyone reads my descriptions. (It is common to receive email questions asking about something that was described in the written description.) I will continue. No need to change after 70,000 mineral specimens. But I wonder if other dealers devote as much effort into their written descriptions...

5/31/2016

I just returned from a 13 day trip to Maine where I continue to pursue the source of a gem aquamarine I found while hiking in the mountains. The search may continue for some time. Fortunately it is one of the nicest hikes in western Maine with good trails, comfortable grades, and killer views from the top.

But I may never find the source. On this last trip I realized that the track of the glaciers may be from a different direction than expected, causing me to shift my search area in the future. Given the direction of the glaciers, the source of the aquamarine may not be on the mountain I am searching, or may originate lower on the mountain.

If I ever find the source, I will have to negotiate with the landowner, then actually collect the aquamarine, and hope to get complete crystals. Unfortunately if they were exposed to many years (hundreds?) to freeze-thaw cycles they may come out in only small pieces -- which would explain why I found only a half crystal originally.

The chase is the fun part. I will keep trying.

5/17/2016

This past week I cataloged the 70,000 mineral specimen since I started in business in 1989. It took me 29 months to go from number mineral 60,000 to mineral number 70,000. That equals 345 minerals per month or 86 minerals per week.

Even more amazing is that I am a one-finger typist. I don't even use two fingers like some hunt-and-peck typists. That would be too easy. I use one finger only.

Not all minerals cataloged are posted to this site. Some sell before I have the opportunity to photograph them. Others are sold in wholesale parcels at deep discounts. But they still have to be cataloged into my database (in case I am ever audited).

Only 50,000 of the mineral specimens were photographed. Years ago when I was dispersing the Linck collection (the finest collection ever saw), many classic minerals from the 1880-1930 period sold quickly. I was selling the collection for the family and felt obligated to move quickly. Unfortunately some amazing specimens were never photographed, notably the famous bladed rhodonite I sold the Franklin Mineral Museum in New Jersey.

I learned my lesson. Now I photograph all important minerals prior to selling them.

On a sad note, I have arbitrarily decided to retire or sell this business when I hit the 100,000th mineral. This means that if I continue at the current rate, I have slightly more than 7 years remaining in the business.

5/10/2016

With knowledge comes appreciation. The more you know, the more you will understand why a mineral is priced the way it is.

For example, if you knew what the strahlers endure to extract the smoky quartz and alpine cleft minerals in the Swiss/French/Italian alps, you would think the prices on those minerals are way too low (they risk their lives in extreme mountain conditions extracting minerals from pockets that are frozen solid ice). If you knew about crystal twinning, you would understand how rare twinned azurite crystals are. If you knew the details of the Russian invasion of the Ukraine you would understand the high price for the heliodor crystals from Volodarsk.

For almost any specimen I offer on this site, I can tell you what makes it unique, special, rare, or valuable. The problem is that new collectors do not know these things, therefore they do not understand the values.

How do you learn the information required to appreciate minerals?

I suggest:

  1. Subscribe to Rocks & Minerals magazine or Mineralogical Record magazine or both.
  2. Join your local mineral club and attend their monthly lectures.
  3. Go out in the feild to collect minerals and befriend an experienced collector to learn his techniques.
  4. Buy a good book and read it. I recommend Mineralogy by John Sinkankas (out of print, but still available, also called Mineralogy for Amateurs).
  5. Buy locality mineralogy reference books like Maine Mineralogy, The Minerals of California, Minerals of Mexico, etc.
  6. Buy the DVDs of the lectures from the Rochester Mineralogical Symposium.(email Dan Imel at lapidry@aol.com)

This is just a beginning list of places to learn about minerals. Once you start with the above , they will lead you to more advanced references. But please, do not rely solely on the Internet. And do not just look at the pictures.

5/3/2016

As you advance in your collecting of mineral specimens, you will eventually start to expand your collection beyond the "pretty" minerals. You will learn more about the science of mineralogy. And you will probably start to focus on a mineral species or a mineral locality.

The greater knowledge you acquire will lead you to collect "rare uglies," the minerals that are important but are aesthetically challenged.

As you acquire rarer mineral species, take the time to learn about them. Looks them up in a good reference book. Read the referenced magazine articles on the mineral. Find out what it should look like. Perhaps join a group of similar collectors on Facebook (there are groups for minerals from Belgium, Tsumeb, Jeffrey Quarry, Grenville Province, etc.). The bottom line: learn about the mineral -- do not just check it off your list of wanted minerals.

There are two reasons to learn about the rare species: 1.) to verify it is actually on the specimen you just purchased and 2.) to mount it correctly so that the rare species is visible.

The latter point seems obvious, but I have dispersed many mineral specimens over the year that were mounted upside-down. That's right, the mineral of interest was on the bottom covered with mineral tack. The collector never learned what the species looked like, and mistakenly thought some larger crystals were those of interest. He was wrong -- rare species are rarely large and obvious.

If you just want to collect pretty rocks, you could get the same enjoyment simply from photographs of pretty rock. Instead learn everything possible about the minerals we collect.

4/19/2016

As I am preparing photos for submission to a magazine, I was struck by the limitation that books and magazines only show one view of minerals specimens. Most have no detail views, no rear views, no alternate poses. These additional images have become standard on Internet-based mineral sites. I may post up to 10 images of a specimen, plus views of the specimen under ultraviolet illumination if the specimen fluoresces.

Additional images tell a larger story about mineral specimens. This may be one of the reasons why magazines are losing relevance. (The other big reasons why magazines are losing relevance is that they are slow to announce current information.)

As mineral collectors, we are fortunate to benefit from all of these mineral photographs. It is much easier to judge a mineral specimen today via the Internet. And it is also better that high-speed Internet connection speed page loading. (I used to minimize the additional images, and keep image sizes small, in the days of dial-up modems because page loading was slow.) Interestingly, now more than 1/3 of visitors to this site are using smartphones to view the minerals for sale, and connections are often slow, making page loading time an issue again.

The speed of information propagation, high-quality images, and many supplemental views makes collecting minerals easier than ever before in history.

4/12/2016

A friend asked if it was worth visiting a particular mineral show last week and I responded that the show was mostly inexpensive, junky minerals. He responded that he liked inexpensive minerals. He was correct, he is not deterred by low prices. But he also buys quality specimens at those low prices.

The lesson is: A low price does not equal low quality.

Many of the minerals I offer are priced less than $30, some as low as $8. Some of the  reasons these minerals are priced low may be: they are plentiful, I collected them myself in the field, I have tens (or hundreds) of similar specimens, I need space in my warehouse and am clearing out old inventory. They may still be quality mineral specimens, with no notieable damage and from classic locailities.

However, some shows sell minerals equal to "gift shop" grade of minerals, sold by museum gift shops, sidewalk vendors, or on Ebay/Etsy. I advise staying away from these shows -- there is little hope of acquiring good specimens at these shows that you will look back on in 10 years and be thankful that you acquired them when you did. And that is the real test of a quality mineral, regardless of the price.

3/22/2016

A few weeks ago I posted three specimens that were reported to be "ajoite over malachite pseudomorphs after azurite "based on information posted to Mindat.org by another dealer.

Mindat was wrong. The identification of ajoite was wrong. My mineral listing was wrong.

My listings are now corrected (#63782, #63783 , #63784). They are now identified as "chrysocolla over malachite pseudomorphs after azurite."

The incorrect information resulted from incomplete and inconclusive testing. Unfortunately , when the dealer acted too quickly posting it to Mindat, his identification took on a life of it's own. Fortunately I sold none of the minerals in question.

This experience illuminates why I hesitate to use Wiki-like resources where the information posted if from the public -- not from an authority. This is also a reminder why I maintain a reference library and use those books as my first "go to" references.

Unfortunately new minerals and occurrences are found frequently. Books and magazines are slow to be produced and there is a long lag between discovery and publication. So we are hungry for the latest news of the latest discoveries. But there is no solution to this problem. You may be tempted to say that "Mindat is the solution," but you can see it failed in this instance.

3/15/2016

I offer discounts on orders of 4 or more items (if the total exceeds $200) as an incentive to order more than one item at a time. This discount policy does not mean that I have added extra padding to the price to allow for a discount. I actually lose money on the discounts. But it reduces the work required to ship the minerals. It is easier and faster to ship one box with four minerals in it, than it is to ship four boxes each with one mineral in it. There are are also added costs of boxes and commissions paid on credit card transactions when shipping four boxes instead of one box.

You can see my full discount policy, and learn how to receive up to 20% off on your orders, at Quantity Discounts.

But some minerals are marked "net". The notation "net" are hypertext links to an explanation that "net" means no discount is applicable to these items. They have been priced at a firm price and at the lowest possible price for that item.

There would be no need to tag items as "net" if I did not have an automatic discount policy. If all prices were fixed, then effectively all items would be "net" by default.

So the discount is an incentive. And the "net" notation indicates that my cost for the specimen prevents me from discounting the mineral. This is most apparent with the diamond crystals I sell, which have high inventory costs and the prices per carat per quality are pretty much standard throughout the world.

3/1/2016

I am naturally suspicious. When I see something that is "not quite right" I start to wonder... In the case of minerals, I wonder if it is faked or enhanced or treated. This is a natural reaction. These days many minerals have been severely cleaned using acids, oils, microabrasive cleaners, etc. Some damaged specimens have been "restored" by adding plastic filler the same color as the crystals, creating complete terminations where none exisited before.

But what do you do if you are suspicious, but see no physical evidence of alteration to the mineral?

I usually ask as many experts as I can contact to see what they know. I refer to authoritative books on the minerals from the locality. But in spite of being suspicious, I am an optimist and prefer to trust my suppliers that they would disclose any know issues. So I offer the minerals with my best description of the known specimen attributes.

But that is no guarantee. That is why I offer a lifetime guarantee with every mineral. If a mineral specimen that I sold is ever tested, and I incorrectly identified the mineral, I will refund the cost of the original purchase & shipping, the cost return shipping, and the cost of the test. This is the best I can offer.

2/23/2016

In these days of smartphones and online forums about minerals collectors have a "virtual" community of others with the same interests. But collectors have overlooked the value of their local mineral club.

One advantage mineral clubs have is they are local, and are interested in local minerals. Plus they publish a newsletter and conduct field trips for collecting minerals. For novices, mineral clubs are a great way to learn how to collect, what to collect, and how to identify minerals found. ( I get emails daily asking questions that any mineral club can answer better than me.)

You can find a mineral club near you by searching for "mineral club directory" which will link to a state-by-state directory of mineral clubs. Contact the club nearest you, find out where and when they meet and attend a few meetings. If you like what you see, then you can join the club, usually for a nominal fee of $5 to $20 per year.

Are you looking to sell a mineral you found? A member of the local mineral club is more likely to buy it, because they will be more interested in the minerals from your area.

In the 1950s joining club was very popular. There were clubs for all sorts of interests. Sadly today's collectors resort to the Internet before thinking locally.

Mineral clubs are an essential resource for collectors. Join one today.

2/16/2016

Anyone that has read my article Advice For Beginners: Nine Lessons Learned from Experience will know I advise against buying minerals with visible damage. Some minerals, like Imperial Topaz from Brazil, are rarely available undamaged. But it is a good rule to avoid damage as much as possible. In fact, I argue that condition is the MOST important factor when assessing purchases. "No damage" is more important than price, size, color, or aesthetics.

"No damage" refers to the crystals on the specimen. There are always crumbs that come loose from the underlying rock, commonly called "matrix". So that is not what I am talking about.

If a crystal is damaged, or chipped, or cleaved, or bruised then you could not call the specimen undamaged.

However, if a damaged crystal is on the edge of the specimen, and is then trimmed off, that makes the specimen undamaged. Sounds crazy, but true. Some dealers and collectors specialize in buying minerals that have damage, then proceed to trim and split, and clean them until there are no crystals that are damaged.

You too can take advantage of this tactic -- as long as you pay a price commensurate with the level of damage. Do not pay full price, as if a specimen were undamaged, just because there is potential for trimming away the damage. There is always the risk the trimming will go wrong. Paying a fair price, that is reasonable to the current condition, is your insurance against loss.

Learn to look for damage, assess the impact on the price, then decide if the price is right.

2/9/2016

New minerals acquired in Tucson were posted in my New Listings this week. Most notable are the pyrite crystals from the Milpillas Mine in Mexico.

The mine has worked through the upper oxide zone, through the transitionary cuprite zone, into the lower pyrite-rich sulfide zone. These pyrite crystals have a gray-metallic coating of bornite on the surfaces and occur in contrasting white clay matrix.

Unfortunately the sulfide ore does not smelt as easily as the upper zones. This, combined with the low commodity prices for copper, may result in the mine closing soon. There will always be orphan pods of easy-to-smelt oxide ore, so I am sure production will continue -- especially if the price of copper rebounds.

I believe the prices for azurite specimens from the Milpillas Mine have stabilized. Prices are no longer climbing rapidly. It may be the time to hoard the azurite specimens while they are plentiful, as long as you can buy them at fair prices. They will certainly go down in history as among the best of species equaling azurite from Bisbee, Morenci, Chessy and Tsumeb.

But there are no guarantees. Future production cannot be predicted. And I do not believe in speculating on minerals as an investment.

2/2/2016

My buying trip to Tucson was very successful this year. Over 1200 mineral specimens are currently in transit and the new mineral will start to appear in next week's update.

Highlights of the new acquisitions:

And many others that are too numerous to list individually.

After the packages arrive, and I catalog the new acquisitions, I will list more details of the new minerals. I hope you like them.

1/5/2016

At the beginning of every year I add the minerals that sold during the previous year to my Online Mineral Museum.

There are now 48,876 minerals illustrated in the museum with over 96,665 images.

The museum is searchable by species and by locality. When searching you are not required to type in the complete mineral or locality. If you search for "q" minerals from "ariz" you will see all quartz specimens, and specimens containing quartz as an accessory mineral, from Arizona. If you uncertain about spelling try entering the most minimal spelling.

For those of you that want to see a specific item that you may have purchased in the past year, you may see it by substituting the 5-digit item number at the end of the address for any other item. For example:

  1. If you are viewing this mineral: http://www.johnbetts-fineminerals.com/jhbnyc/mineralmuseum/picshow.php?id=60583

  2. But you want to view item #45535.  Then substitute 45535 for the 60583 in the browser address and hit enter.

  3. It will go to: http://www.johnbetts-fineminerals.com/jhbnyc/mineralmuseum/picshow.php?id=45535

It may sound confusing, but is actually quite simple.

Also, Google has indexed the museum and you can have it search the museum for you. If you want to see all Albite specimens from Joe Cilen's collection in my museum search on "Albite cilen site:johnbetts-fineminerals.com". To see a specific item number (such as #45535 mentioned above) search for "#45535 site:johnbetts-fineminerals.com". The minerals from 2015 have not been completely indexed by Google, but they will probably finish capturing them all by the end of this week.

I hope you find the Online Mineral Museum a valuable reference.

12/29/2015

The year is almost over. The holiday rush has calmed down. And it is a good time to reflect on the year. A few observations:

  1. The strength of the US dollar versus the Euro, AU dollar, Canadian dollar and other currencies meant that minerals purchased in the USA are now more expensive by 25% to 35% in those countries. This has caused many foreign collectors to stop buying from USA dealers, including me.

  2. Unfortunately the currency exchange rate is out of my control. I keep my prices reasonable. But foreign collectors will have to acclimate to the new price premium. In the case of the Euro, my prices are still less than comparable prices from EU dealers.

  3. I buy minerals to suit my customer's tastes and requests. But when the foreign collectors stopped buying because of the exchange rate, that left me with a surplus of minerals in some categories.

  4. I upgraded my camera, resulting in better color accuracy and higher resolution. The images on this site are not full resolution, because pages would take forever to load large images. But I am routinely posting larger images.

  5. Now that I am using large images ,I am rephotographing older mineral specimens, with better and more photos, often with adjusted prices to reflect the current market.

I hope to adjust the minerals offered in 2016 to better and broader offerings, and not to cater to foreign requests. And I plan to post more minerals each week.

I hope you find these changes for the better.

In the meantime, I wish everyone a healthy and prosperous New Year.

12/15/2015

During the past 3-4 years I acquired mineral collections that were assembled by purchasing from Ebay dealers and other mineral dealers on the Internet. I am disturbed to discover that many Ebay dealers (and other dealers too) fail to pass on previous labels with the mineral specimens.

These dealers in many instances are helping a collector sell their collection a few pieces at a time. And the dealer fears that others will discover the collector's name and poach the entire collection out from under them. So the dealers hide the source's name -- and discard the previous labels.

This results in lost history.

If the dealer fears losing the rest of the collection, he should suck it up and buy the entire collection outright. Or he should arrange "right of first refusal" for every mineral in the collection.

But the dealer should not purposely discard all history just to protect a source. And collectors should not patronize those dealers. And if they do, they should only pay reduced prices to compensate them for the lost history.

11/24/2015

No two mineral collectors have the same opinion of a particular dealer. Ask 5 collectors about my site and you will get 6 opinions. This week I heard from two separate collectors with totally opposite opinions of the minerals I sell.

One collector thought I was a dealer of high-end minerals. The other collector thought I focused on minerals under $50 (and was amazed I could make a living selling low-priced minerals).

Of course I have the advantage of knowing neither are true. The median price of the minerals on this site is $300, and the mean price is $500. The mean skews higher because of the expensive diamonds I sell.

But it is easy to understand why both collectors formed their opinions. I do list a whole page of minerals under $50 each week. This is to accommodate beginning collectors. And I offer high-priced minerals too. But I avoid the astronomically priced minerals because the buyers of those are more likely to be trophy collectors, rather than mineral collectors.

I am frequently asked by non-collectors to describe a typical customer of mine. There is no typical. Just as every mineral specimen is unique and one-of-a-kind, so are mineral collectors. They are each interested in unique mineral types, sizes, localities, morphology, color, etc. By offering a broad range of minerals, in every price category, I hope to have minerals suitable for each and every collector, no matter what there taste is. (unfortunately, because 1900 minerals are listed on this site, finding the specimen that suits your interest may not be so easy).

11/17/2015

Once again it is time to discuss computer displays. 30% of viewers of this site are using smartphones that have displays that are too bright and have overly saturated color.

One of the main reasons for returned minerals is the actual color of the mineral differs from what the customer expected. I have had gray calcite returned because they "looked white on my display" or white minerals come back because they expected a darker gray. Clearly these customer's displays were not properly adjusted.

As a tool for preventing these returns, I have created a test image (below) so visitors can see if their monitors are properly adjusted for brightness and contrast. I use this same image to verify my monitor is calibrated when preparing images for this site.  This is a "system independent" test image created in Photoshop and should display the same on every computer - the only variable will your the display settings.

Click for larger image

Can you see the 1% zones?

One interesting note, in order to accurately calibrate my display, I had to adjust both the Windows 7 display properties (gamma adjustment) in the Control Panel and the separate color settings for my graphics card. There is no single adjustment that controls all. And there is no single process. It was trial and error until I could see the subtle 1% tints in the test image below. And I had to independently reduce the color saturation to make colors appear normal again.

I do not want to sound too cynical. It was not quick and easy, but it was well worth it and I encourage you to adjust your display. (If you are using a smartphone, dim the brightness until you can see the 1% stripes.)

If you cannot find away to adjust your display, at least be aware that your display is out of balance and read my written descriptions.

11/10/2015

Can we all agree that our memories are not perfect? And they become worse as we get older. Correct?

Then why rely on your memory to document your collection?

I have purchased many mineral collections. In a majority of the cases, the collector did not catalog their collection. They did not add numbers to the rear of the specimens. They frequently stored labels in separate locations away from their minerals. Correct locality data was lost.

When asked if they knew the localities for all of the minerals specimens they said yes, they could recall all of the localities. They are always wrong. Localities get confused. Memories are not perfect.

So make labels for your collection. Attach numbers to each specimen and create a catalog. Do not rely on your memory.

A fast and simple solution to documenting your collection is to photograph using a digital camera (even the camera on your phone will be sufficient) each mineral with the label next to the specimen. Then store the photos in several places, well labeled. I create DVDs that I keep in my desk and give copies to my wife.

Then when your collection is sold after your death, the images are a good reference for the locality data. There is no tedious typing into a database. And simple photos will suffice as long as they are in focus.

But do not rely on your memory.

11/3/2015

Since most collectors do not display the minerals in their display cases with all of the old labels next to the minerals, we must accept that the labels will be stored in a separate location. This means that there must be some form of catalog number on the mineral specimen, and a matching number on the labels or the envelope storing the historic labels.

This system requires a number be applied to the mineral specimen.

The number should be waterproof. But it should also be removable so that the mineral specimen may be returned to an unaltered condition (remember we are only the temporary owners of our minerals and we must never cause permanent damage to a specimen).

There are many options for adhering numbers. Ask ten collectors and you will get eleven solutions.

I have decided to stop trying to be flexible and to advocate the best solution: print small numbers with a laser printer (waterproof) and adhere the number to the mineral specimen with Mineral Tack putty (removable and waterproof).

It is that simple. No more discussion. Done.

I wrote an article many years ago for the local mineral club where I proposed this method, and the variant of adhering a label with the number, mineral species and locality to the specimen too. I was delighted when I acquired a mineral collection recently and the collector had read the article and actually adhered such labels. It was a perfect answer to the problem of preventing information from being lost.

I have acquired over 150 mineral collections in the last 25 years in business. I have seen the best and worst solutions to this problem. The system I propose is the ONLY system I recommend.

10/27/2015

Photos on mineral web sites are getting larger and larger. In the old days, before high-speed Internet, photos were kept to a moderate size to accelerate the loading time of a web page. Does anybody remember 8 years ago how long the Arkenstone site took to load with a long list of full-size images? That is why sites like mine have "thumbnail" preview images -- to speed page loading.

Then high-speed Internet came along and page loading time was so fast, even with full size images, that there was no deterrent to using large images. So mineral photographs started getting larger and larger, far exceeding the size of the mineral in real life. A 25 mm mineral specimen (1 inch) may appear 150 mm (6 inches) on a computer display. Flaws that were not apparent when viewing a specimen at a show suddenly became very apparent on the big screen.

But the single most-frequent cause for returns is because the purchaser "thought it was much larger." These large images only add to this problem. (Some less-sophisticated collectors have claimed that using centimeters or millimeters is also a ploy to make specimen seem larger. Only someone that does not own a ruler would think that. And I am trying to prevent returns, so if anything I want to make the minerals look smaller ,so there is no disappointment when the box is opened for the first time.)

I have been increasing the size of my images slowly. Look at my Online Mineral Museum to see my early images that were about half the size as my current images. But I still make images of thumbnail-sized minerals smaller than the images for large cabinet-sized minerals.

Now in fact we have gone full circle, because 1/3 of  the viewers of a web site are using a smartphone which has inherently slower loading times than a desktop computer. So there is now a need to moderate image size, or at least moderate the file size of images by using higher compression.

The bottom line: do not rely on large images to determine the relative value of mineral specimens between web sites. Read the descriptions. Look at the actual dimensions. Those will tell you much more about a specimen that photographs taken under optimal conditions.

10/20/2015

Every mineral has a good side. This is the side that is best displayed when in a collector's display case. A few minerals have several good sides and can be displayed in several orientations. Very few minerals are fully crystallized all around and might be suitable for displaying on a turntable. Even diamonds have a good side -- the side that presents the best reflections and "fire" that make it attractive.

When photographing minerals for this site, I make a judgment as to how the specimen should be best displayed. And the photographs show that side towards the camera so the collectors will know how the mineral will appear in a display case. The complication lies in variations in display cases. Many display cases are vertical and the mineral may be on a shelf at eye level, or may be on a lower shelf where it is viewed from above. So the best side and best orientation may be different than I planned.

So my photographs are not perfect, but they show the specimen at it's best.

Another variable is display lighting. There is no "best" lighting that works for all mineral specimens.Wulfenite, gold and rhodochrosite require a color temperature no higher than 4200°K, while azurite and malachite look best under a minimum of 4800°K. And some minerals require lighting from above, or from the sides, or even from the rear.

When photographing minerals I use 4700°K illumination which equals daylight illumination at 10:00 A.M. and the camera is calibrated to match that color temperature to yield accurate color rendition. But if you do not have good lighting, the mineral may appear "off" color. A rhodochrosite will look dull and grayed under fluorescent illumination or from >4200° K illumination. An azurite cluster will appear black if displayed under ordinary "warm" incandescent illumination (my biggest fear when shipping a mineral is that the package will be opened in the recipient's kitchen where the lighting is less than optimum.)

The mineral photographs on this site accurately represent the mineral at it's best (though I do reduce color saturation to compensate for the over-saturated computer displays and smartphone screens) and flaws are not obscured.  

10/6/2015

Yesterday somebody offered me a "rare mineral" of a species that is not rare. I responded that I had many specimens of that mineral from three different localities. He responded that, "it may not be rare to you, but it is rare."

Rarity does not depend on interpretation or on an individual. Rarity is absolute.

A sand-grain-sized crystal of Gainesite is rare (I only know of 6, and one was lost when the owner dropped it on his carpet). The mineral this man was offering to me was not rare, and is commonly available in crystals over 25 mm (1 inch).

This reminds me of Joe Vajdak who always listed on his labels Rare, Very Rare, Extremely Rare, etc. I was told by a linguist that the definition of rare is absolute -- there are no degrees of rarity. An object is either rare or it is not rare. (But the acceptance of the words "rarer" and "rarest," implying degrees or rarity, would refute the linguist's position.)

I have seen some web sites that will state, "..this mineral is a rare zeolite composed of..." yet the mineral is widely available in many sizes from several localities. It may be the mineral species that occurs the least of all or the zeolites. But it is not rare. Barrerite is a good example of this. Compared to it's analog Stilbite, there are fewer specimens available, but it is not rare and I have sold hundreds.

The lesson is: if you are going to pay a premium for rarity, then do your homework and verify it is actually rare.

9/22/2015

I received several inquiries about whether I was attending the Denver mineral shows last week. I did not attend.

Denver is a series of small shows that is pale in comparison to the Tucson shows in January-February. And most of the dealers selling in Denver participated in the East Coast Gem & Mineral Show that I attended last month. So I did not need to go to Denver to buy new inventory -- I already saw what they had.

Why not sell in Denver? Because of the high cost of traveling with my minerals across country. To sell in Denver I would need to sell $7000 in minerals to BREAK EVEN. That means I could stay home and give away $7000 in minerals to my loyal customers and still be even -- plus I can sleep in my own bed and eat home-cooked meals. Tucson is even worse. I need to sell $10,000 in minerals to break even.

Traveling across country is simply too expensive. Selling minerals via the Internet is much more efficient. All of my good mineral specimens sell rapidly after I post them. Why bother to travel to sell the rest?

Yes, it would be fun to visit friends. But it is also the best time of year to go collecting and hiking in Maine. For me it is an easy decision...

9/1/2015

Have you discovered the active mineral collecting community on Facebook? Here is a sampling of the mineral groups on Facebook:

If you have a Facebook page, then you simply have to "Like" these groups to be notified of new postings of the members. If you are not a Facebook member, it is very easy to start a member profile and it is entirely free. Once you are a member, you can search out these mineral groups and become active in the collecting community online.

I must admit that before I joined Facebook, I too rolled my eyes at another way to waste time by reading the self-centered meanderings of other people that I barely know. But now I am a complete convert. There is an active mineral collecting community on Facebook that share their photos and news of field trips, newly acquired minerals and items of interest. And if somebody abuses the forum by posting overly-commercial sales pitches or political rantings, it is very easy to anonymously  "unfriend" them and never see another post from them again.

If you decide to join Facebook, I encourage you to follow my site at: http://www.facebook.com/JohnBettsFineMinerals. I post mineral photographs, occasional articles, and announce new minerals posted to the site.

8/25/2015

Light damages many minerals. To be more specific, UV light damages many minerals. Unfortunately UV is present in sunlight and from fluorescent bulbs. UV illumination alters realgar to pararealgar. UV illumination fades the purple color of amethyst quartz. UV illumination alters the red of vanadinite to brown.

Glass display cases block some UV illumination, but not all. So what should collectors do to protect their minerals from UV illumination?

I have always advocated large flat drawers as the best way to store your mineral collection. The minerals are in the dark and kept from household dust, but are easily viewed and shared with visitors. And drawers can store a lot of minerals in a small space. Best of all, storing in drawers protects your minerals from UV illumination.

The best drawers are the "flat files" used by architects to store large drawings. But companies like IKEA make drawer units too. Museums use tall storage cabinets with doors on the front that seal out dirt, humidity and insects, but have drawers for access to the stored contents inside. There are many options.

I know that most collectors want their minerals out on  display..  This is OK as long as you are aware of the risks of light damage. If possible use halogen or LED illumination in your cases and place the display out of direct sunlight

8/18/2015

Many collectors and mineral dealers have noticed the higher prices of minerals recently. It was a common discussion topic at the recent East Coast Gem & Mineral Show. There are many causes that have all combined to escalate mineral prices. Many blame greedy or inexperienced dealers, novice buyers overpaying at mineral auctions, the internet allowing diggers in foreign countries to know the value of their rocks on a worldwide market.

But there is one cause that nobody has noticed: The minerals are better.

When I view mineral collections, I can recognize when a collection was assembled based on the quality of minerals in the collection. In the 1950s localities often consisted of just the country name; in the 1960s collectors tolerated damage and missing crystals; after 1980 and the widespread distribution of Mineralogical Record magazine localities became more specific; after 1985 connoisseur entered mineral collecting with high standards established by Dave Wilbur; in 1995 microabrasive cleaners started to become standard tools in prepping and trimming minerals; in 2000 trimming became more like sculpture in creating pleasing shapes; in 2010 restoration started to appear with missing terminations being completed with colored resins. This latter development is not necessarily a good thing.

But the minerals have gotten better as a result.

And the diggers in foreign countries have learned they can realize higher prices for their minerals if their locality information is accurate and if the take care during extraction and shipment to prevent damage. No longer do we see huge Chinese stibnite crystals with terribly chipped edges -- now they are individually wrapped and protected.

Not surprisingly the gem market still throws all of their rough crystals into plastic bags where the edges of the crystals become abraded. They do not care about the crystal condition because they only value the crystals for their cutting potential to make faceted gemstones.

As collectors, when we complain about prices, we should recognize we are comparing apples to oranges. The mineral specimens we paid $20 for 25 years ago were nicked, chipped and dinged. The comparable specimens today may sell for $500 are NOT ACTUALLY COMPARABLE -- they are much better quality. (If they are not better quality, then you are paying too much.)

8/11/2015

I recently visited a mineral collection to assess it's value. Sadly the owner had died. He was a long-time friend, and I had advised him over the years. I was disheartened to discover that he had separated all of his mineral labels from the specimens. He filed them here:

Mineral of the Week
click for larger image

What a nightmare!

If I buy the collection, I will have to spend days cataloging the collection, trying to match the labels with the specimens.

The collector knew better. But he could not find an aesthetic solution for labeling the minerals. Sticking the previous labels under the specimens is ugly and the labels cast shadows on the minerals on the shelf below. Numbering works, if the catalog can be found amongst the clutter. Too many catalog have been lost when household contents are moved.

The BEST method I have found is to lay your labels out on a Xerox copier in a big group and to create a reduction copy at the maximum reduction, usually 25%. A 1-1/2" label will be reduced to 3/8". When the copy is made, have them printed on clear acetate, the type that was used for the old overhead projectors. I use 3M brand PP2500. Then cut out each reduction Xerox label (now on clear acetate) and adhere that to the specimen on the rear or bottom. I use Mineral Tack to adhere the mini-label, but any non-permanent glue will suffice.

Whatever solution you choose, do not delay. You could be hit by a bus tomorrow. Remember, we are only the temporary caretakers of our minerals. Think of the next owner. Prevent important information from being lost.

8/4/2015

Every mineral specimen has a good side and a bad side. Even specimens that are fully crystallized all around will have one side better than the others. And octahedral diamond crystals always have one good side that is more eye-catching than the other sides.

Naturally my photographs always show the good side.

But occasionally someone requests a view of the rear. This makes no sense. The rear could be perfect with lots of lustrous crystals, or it could be barren with nothing but rough country rock. These are essentially equal because nobody can see the rear.

Minerals are displayed with the best side forwards where it can be seen. The rear is inconsequential.

If the rear has crystals of interest, I will show them with photos. If the rear was the attachment point and is essentially barren rock, then no photo will be provided. It is that simple. Trust my judgment that the photographs illustrate the specimen sat their best.

7/21/2015

Sometimes purchasers request tracking numbers for the packages I ship. UPS, Fedex and the US Postal Service will send email tracking data if they are provided the recipient's email.

As a rule, I do not automatically list the recipient's email address with the shipping companies. This is because my Privacy Policy states I will not share any addresses or emails with ANYBODY.  

While tracking appears to be a convenience for the recipient, the shippers are actually harvesting your data to sell to other companies. I am not paranoid. But I do not want any shipping company sharing whom I receive packages from with other companies.

And tracking is really only valuable if a package is lost. And then it is only marginal value. It does not tell you when a package will be delivered. It will not tell you where it is in transit. Tracking is useless unless the package is lost.

I had a personal package that UPS has claimed was delivered to me, but never arrived. UPS delivered the package to wrong addresses. When speaking with UPS customer service, they looked at the tracking and said, "the package was delivered, you cannot file a claim."

That is why I find no value in tracking, unless it also provided the GPS coordinates of the delivery address, the signature of the recipient and photo identification of the person that signed for it. Tracking provides none of those. (Fortunately my building scans in every package and there was evidence that no package was delivered.)

Some day tracking will offer the information that we really need, and it will be worth sacrificing our privacy for that service. Until then, I will not provide any recipient's emails to shipping companies.

7/14/2015

About 5 years ago I visited the home of a long-time customer who had many large minerals displayed throughout his home. When viewing an etched quartz crystal, I casually mentioned that applying a thin coat of mineral oil to the surfaces of the quartz crystal would greatly improve the luster and transparency of the quartz. I told him how mineral oil was sold in pharmacies as a laxative and that it was odorless and colorless. I instructed him to apply the mineral oil to the surfaces with a rag or paper towel, then to wipe off the surfaces after application to remove any residual oil. This leaves a very thin (microscopic) coating of oil filling the microscopic etched pattern on the crystal faces, effectively smoothing the surfaces out.

When I saw the collector 6 months later at my next mineral show, he was raving about how well the oil worked and how he proceeded to oil many of his other specimens and they look 100% better than before. He was elated to learn the value of oil.

As a rule, I do not oil minerals, but I freely advise collectors of the value of oiling their minerals. The noted quartz collector George Feist once ranted about ignorant collectors protesting the use of oil. George claimed that the oil made the minerals the appear as they do when they first come out of a pocket, which is true.

Oiling the surfaces is NOT the same as fracture filling with oil. Filling internal fractures with an oil of the same refractive index as the mineral will totally conceal any internal cleavage planes or flaw. The mineral is submersed in the appropriate refractive index oil, placed in a vacuum chamber, which is evacuated. When the pressure returns to normal the oil is forced into the fracture making it disappear. This works on any fractures that reach the surface of the crystal so that the oil may enter from outside.

I believe that oiling the surfaces, and removing all excess from the surfaces, is acceptable and that fracture-filling with oil is permissible as long as the procedure is disclosed.

As I stated above I do not normally oil the surfaces of minerals. However this week I violated that rule. The Middle Mountain green fluorite crystals posted this week have heavily etched surfaces. A thin coating of oil was applied, and all residual oil removed. This improved the apparent color, translucency and slightly improved the luster -- though they are still heavily textured surfaces. There is no drawback because the oil is easily removed with any detergent. If a purchaser requests this, I will clean it prior to shipping. But I have seen the fluorite specimens with, and without oil and I can attest that the oil greatly improves the appearance.

I guess rules are made to be broken...

P.S. A noted collector of New England minerals emailed me that he never oils his minerals with ONE exception: his fluorite from Middle Mountain, NH.

7/7/2015

Many collectors ask about the best method for cleaning minerals. In most cases I simply use dishwashing detergent in water and softly brush with an old toothbrush. The minerals I display in my personal case at home are cleaned this way. Regular readers of the commentary will know that I always wash my minerals Thanksgiving weekend every year.

But occasionally I acquire minerals from a very old (100+ years) collection and they have accumulated years of sooty dust and grease as well as pollutants from nearby industry. Or minerals that I collect in the field may require serious cleaning to bring out the natural luster.

In those instances I use Calgon which is a powder sold as a water softener. Calgon apparently ionizes the dirt particles on the minerals. It gives each particle an electric charge that causes them to repel from each other and from the mineral.

The best way to use Calgon is first soak the minerals for a full day in plain water, preferably distilled water. Then dissolve some Calgon in water (again distilled) and place in an ultrasonic cleaner with the minerals. Run the ultrasonic cleaner for a few hours, then remove the minerals and rinse them off and let them air dry. If you do not own an ultrasonic cleaner (why don't you?) then simply soak in Calgon in a bucket.

You will be surprised at the effectiveness of this simple technique. It is the best way to clean minerals that cannot handle more drastic acid cleaners.

6/9/2015

Last week I did not update this site because I was attending the 2015 Pegmatite Workshop in Maine.

Pegmatites are coarsely crystallized deposits that are famous for producing topaz, beryl (morganite and aquamarine), tourmaline as well as many other rare species, notably phosphate and rare earth element minerals. The workshop is an annual week-long event held at the Poland Mining Camps which provided 3 meals a day plus sleeping accommodations in rustic cabins. The workshop was conducted by noted mineralogists Skip Simmons, Karen Webber, Al Falster and Jim Nizamoff.

Each day started with with a series of lectures beginning with introductory lectures and building to more advanced information. All was easily understandable by most mineral collectors. Afternoons were spent mineral collecting at quarries that are being actively mined for gemstones. I highly recommend that every mineral collector should attend at least once if they are interested in how gem crystals form. Below was the week's schedule:

Day 1 Topics - Saturday, May 30

MORNING LECTURES: Introduction to Pegmatites; Earth's Chemistry; Silicate Classification;  Feldspar Chemistry; and Phase Equilibria

AFTERNOON FIELD SESSION: mineral collecting at the Western Mount Apatite Quarries, Auburn, Maine

Day 2 Topics - Sunday, May 31

MORNING LECTURES: Origin of Igneous Rocks; Magmatic Differentiation; Magma Genesis; Tectonic Setting

AFTERNOON FIELD SESSION: mineral collecting at Tamminen and Waisenan Quarries, Greenwood, Maine

EVENING GUEST: Frank Perham - First hand account of Newry Tourmaline Discovery

Day 3 Topics - Monday, June 1

MORNING LECTURES: Crystallization Dynamics; Volatiles in Pegmatites - H2O, Li, F, B, P - phase equilibria; Cooling & Crystallization of Pegmatites; Textures in Pegmatites, Aplites, Granites

AFTERNOON FIELD SESSION: visits to the Maine Mineral & Gem Museum in Bethel ,Maine and visiting Frank Perham's private collection

EVENING GUEST: Myles Felch on the Garnet line in Maine pegmatites.

Day 4 Topics - Tuesday, June 2

MORNING LECTURES: Pocket Formation; Zonation of Pegmatites; Classification of Granites and Pegmatites (NYF vs. LCT); Pocket Indicators

AFTERNOON FIELD SESSION: mineral collecting at Bennett Quarry, Buckfield Maine

Day 5 Topics - Wednesday, June 3

MORNING LECTURES: Pegmatites of the Iberian Peninsula and the Central Maine Pegmatite Belt; Mineralogy of the Tres Arroyos pegmatite field

AFTERNOON FIELD SESSION: mineral collecting at the Havey Quarry, Poland, Maine

EVENING SHORT TALKS: Phosphates of the Fletcher Quarry, Grafton County, New Hampshire; Highly Evolved Spodumene-Petalite Pegmatite of Florence County, Wisconsin

Day 6 Topics - Thursday, June 4

MORNING LECTURES: Pegmatite Mineralogy of the Conway granites, New Hampshire, Feldspar Mining in Maine, Bulk Chemistry of Mount Mica

AFTERNOON FIELD SESSION: mineral collecting at the Mount Mica Quarry including tour of the underground workings

Day 7 - Friday, June 5

FIELD SESSION: All Day Field Trip mineral collecting at the Emmons Quarry, Greenwood, Maine

Day 8 - Saturday, June 6

Mineral Tailgate - Cookout Party Day

As you can see the schedule offers a good balance of classes with collecting opportunities at quarries that are actively mined and not normally open to collectors. Best of all were the evenings gathered around the fire pit talking minerals and listening to Frank Perham's mining stories. The workshop was attended by a wide variety of mineral enthusiasts including geology students from the University of New Orleans, mineral collectors of all ages, the editor of Gems & Gemmology, and several retirees. The fees for all of the above, including food and lodging was less than $1000 for the 8 days - a bargain in today's economy.

If you are a serious mineral collector I highly urge you to try to attend next year. For more information go to http://pegworkshop.com/

5/19/2015

Most mineral web sites display the minerals for sale with a standard size photograph preview image. All of my preview images are 100 pixels high (except for large specimens or expensive specimens that are all 160 pixels high). The standard height makes the rows of preview images align.

But the standard sizes of the photographs can lead to misinterpretation of the relative sizes. Look at the examples below:

Brookite with Quartz from Kharan District, Baluchistan, Pakistan
#62942, Brookite, Kharan District, Pakistan (t) $175

Brookite from Kharan District, Baluchistan, Pakistan
#64596, Brookite, Kharan District, Pakistan (t) $225

The left specimen is 18 mm long. The right specimen is 39 mm long -- more than twice the size of the left specimen.

This is one example (of many) that illustrates that you cannot rely on photographs to assess relative size of comparable specimens. That is why I always list the overall size of each specimen and I list the sizes of the crystals on the specimen.

This phenomenon occurs with other dealers too. There is no way to avoid it. It is impractical to attempt to display the photos actual size as my diamonds would appear very small and my largest minerals are too large to display on a monitor. Besides, there is no standard computer monitor size. A full screen image on a laptop will be a different size than the same full screen image displayed on a smartphone or a large desktop computer monitor.

So learn to read the dimensions and have a metric ruler nearby for reference.

5/5/2015

It takes more than oneperson proclaiming a change in mineral nomenclature to ACTUALLY change the mineral nomenclature. For hundreds of years "rose quartz" has been defined as "the pink variety of quartz." Authoritative references states the name is defined by the color.

The bottom line is that rose quartz is the name given to PINK quartz. Just as amethyst is purple quartz, citrine is yellow quartz, morion is black quartz, etc.

These names are known as gem varieties. They have no mineralogical meaning -- they are all quartz.

But recently one author has proposed separating the pink variety of quartz into two groups: the massive pink variety with color caused by microscopic fibrous inclusions of a pink borosilicate; the other is the crystalline pink variety with color caused by irradiation induced color centers. The author proposes the former be labeled as rose quartz and the latter as pink quartz.

So he proposes two varieties of a variety of quartz. My brain hurts thinking about the stupidity of this proposal. He proposes rose quartz is quartz that is pink, and pink quartz is pink too. Yikes!

Fortunately it takes more than one person to change hundreds of years of mineral names. And in this case, we are not actually speaking of a mineral name. Rose quartz is a GEM VARIETY of quartz. Like amethyst, or aquamarine is a gem variety of beryl, ruby is a gem variety of corundum, emerald is a gem variety of beryl, rubellite is a gem variety of tourmaline.

This revision has not been accepted as a standard. The actual causes of the color, and the phenomenon that formed them are still uncertain. There is no need to start changing your labels yet.

4/28/2015

When buying minerals via the Internet, there are many dealers out there ranging from poor to excellent. A customer asked me about another dealer and it started me thinking about the attributes you should look for when buying from an online mineral dealer. Here is a list of considerations:

  1. Look for unequivocal statement of condition or damage. Do not ASSUME anything regarding to damage. Just because a site doesn't say anything about a chipped crystal, you cannot assume the crystal is not chipped. If is is undamaged, the description on the site should say so. If it is damaged it should say so too.

  2. Avoid buying specimens with damage visible to the naked eye. Of course pristine mineral specimens are much more expensive. So there is a trade-off . You should assess how visible the damage is versus a discounted price.

  3. Do not buy at mineral auctions. Online auctions are watched by too many smart collectors, so there is little chance of sneaking away with a bargain. The real reason I don't advise auctions is that the price is set by you (and other bidders) based solely on the photograph - which can be misleading. You are better off buying from a web site where the mineral dealer sets the price, while holding the specimen in his hand and inspecting closely, then setting a fair price based on years of experience. The prices realized by one of the biggest Ebay dealers selling via auction are MUCH HIGHER than the prices I charge for equivalent specimens.

  4. Before you order a specimen, try to visualized the actual size of the specimen. Get out a ruler and sketch out the dimensions listed on the mineral specimen's description. See how big  it is compared to other specimens in your collection.

  5. Adjust the brightness and contrast of your computer monitor so you are not mislead about the specimen's color. I have a test image that I will send you with instructions if you are interested. Don't assume that because your monitor was set at the factory that it has been optimally calibrated.

  6. Look for a No-Questions-Asked return policy. This is a black and white issue, there is no middle ground. Either the dealer will accept any return or he will not. Avoid any that do not readily accept returns.

  7. Look for signs the dealer knows what he is talking about. I have seen other mineral dealers out there that don't know the difference between transparent and translucent. Needless to say his descriptions were poor and essentially worthless.

I hope these guidelines help you avoid costly mistakes..

4/21/2015

Is your monitor properly calibrated?

Most people respond, "Yes, I haven't changed the factory settings since I bought it." The assumption is the monitor was properly calibrated in the factory and there is no need to make any adjustments after you purchase the monitor. Sadly, these assumptions are flawed.

Monitor manufacturers do not calibrate monitors. And your computer, software and interior lighting all affect what you see on your monitor. As evidence of this, I suggest visiting a computer store and looking at side-by-side comparisons of monitors displaying the same images. You will see there is a wide variety of color rendition.

I am not going to tell you how to calibrate your monitor. But I am going to help you identify if your monitor needs calibration. Click on the small test image to see the larger test image:

In each half of the image are tints: top row - cyan, red; middle row - yellow, gray; bottom row - green, magenta. The white half has 5% tints of the these colors. The black half has 95% tints. Can you see all of the tints?

If your monitor is set too dark, you will not see all of the 95% tints. If your monitor is too light, you will not see the 5% tints. If your monitor has too much red (most common) the gray squares (middle row, right side) will have reddish hue. The most difficult color for monitors to display are yellows. This is because the red, green, blue phosphors in the monitor do not easily combine to make yellow. How do the yellow squares (middle row, left side) look? Do the look yellow or pink?

Below is another test image without the color.

Can you see the 1% stripes in the black and the white fields? My smart phone does not see the lightest stripe. My computer monitor sees all of the stripes.

These are computer-generated test images. There is a problem with your display if you cannot see the test images. That means you are not seeing what others see. This will inevitably lead to disappointment when you receive a mineral specimen from this site.

If you discover the need to calibrate your monitor after using these test images, I suggest purchasing one of the software programs that will control your monitor. Or use the adjustments for your graphics card.

Do not leave it as is. Fix it.

4/14/2015

I want to follow-up to my previous commentary about the IMA revising mineral names and eliminating ancient species like biotite and lepidolite.

When this problem first started about 15 years ago, I cornered Joe Mandarino, the author of the best reference of mineral names: The Glossary of Mineral Species. Before the Internet this was the final reference for what the proper mineral names accepted by the IMA and Joe was one of the most respected mineralogists alive.

I asked him if using "Apophyllite-(KF)"  was mandatory or if "Apophyllite" was acceptable.

He responded that it is perfectly fine to use the simplified names, especially when the exact species has not been determined by definitive testing. He also pointed out that there is no easy test for lepidolite (which is now a Mineral Group name that covers the species Polylithionite and Trilithionite) because testing for lithium is impossible due to it being a very light element.

So if it was OK for Joe Mandarino, it is OK for me (see my previous commentary on this subject at the link below.)

Now another issue: I am discontinuing use of Zaire. I used to list the country as: Democratic Republic of Congo (Zaire). I see no reason to continue. Zaire has not been the name of that country for 18 years. I think it is safe to drop it's use. And remember the Republic of Congo is a different country than the Democratic Republic of Congo.

3/31/2015

I give up.

I am no longer going to chase after the new names of mineral species as the IMA revises them. The IMA has systematically confused the nomenclature. They are trying to make mineral names consistent, but in their efforts, they have managed to make them inconsistent.

On example is the mineral species Apophyllite. It used to be simply that: Apophyllite. Then they divided that species into several smaller species: Fluorapophyllite, Hydroxyapophyllite and Natroapophyllite. Then they adopted the new system of using suffixes and changed the names to Apophyllite-(KF), Apophyllite-(KOH) and Apophyllite-(NaF). Now the names have been changed AGAIN (for the third time in 15 years) to Fluorapophyllite-(K), Fluorapophyllite-(OH) and Fluorapophyllite-(Na).

Note that when they did the same with Stilbite, they renamed them Stilbite-Ca and Stilbite-Na. Do you see the inconsistency that they did not use parentheses? You can bet they are going to revise either stilbite or apophyllite sometime in the near future.

And have you seen what's happened (or happening) to the tourmaline group? Look at these proposed tourmaline species:
  • Adachiite
  • Chromium-dravite

  • Chromo-alumino-povondraite

  • Darrellhenryite

  • Dravite

  • Elbaite

  • Feruvite

  • Fluor-buergerite

  • Fluor-dravite

  • Fluor-elbaite

  • Fluor-liddicoatite

  • Fluor-schorl

  • Fluor-tsilaisite

  • Fluor-uvite

  • Foitite

  • Luinaite-(OH)
  • Magnesio-foitite

  • Maruyamaite

  • Olenite

  • Oxy-chromium-dravite

  • Oxy-dravite

  • Oxy-schorl

  • Oxy-vanadium-dravite

  • Povondraite

  • Rossmanite

  • Schorl

  • Tsilaisite

  • Uvite

  • Vanadio-oxy-chromium-dravite

  • Vanadio-oxy-dravite

Note that Feruvite does not have a hyphen, but fluor-uvite does. Only one uses the suffix-type naming. Inconsistent, inconsistent, inconsistent...And what a mess!

And let's not forget that the IMA, in their infinite wisdom, eliminated the mineral species Lepidolite, Biotite, Wolframite, Zinnwaldite. Yes, that is correct -- they are not valid mineral species, in spite of the fact that they've been around for 150 years.

Don't get me started with amphiboles!

As a result of this craziness, and a lot more, I am no longer using revised IMA-approved species until any new nomenclature has been in use for 20 years. I am reverting to apophyllite, stilbite, and will stubbornly refuse to eliminate biotite and lepidolite.

3/24/2015

Parents of young collectors frequently request advice on assisting their children in assembling a mineral collection. Perhaps, in the future I will write a Parent's Guide,. However, there is an article on my site that is close: Advice For Beginners: Nine Lessons Learned from Experience.

It is difficult to make specific recommendations on exactly what minerals to buy because every collector/family is different. I do have a gallery on my site of minerals that I personally recommend. These are items that are good quality, fairly priced, and went unnoticed. You can't go wrong with anything on that page. I also have mineral sets of thumbnail-sized specimens that are a good start for beginners.

Other than those suggestions, all I can add is to go slow, use a good book, and shop around.

As an aside, when I was first starting out, I purchased a large group of minerals from a NJ zeolite collector. All of the minerals were unlabeled, so I did not know the mineral species of each. So I got a list of the minerals found there, looked up each mineral to find the crystal shape and distinct attributes, then worked my way through the collection identifying them using a little cheat-sheet I created. IT WAS THE BEST EXPERIENCE FOR A BEGINNER. I can now identify on sight all species from the NJ zeolite cavities. It was a great way to learn about minerals.

3/17/2015

Collectors often acquire old mineral specimens that were mounted with the inexpensive blue tack, or possibly really old Mineral Tack, that has hardened and difficult to remove. I have a long experience in removing old mineral tack. When I buy old collection, I remove all previous mounts, whether glue, plumber's putty, plaster of Paris, or mineral tack.

Here are some tricks for removing old mineral tack:

  1. Soak in hot water (if the mineral will tolerate heat). The temperature will soften the hard tack making it easier to remove.

  2. Use a ball of new mineral tack and press it against the old. Mineral tack sticks to itself better than it sticks to the mineral.

  3. If the old tack is hard, the solvent/plasticizer has leached out and was absorbed by the mineral. Applying a ball of new tack to the old, and letting sit for a week will often soften old tack if it isn't too hard.

  4. Use a solvent like Goo-Gone or rubber cement thinner (I use Bestine). First apply a small amount to soften the tack. If the old tack will still not peel off, soak the mineral in the solvent. After a few minutes the tack will begin to dissolve. Speed the process by using an old toothbrush to agitate. As the solvent becomes dirty with the dissolved tack, discard and pour out fresh solvent and continue until all tack is gone.

  5. When all else fails, get a knife or dental tools to physically scrape off the tack.

I hope you find these tips useful.

3/10/2015

Many people have asked about how to start a business. Below is the process in New York. Your state probably has a similar process:

To begin you must file with the New York County Clerk a form known as DBA (Doing Business As). This form is available at any office supply store that carries business forms. After filling out three copies of the form you must have them notarized. Then simply go to the County Clerk's office and they keep two copies and give you a copy. As soon as you have filed, you are in business.

Then you should file with the state for a certificate of authority to collect sales tax and resale certificate that will allow you to purchase items intended for resale without paying sales tax. Once the state issues a certificate you must file quarterly sales tax payments. You are required to file quarterly for two years. If during that time your annual sales tax payments are less than $250.00 then the state will send you a form allowing you to switch to annual filing. Filing is done online and takes about 30 minutes each quarter (if you keep good records) In order to establish your credit, and do business with others, you should then open a business checking account with your bank. The bank will hold one copy of the DBA form on file at your local branch.

Also, you will need to get a credit card clearing house to establish an account to process your credit card transactions. I use PayPal and Square to accept payments.

Getting a web domain is simpler today, than it was when I started. At that time, there was only one place to register your domain: Network Solutions. Now any hosting service can register the domain. My advice is to pick your hosting service first, then register through them. I highly recommend Web.com as a hosting service. They are very reliable, reasonably priced and excellent support. You do not have to use a host, if you set up a store front through Yahoo or Ebay or similar like Etsy. There are advantages to having a store front with them and it might be easier. But I prefer to be a stand-alone web site – it is more professional.

Digital cameras are all very similar. I recommend Sony or Nikon cameras. Remember, for web use only, you do not need a very good camera because web images are kept small to speed page-loading time. I suggest reading my article at: http://www.johnbetts-fineminerals.com/jhbnyc/articles/photo.htm. Even though it is tailored to a different audience, much will apply to you.

Then you need to apply to mineral show organizers to get on the waiting list for a booth at the shows. Some small shows have outdoor sections where anybody can set up a table and sell. Really big shows usually have available space and are not too difficult to get in, though in the early years you may be relegated to a lonely corner of the show. However the local club shows usually have a stable list of dealers and vacancies do not occur very often. You will have to bide your time.

I hope this helps any aspiring mineral dealers.

Once you have accomplished the above, you will need to build a web site, learn mineral photography, and set up a shipping system or shipping staff. For the record, I personally designed my web site, wrote every word of mineral descriptions and articles, photographed every mineral specimen, and wrapped-boxed-shipped every shipment. So you do not need a staff if you are energetic (and cheap like me).

3/3/2015

I am tired of people wining about Tucson! Quit your bitching and moaning.

You are correct, Tucson is not like the old days. Now minerals are much higher quality, with less damage, and better locality data.

Now that I have washed, boxed, cataloged, priced all of the minerals acquired on my recent buying trip to Tucson, I have reached the conclusion that this was my best buying trip EVER. Excellent minerals were available at truly wholesale prices. I drained my bank account completely. I wish all years were this good.

Sadly much of the Tucson shows is no longer wholesale. Many retail dealers set up at "wholesale" shows offering a 20% "wholesale" discount. That is not wholesale. Wholesale at a minimum is keystone (= 50% off retail). In the old days it was not uncommon to see double-keystone (25% off retail) or even triple-keystone (= 33% off retail).

But this year there was plenty of truly wholesale minerals available in Tucson and I made some great scores.

But there are always a vocal group out there writing commentaries complaining about prices. I'm tired of their wining. These are the same guys that still want to pay 50 cents for a cup of coffee and gasoline for 60 cents per gallon.  They are also the same guys that complain "there's no place to go collecting anymore" (take a look at the Northeastern Rockhounds group on Facebook to see what collectors are still finding). Everything was always better 20 years ago with these curmudgeons.

Buying minerals at a mineral show, whether wholesale or retail, is the same process as collecting on a huge mine dump from a closed mine. You must search through thousands of specimens to find the keepers. At a show, you must search everyone's inventory looking for fair prices and good quality.

Maybe becoming a complainer is a part of getting old. Nothing is as good as the old days. And they are going to tell anyone that will listen.

Pay no attention to them. Look for the fair prices -- you will find them.

2/24/2015

You will notice the new minerals posted in the last 3 weeks are "rich" with an assortment of high-end specimens. I am posting these new minerals, acquired on my recent buying trip in Tucson, because the mineral show season starts in 12 days with the March 7-8, 2015 New York Gem & Mineral Show.

In the early days, I took my best newly acquired minerals to shows first in the hope of attracting attention with colorful new finds. Then, if they were still available after the first mineral shows, they were posted to my web site. This method was because I was most loyal to my show customers that bought from me before the Internet was invented.

But now I post newly acquired minerals to my web site first. I am more loyal to my Internet-based customers because 99% of the specimens sold are through the Internet. Then, if they are still available when the next mineral show occurs, they will be included in my show booth.

One side benefit of this method is all minerals are photographed and described, allowing inclusion in my Online Mineral Museum. In my early days, I sold many superb specimens at shows before ever photographing them. Most notable were the best of the Robert Linck collection which was the finest collection I have ever dispersed. Sadly I never captured images of most of the great minerals in the collection.

2/17/2015

I received a rude email today from a Russian associated with Mindat claiming a photo I posted to Mindat was a fake. I hope his rudeness was due to his poor language skills. It was not posted as a fake -- it was an error.

There is a big difference between fakes and error. Fakes are intentional and purposely meant to deceive or mislead. An error is accidental, with no intended malice.

Years ago Dan Weinrich sold off hundreds of celestine crystals that he collected in Hammam Zriba, Tunisia. At the time he incorrectly labeled them as barite. He did not identify the correct species because he was faking. He made a mistake.

I once posted a calcite ps. glauberite from Camp Verde, Arizona that had been soaked in copper-rich solution to give it a green color. I did not know that the green color was added later by some unscrupulous dealer (a fake), and I innocently posted it as what was on the label (an error). I was ignorant. I was wrong. But I was not faking anything. (However a site specializing in mineral fakes said I was posting a fake.)

The specimen the Russian accused me of faking was from Joe Cilen's collection. Joe assembled a collection of 25,000 mineral specimens, many from the early days of mineral collecting when exact localities were unimportant. I suspect the specimen was correctly identified for species, but that the locality was incorrect -- not uncommon when dealing with Russian minerals during the cold war era where reliable information was difficult to obtain.

Every dealer has made errors. I optimistically rely on previous labels, which are not always correct. I never intentionally post fakes.

2/3/2015

I write this week's commentary sitting in the Tucson airport. I was here attending the early mineral shows to buy new specimens. Now I am waiting for my airplane flight home which is delayed by the bad weather in Chicago and New York.

I have been buying in Tucson for 22 years and have seen many changes. This year's shows held few surprises. The supposed "wholesale" shows are now populated mostly with retail dealers. Finding true wholesalers was difficult, but there were enough that I was able to drain my bank account.

As regulars to this site know, 2/3 of the minerals I sell are acquired from old collections. I like these minerals because they usually are from finds or deposits that are no longer available. But I travel to Tucson to obtain specimens to fill in the gaps in my inventory. I do NOT buy new finds that are available in large quantities, like the new red quartz and the new pink cobaltocalcite, both from Morocco. They are too plentiful and I do not know where the prices will settle.

This year I was able to obtain a large group of minerals from northern England, Scotland, Ireland; a collection of old-find minerals from Brazil, notably nice purple apatites from Golconda; gold specimens from New Guinea; a small group from Broken Hill, New South Wales, Australia; an assortment of classic from Tsumeb including several fine miniatures; plus hundreds of assorted mineral specimens from worldwide localities. It was a successful trip

The minerals are now in transit to NYC and will begin to appear next week.

1/28/2015

Every collector should ensure every mineral specimen in their collection is accompanied by a label (so that his heirs can sell them if the collector gets hit by a car tomorrow).

Some dealers provide huge labels that overshadow the size of the specimens. These oversized labels are destined to be discarded or folded many times and stored under the specimen. Some collectors rely on those garish acrylic bases that are visually too reflective (competing with the mineral) and the text cannot be revised or edited easily.

So most collectors create their own labels. But there is no standard size for mineral labels. Here is a good rule of thumb: the labels should not exceed the size of the specimen.

This means a label for a thumbnail-sized specimen will be smaller than a label for a cabinet-sized specimen. And if the specimens are displayed at a mineral show, they may require separate display labels to improve legibility -- but those are specialty labels.

Here is my ideal label: print out a very small label onto clear mylar (the type of mylar used in the old overhead displays). Remember, you are not limited to 8 point type in Word even though that is the smallest size type that appears in the drop-down menu for text size in Word. And you can scale down the document to half size or smaller when printing. Then cut out each label which will have black text on clear (transparent) mylar and adhere it to the bottom of the specimen with a piece of Mineral Tack. This label solution is unobrtusive, waterproof, can be easily replaced, does not damage the specimen, and cannot be separated from the specimen.

1/20//2015

I receive many offers of minerals for sale from collectors. Frequently the collectors searched the Internet for similar items and were confronted with, not surprisingly, a wide array of prices for similar specimens. In these instances, they select the highest price found and decide that is the value of the specimen they own. That is a flawed methodology.

To determine the value of a mineral specimen, you must ensure the comparables are equal in:

If you still find a multitude of prices for exactly equal specimens, then throw out the highest price and throw out the lowest price, and take the average of the rest of the specimen prices to determine the value of yours. Assume your specimen is average. Use the wisdom that, "If you hear hoof beats, think horse -- not zebra." Meaning your mineral is going to be common and average, it is not going to be extraordinary record-breaking quality.

If you still are convinced your specimen is worth a high price as a nearly identical specimen with an extraordinarily high price, then try selling your specimen to THAT mineral dealer. Do not offer it to me. I try to keep my prices fair and average. I do not pay high prices.

1/13/2015

There is a growing trend among some mineral dealers to use hands in photographs, holding each mineral, to provide scale. I have decided to use this method and have hired a hand model to hold my minerals:

Mineral of the Week

I hope you find this change useful.

Seriously though, do NOT rely on hands in a photograph for scale. If a hand is even slightly behind a specimen, the hand appears inordinately small (and the mineral appears inordinately large) due to tricks of perspective caused by short focal length lenses. It is much better to rely on the dimensions listed for each item. Get out a ruler and sketch out the dimensions on a piece of paper to get a "feel" for the size. Or hold the "Control" button down on your keyboard while scrolling your mouse wheel -- this allows you to resize the images until they match the dimensions listed.

Assessing scale of a specimens is a BIG problem. It is the single most common reason for returns. Invariably customers report "I thought it was larger."

Take responsibility for understanding the size of a specimen. You are given all of the information you need.

1/6/2015

At the beginning of every year I add the minerals sold during the previous year to my Online Mineral Museum. There are now over 46,000 minerals illustrated in the museum with over 96,000 images.

The museum is searchable by species and by locality. When searching you are not required to type in the complete mineral or locality. If you search for "q" minerals from "ariz" you will see all quartz specimens, and specimens containing quartz as an accessory mineral, from Arizona. If you uncertain about spelling try entering the most minimal spelling.

For those of you that want to see a specific item that you may have purchased in the past year, you may see it by substituting the 5-digit item number at the end of the address for any other item. For example:

  1. If you are viewing this mineral: http://www.johnbetts-fineminerals.com/jhbnyc/mineralmuseum/picshow.php?id=60583

  2. But you want to view item #45535.  Then substitute 45535 for the 60583 in the browser address and hit enter.

  3. It will go to: http://www.johnbetts-fineminerals.com/jhbnyc/mineralmuseum/picshow.php?id=45535

It may sound confusing, but is actually quite simple.

Some day, when I have unlimited free time (I am giggling to myself at the absurdity of having ANY free time) I will make the museum searchable by collector or fluorescence or item number. Until then, Google has indexed the museum and you can have it search the museum for you. If you want to see all Albite specimens from Joe Cilen's collection in my museum search on "Albite cilen site:johnbetts-fineminerals.com". To see a specific item number (such as #45535 mentioned above) search for "#45535 site:johnbetts-fineminerals.com".

The minerals from 2014 have not been completely indexed by Google, but they will probably finish capturing them all by the end of this week.

I hope you find the Online Mineral Museum a valuable reference.

12/16/2014

Last week I posted about acquiring a new camera for mineral photographs. I had some questions in response to that posting. Here is one important clarification about what I wrote:

The Nikon Coolpix P7700 does have a macro mode and you can look at my New Listings week to see it has no problem with close-ups of small items.

When selecting a camera I rejected the Nikon S9700 and P330 because it does not have a fold-out LCD viewfinder which I consider ESSENTIAL. A fold-out LCD viewfinder allows me to stand upright and frame the photo while the camera and mineral are at about waist level. I once got terrible back spasms after a weekend of photographing minerals when I first started my site 18 years ago. The pain was from bending over for three days straight. Ever since I insist of a pivoting LCD viewfinder.

The Nikon P600 has a folding viewfinder, but there is no need for it's SLR viewfinder which is for scenic photography. Remember, I was a camera designer for Kodak and Polaroid for 25 years and I do not believe in paying for features that are never used.

I purchased a P7700 on Ebay for $250 with 4 GB card. I then added an AC adapter for long photo sessions.

The camera performs perfectly. No processing delay. No complaints. After photographing about 400 specimens I now have optimized the camera settings. Yesterday I resolved my issue with photographing under UV illumination.

The Nikon Coolpix P7700 is not a camera for all uses. I was specifically looking for a camera for photographing minerals which meant I needed macro mode, aperture priority mode, precise white balance control, ease of adjusting exposure quickly, and the fold-out LCD viewfinder mentioned above. I do not care about zoom range, panorama, movies, action modes. I am only photographing minerals and for that purpose the Nikon Coolpix P7700 is perfectly suited.

12/9/2014

After 9 years I recently upgraded my camera. I've worn out 3 of my Nikon Coolpix 4500 over the years shooting over 1.5 million initial images that  were edited down to 85,000 final images. In many ways the Nikon Coolpix 4500 is still the perfect camera for taking Internet-resolution photographs. It was not the best or the highest resolution or highest ISO. But it had a small lens that allowed getting close to a small diamond crystals AND still get light in from the side to illuminate the diamond. And it had an LCD viewfinder that was independent of the lens allowing viewing the image while standing above, with the camera was at waist level. Lastly, the resolution was more than adequate for my needs.

My new camera is the Nikon Coolpix P7700 (below) which is higher resolution and higher ISO than my old camera and it also has an independent LCD viewfinder.

I am still getting used to the new camera. I have not yet discovered the best settings for photographing under UV illumination for fluorescent minerals, which is why my UV photos are slightly (or not so slightly) out of focus. And it has slowed my photographing down, requiring more time for each mineral.

I started posting larger images as a result of the new camera. But I find they may be too large. It will take some time to find the right balance.

For those looking to upgrade their camera I highly recommend the Nikon Coolpix P7700. Note: the model was recently replaced by the Nikon Coolpix P7800 which has the addition of an optical viewfinder too (which is of no use for shooting mineral photos. So save your money and buy a used or refurbished Coolpix 7700 on Ebay.

12/2/2014

Online reference sites are excellent resources for current mineral occurrences and the current mineral marketplace. But when researching historic localities and mineral occurrences most online references are of little value. I use historic publications and recent articles about historic occurrences for my research. The best references for historic finds are:

For specific regions I use local mineralogies:

There are numerous other references for UK, African, Asian localities that I use too.

These are peer-reviewed, well-researched booksthat are authoritative references. And in most instances are they unequaled by online references. I have reduced my mineral library significantly, but the above references are used almost every week when researching old minerals acquired through collections (I buy 5-15 collections per year).

New collectors are cautioned about using only online references. For example, Mindat.org makes no claim to being COMPLETE listings. And omission from Mindat is absolutely no evidence it is wrong. If you read the small type at the bottom of the Mindat locality pages you will note that it says in very small type: "...This does not claim to be a complete list...."

I have had thousands of specimens from old localities, both personally collected and collected by famous diggers like George Robinson, that are not listed in Mindat for their localities. For this reason never cite Mindat as a reference -- always use the original citation if there is a printed reference (for mineral listings at a locality on Mindat, click on the small "i" icon next to the mineral species to see the original citation source).

The Internet is a wonderful tool, but Wikipedia, Mindat, and other online references are severely limited for minerals found before 1980.

11/25/2014

Email is not a reliable way to communicate.

Email services filter email; email accounts filter email; emails are accidentally lost or deleted; emails are slow. And emails with links are viewed as suspect because of the many virus-generated spam emails that we all receive. If you cannot rely on email, then what is the best way to communicate?

My answer is to continue to use email, but with the understanding that it has problems and is not foolproof.

For years I a rarely checked my Spam folder. Suspect emails went straight to the folder without my knowledge. A few months ago I discovered important emails were being overlooked. So I now check it once per day. How often do you check your Spam folder?

One older mineral dealer always swore at people that did not respond immediately to his emails. He said, "They are snubbing me." When in fact the recipient was traveling and could not access email, or his response was filtered by the dealer's email account, or there was a typo in the email address, or similar common reason for delayed email.

Do not think the worst if I fail to respond to your emails. I always try to respond to every email inquiry (at least the ones that use proper capitalization and grammar). Send a second follow-up email without embedded links. And for submitting orders, you can use my online order form. It is fast and secure and the communication cannot be lost.

Email is not perfect. Recognizing it's shortcomings, will lead to understanding that some delays must be tolerated.

11/18/2014

Next week is the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. Every year I spend Thanksgiving day washing and rearranging the minerals in my display cases.

Display cases are good at keeping minerals from getting dusty, but they are not perfect. I find that a very fine layer of dust accumulates on the shelves, and on the minerals, after only a year. There are no cobwebs, but there is a layer that takes away from the crystal luster.

So I spend the day getting some empty boxes/flats, and removing the minerals from the cases. Then I dissolve some Dawn dishwashing detergent in water and I wash each specimen using an old toothbrush and let them dry thoroughly. While the minerals are drying I clean the display case shelves and glass doors. Finally I replace the minerals into the cases in a new arrangement.  During this process I edit my mineral selections. Newly acquired minerals are added and others are removed to be stored elsewhere.

I highly recommend that every min ral collector go through this process once a year. Your minerals will be cleaner and your display will be refreshed. No display case completely prevents dust from accumulating on the minerals. Take the time to keep them clean. They will look so much better.

11/11/2014

Recently I received several questions about insuring mineral collections. Insurance companies limit the coverage of collectibles under the standard homeowners policy. Instead they require a rider that covers the collectibles based on an appraised value. Often the riders are expensive - I was quoted $30 per $1000 coverage per year. Most mineral collectors do not insure their collections because the cost is too high. Insurance

Do you need to insure your collection? Are you at risk? What are the risks to a mineral collection?

Unless you have rare gemstones or gold specimens in your collection, you don't need to worry about theft. Thieves want items they can sell quickly like TVs or jewelry. They do not want minerals.

Water damage from a broken pipe won't hurt most minerals. Only water soluble minerals can be damaged by water, and most of those will survive too. I had a water pipe break and soak a large plate of halite from Trona, California. The water did not damage the specimen and only resulted in a puddle of brine on the counter beneath the specimen. Water will ruin books and old mineral labels. Paper items should be stored where they are protected from water. I store mine behind glass-front display cases. And your labels should be printed on a laser printer, because ink jet printers use ink that bleeds when wet.

Unless you live in California, you don't need to worry about earthquakes. If you do, a crushproof vault or room with special mineral storage containers are a better investment than insurance.

The real worries are the types of damage that will totally destroy your home. Fire, hurricane or tornado damage will destroy a collection. Assess whether your collection is at risk to these catastrophes. (If you are building a new house, it would be advisable to add a sprinkler system to your mineral room.)

If you decide that you are at risk, want insurance and can get a reasonable insurance premium for coverage, then you will need to get an appraisal of your mineral collection. Ask your local mineral dealer if he can do the appraisal. It will cost you an appraisal fee, but it is worth the expense if you are insuring an important collection.

10/28/2014

As regular readers know, I have repeatedly written about why I describe the damage/condition of each specimen, and that collectors should buy the best quality that they can afford, and that mineral prices should reflect the condition of the specimen (i.e. do not pay full price for an imperfect specimen).

But sometimes the condition cannot be assessed. A few pieces this week defied description because they cannot be assessed whether the crystals are damaged or if they formed naturally in imperfect crystals.

I try to determine condition on every specimen by viewing each closely under 20x magnification. 99% of the minerals can easily be graded for damage or condition. But occasionally they defy description. Also, if a specimen is under $15 or $20 then the discounted price already compensates the purchaser if there is damage. And the purchaser should assume it is imperfect if the price is that low.

How do you describe a specimen that has a cluster of many crystals and one of the crystals has a crystallized impression from an intersecting crystal that is no longer present? It is natural, it is not damaged by human action or geologic processes, but it is imperfect.

Lastly, many localities rarely produce undamaged specimens. The Deer Hill amethyst locality in Maine was once under a glacier that was 5000 feet thick. The glacier caused the cavities to be crushed inflicting damage on most of the amethyst crystals. So it is close to impossible to obtain perfect, undamaged specimens.

So the take-away for the collector is to read the descriptions carefully, expect the price to be reduced commensurately on imperfect/damaged specimens and to question any dealer or description that fails to explicitly describe damage.

Last week I was traveling to the Munich Mineral Show (Mineraleintage Munchen). While visiting the show, I was surprised at the minerals and the dealers -- they are nearly the same as those shown here in the USA, especially at the Tucson shows.

I expected more European minerals. I expected more Moroccan minerals. I expected more Tsumeb minerals. I was wrong.

I guess this is evidence of globalization and the axiom that, "minerals migrate to where they are most appreciated." This phrase usually is applied to minerals being deaccessed from museums and sold into private hands. But in the case of the minerals that I saw in Munich, the best minerals had already migrated to the USA. This same phenomenon is why it is easier to buy quality Brazilian minerals here in the USA, rather than from the limited supply available in Brazil itself.

Perhaps the Internet is also responsible for the "ordinary" minerals offered in Munich. Dealers are selling directly to collectors through the Internet, rather than selling them at the "big" shows like Munich.

Will this trend continue? Will regional shows worldwide start to all look alike? Will the Internet replace traveling to the big shows?

Nobody know the answers, but I know that my buying activity will change, and that my business travel will be curtailed.

Have you noticed the "sculptural" specimens of wire-habit native silver appearing on the market? Often there are a number of wire splayed out in a radiating fan-like formation all in the same plane. Or those twisted wire silvers that look like corkscrews.

It would be wonderful if they were natural. But sadly they are the handiwork of miners or dealers.

Think about it. What is the likelihood that they would all align in the same plane? Or form in a perfect twist?

Here is a specimen showing how the silver wire can be manipulated:

Sadly collectors are buying these specimens, paying a premium for the fantastic forms and arrangements, without realizing they are the result of human intervention.

If it is too good to be natural, it probably is not natural. Nature is random.

There is nothing wrong with buying specimens of wire silver that have been teased out away from the matrix. And you should feel free to adjust them as you see fit once you own them. But do not pay a premium because the arrangement is so good.

John H. Betts, 10/14/2014

10/7/2014

A small group of minerals is included in an upcoming auction at the Doyle auction house. When reviewing the minerals I was intrigued by their disclaimer after each description:

Any condition statement is given as a courtesy to a client, is only an opinion and should not be treated as a statement of fact... The absence of a condition statement does not imply that the lot is in perfect condition or completely free from wear and tear, imperfections or the effects of aging.

I think there are some mineral dealers that should add this disclaimer to their web site descriptions. And I think mineral collectors should note this disclaimer and assume this type of disclaimer is in effect.

Over 99% of the minerals on this site have an explicit statement describing damage of imperfections. Yes, I repeatedly use the same phrases because there are only so many ways that you can say the a crystal is missing or the termination is chipped. The only specimens on this site that do not have condition statements are massive specimens that don't have crystals, inexpensive student's specimens, or specimens that I cannot tell if they are damaged or not.

As regulars know, I recommend buying specimens with no damage, or if you cannot afford an expensive undamaged specimen, you should buy specimens with no visible damage when displayed and the price should be reduced in compensation.

So when buying minerals via the internet, be sure the dealer explicitly describes the damage and you should make a direct inquiry if a statement is missing (at least for specimens above $25).

9/30/2014

Two years ago I acquired a specimen from the Zomba District of Malawi that was labeled as wulfenite. Once again, I did not trust the label and hedged my description by listing it as wulfenite-stolzite because the crystal form was atypical for wulfenite and wulfenite was not listed on Mindat as occurring at the locality.

That was a mistake.

I finally sent the sample for EDS testing. The results yielded wulfenite with no tungsten that would have made it stolzite.

I should have trusted the label from the supplier and I should have known better than to believe Mindat is a definitive resource. It is not. The fine print at the bottom of the locality pages on Mindat says, "The above list contains all mineral locality references listed on mindat.org. This does not claim to be a complete list." That's an understatement. In the last week, I've cataloged three specimens that are not represented or listed on Mindat for their localities.

Of course, EDS testing has it's limitation too. It cannot distinguish all mineral species. But in this case it can and I should have trusted my supplier who had his specimens tested.

Today I relisted the specimen properly labeled as wulfenite and will include the test results with the specimen.

P.S. Do not forget that all mineral specimens I sell have a lifetime guarantee: if the mineral specimen is ever tested, and I incorrectly identified the mineral species, I will refund the cost of the original purchase & shipping, the cost return shipping and the cost of the test.

9/23/2014

My minerals go online at about 11:25 Eastern Time (New York Time), not 12:00 noon time as promised on my site.

This extra time allows me to fix any errors. About once per year I forget to upload the images corresponding with the new minerals. Or there will be a server error that crashes the file transfer. Or I am delayed when returning from my warehouse prior to the update going online.

So I promise the minerals go online at 12:00 noon, but start the process 35 minutes earlier.

Most weeks the update is normally uploaded and running by 11:25. So do not wait until the stated noon time to check the new listings. In fact, many collectors set a reminder on their computer to see the new listings at 11:30. As a result, many newly posted minerals sell and are removed from the galleries by noon.

So do not wait until noon. Better is to follow this site on Facebook or sign-up for my email announcements that are sent as soon as the update is ready.

9/16/2014

I have recently been posting zeolite minerals from the quarries of New Jersey. These minerals are found in trap rock quarries mining basalt. The minerals occur in gas cavities that formed in a series of basalt flows that formed the arc-shaped Watchung Mountains. The quarries are extracting trap rock that is crushed for use in road construction and aggregate fill. Collectors have haunted these quarries for over 100 years, preserving minerals for collections.

Until now. Almost all are closed.

Upper New Street Quarry is closed. Lower New Street Quarry is Closed. Millington Quarry is closed.

A few quarries remain open, but collectors are not allowed access. Already there is a shortage of good mineral specimens. Soon these New Jersey zeolites are going to become rare. Just like when the Illinois fluorite mines closed in 1993, new mineral specimens became unavailable and the prices of the minerals started to climb.

Soon the only source of New Jersey zeolites will be old collections. Fortunately thousands of minerals were collected over the years, so I am sure they will trickle out of collections for years to come.

But be forewarned: the supply is ending. Now is the time to get the last of these classic specimens.

8/19/2014
I routinely recommend washing your minerals in soap and water and lightly scrub the surfaces with an old toothbrush. I recommend using dishwashing detergent like Cascade dissolved in water. Obviously you cannot wash water-soluble minerals in water. But be forewarned: you cannot wash gypsum or anglesite in Cascade detergent.

Cascade has something in it that causes a milky surface alteration to anglesite and gypsum (and possibly other sulfate minerals). If the crystals are already milky, then no harm is done. But if you wash water-clear gypsum crystals from Spain or Mexico (or another locality) the Cascade will ruin that clarity. The same is true for transparent anglesite.

Again, if the crystals are translucent then this advice is not important. But take caution when washing highly-lustrous transparent crystals.

8/12/2014

Mineral clubs and show promoters wonder why attendance at mineral shows is stagnant or declining.

Of course the obvious is the price of gasoline keeps rising which deters collectors from traveling long distances. But another reason for decline is that many mineral dealers have reduced their participation to fewer shows each year (fewer good dealers means less reason for collectors to attend)

I spent 3 days last weekend selling at a show, I was sadly tempted to stop participating because:

  1. I was robbed by shoplifters that took two good specimens (fortunately they left the label on one so I know it is missing. The other had the label taken too so I will not know what is missing until someone orders it and I spend 2 hours searching.)

  2. I watched a kid pick his nose then wipe his finger on a mineral.

  3. Three specimens were broken by shoppers that pawed the specimens while assessing their healing power.

  4. One elderly collector that I never met before started ranting to me about outrageous mineral prices at other booths (why was he complaining to me?)

  5. Two of my regular wholesale suppliers were selling near me in the retail section of the show (it's no wonder I didn't sell any of their items because they were undercutting prices.)

These and other events will some day force me to stop selling at shows. But I enjoy seeing old friends, meeting my internet-based customers, and being offered new finds from local collectors. Plus it gets me out of my house. I just wish attendees were better behaved.

7/29/2014

Occasionally I get requests for "Certificates of Authenticity." I do not know who started issuing Certificates of Authenticity (CofE), but I suspect it was a con man scamming some novice into overpaying for a worthless rock. 

Collectors need to know one thing about the value of a CofE: They are worth only as much as the cheap paper they are printed upon.

Anybody with a printer can create a CofE. It does not make them experts. And I have purchased over 100 mineral collections and seen many mineral specimens documented by a CofE; a large percentage were wrong.

Collectors should not rely on a dealer that issues a CofE. Find a dealer that knows minerals, strives for accuracy, and stands behind the minerals he sells.

For example, all of my minerals have a Lifetime Guarantee: if a mineral specimen is ever tested, and I incorrectly identified the mineral species, I will refund the cost of the original purchase & shipping, the cost return shipping and the cost of the test. No dealer is perfect. Mistakes are made. I gladly accept returns when an error is made -- even if it is a specimen I sold years ago.

Do not rely on a piece of paper to authenticate a mineral. Know what mineral species you are buying and verify that the item matches the characteristics of that species if there is any doubt. You must take responsibility for building a quality collection.

A visitor responded:

"Wonderful commentary today (July 29, 2014) about Certificates of Authenticity. You are absolutely correct about the origins of these worthless documents. Years ago, my wife collected autographs from famous people. She had quite a collection. Many of these autographs came on full color, glossy photographs accompanied by Certificates of Authenticity. Her collection of these autographs ended when she visited a factory in China that produced fake antiquities. Another room in this factory was turning out hundreds of thousands of fake, signed photos of famous celebrities along with the Certificates of Authenticity. It was quite a lesson for her. As P.T. Barnum (Barnum & Bailey Circus) said "there's a sucker born every minute."

7/15/2014

In the past, I have written some inflammatory commentaries. I have ridiculed collectors that fail to catalog their collecftions. I have criticized those ugly acrylic bases in use by some dealers and collectors. I have challenged poor information on well-known mineral reference sites.

This week I am going nuclear -- criticizing cat and dog owners.

Dog and cat hair gets everywhere. It gets into the crevices of minerals where it is difficult to remove. (For the same reason I advise AGAINST using cotton-lined boxes.)

I am not saying that every dog or cat owner has a problem with pet hair. I am simply saying that every dog or cat owner that I have met has a problem with pet hair.

At mineral shows I see these people with pet hair on their overcoats. After the show I find the pet hair in my mineral boxes where it shed. And I have purchased several mineral collections from pet owners that were downright disgusting with hair and dust.

If you have a mineral collection AND a pet that sheds hair like a dog or cat, then you should invest in special sealed display cabinets to prevent pet hair and dandruff from getting on the minerals. There is no middle ground here. Hair and dandruff get everywhere. If you think I am wrong, then I advise updating your eyeglass prescription (my wife refuses to wear her eyeglasses and does not see much of the house dust that I see with my glasses on).

Remember, your goal is to do no harm to the minerals during the time you own them. That means keeping them clean. Please seal your minerals away from the pet environment.

6/17/2014

Asbestos. Most people react in violent fear of the word. The same reaction is generated for "Radioactive".

Is it safe to collect these minerals?

Yes. Collecting minerals is safe, even for the types of mineral above.

Asbestos causes asbestosis, a disease of the lungs, when short microfibers of this type of mineral are inhaled into the lungs. When asbestos is mined, the drilling and blasting generates the short microfibers. But a specimen sitting in your display cabinet is safe. However you should not grind it up into a fine powder and blow it around your room with a fan, then do deep breathing exercises.

Radioactive minerals are safe to collect too. Distance is your best protection against radioactivity, and it takes surprisingly little distance to be safe since the hazard drops by the square of the distance. The dose from being 6" away from a specimen is 1/36th the dose of being 1" away. Actually the biggest danger from radioactive minerals is the Radon gas generated via radioactive decay. This gas is heavier than air and collects in the lower parts of your home. Because it is a gas, it is easily inhaled where it can cause health problems. But if your home has good ventilation, you are safe. If your home passes a radon test, then you will be OK. If in doubt, store radioactive minerals in your garage.

Other minerals are unsafe if ingested. If you have infants or pets that like to chew on things, prevent tjhem from ingesting any mineral specimen.

Collecting minerals is a safe hobby. There is no reason to overreact. A little education is all it takes to understand minerals and safely handle them.

6/10/2014

I have purchased over 100 mineral collections dating as far back as the 1920s and have observed that good minerals double in value every 10 years which equals 7.2% inflation. This rule holds true for most minerals -- but not all minerals.

Some minerals, like zeolites from India or quartz from Arkansas have stagnated in price. Why?

Price escalation is due to the balance of supply versus demand. In the case of Indian zeolites the supply far exceeds demand. And it may be true that some retail prices have gone up for very good Indian zeolites, but the wholesale prices have stagnated. I pay the same for them today as I did in 1989.

This is also true of Arkansas quartz crystals which are sorted into grades then sold by the pound. The price per pound I paid in 1994 is the same as I pay today from the same suppliers.

The lesson is that if you want your collection to appreciate in value, then you need to be discerning about the minerals you purchase to avoid stagnating prices.

6/3/2014

I am no longer listing my minerals on Minfind.

If you relied on Minfind to view my weekly new listings, then I suggest you either try any of these alternatives:

  1. Sign-up for my email notification list (which is very easy to discontinue if you grow tired of notification)

  2. Like my business on Facebook.

  3. Set your calendar to remind you to check my weekly listings every Tuesday at noon N.Y. time (I rarely skip a week).

  4. Use monitor software like WebSite-Watcher to check when new content is added to my galleries.

Unfortunately, disagreements over copyrights led to my separating from Minfind. They were archiving all of my photographs and posting them in perpetuity via minID. I do not permit retention of my images, and the Minfind management was not willing to let me opt-out of participation in minID.

5/27/2014

When a mineral sells on this site, it is removed from the galleries of minerals for sale. That means sold item are no longer visible to buyers.

But the web page for the sold items still exists and can be accessed.

This is for the convenience of the purchasers so they may get details of the items purchased and download the photos for their files (by right-clicking your mouse on a photograph you may save it to your hard disk).

Sold items are still accessible through the sorted lists that are at the bottom of the right columns of links:

Sorted Lists of all Minerals on this site
Sorted by Price
Sorted by Size
Sorted by Species

Sorted by Number

These lists are only updated every Tuesday when new minerals are posted to the site and when the sold items are fully purged from this site. When purchasers request access to the items sold, these list pages are where they are directed.

In the past, sold items were instantly purged from the site, but that created more work because every request for the photos and description had to be emailed individually (my time). Yes, it causes some minor confusion because mineral pages are still accessible, which can be interpreted as available.

Unfortunately the mineral pages are not dynamically created off a database, so they cannot be marked as SOLD. (I do not dynamically create mineral pages off a database because Google has a bias against this type of page -- all of my mineral pages are simple html.)

I hope that visitors will tolerate the compromises inherent in this system. Confusion occurs a few times each year. No system is perfect, but this pleases most.

5/20/2014

I have a very low return rate. About 1/10th of 1 percent of the mineral specimens sold through this site are returned. But the majority of the returns are for a single reason: the minerals were smaller than expected.

Since I want to minimize returns, here is my advice to prevent viewers from buying mineral specimens that are too small for their collections:

  1. Go through your collection and locate the smallest specimen that you are willing to own.

  2. Measure the specimen in inches and metric.

  3. Record the measurements on a Post-It Note and place it in a conspicuous location on your desk.

  4. The next time you are considering ordering a mineral specimen, compare the specimen dimensions to the Post-It Note to see if it exceeds your minimum threshold.

Hopefully this method will help you when buying minerals from ANY dealer, not just this site. Returns are a waste. The only people benefitting from returns are the Postal Service. Help me help you avoid returns. Using this method will prevent surprises in the future.

5/13/2014

Every year I tout the Rochester Mineralogical Symposium. I urge everyone interested in minerals to attend. It is fun, informative and reasonably affordable (if you have the time). I always intended to write a review of the lectures and events to let people know what happens at the symposium. Now I don't have to write it -- somebody else wrote a good review.

Go to: http://www.mcdougallminerals.com/blog/rochester-2014/

Ray does a good job at describing most of the lectures, though his write-up omits the technical sessions on Friday afternoon. (There were some excellent presentations this year, notably Jim Nizamoff's talk on the rediscovery of the 1935 purple apatite found at the Waisenen Quarry in Greenwood, Maine.) But I'm not complaining. Ray saved me the work.

So if you are contemplating attending next year, his review is a good place to find the motivation.

5/6/2014

Many people have asked about the selection of my Mineral of the Week (above). They want to know what criteria I use for selecting a particular specimen. Is it my best item that week? Is there something special about it? Why does it deserve special attention?

The selection of Mineral of the Week is based on a single criterion: It is the specimen that might be overlooked in my gallery pages when surrounded by many other thumbnail mineral photographs.

Unlike many other sites, I use small "thumbnail" preview images on my gallery pages. This speeds page loading and allows easy browsing. But some mineral specimens appear unimpressive in the thumbnail previews. They may have small crystals. Or they may have a jumble of many crystals that all blend together in the thumbnail image.

So I select a good specimen that looks unimpressive in the preview and show it as my Mineral of the Week using the large  full-size image used on the individual specimen page.

It is as simple as that. There is no hidden meaning or implied recommendation in the Mineral of the Week. I simply want visitors to avoid overlooking a good mineral because the thumbnail does not do it justice.

4/29/2014

Occasionally I receive requests for additional images of a specimen. Or additional views of a diamond crystal.

Here is how I select images:

The corollary is that if I do not show a side of a specimen, when there is nothing there. Or, in the case of diamond crystals, the other faces appear the same as the faces shown.

This week I posted photos of a diamond that appears different from each side. as a result, I posted many photos.

I do not have a dedicates space for mineral photography and I only photograph one day per week. If you request additional photos it may be several days before I can send them. It is actually easier and faster to have the item shipped. You can return it for a full refund if you do not like it. And nothing beats seeing a specimen in person.

UPDATE: Last week wrote about my email being spoofed. The problem was resolved by AOL altering their email to only authorize emails sent from their own servers. As a result, the "spoof" emails cannot be processed. But my email mineral announcements cannot be sent from Constant Contact, the service I use to manage email announcements. I have switched my sending address to j.betts@johnbetts-fineminerals.com so please add that email address to your acceptable email senders (white list) if your email service has one.

4/22/2014

This week my AOL email account was "spoofed" which is where emails are sent with my email address as the sender and return address. But the emails do not originate from my account.

Apparently I am not the only one and the Los Angeles Times (April 21, 2014) picked up the story. See: http://www.latimes.com/business/technology/la-fi-tn-aol-hacked-email-phishing-twitter-20140421,0,2040533.story#axzz2zcIDgV17

I have no control over preventing further spoof emails in the future. I changed passwords, purged my address book, notified AOL and scanned for viruses with no success. Because the emails do not originate from my account, I suspect they will continue. Please do not click any links in emails from me.

I am sure your first reaction is, "Who still uses AOL?"

I do. It has a few good features which outweighed the disadvantages for me (at least until now). And there is the inertia of not wanting to change of of my stationery, web pages, advertisements. Of course I have three other email addresses with other providers, but those are strictly private. One is a redundant recipient for my mineral order submissions because there are instances when email notifications are delayed. Having two accounts receiving the same information eliminates any errors.

I plan to continue using my AOL account unless the spoof emails continue. Eliminating my AOL address will not actually stop the emails. But I will no longer receive the hundreds of bounced email messages.

Please accept my apologies for the email intrusions.

4/15/2014

A few years ago I sold a few of my best mineral specimens to a high-end mineral dealer that paid good prices for them. I always wondered what happened to them. Through the power of Google, I found one (based on a tip from a friend). I was stunned to see what happened to the specimen. It was barely recongizable.

The dealer that bought it AGGRESSIVELY trimmed, sculpted, enhanced the specimen.

Originally it was a cavity in brown matrix lined by lustrous crystals. In my opinion the surrounding matrix provided mineralogical background to the mineral by indicating the paragenisis - the order of mineralization. But the dealer removed all matrix completely. All that was left was a concave formation of crystals. It looked unnatural.

It is sad that dealers of high-end minerals bastardize specimens for the sake of aesthetics. I feel sorry for the collectors that buy these unnatural mineral specimens. The collectors probably do not know better, but certainly the dealer does.

Was the trimming really neccessary? Did it increase the value that much? Was it worth losing the scientific context of the mineralization?

Clearly I think not, which is probably why I do not strive for dealing in the high-end mineral market.

4/8/2014

This week I want to share an online resource with free 15' and 7.5' minute quadrangle topographic maps at: http://mapper.acme.com/

I use it frequently to verify localities and to find the closest town nearby. Best of all, it is fully searchable. Try searching on "Mount Mica" and it takes you right to the spot. Select the topo option in the upper right to see the topo map. The topo maps automatically change from 15' and 7'5 minute quadrangles as you zoom in and out using your mouse wheel.

An additional resource for historic topo maps at: http://docs.unh.edu/nhtopos/nhtopos.htm
(alternate resource: http://historical.mytopo.com/)

These sites have old historic New England topographic maps which are very useful when researching old mineral sites and old mountain roads. A sample of the Bryant Pond, ME. shows they have the topo maps available from 1911, 1914, 1942.

I hope you find these sites useful.

4/1/2014

Last week I visited an old dealer here in NYC to see a parcel of Peruvian pyrite clusters left over from when they stopped selling minerals to focus on antiquities. Pyrite specimens from Peru have always been poor condition. The miners never learned to protect the crystal edges when bringing the clusters out of the mine.

I expected the clusters would be heavily damaged. I was correct.

I passed on them because today's collectors are more discriminating about damage. I suggested donating them to a local mineral museum for the tax deduction. The old dealer asked what value should be placed on them. I suggested their old prices from 1985 still looked correct today.

Here is an excellent example where a mineral has not gone up in value over 30 years. Arkansas quartz has also gone up very little since I started as a mineral dealer. It is still sold by wholesale miners today for $25 per pound for average grade. That is exactly what I paid in 1989.

Obviously other minerals have increased in value much more. But if you are considering your mineral collection as an investment, then you should select your specimens carefully. Any mineral that is abundant and readily available from many sources will not go up in value over time -- unless the availability changes in the future.

3/25/2014

Mineral collectors in the northeast USA/Canada should mark their calendars with two excellent events:

April 24-27, 2014: Rochester Mineralogical Symposium

May 9-11, 2014: New England Mineral Conference (formerly the Maine Mineral Symposium)

Both are excellent events with long histories. There is no reason to be afraid of attending these events just because of their fancy names. Both feature many lectures that are easily understood by beginners to advanced academics to serious mineral collectors.

The Rochester symposium opens with an evening lecture Thursday, but gets into full swing on Friday with a full day of lectures and events , more lectures Saturday morning, technical sessions Saturday afternoon, evening fund-raising auction and more lectures Sunday morning before everyone departs for home by noon.

The New England Mineral Conference has a late lecture Friday evening with a day of lectures on Saturday. But it also features a day of field trips Sunday to nearby quarries, usually to sites that are closed to collectors and only accessible through registration at the conference.

I cannot emphasize enough that you will have a great time, learn about minerals, and have an opportunity to visit with local mineral dealers. So if you live from Maine to Ohio, Maryland to Ontario, make an effort to attend and support the northeastern mineral community.

For more information go to:

http://www.rasny.org/minsymposium/41st%20RMS%20Registration%20Letter.pdf

http://www.nemineralconference.org/nema/About.html

3/18/2014

Yesterday there was lots of news on the financial networks celebrating the initial public offering (IPO) of stock in Alibaba, a huge Chinese merchant site and search engine. I wonder if investors would be as enthusiastic if they knew that Alibaba was a haven for web scammers.

Go to Alibaba.com and search "rough diamond crystal" (include the quotes).

You do not have to scroll far before you start seeing my diamonds for sale from merchants in Ukraine, China, Cameroon.

I pity the collectors and jewelers that try to buy those items of mine that appear. I have possession of all of my inventory. There is no way the sellers can fulfill orders. They are probably trolling for credit card numbers.

Unlike Google, that has a system for dealing with fraud and copyright infringement, Alibaba has no way to contact them, no way to file complaints, and they appear uninterested in policing their site in any way.

So spread the word. Tell everyone you know not to trust the listings on Alibaba. The merchants represented cannot be trusted. And NEVER give out your credit card number to any merchants on Alibaba.

2/25/2014

While at the NYC Mineral Show last weekend, I was explaining to a novice how the locality of a mineral affects the price. I was using two wulfenite specimens of similar size and explaing how the wulfenite from the Red Cloud Mine, Arizona was 10 times the price of a wulfenite from Touissit, Morocco. I caught an older collector out of the corner of my eye smirking and shaking his head in disbelief. I believe his reaction was to the high prices of the Red Cloud wulfenite and he was thinking about when they were available for $50.

But I also believe he was in denial that mineral prices have escalated.

Everything goes up in price over time. As a buyer of old mineral collections, I frequently see older prices. The best rule of thumb, based on my experience, is that minerals double in price every 10 years (equaling 7.2% inflation).

When a mine closes, there is no longer a steady supply new specimens. It is comparable to when an artist dies and his paintings go up in value. The supply cannot meet the demand and prices are higher. That is why Red Cloud  Mine wulfenite is more expensive now. That is why Illinois fluorite is more expensive now. That is why Kelly Mine smithsonite is more expensive now. That is why Tsumeb Mine cerussite, smithsonite, azurite is more expensive now.

Additionally the Internet makes it possible for local miners in Pakistan, Brazil, Mexico, Sri Lanka, etc. to know what the retail value is of the minerals they are finding. No longer can the US gringos pay $1 for a mineral in their country and sell it for $100 in the US. Now those miners want $100 for it at the mine.

The collector that was listening should recognize that prices have escalated. He should update his records so his heirs know that a $50 specimen acquired in 1959 may be worth $3500 today. John Sinkankas, the noted author and mineral collector kept an index card for each specimen in his collection and he frequently updated the value of the specimen on his index cards so he and his family knew the value of his collection.

As an older collector, you can be surprised, incredulous, amazed, saddened by the changes in mineral prices. But you should not be ignorant of these changes -- they are real and here to stay.

2/11/2014

This week I received a mineral in the mail from a collector that found some pretty orange crystals scattered over colorless calcite. The collector compared the crystals to photographs on the internet and decided they were curite. He forgot the fundamental rule when identifying minerals: assume it is the most common species possible, not a rarity.

Scientists have a saying: When you hear hoof  beats, think "horse" not "zebra." In other words, think it is the most likely animal, not some exotic animal.

In this case the suspect mineral was not radioactive, so that eliminated curite. In fact, my first impression was it was mimetite or possibly arsenic-rich pyromorphite. A simple test will determine the true identity. Kaygeedee Minerals performs EDS tests for a nominal fee of $10 and requires only a small sample for testing.

The real lesson of this story is that you cannot identify unknown minerals based on photographs. There are too many look-alikes for most species. Basic tests like streak, hardness, specific gravity as well as identifying the crystal form and cleavage, will go a long way in narrowing the possibilities down to the correct identification. But do not use photographs.

2/4/2014

I am home from my buying trip to Tucson. Next week I will write about new finds and acquisitions made on this trip. But today I thought I would share my impression of mineral prices seen in Tucson.

The prices in Tucson were all over the place -- with apparently no rational thought. Similar mineral specimens at different dealers will be priced $100 at one and $1000 at another.

It is now clear that this irrational pricing is due to inexperience.

The dealers with irrationally high prices are simply inexperienced. They do not know what a $1000 specimen is. They do not know that a $10,000 specimen should not have ANY visible damage. They cannot see that a blue-green smithsonite from the Kelly Mine is not the same as the rich blue smithsonite (Kelly Blue) from the Kelly mine that commands high prices.

This is simply inexperience. Perhaps they are new dealers. Perhaps they are dealers that have been in the business for 20 years but have no experience with expensive mineral specimens.

I pity the inexperienced collector that buys from inexperienced dealers.

Do your homework. Find experienced dealers with fair prices that can be trusted. Shop around and see what comparable specimens are priced at. Learn to recognize differences in quality, color, conditions. There is nothing wrong with buying a dinged specimen as long as you are not paying full-blown aggressive prices. There is nothing wrong with buying a blue-green smithsonite from the Kelly Mine as long as you do not pay more than it is worth.

1/28/2014

Yesterday I received an inquiry from a web developer that had grand plans to make a central portal for buying minerals. Apparently he wanted to have the same functionality as Minfind.com, but would also allow purchasing directly through the site without being redirected to another dealer's site.

His goal was to fully automate the process.

As I answered his questions, I realized that automating the purchasing process will be good. But it will not accommodate the countless telephone calls and emails asking questions about specimens. It will not accommodate special requests to hold on shipping until a certain date. It will not allow the purchaser to get to know the seller.

My comment to him was that smart collectors build a relationship with dealers so that the dealer knows their taste and can steer them to items that were overlooked. Of course, I have written before that I feel the personal service I give to collectors is worth my time and energy. And I see no need to automate the process.

I do welcome a central portal for mineral shopping, especially if it handled the billing/payments. But I doubt that is possible in my lifetime -- there are too many independent dealers, each set in his own ways.

1/14/2014

Why is it impossible to capture the beauty of minerals using photography?

Even the best mineral photographers cannot capture what we see with our eyes. Of course the color can be enhanced. But the color is only part of the beauty of a specimen. The transparency, luster, three-dimensionality, complex faces cannot be captured.

One reason: we use two eyes to view a specimen which our brain translates into a three-dimensional image. And because light reflects off faces at different angles, each eye sees different reflections off different faces than the opposing eye. This is why "sparkly" is a good adjective for some specimens.

Another reason why we "see" more when we view a mineral with our eyes is that the dynamic range of what the eye sees is much more than the limited dynamic range of a photograph. A photograph can only capture about 20 steps from light to dark. And the blackest black of an image on your monitor is never darker than the color of the monitor when the power is off (not very black!). The human eye can see a much broader range from lights to darks. It can resolve details in bright highlight sand in the darkest shadows. (See Ansel Adams writings on the The Zone System)

I have now created over 100,000 photographs of minerals. The goal of creating that "perfect" image is what keeps me at photographing. I have gotten close, but have never created an image that comes close the beauty of the mineral specimen.

Perhaps the future will bring 3-D photography to minerals...

1/7/2014

2013 is finished. Looking back on the year I discovered I shipped 3380 mineral specimens in 1186 packages. Interestingly these numbers are right in line with the post-recession figures for years 2008-2012. Growth was flat, which I first thought was a reflection of the economy. Then I realized the number of minerals sold in a year is equal to the number of minerals posted each week. Last year I averaged posting 75 minerals per week to this site which is equal to the number sold. I guess the only way to grow is to post more minerals...

Now that the year is finished, I added all minerals sold in 2013 to my Online Mineral Museum. The total number of mineral specimens now in the museum is now 42,982 which is 78% of the 54,815 minerals I've sold. There are now 90,000+ images in the museum

In the early years in business, before the Internet, I did not photograph each specimen. And I used to take new mineral acquisitions to mineral shows first, and later post them to this site after my show customers had a chance to buy them. This resulted in many of the best selling without being photographed.

But starting in 2001 I changed my policy to give my Internet customers first access and to photograph every specimen that I acquire. I now view the museum as part of the legacy I will leave behind after I retire from selling.

I hope visitors find the museum useful and I welcome corrections to the data.

12/31/2013

Have you ever looked at the actual size of the minerals on the cover of popular mineral magazines like Mineralogical record or Rocks & Minerals?

Usually the cover is filled with an image of a mineral shown about 25 cm (10 inches) high and every detail is sharp as a tack. Then look inside the front cover to read the photo credit. Usually the specimen is actually 3-4 cm (1 to 1.5 inches). The cover photo is almost 4 times actual size! I've seen some very disappointed collectors after seeing the actual specimens in display cases.

This same phenomenon is occurring with mineral web sites. Some dealers are utilizing large full screen images to display 1-2 cm thumbnail specimens. While I agree that the images look wonderful, they mislead collectors/purchasers into believing the minerals are larger than they really are.

I intentionally keep my images sizes on the small size. In the early days of dial-up Internet connections, it accelerated loading time. Today most users have high-speed connections. And their computer displays are shaper than ever. So there is no technical reason for keeping images small.

My main reason for using moderately-sized images is that the number one reason for returned minerals is because the customer "thought the mineral was larger." I have heard this reason many times and believe that 75% of the returns I get are because the mineral was smaller than expected. So I use modest images to prevent from misleading viewers. Even so, images of small items like my diamond crystals are still 4 times actual size.

And then there is this trick if you own a PC: hold down the "Ctrl" key on your keyboard and scroll the wheel on your mouse (or hit the "+" and "-" key on your keyboard if you do not have a mouse wheel) and you will see the size of the images and text can be enlarged or decreased. Most users are unaware of this trick, but it is handy for adjusting image sizes. Try it.

12/24/2013

I wish everyone a merry Christmas celebration and best wishes for 2014!

12/17/2013

This week I recalibrated the color balance on my digital camera. I started by restoring the camera to factory set defaults, then proceeded down a checklist of settings that I have recorded over the years. When I started photographing the minerals for this week's update, I noticed that the color saturation was exaggerated. The colors were too vivid.

I checked the camera and verified the Color Saturation setting was set to "Normal". You would think that "Normal" would mean "Not Modified" or "Not Enhanced".

In fact, the "-2" setting corresponded to "Not Enhanced". When I read the owner's manual, I discovered the "Normal" setting was actually two steps up the scale of enhanced color saturation. I must have known this in the past but failed to properly record the setting in my checklist. The Normal setting enhanced color saturation. The minerals looked too good.  Below is a comparison of the color saturation on the two camera settings:

I hope you can see the difference. The image on the right is much more accurate to the specimen.

So the lesson for everyone is that "Normal" may not mean normal -- it may be enhanced. You should carefully read the owner's manual for your camera to ensure your photographs are accurate. FYI: My camera has similar settings for Image Sharpening, which I also set to the equivalent of Not Enhanced.

I think this phenomenon explains why certain mineral sites have such juicy colors in the mineral photos. Their images look great, but they can hardly be accurate. I wonder how many returns they get because the minerals are not as colorful as their photographs?

12/3/2013

First a milestone for the week: I cataloged the 60,000th mineral specimen this week. Though I started in business in 1989, I did not begin cataloging in a database until 1993, and I did not begin photographing minerals until 1996 when I started this web site. As a result, only about 44,000 minerals have been photographed. But 60,000 is still a big number.

The upcoming issues of several mineral magazines will feature diamonds because it is the theme at the January-February Tucson Gem & Mineral Show (a.k.a. TGMS). I have contributed to several articles and mentioned in one that the hardness of diamonds was harder on the octahedral face and included the fact that the octahedral face is 500 times harder.

This is only part of the story. Here is the full story:

Determining diamond hardness has always been problematic. Standard indentation tests like the Knoop, Rockwell, Vickers, Shore and Brinell failed because no indenter material had sufficient hardness to make an impression on a diamond crystal. The cubic face of a diamond is harder than all other known materials. But the octahedral face of diamond was known to be even harder. Because indentation tests were insufficient in determining the relative hardness of the diamond faces, researchers relied on comparing grinding resistance to determine relative hardness.

Grinding/polishing a diamond using diamond abrasives indicated large differences in hardness between the cubic and octahedral faces with variations depending on grinding direction/orientation (what diamond cutters call cutting against the grain or with the grain). Denning reported measurable grinding hardness differences in excess of 500 times harder than the softest orientation of the cubic face using grinding the methodology. His upper limits of hardness were interpolated because the hardest face-orientations failed to show ANY satisfactory results during grinding (see figures 3 and 4 in American Mineralogist, 1953, vol. 38, page 108-117).

However, the discovery of ultrahard fullerite (C60) provided a material that was harder than the hardest face of a diamond. Fullerite has a hardness of 310 gigapascals (GPa) on the Vickers Scale. Indentation tests using a fullerite indenter finally were able to yield hardness results for diamond cubic face of 137 ± 6 GPa and on the octahedral face of 167+5 GPa, a difference of approximately 20% (Journal of Materials Research, 1997, vol. 12, pages 3109-3114)

This small difference in relative hardness makes a large difference when polishing diamonds. Diamond abrasive easily polishes cubic faces in the correct grinding direction, but slowly polishes octahedral faces even in the best grinding direction and no polish is possible in certain grinding directions. Until ultrahard fullerite abrasive becomes available, the 20% hardness difference between the faces will still result in large differences in polishing time.

11/26/2013

I have long preached that every collector should be careful to label each mineral specimen in their collection. Include as much information as possible on each label including mineral species, locality, date acquired, price paid, dealer/source, as well as any other know information. Also, I HIGHLY recommend printing labels with a laser printer, not an inkjet printer, because laser-printed labels are waterproof.

But how do you ensure that labels are not accidentally switched? The solution is simple, though the implementation is not.

The solution is to number each label and place a corresponding number on each mineral specimen. The number should be unobtrusive and waterproof (to allow washing the specimen without washing away the number).

What is the best way to place a waterproof number on a specimen?

In the old days and at many mineral museums, a white background was painted on the specimen with black India ink number written in. This is hardly unobtrusive and may not be waterproof depending on the ink.

I think the best solution is to print the numbers on clear acetate that is sold at office supply stores for creating overhead slides (remember overhead projectors?)  giving you black numbers on transparent media -- very unobtrusive. And if you print the numbers on the acetate with a laser printer they are waterproof. If you do not have a laser printer you can print out the numbers then xerox onto the clear acetate. (Helpful hint: you are not limited to a minimum type size of 6 pt. just because the Word drop-down menu only displays as low as 6 pts., you can enter any values as low as 1 pt.) After cutting out each number you then adhere the numbers to the mineral specimens using clear hot glue or other waterproof transparent glue.

I've seen too many accidental label mix-ups. Numbering the labels and the specimens is a simple and fool-proof solution to preventing the chaos of unidentified/misidentified minerals.

11/12/2013

Last weekend an acquaintance visited and told me about a new mineral web site being developed and about ready to launch. He said they had about 1100 minerals ready to list and that it had been a lot of work to get to the launch point.

I asked how he was going to handle the next 1100 minerals.

Every new web site think the hard work is creating the site. That is the easy part. The hard part is keeping the site fresh with new minerals daily, weekly, bi-weekly or monthly. Yes, creating a web site layout and design, organizing the inventory, and integrating the underlying database is lots of work. But those are one-time tasks that only need be tweaked periodically over time.  But new listings are essential to the success of a mineral site.

Sites like Google and Minfind are biased towards new content. A web site must be constantly updated with new items in order to rank highly in search results. That's when the weekly tasks of washing, trimming, photographing and describing each individual mineral specimen becomes the constant burden (plus the even more daunting task of acquiring new minerals in the first place -- you cannot just call up a wholesaler and request they send over another 1000 items).

I suspect this site may go the way of many other upstart sites: a big start that quickly gets bogged down with the day-to-day tasks of listing minerals, shipping orders, handling returns, traveling to shows, etc. Many minerals sites have come and gone. I wonder how long this one will last...

11/5/2013

Last week a customer complained that my order form does not automatically calculate postage and instantly return the total due (my system records your requests, the postage is calculated by me, the total is sent in an email, then credit card orders are charged and shipped, PayPal orders are separately invoiced). While this involves an extra step, it is the only way to handle the shipping postage.

No two packages or customers are alike. And no formula exists for accurately calculating postage for all purchases.

Many dealers charge a set fee for postage which requires overcharging some customers and undercharging others. Instead I believe that the postage should be as close as possible to actual charges for each customer.

The difficulty in calculating is because 40% of my packages are to international addresses and some packages (international and domestic) can take advantage of flat rate boxes offered by the US Postal Service. Some customer want their minerals held in reserve pending future items to share the postage (a practice that I HIGHLY ENCOURAGE).

A small thumbnail-sized mineral may cost $5 to ship to the US, $10 to Canada and anywhere from $12 to $14 to ship to Europe or Japan or Australia. Additionally some customers request express shipping which has it's own rates. Lastly, diamonds require courier service to ship internationally.

My head hurts just thinking about it.

I can estimate the postage to within 5% of the actual price, but the calculations I go through in my head are way too complicated to automate.

The customer that complained wrote, "If you were a real merchant, I could have paid for it at the time of the order." I am well aware that my site is not automated like Amazon. But at least I have a secure order form. Many of the top mineral dealers only use email for taking orders...

10/29/2013

I have a no-questions-asked return policy for this site. If you purchase a mineral from this site, and want to return it for ANY reason, simply send it back for a full refund.

When I say "simply send it back" I mean I do NOT want to know why you are sending a mineral back. I am alway dissappointed with reasons given and I lose respect if a customer shows ignorance or lack of mineral knowledge. The no-questions-asked policy is to prevent me from lecturing a collector. And it saves me time.

Besides I already know why most returns are sent:

  1. The mineral is smaller than I thought.

  2. The mineral is darker than I thought.

  3. The mineral is lightler than I thought.

The last two items are invariably caused by an incorrectly calibrated monitor or viewing this site via smartphone which has extra-bright super-saturated images. I go to great pains to accurately calibrate my images for brightness, contrast and color. Unfortunately few collectors have taken the time to do the same.

I do not consider a mineral sold until you have it in your handss and you view it under the illumination used in your mineral display case. So do not hesitate to send back an unsatisfactory mineral. But please hesitate in giving your reason -- I will respect you more if I remain ignorant of the reason.

10/22/2013

I am frequently asked about various factors that damage or alter minerals. As collectors ,we are all interested in preserving our collection without ruining them. Following are major concerns for any mineral collector:

Moisture/humidity Moisture causes some minerals to decompose, especially sulfides and evaporite minerals. Never store minerals in a damp basement or garage.
Heat/cold Extreme heat or cold stresses crystals often causing spontaneous cleavages to form. Most vulnerable: sulfur, cerussite, topaz and crystals with water inclusions. Avoid cold or hot environments and insulate when passing between rapid temperature changes.
Light Light will cause some minerals to fade, darken or alter, especially UV light. Avoid direct sunlight and fluorescent illumination (high in UV spectrum). Storing minerals in drawers is a good way to have easy viewing and keep them in the dark.
Insects Insects nesting in crevices form unsightly webs. Though the minerals are not harmed, this can be unsightly.
Mold Moist environment and organic storage boxes (cardboard, cotton, etc.) will support the formation of mold. See precautions above for moisture.
Glue Silicone adhesive CANNOT be removed -- EVER. Epoxy turns brown on exposure to light over a long period of time. Use only "easily reversible" glues like Elmer's Glue (dissolves in water) or hot glue (removable with Goo Gone or similar solvent).

Of course, the largest cause of damage to minerals is mishandling and damage caused during transport. Every time a mineral is moved, washed, transported there is potential for damage. That is why I refrain from selling at many mineral shows. They are much safer when undisturbed in my warehouse and I know how to ship minerals without damage..

10/1/2013

This week I posted another (easier) question on my Facebook page: What famous people are mineral collectors? Here is a current list of responses:

That is quite a list. Can you add any names? Email me at jhbnyc@aol.com

9/24/2013

I asked a simple question on my Facebook page:

"Does anybody know how to remove White-Out from a mineral specimen? I bought a mineral collection and the collector numbered his specimens using White-Out and I need to remove it where it is in a conspicuous location on a mineral. What solvent would you use?"

The key to the question is DO YOU KNOW the answer. I got all kinds of answers, but it is clear that none of the responders KNEW the answer.

I see this same mentality all the time on mineral forums where collectors post photos of mineral specimens of unknown species. They are requesting help identifying the mineral species. Most of the respondents are willing offer answers, but rarely are ANY of them correct (with the exception of the experts at the FMF Forum -- but not everybody at the forum is an expert).

When I do not know the answer to a mineral question, I respond, "I do not know" and I hope the questioner respects that response.

If you are asking for help in identification, you should do the BASIC tests for hardness, HLC reaction, look for cleavage faces and be prepared to describe where it was found and some sort of guideline as to the geologic environment (i.e. pegmatites from New England, skarns from Arizona, marble deposits in Vermont, sulfide mines, alpine cleft, etc.) With that information knowledgeable experts can usually respond with a few options. But that will still not prevent novices from offering wrong answers.

Then it becomes your job to discern who is expert and who is guessing.

P.S. I proposed an Ask the Experts forum to Jolyon at Mindat suggesting a message board where anyone can ask questions, but the responders are limited to the experts at mindat and those that earn the authority. Unfortunately the proposal goes against the "open" forum at Mindat and the suggestion was politely rejected. I still think it is a good idea...

10/2/2014

This week the new version of Mindex is available. If you have a set of Mineralogical Record or Rocks & Minerals or a number of other mineral journals then this index is a must have. I use it EVERY DAY to research minerals. It makes the articles in magazines easily accessible (as long as you keep your magazines in order). To learn more, go to the Mindex page.

Sadly, this is the last update Lanny ream plans to produce. I offer it on this site at no personal profit. I want to help Lanny and I think it is an essential resource collectors.

If you purchased earlier versions of Mindex, you may buy this updated version from Lanny for $10. Contact him at L.R. Ream Publishing.

9/25/2014

A few weeks ago I posted some smithsonite specimens from the "Double-O Mine, Magdalena District, New Mexico." I have had specimens before labeled as from the Double-O Mine, always from local field collectors. When I recently acquired a large collection of New Mexico minerals I started researching the Double-O Mine. No reference publication listed the locality.

When I finally contacted New Mexico Tech, I learned that the Double-O Mine was a name used by NM field collectors to label specimens that were from the Kelly Mine during the early 1980s. The collectors were concealing the fact that they were collecting in the mine from the lessor of the mine. They were accessing the Kelly Mine through the A,B,C Tunnels (later renamed the 1,2,3 Tunnels) that were far removed from the main entrance. Two of the tunnels were adjacent and gave the locality the Double-O Mine name

In the future I will use the proper name of Kelly Mine for all specimens labeled as Double-O Mine

This is the second major instance of NM collectors propagating false information. The other notable instance was the purple fluorite sold during the 1980s as from "Catron County, NM." These were in fact from Pine Canyon Deposit, West Burro Mountains in Grant County, NM. Today I still see these specimens in old collections labeled as from Catron County.

Back when localities did not mean much to collectors there was little harm in misstating the locality of origin. After all collectors readily accepted specimens from "Minas Gerais, Brazil" which is 226,459 square miles (larger than the country of Spain or the U.S. state of California). You can't get more general than that...

Now collectors care more about precise mineral localities. So much so that many dealers freely attribute specimens to likely localities without having any real knowledge of the original origin.

Correcting inaccurate information is part of what I consider my "value added." I will continue to strive for accuracy, making corrections where necessary. I will not make locality attributions unless absolutely certain. Hopefully my customers appreciate this additional effort.

9/11/2014

Diamond collector frequently ask what color and clarity grade a diamond is. The color and clarity scales are subjective. It is not uncommon for a seller to optimistically state a diamond is G-color and the buyer will pessimistically state it is H-color. Part of that is the negotiation over price. The seller wants a high price and the buyer is looking for a low price. The same occurs when judging internal clarity.

As a customer, you must learn to judge quality for yourself whether it is a mineral or a diamond crystal. You should not trust the judgment of the seller until you have established that the dealer is fair and honest. Too many collectors have been badly hurt by aggressive dealers with optimistic descriptions and aggressive prices.

That is why I have a no-questions-asked return policy. Judge the specimen for yourself upon receipt. Then decide whether to keep it or not. Become knowledgeable about mineral prices by attending shows and comparing the prices of various dealers for a single "find". Or use Minfind.com to compare prices versus quality. Educate yourself. Trust your own judgment.

9/4/2014

Email is no longer a reliable form of communication. Spam filters routinely prevent wanted email from being received. Every week when I send email announcements to my subscriber list, I copy my own email address. My own emails -- from me to me -- get filtered even though I have no filters turned on. They are filtered by my ISP. And emails are highly susceptible to spelling errors in the recipient's address. If you sent a letter with a typographical error in the address, most likely the Post Office will deliver it. But not email.

And I do not sit at my computer all day, every day waiting to reply to emails. I may be at my warehouse or photographing minerals or packing mineral shipments or delivering packages to the Post Office or out buying a collection. I try respond to email usually 3 times a day: morning, noon and end of the day. But I do not when out of the office.

Last week a customer sent an email in the afternoon, then repeatedly emailed later that night when I failed to respond to his email. He frantically wanted to be certain that the email was received and that his package would ship as scheduled. But I was not in the office.

I look forward to the day when we invent the technology that allows us to communicate instantly. Oh wait. They did invent it -- in 1876. t's called the TELEPHONE!

If you urgently need to contact me, call the telephone number listed on my "Contact" information. It is fast and easy and there are no filters.

8/21/2012

Last week I sent a specimen of translucent red cuprite to a collector that viewed the specimen under fluorescent illumination and was disappointed with the lack of red color in the cuprite.

Fluorescent lights work by generating UV energy which excites phosphors inside the fluorescent tube. The spectral output of fluorescent lights spike in specific narrow frequencies, not a continuous curve of full spectrum illumination typical of high-wattage black-body radiation. The phosphors in most fluorescent lights output only yellow, purple and blue. They totally lack red in the spectrum. As a result ANY red mineral looks bad under fluorescent illumination. There simply isn't any red light in the spectrum.

That is why I recommend full spectrum halogen like Solux or sunlight (open shade) for evaluating mineral colors. But the absolute test fore evaluating color should be judged ONLY from the illumination in your display case as that is where they will be seen. If you have poor illumination (low wattage halogen, fluorescent or incandescent) and the minerals do not meet your expectations, then I gladly accept returns. But it is advisable to improve your illumination instead of passing up good mineral specimens.

I have yet to see a spectral curve for the new LEDs, but their poor color rendition of reds and enhanced rendition of purples makes me suspect they too are narrow frequency illumination, not broad spectrum.

For the record, I make every effort for accurate color rendition of the mineral photographs on this site. All photos are illuminated with daylight-balanced Solux halogen bulbs and double-checked under daylight-balanced gem lights sold by the Gemmological Institute of America for evaluating gemstone colors.

9/10/2013

Last week a collector called with some questions and in conversation he mentioned I am one of the biggest Internet mineral dealers. At 6'3" I am not the tallest. And I am not the heaviest -- several dealers weigh twice my weight. So I assumed he meant I was one of the biggest in terms of business. Here I needed to correct him. I certainly am not in the top 10 when it comes to gross sales because the high-end dealers sell much more every year, though they sell fewer specimens.

Of course, if you look at  the dealers represented on minfind.com it appears I am the second or third largest dealer in the number of specimens listed. But the number listed are the UNSOLD minerals. The measure of success is the number of SOLD minerals in a year. A large inventory is a sign theat a dealers inventory is NOT selling.

It is poor business management having a large inventory. Each mineral unsold represents money tied up that could be used elsewhere. And the longer a mineral is inventory the more inflation erodes profits. In the early 1980s the Japanese revolutionized business practices with the concept of Just-In-Time inventory to avoid tying up capital in inventory. As a mineral dealer I have fanatasized at applying those methods to the mineral business. I have enough contacts now that I could adopt Just-In-Time inventory methods. It might work for some dealers. But I prefer to buy entire collections which are in large lots and the quantity is beyond my control.

The other reason I have many minerals listed on minfind.com is that I no longer purge unsold items. Until about 2 years ago I used to remove unsold items after about a year. This kept the gallery pages of this web site lean so that they loaded quickly. But broadband Internet has penetrated most of the world so there is no need. And Google empowers collectors of obscure minerals to easily search. Having all of my inventory online means there is a higher chance of matching a collector with one of the obscure minerals I have in my warehouse.

There is one measure that I might excel  abovethe others: most minerals sold per employee. I work alone with no helpers. And I sell about 5000 minerals per year. Few other dealers can boast sales of 5000 specimens per employee.

9/3/2013

Vacation is finished. I am back in the office again and all business is back to normal. I apologize for the shipping delays caused by the 2 week vacation.

I occasionally receive queries why I don't add more staff so my business runs without me when I am on vacation. My response is that I take pride that personally care for each customer and each mineral shipped.

As a result, packages do not ship during vacation and I do not post many minerals each week, though I do manage to post 50 weekly updates every year. I am happy staying small. This discussion reminds me of the often told story (below) about success and business growth.

The Parable of the Mexican Fisherman

An American investment banker was taking a much-needed vacation in a small coastal Mexican village when a small boat with just one fisherman docked. The boat had several large, fresh fish in it. The investment banker was impressed by the quality of the fish and asked the fisherman how long it took to catch them. The fisherman replied, "Only a little while." The banker then asked why he didn't stay out longer and catch more fish.

The Mexican fisherman replied he had enough to support his family's immediate needs.

The American then asked "But what do you do with the rest of your time?"

The fisherman replied, "I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take siesta with my wife, stroll into the village each evening where I sip wine and play guitar with my amigos: I have a full and busy life, señor."

The investment banker scoffed, "I am an Ivy League MBA, and I could help you. You could spend more time fishing and with the proceeds buy a bigger boat, and with the proceeds from the bigger boat you could buy several boats until eventually you would have a whole fleet of fishing boats. Instead of selling your catch to the middleman you could sell directly to the processor, eventually opening your own cannery. You could control the product, processing and distribution." Then he added, "Of course, you would need to leave this small coastal fishing village and move to Mexico City where you would run your growing enterprise."

The fisherman asked, "But señor, how long will this all take?"

To which the American replied, "15-20 years."

"But what then?" asked the fisherman.

The American laughed and said, "That's the best part. When the time is right you would announce an IPO (initial public offering) and sell your company stock to the public and become very rich. You could make millions."

"Millions, señor? Then what?" asked the fisherman.

To which the investment banker replied, "Then you would retire. You could move to a small coastal fishing village where you would sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take siesta with your wife, stroll to the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play your guitar with your amigos."

Conclusion

I guess my philosophy is the same as Jerry Maguire (1996 movie starring Tom Cruise). In the movie Jerry resigns from a big agency to offer personalized service to a select group of clients. I would rather offer individual attention to each mineral, and each package, and each customer rather than grow the business with dead-head employees so I can play golf every day.

8/13/2013

This past week, while participating at the East Coast Gem & Mineral Show, I recognized a trend in mineral collecting. (I was a consulting designer for many years and I earned a reputation from my clients for identifying long term trends in their industries.) In the pre-Internet days, mineral collectors relied on weekend mineral shows for acquiring new minerals. By the 1980s most brick-and-mortar mineral stores were closing and all dealers moved towards participating in these shows. The dealers would make a big splash introducing new finds at the 4 major shows in the hopes of attracting attention. And collectors would take off from work to visit the shows as early as possible. When the doors opened at the show, the most obsessed collectors would run around to their favorite dealers in a feeding frenzy trying to get the best of the new offerings from each dealer.

Collectors had no easy way to get minerals between shows. A few dealers had mail lists. But most collectors were dependent on weekend shows for acquiring new minerals.

Then in the early Internet days, there would also be feeding frenzied every time a dealer posted new minerals online. Beginning in 1998 I began posting minerals the same time, same day every week. 3000 collectors around the world tuned in to see the new listings as soon as they were posted. Most signed up for my email blast that I send when the new minerals are posted. It was not uncommon to post 60 minerals and have 30 sell in the first hour. Duplicate requests for items were common.

Again, collectors had limited access to new minerals and had to wait for their favorite dealers to post new specimens.

Now all of the above has changed.

The number of mineral dealers has exploded. Thousands of mineral specimens are available from many dealers. The best dealers add new minerals at least once a week. Minfind currently list 17,582 mineral specimens available from 19 dealers (10% of those on minfind are my minerals). And there are probably 10 times more minerals listed from other dealers and on Ebay.

So collectors no longer have to wait for their local mineral show. They no longer have to wait for their favorite online dealer to post new minerals. New specimens are added every day of the week. And dealers no longer hold new finds waiting for the next show. New finds are immediately posted to web sites. Sites like Facebook allow collectors to rapidly spread the word among their friends about new finds at a given dealer's site.

The result of all these changes is that there is no longer the feeding frenzy on the first day of mineral shows. I no longer have feeding frenzies when new minerals are posted to my site. For a dealer like me, with 27 years experience selling minerals, these changes are readily apparent. What is not apparent is how to respond to the changes. Perhaps three-day mineral shows should be shortened to two days. Perhaps minerals should be posted every day. Perhaps a new business model will evolve in response.

The trend is clear. Mineral collecting has changed. And the changes are good for collectors.

8/6/2013

Just like when an inexperienced gold prospector gets fooled by "fool's gold," inexperienced collectors mistake other minerals for diamond.

About once a month I get a call from somebody reporting a huge find of many diamonds. I try to be diplomatic and tell them they are mistaken. But they do not want to hear anything other than what they believe already.

The biggest misunderstanding is the belief that you can test a "diamond" by checking hardness. Diamond is the hardest substance known and will scratch everything. These collectors usually try scratching glass which is only 5-1/2 on the hardness scale. Quartz (the most common mineral on Earth's surface) is 7 on the hardness scale and also scratches glass.

The only way to use hardness to test diamonds is to have the SECOND hardest substance known and then try to scratch it with the suspected diamond. Moissanite is 9-1/2 on the hardness scale, but is equally difficult to get samples to use in a scratch test. Corundum (ruby or sapphire) is 9 on the hardness scale and is readily available at reasonable prices for small crystals. Most importantly the few mineral species that can scratch corundum do not look like diamonds.

Specific gravity is a good diagnostic for distinguishing between diamond and common minerals like quartz. Diamond's specific gravity is 3.5 - 3.53 and quartz is 2.65 - 2.66. Even an inaccurate specific gravity test will be able to detect whether it could be a diamond. To test for specific gravity, I suggest reading my article: Quick Test Method for Determining Specific Gravity of Mineral Specimens

The best test for diamonds is thermal absorption. There are many diamond testers that use thermal absorption on the market and most jewelers will own one. You should befriend your local jeweler and have him use his diamond tester on suspected diamonds.

Diamonds are rare. It is not likely you will ever find one (with the exception of digging at Crater of Diamonds State Park in Arkansas). And it is extremely unlikely you will ever find two. So if you think you hit it big, run some quick tests before buying that expensive new car with your future profits.

7/30/2013

I routinely buy mineral collections from private collectors. My favorite collections to buy are the ones with lots of minerals originally purchased from me. As the seller, I have loyalty to the collector and want to maintain a good relationship. Also, all of my minerals will have descriptions and photographs from the original listing making the process of reposting them to this site easier. In fact, I will pay more for a collection of my minerals.

Too often collectors buy from other dealers then try to sell to me later. Why don't they sell the minerals to the original dealer that sold them?

Selling back to the original dealer leverages the existing dealer-client relationship. And the dealer knows the minerals best and knows how to value them.

When I buy the minerals that were acquired from other dealers, I set MY PRICES on the minerals. My prices are low compared to many other dealers. As a result the collector is dissatisfied with the price originally paid and dissatisfied with my offer.

When it comes time for you to sell, I suggest starting with the dealer that you purchased from originally.

/23/2013

One of my pet peeves is the overuse of the word "matrix."

Matrix was originally used to describe the surrounding strata of a fossil, then was adopted by mineral dealers and collectors to describe the rock underlying crystals of interest. The word matrix is properly used when the composition of the rock is unknown to the author. All too often, a mineral dealer (usually untrained in geology or mineralogy) uses matrix to describe any and all rock without making any attampt to identify it.

This can be good because I have seen some amazing misidentifications over the years. One of my favorites is a respected dealer describing Herkimer Diamonds as on basalt. Herkimer Diamonds occur on dolostone. The dealer in this case would be better off using matrix, insterad of making an obvious error.

But it is also wrong (grammatically) to say that crystals are on "on quartz matrx" or "on basalt matrix." If you know the composition of the underlying rock you should use that alone. Correct usage is to say the crystals are "on quartz" or "on basalt." I used to be guilty of this error until I was corrected by a famous mineralogist who was a stickler for accuracy.

Sometimes the underlying rock is a mixture of ore minerals and I will use "on sulfide-rich matrix" or "on manganese-oxide matrix" to provide some mineralogical context to the mineral specimen. After all, that is why specimens on matrix are more desirable -- they provide the context for the mineralogical environment.

7/16/2013

This week I added a new article in the Educational Articles section of this site: Quick Test Method for Determining Specific Gravity of Mineral Specimens.

Regular readers of this weekly commentary will recognize the content which was presented here first. I finally took photographs to illustrate the method and added a screen shot of using the Mindat identification page.

I hope you find the new article helpful.

7/2/2013

Collectors should be their own judge of quality and should not rely on dealers for an unbiased opinion. This takes experience and a concerted effort to learn about minerals. The collector should use a loupe to scrutinize every specimen to determine condition or flaws. And the collector should not rely on price as a guide as to whether a specimen is good or not.

In the diamond market there is often a difference of opinion about the color of a diamond. The seller states it is F color, and the buyer says it is G color (D is best, H is worst). The seller is optimistic and the buyer is negotiating. They will never agree, nor should they. The buyer should rely on his own skills to judge quality.

The same applies to mineral collectors. Do not accept a dealer's word that a specimen is, "The best I have seen of this mineral species." It may be true that he has never seen better because he has lack of experience or rarely visits museums or high-end collections. But the statement is essentially useless to a collector when judging quality.

My favorite collectors are the one that are confident in their own judgment. Bill Severance is one of these collectors. He looks at a specimen and judges it on it's own merits. Bill ignores the touts who boast about a specimen and he is not bothered if the price is low. (Too many collectors feel they must pay a high price to confirm it is a good specimen.)

It does no harm to ask a dealer what he has that is new or noteworthy. After all, the dealer knows his inventory better than anyone else. But beware of a dealer that "oversells" a specimen. Use your own judgment.

6/18/2013

My commentary two weeks ago included an insulting swipe at those monstrous acrylic bases that dominate many collector's display cases. Several visitors took the time to email me their agreement with my objection to them.

In discussions on the telephone with one, I compared display bases to the soundtrack of a movie. I remember hearing an interview with a movie soundtrack composer who said his goal was to add to the movie with his music, but that the audience should not be conscious of the presence of the soundtrack. That is exactly my philosophy about display bases.

Display bases are there to enhance the displaying of the mineral specimens, but that the viewer should not be aware of their presence (or at least the bases should not be as apparent as the mineral specimens).

I believe that if you have a dark case, such as the fiber-optically illuminated display cases used at mineral shows, that you should use dark bases so they blend into the background. I recommend the black bases made by Terry Burtzlaff. See his gallery of bases at Museum Style Base.

If you are displaying in a mineral show exhibit case with light-colored inner surfaces you should use light-colored display base s(and light-colored labels). And regardless of the color or material, the bases should not be highly reflective.

Lastly, any labeling on your bases should be changeable/removable so that revisions are possible. Those awful acrylic bases all have permanent labels that cannot be changed. How many have obsolete locality or species data? How many list obsolete species like Wolframite? How many give localities as ""Zaire" even though that country name has been obsolete since 1997?

In closing let me clarify that I do not object to minimal, understated acrylic bases with labels on them. I object to the big, thick acrylic bases with beveled edges and engraved labels that are the eye sores. Their design reflects more of the lighting than most moneral specimens. They are not the soundtrack that enhances the movie, they are the music video that accompanies the movie.

P.S. In response to my critics that ask why I am qualified to judge designs, I point out that in 1990 Fusion Planning magazine (Japan) cited me as one of the top 50 product designers in the U.S. In 1994 Business Week magazine honored me with the highest honor in design with the Gold Design Excellence Award and featured my design for the Polaroid Vision camera in a full page article.

6/11/2013

Some collectors object to flat sawn surfaces on the rear or bottom of mineral specimens, especially collectors in Europe.

What do you prefer? Given the choice between a matrix-rich unbalanced mineral specimen and a specimen that was trimmed using a saw, I prefer the trimmed specimen.

Of course, it is better if the specimen can be trimmed using a trimmer that will product that freshly-broken surface. It has a natural appearance. But a sawn specimen where the flat sawn surfaces are on the rear or bottom, where they are unseen when the specimen is displayed will look equally as natural. And some specimens are too delicate to use a hydraulic trimmer of the matrix has fractures that run contrary to the desired trim direction. These REQUIRE sawing.

Some collectors go to great lengths to have a specimen sawn, then the surface is abraded to give it a natural look. THEN they mount the specimen on a ghastly, massive base of clear acrylic that is hardly natural looking.

All things considered, I'd rather have a flat sawn bottom instead of requiring any sort of display base. Email me your comments at jhbnyc@aol.com

6/4/2013

Purchasers sometimes return minerals because they are not as "bright and colorful" as shown on my web site. One recent customer complained that I must have flooded the specimen with light during the photography.

Of course I used many lights to photograph a mineral. And it is true that if you open a box from me in your kitchen under fluorescent lights or dull incandescent lights, the mineral will not look as good as my photographs. But you do not display minerals in your kitchen.

You should evaluate the minerals in your display cabinet. And your mineral display should be properly illuminated. (See my article: Display Lighting of Minerals.)

Lastly, I encourage you to read my written description of minerals you are considering buying. Yes, my descriptions can sound redundant, but I describe each one individually and try to verbally paint a picture of each specimen.

5/28/2013

I have shipped over18,000 packages containing over 52,000 specimens. To date I have an unbroken record of never omitting an item from a package. My system is foolproof. Because if an error can be made, I will make it.

I have also NEVER omitted a label with each specimen. However MANY recipients have overlooked the labels in the packaging and accidentally discarded the label with the packing materials.

The biggest error I made was when I had two regular customers with same first names, who liked to submit orders via email and signed only with first name. When one placed an order, I shipped the correct specimen to the correct customer, but I accidentally charged the wrong customer for the purchase. To make matters worse, this was back when credit card receipts included the full card number. When the error was discovered, the card had to be canceled and replaced for security reasons. Today the number is not on the receipt so it would be a simple matter to refund the charge and process the correct card.

But that was in the early days. Now my system is nearly perfected. Of course, now I have jinxed by writing about it. Inevitably I will make an error this week...

4/30/2013

This week my current camera turned over another 100,000 images. Like a car that reaches 99,999 miles it is fun to watch it turn over to 100,000 miles.

My camera assigns sequential numbers to each image taken. This week I turned the milestone for the seventh time and now have taken over 800,000 images of minerals.

The fact that my final count of usable images is only 80,000 images may be a sign that I am not a good photographer. After all, the best photographers in advertising, architecture or design routinely take a day or more for one image, but when they get everything set, they capture only one image. No need for bracketing exposure or shooting like a fashion shoot. The image was perfected through long hours of lighting design. There is no need for a second exposure.

Obviously I do not work that way. I guess a yield of one in ten is not bad. But nobody is counting really. It's not like mineral dealers compare statistics or photo yield or time spent.

I do wish that Nikon cared more about "volume" photographers. I have worn out three cameras on my way to 800,000 images.

4/23/2013

The provenance of a mineral specimen may add value. And collectors like to have all supporting documents that are proof of the provenance.

In general, an old specimen with a label is worth more than an old specimen without a label. This is especially true in instances like the Eugene Sensel labels because he listed the date and source, and because Sensel was a well-known collector of barite. A barite specimen from Sensel says it was worthy of his collection.

But when you display minerals in your collection case, or at a mineral show, the multiple old labels clutter the display. So that leads to separating the old labels from the specimens. What is the best way to organize and store old labels so that they will not be misplaced and your survivors will know where to locate the labels?

I do not have an answer to that question. Obviously you want to catalog your collection, assigning a unique number to each specimen. Then that identifying number should be placed on the labels, or on the envelope containing the labels. Then store the labels in a card box or binder and place that binder near the minerals where it will be easily located. I also mount the specimens to a base, with a label on the base that lists the known provenance so that even if the labels are lost the provenance will not be lost.

Some may respond, "I know the history, and I know where I filed the labels. Why do I need all this organization?" That is what Jay Lininger said. He was the founder of Matrix magazine and he assembled a fantastic collection of Pennsylvania minerals. But he died suddenly of a heart attack and all of the history was lost because he did not label his collection.

I suggest telling your family where the historic labels are stored and I suggest leaving a not in your collection cabinet on where your collection catalog is located, the computer password to access your computer files and the location of the historic labels.

4/162013

Beginning Thursday I will be attending the Rochester Mineral Symposium. It is a fantastic event, with excellent lectures, good dealers, and overall a lot of fun. If you are in the area, be sure to make an effort to visit.

The symposium is very much oriented towards average collectors with many great lectures that are easily understood by the average collector. For more advanced collectors one afternoon is reserved for the presentation of short technical papers. Saturday morning is What's New in Minerals with the noted mineral photographer Jeff Scovil presenting highlights of minerals from the past year, followed by audience submissions of what is new. During the times when no lectures are scheduled, mineral dealers will be selling from rooms on the fourth floor (I am in room 408 this year) and there is an open bar on the dealer floor that stays open late leading to lots of fun.

There is also a room with microscopes for micromounters to swap and share minerals. And there is a room of display cases where collectors and symposium speakers display some top-notch new minerals. I have not displayed since I presented my talk on the minerals of New York City, but will be exhibiting minerals again this year with some highlights of my personal mineral collection.

The best part of the symposium is the people. Everyone shares a common interest, there are no egos involved, and everyone ends the weekend with a smile on their faces.

Click here to see the program schedule: 40th RMS Preliminary Program & Schedule

P.S., do not be deterred by the fact that the symposium begins on Thursday evening. Attending late Friday and all day Saturday is common, especially among students.

3/26/2013

More and more visitors to this site are using smartphones to view the mineral pages. While this is OK for reading the articles or viewing the mineral museum sections, it is troubling that visitors are viewing the minerals for sale too. The color accuracy of the minerals for sale is based on a well calibrated system and is optimized for high-quality displays found in desktop and laptop computers.

But smartphones are different.

In an effort to make their products look better than the competition, the telephone manufacturing companies intentionally over-saturate the color, brighten the images, and increase the contrast. Additionally, reds are enhanced to make photos of people look healthy (for caucasions), instead of pale and sickly. As a result, smartphones have terrible color accuracy. Awful. Unacceptable.

Worst of all, there is no way to adjust the color displays on smartphones.

As a result I urge caution when viewing minerals for sale, whether on my site, or any other dealer. Do not trust the display on your smartphone. Read the written descriptions to ensure the described color is what you expect. When in doubt, resort to viewing items for purchase on a calibrated computer display that has accurate brightness, contrast, and color saturation.

3/19/2013

It is amazing how some mineral specimens appear differently under different illumination sources. Of course some minerals like alexandrite have long been known to shift colors when illuminated in daylight and incandescent. But other minerals show this effect too, and today's illumination sources go far beyond the old choices of daylight and incandescent.

When I describe minerals I use a daylight-balanced fluorescent gem light, that is used in the gem trade for evaluating gemstones. When I photograph minerals I use daylight-balanced halogen Solux bulbs. In my display cases at shows I use daylight-balanced LED illumination.

Obviously true daylight is best when evaluating color. This became most apparent this week when I was describing the pale-pink diamonds that I posted. Daylight (indirect daylight in the shade on the north side of the building) showed a full pink coloration. But under the gem light the pink was barely visible -- and this light is supposed to be for the gem trade.

The only artificial illumination that renders colors almost as accurately as natural daylight is the Solux daylight-balanced halogen bulbs.

As much as I like LED illumination for display cases, they do not render rhodochrosite red accurately. I suspect they do not have a full-spectrum output and lack red in the illumination. To date I have not seen any manufacturer publish the spectral output of their LED bulbs. No amount of adjustment or filtration can modify this lack of output in reds.

What does this mean for collectors? When evaluating a new purchase, do not use the incandescent bulb in your kitchen, do not use the fluorescent light in your bathroom, do not use a gem light, or flashlight. You should view minerals in diffuse daylight illumination (open shade, not direct sunlight). And you should use Solux halogen illumination in display cases if your cases can accommodate them.

2/26/2013

Last week I received an email from a friend that had a link to a prominent mineral web site home page where it made the claim, "The Most Extensive Database Of  Minerals Sold And For Sale:Over 35,000 Items Listed!"

We both giggled at the claim because I currently have 41,489 minerals listed (86,064 photographs) that are either available for sale or sold which makes this guy's claim 20% below my site, and who knows how many other sites. And Mindat.com's photo database arguably also fits that description with over 452,286 photographs of mineral specimens.

Exaggerated claims like this rely on nobody challenging them. Here in NYC ,a minerals store claims, "The largest gem and mineral gallery in the world." The local collectors here know that they are not even the largest in New York. But the dealer still makes the claim.

Do customers really fall for this kind of exaggerated hyperbole? What does it say about the proprietors of these businesses?

I am at a complete loss to understand the world where these claims are necessary or respected. The minerals speak for themselves. If a dealer has good minerals at fair prices then you should buy from them. If the minerals are damaged, dinged, poorly labeled, inaccurately described then you should think twice. It is the minerals that are most important.

2/12/2013

This week I posted the first of the minerals acquired on my recent buying trip to Tucson, Arizona including the largest octahedral diamond crystal I've ever had. In addition I marked down some of my old gold specimens to reflect the recent contractions in the price of gold.

Important News:

On a bizarre note, this week I received emails from several friends that they saw my minerals and photos on a web site called radofineminerals.com. They were using my inventory to entice people to submit their credit card info. But since they did not have inventory they must have been running a scam. Their order form was not secure and it asked for birth date which is clearly designed for identity theft. I notified every authority I could think of and hopefully the site was closed - at least for a while. But you should beware if you encounter radofineminerals.com in the future.

(One a side note, this is the third time somneone has copied my site. Rainbow Minerals in the late 90s; a Spanish dealer about 8 years that was an acquaintance; and the guy this week.)

Today we think of the Internet as relatively safe. But if you are considering buying from a dealer that you never heard of before, you should take the following precautions:

You get the idea...

I guess this is another reason to buy only from reputable, long-established, trusted mineral dealers.

1/29/2013

I am frequently approached by parents asking for guidance on helping their children to become mineral dealers. Their children love minerals and want to work in the mineral industry. But they do not know what to study in college. I offer the following curricula for aspiring mineral dealers:

That is the minimum list of skills needed. Of course you can hire consultants/vendors for some of these skills, but the money spent on them will hurt profits. After all, if you need to pay your accountant a $500 fee it will require selling a $1000 of minerals to generate the profit equal to the fee.

And there are other classes that I could add to the list above, like advertising, search engine optimization, stone masonry/sculpture techniques, sales, advertising, scientific writing, etc.

I hope this does not scare off any potential new mineral dealers. Some day I hope to sell this business to an aspiring dealer. I need the next generation of young enthusiasts.

1/22/2013

Mounting minerals to bases is a good way to pair a specimen with a presentation label for display. But collectors should remember to avoid causing harm to mineral specimens. Remember, we are only the temporary caretakers of mineral specimens during our lifetimes.

Here are the common methods for mounting specimens in order from no harm to most harm :

The worst old collections used weird off-brands of puttys that went rancid over time or cannot be removed except with long soaks in organic solvents. Presumably the collector was too cheap to buy good Mineral Tack, so he went to a plumbing supply.

When I buy mineral collections I consider the harm done to the specimens by mounting methods when I calculate the value of the collection. I also consider the labor and time to remove the various glues used. The thumbnail collection that I am currently selling has about 1/3 of the collection adhered with Mineral Tack (hooray!), 1/3 mounted with cheesy off-brand tack that makes a mess and is difficult to remove (curses!), and 1/3 mounted with white glue which takes a day of soaking to remove (but at least it is removable).

Perhaps a more fundamental question is: does the specimen need mounting at all. If a base is just to communicate the species and locale, can't you accomplish the same with a paper label? Don't you think a base is a distraction in a display? There is nothing worse than those thick, heavy-handed acrylic bases that sparkle more than the minerals and detract from the focus on the mineral specimens. If a base is propping the specimen upright, can't you add support to the rear that cannot be seen from the front?

I urge collectors to keep their bases minimal, do no harm to the mineral, and NEVER uses silicone adhesive, epoxy or off-brand puttys.

1/8/2013

My online Mineral Museum has over 40,000 mineral specimens illustrated. None are for sale. All of the items were sold on this site during the last 15 years.

I have received many requests for the prices of these sold items. I will never disclose old prices.

Why? Because over half of my sales are to dealers. They buy from me, then mark-up the price to make a profit. They do not want their customers to know the specimens originated from me. As a result I quickly remove sold items from my galleries and I remove prices from the items in my museum.

Old prices have little value today anyway. Mineral prices have gone up since many old localities are closed and no longer producing specimens. It is similar to when an artist dies and his artwork goes up in price. One example : the zeolites from the trap rock deposits of New Jersey. Fifteen years ago there were several quarries that permitted collecting by mineral club field trips. Now all are closed to collecting. Specimens are getting rare and prices are escalating.

So disclosing old prices are not beneficial in any way.

1/1/2013

Happy New Years!

I just added all of the items sold last year to my online Mineral Museum bringing the total minerals illustrated to almost 40,000 specimens. Enjoy.

Sadly, I just learned of the passing on December 24 of Donald W. Fisher, retired NY state paleontologist and owner of the OK Rock Shop in Kinderehook, NY. Don and I used to sell side-by-side at the Duchess County Mineral Club Show in Rhinebeck. I always loved that his table covers were children's bedsheets that were covered with dinosaurs. And the child's inches-mm ruler that I have used (and worn down one end to a nub) to measure all 40,000 minerals sold through this site was also purchased from him.I will think of Don every time I use it.

The mineral and fossil world has lost a great friend...

Obit: http://www.registerstar.com/the_daily_mail/obituaries/article_6b0c5b06-4fe9-11e2-8863-0019bb2963f4.html

12/11/2012

I have to correct a correction.

A few months back I reported in my commentary that the black tourmaline from the Powers Farm in Pierrepont, New York had been determined by Steve Chamberlain, and announced at the Rochester Mineralogical Symposium, that the species was dravite tourmaline -- not uvite tourmaline.

After some pushing for details it was discovered that the determination was based on a limited sampling of tested specimens. Additionally other specimens were determined to be uvite by another source. Lastly, it is entirely possible that a single crystal may be zoned and have BOTH uvite and dravite within a single crystal.

For the intrepid few people that actually read my article on the Minerals of New York City, you will recognize this situation as familiar. I resorted to suggesting that all of the brown tourmalines from the Inwood Marble of NYC should be labeled as dravite-uvite (or uvite-dravite).

I now suggest the same nomenclature for the Pierrepont tourmalines and have modified my Mineral Museum and will adopt the new naming on all future specimens offered for sale.

12/4/2012

This week I finally acquired a diamond in kimberlite. This is the most-requested item that is impossible to obtain.

Hard-rock-mined diamonds are mined under exceptionally tight security, resulting in the process being TOTALLY automated from when the bucket-loader scoops up the freshly blasted rock all the way through the separation process when the diamonds are sealed in tamper-proof containers. There is no opportunity to save diamonds still in the kimberlite/ lamproite.

About 10 years ago it was possible to obtain diamonds in kimberlite from China. But mine security has improved and I believe the Chinese have also automated the mine to prevent pilferage. I have not seen a Chinese specimen for many years. I requested diamonds from every Chinese mineral supplier in Tucson. Even Guanghua Liu who wrote Fine Minerals of China has never seen a diamond from China. As a result I have given up hoping for diamonds in kimberlite from China

Diamonds in kimberlite have been sporadically available from Russia for the last 20 years. Every year a dealer would have a few at the end room of the east wing at the Executive Inn Show in Tucson. But the prices have always been very high.

Last week when I was offered a Russian diamond in kimberlite I snapped it up. As I said at the beginning, I have had hundreds of requests for them. Sadly the high price will probably deter most collectors, but it is estimated the the diamonds in the specimen weigh about 3 carats which is big and does not require magnification to see.

11/20/2012

Customers on the west coast frequently request ways to reduce postage. Packages over 13 ounces must be shipped by Priority Mail and the rates are by zone, so the postage is higher for longer distances. One of the best ways to reduce the amount of postage per specimen purchased is to take advantage of the Flat Rate Priority Boxes offered by the US Post Office. The postage is fixed regardless of weight or distance.

For my regular customers I am willing to reserve their minerals until a Flat Rate Box is filled. Smart customers will order several heavy items to take full advantage of the unlimited weight restriction on the boxes.

Of course the Flat Rate Boxes are unnecessary for small items which can be shipped via First Class Mail as long as the box is under 13 ounces.

Flat Rate Boxes are also the best way to ship international packages. The rates are higher than domestic, but the unlimited weight restriction allows a full box of 20 specimens to be shipped at a reasonable rate.

Lastly, if you reserve several items over time, and the order is 4 or more specimens with a total exceeding $200 my automatic discount policy applies.

So if you are willing to accept delayed delivery, request I hold your order for future additions. I will gladly set them aside until a box is filled. No charge is processed until the day the order ships and automatic discounts will apply. The only restriction I request is that all reserved items be charged and shipped before the year end.

11/13/2012

While looking around the NYC mineral show last weekend, I realized that the minerals available today are much better than what was available 30 years ago. Miners in foreign countries have learned to protect minerals during collecting and to individually wrap each specimen to prevent damage during transport. And trimming and cleaning techniques have improved, largely due to the widespread availability of microabrasive cleaners used by many mineral dealers and wholesalers.

At shows old-timers usually comment on the high prices of the specimens for sale and say they have equal in their collection. They fail to see the quality difference.

However, this weekend Irv Horowitz chatted with me. He has been collecting for over 75 years. He shared his amazement at the high quality of minerals available today. I welcomed his comments as they confirmed what I have long known.

In my experience the dividing line in quality was circa 1975. I buy many old mineral collections. The collections assembled pre-1975 have much more damage on the specimens and frequently vague localities listed. Post-1975 collections show much more care in preventing damage and the owners recognize how damage affects the value of mineral specimens. There is one exception to this generalization: collections assembled by buying through Ebay have much more damage and are of unusually poor quality (with the exception of collectors that buy from select dealers that are respectable).

We are lucky to live in such modern times where quality minerals are accessible to every collector at reasonably fair prices.

10/23/2012

One of my customers recently purchased two New England mineral specimens that were from Tom Penney's collection and were personally collected by him. Upon receipt the customer was disappointed that there was no old label from Penney.

Do old labels from unknown collectors add value? Maybe...

How many field collectors label their finds? Very few.

In my experience, having purchased nearly 100 mineral collections, very few are properly labeled. And field collectors, that dig up their own specimens rather than buying them are notoriously neglectful of labeling their specimens. Penney was no exception.

Even famous collectors fail to label their collection. Jay Lininger, famous collector of Pennsylvania minerals and founder of Matrix magazine dedicated to the history of mineral collecting and mining, left a huge collection upon his death with fewer than 5% properly labeled.

When I buy collections I frequently find non-conventional labeling such as:

Bob Lambert's collection, one of the best collections I recently purchased,  had no labels for the minerals. But Bob took the time to number each specimen and provided a database and file of previous dealer's labels that corresponded to the numbered minerals. Was Bob's collection worth less because it did not have labels that say "From the collection of Robert Lambert"? No. The quality of the minerals are what counts -- not some piece of paper.

In fact, the mantra of collectors of historic specimens should be: Mineral first, provenance second. Meaning the mineral quality should be the first priority. The collector that purchased the Penney focused solely on the missing labels rather than on the exceptional quality that Penney was able to collect.

One last note: I will ALWAYS show any historic labels for the minerals listed on this site. If you don't see a label on the mineral page, do not expect to receive one.

10/16/2012

Last week I received an order for three aquamarine crystals with the request that I provide the weight for each specimen so the "relative value" could be assessed. After explaining that the value of a crystal has little to do with the weight I declined to provide weights and the order was canceled.

Why judge the "relative value" of a specimen by weight?

Using only weight completely overlooks the more important factors that affect the value of a specimen. Why not judge based on distance to the origin of the deposit or price per millimeter? Perhaps the number of crystal faces is a better factor (an aquamarine with a flat termination is boring compared to a complex termination.) Or perhaps we should divide the price by the number of years since the specimen was collected or the number of years since the locality closed...

Using only weight as a criteria to assess value overlooks condition. Two equal size aquamarine crystals, of equal weight, are not equal if one has deeper blue color and is in pristine condition while the other has an incomplete termination and abraded crystal faces due to being thrown in a bucket with similar specimens and brought down the mountain on a lame donkey.

And two equal crystals of aquamarine from different localities are not equal. An aquamarine found 100 years ago on Manhattan Island, New York City is worth a 1000 times more than a comparable crystal collected in 2012 from Brazil.

Of all the criteria, I propose that weight is the LEAST important. Condition and locality are much more important.

10/9/2012

I finally established a Facebook page for this business, separate from my private Facebook page. You can follow this site by going to Facebook and clicking the "Like" button. Then when I write about recent news, and update this site, you will be notified in your Facebook feed.

I must admit that last year, before I joined Facebook, I too rolled my eyes at another way to waste time by reading the self-centered meanderings of other people that I barely know. But now I am a complete convert. There is an active mineral collecting community on Facebook that share their photos and news of field trips, newly acquired minerals and items of interest. And if somebody abuses the forum by posting overly-commercial sales pitches or political rantings, it is very easy toanonymously  "unfriend" them and never see another post from them again.

In the past, I would accept any of my customers from this site as a friend on my personal page. Now I encourage you to follow this site at: http://www.facebook.com/JohnBettsFineMinerals.

This assumes you are already a facebook user. If you aren't, I encourage you to join. It is a great resource for mineral collectors and for extending your contacts in the mineral world.

8/7/2012

This week I posted several gold specimens. Because gold is a commodity priced by weight, I usually include the total weight in grams for each specimen. But the total weight often includes remnants of quartz matrix. So the weight does not reflect the total gold content.

How can you determine gold content?

Actually it is very easy. Gold and quartz have very dissimilar densities.  If a specimen is predominantly gold, then the specimen's density will be close to gold's density. If a specimen is predominantly quartz, then the specimen's density will be close to quartz's density. If you can measure the density of a specimen, you can determine gold content. (remember Density =Specific Gravity)

3.1 x specimen weight in water (in grams), minus 1.9 x specimen weight in air (in grams) = gold weight in grams

This formula can be expressed in other ways, and it depends on using a balance beam to weigh the specimen in air and water. But it is a very simple formula and worth filing away if you are interested in collecting gold.

7/24/2012

As most visitors know, I try to always provide some description of the condition/damage to each mineral specimen listed on this site. But some specimens truly confound me.

How should I describe a specimen like #55464?

The specimen is from a spongy-vuggy area where all minerals grew together with many voids throughout that permitted complete crystal development. But where it was separated from adjacent rock the small microcrystals clearly show rough edges.

Since every specimen (except floater crystals) was separated from some surrounding rock, and has rough areas in the rear or sides, I am tempted to simply describe the crystals as undamaged (i.e. No damage). But a micromounter will look under a microscope and see where the microcrystals are rough where they were attached.

In this case, I omitted the descriptor, which may lead some collectors to refrain from considering the specimen. But what else can I do? What are your thoughts? Email me at jhbnyc@aol.com.

7/17/2012

Last week I purchased back some mineral specimens that I sold in 2000-2005. When I purchased them I noticed my labels were discolored brown. Normally my labels bleach to a lighter gray with age. I mistakenly thought it was acid damage due to acid-rich paper stock or storage boxes. It was not until I returned home that I realized the brown stains on the labels were nicotine stains because the previous customer was a cigarette smoker.

This was a first for me. I have purchased about 100 mineral collections over the last 20 years and never was the seller a cigarette smoker.

I was able to clean the minerals using Cascade dishwashing detergent in an ultrasonic cleaner. It was remarkable how fast the cleaning solution turned brown after washing only 80 small thumbnail-sized specimens. The minerals are clean now, though there is some residual odor in the boxes which I hope will disappear as the old boxes are discarded.

I think the lesson is that you should protect your minerals if you are a heavy cigarette smoker. I suggest:

I know these proposals are cumbersome and detract from displaying your minerals. But I believe we are only the temporary caretakers of our minerals. Eventually your minerals will pass on to a new owner. The physician's motto "Do no harm" applies to minerals too. If you are a cigarette smoker please protect your minerals from staining caused by ambient smoke.

7/3/2012

When space permits, I will frequently mention in the written description of minerals specimens on this site that the bottom or rear surfaces were sawn. A diamond saw is used to remove excess matrix surrounding the minerals of interest on the specimen. A saw is used when the shock of a hydraulic trimmer may cause the crystals to pop off the matrix.

Crystallized minerals on matrix are more desirable.
(My wife used to collect with me and she insisted on chiseling the crystals off the surrounding matrix. She still wonders why I do not take her collecting with me...)

But some collectors have a prejudice against sawn surfaces on the unseen sides of the specimens. I understand that a natural appearance is desirable. But if the trade off is a sawn specimen versus an unbalanced matrix-heavy specimen, I will choose the sawn specimen. Additionally when the bottom is sawn correctly the specimen will stand upright without additional display stands for support. (Display stands are an ugly distraction and detract from the beauty of the minerals in a display case -- especially those huge acrylic monstrosities that are passed off as display bases from some mineral dealers.)

If you are insistent on a natural appearance on the bottom and rear surfaces of a specimen, you may have the surface roughed up using air chisels or microabrasive units. I do not see the point.

But I will continue to mention sawn surfaces in my descriptions, especially for the more valuable specimens so that you can decide for yourself.

6/26/2012

Yesterday I was offered a Chinese stibnite specimen for $9.9 million. I was speechless.

It measures about 30 cm (11") across and is a dense cluster of thin crystals about 3-4 cm long. In the photo several larger crystals had broken off and were included in the price, as if a few extra crystals would add value.

In what world is a stibnite cluster worth more than a really big house with a four-car car garage filled with antique mercedes automobiles?

I guess I should be flattered that the seller thought I could purchase the specimen, and that he thought I could sell it for a profit.

I cannot write more about this -- I am still speechless.

6/5/2012

Parents frequently ask how they can encourage their children's emerging interest in minerals. My first recommendation is to join the local mineral club. There are mineral clubs in almost every large city, within a short drive of the majority of the population. They offer monthly lectures, field trips, and newsletter for a modest membership fee. (Sadly most adult collectors do not join their local mineral club. Of the 3000 mineral collectors in the greater New York area, fewer than 500 are in mineral clubs.)

So here is my list of activities to encourage the hobby of mineral collecting:

Almost every serious mineral collector I know started collecting minerals as a child. During high school and college years mineral collecting gets sidelined. But as adults they return to the joy of collecting minerals, usually once they are independently mobile (their own car) and have fewer demands on their time (no school).

Start your children early and the hobby will stick with them. They are the future of our hobby.

5/29/2012

It is a curse to have a cataloged/computerized inventory.

Yes, it is convenient if a request is made for a species or locality. I can instantly search and determine if any specimens are in stock and available. But the illusion it gives of being organized is misleading. Knowing you have a specimen somewhere in the warehouse (out of an inventory of 5000 mineral specimens) is practically useless. The inventory does tell where a specimen is located.

In reality a computerized inventory leads to:

  1. Countless hours searching for a single specimen, often worth $25
  2. Inevitable errors of misrecorded sales (wrong items recorded as sold or failure to record the sale totally)
  3. Frustration over the natural entropy of organizing a collection (any organizational system degrading from order to disorder)

If I only sold over the Internet, via a shopping cart, then it might be possible to maintain organization. But I also have in-person sales at mineral shows. Any organization I have when I remove minerals from my warehouse is lost once they are set out for sale at a show. Customers do not replace minerals into the flats where they originated and they should not be expected to. And my glass cases containing best minerals is set up for contrast and aesthetics, not in alphabetical or numerical order. Finally, when returning minerals to my warehouse, there is another opportunity for disorganization.

The only organization I can muster is to sort by size. Then when searching for a specimen I limit my search to the flats containing only matching sized specimens. Though even this sometimes fails when a flat is mis-filed.

I guess having a computerized inventory is better than not having an inventory -- but not much better.

5/22/2012

This week a mineral collector from eastern Europe sent photographs to me via email requesting identification of mineral species. When I responded that I could not identify the mineral species based solely on photographs, the collector went ballistic with the foulest curses against me and the entire geological community. So much for giving a courtesy reply to every inquiry...

You cannot identify minerals based on photographs, unless it is a unique mineral with a rare habit that is not found in any other mineral, like sixling-twinned reticulated cerussite crystals.

Before I pronounce an identification of species, I check ALL of these characteristics:

At the Rochester Mineralogical Symposium this year George Robinson, curator of the A.E. Seaman Museum at Michigan Tech lampooned over-reliance on microprobe and X-ray when he offered advice on identifying various minerals from the iron mining district of Michigan. He said he routinely uses his "electron microprobe streak plate" for determining some species, like differentitating between goethite and hematite.

The foolishness of identifying minerals based on photographs can be found on the discussion boards of Mindat.org. Collectors submit photographs, then anyone with a keyboard submits their ideas of what the mineral species might be. One classic example was Glenn Rhein's find on his property in Warwick, New York in the Reading Prong geologic formation. Mindat contributors offered all kinds of proposals for identification of the species. Unfortunately few were aware of the mineralogy of the Reading Prong and many of their answers were far off the mark.

Please do not email me photographs for identification. However, if you send me the descriptive characteristics of the seven attributes listed above AND you describe the geologic setting of the find, I will do my best to respond with identification.

5/8/2012

This week Fortune magazine contacted me regarding their annual investment/collecting issue. They were looking for mineral collectors that could attest to the profitability of investing in minerals. Boy, did they get an earful from me. As I have written before, minerals may be a hedge against inflation, because they keep their value well in inflation-adjusted dollars, but they are not a good way to make money. The only people that make money buying and selling minerals are mineral dealers, and we don't make that much.

In my previous career, I designed products for many customers. The profit margin is much better selling women's shoes, which is why you see so many shoe stores at shopping centers. Luxury items like Waterford crystal are sold for over 30x the cost of production. The profit on greeting cards is astronomical, their raw material costs are minuscule compared to the retail prices.

When it comes to investing you should look for a liquid, efficient market where you can readily sell your possessions to a wide customer base. You cannot easily sell your minerals at a profit unless:

  1. You know a lot about minerals
  2. You buy at below wholesale costs
  3. You sell directly to the end customer, not through an agent/intermediary

Unfortunately most mineral collectors cannot do any of those things. As a result you cannot make a healthy profit in buying minerals.

Buy Apple stock as an investment. Buy waterfront real estate as an investment. But you should buy minerals because they are beautiful.

4/24/2012

As usual there was much new information learned at the Rochester Mineralogical Symposium. One of the most interesting is that because of the refined definitions of the tourmaline group of minerals, the black tourmaline found at the Power's farm in Pierrepont, New York is now considered to be dravite -- not uvite.

Interestingly the chemical formula of the species has not changed, and the analysis of the black tourmalines has not changed. But the IMA (grand Pooh-Bahs of mineral naming) set a protocol for placing various elements in the sites of the tourmaline structure that changes the Pierrepont tourmalines to dravite. Nothing has changed, except for the definition as defined by the IMA.

The IMA long ago eliminated the mineral species biotite, lepidolite, wolframite, renamed hancockite, among others. They changed fluorapatite to apatite-(CaF) then changed it back to fluorapatite a few years later.

As a result of the frivolous changes I am waiting 2-3 years before changing my labels on the Pierrepont tourmalines. That will leave time for the IMA to change it back again. (Do you suppose they get some sort of royalty from the mineral label printers?)

4/17/2012

This week one of my regular customers wrote apologizing for not buying many minerals recently. He wrote that I have been posting more expensive minerals lately and that he cannot afford to buy them.

I find it interesting how different visitors perceive the minerals offered on this site. Some people think they are too expensive. Others request more expensive specimens. For the record: I try to offer a WIDE variety of prices and quality. Of the 250 mineral specimens posted during the last 4 weeks 104 of them were $25 or below. That is actually a high percentage of inexpensive specimens. 106 of the specimens were $100 or more (37 were $500+). So you can see there is a good variety to choose from in any price range.

It is tempting to only sell in one price category and earn a following of customers in that price range. Remember when Stuart Willensky sent out announcements, after years of selling a variety of prices, that he would no longer sell minerals under $1000? He upset many of his loyal customers. But he has made a good living following that decision.

Suffice it to say that my business model is to sell all categories, all localities, and all prices.

4/10/2012

Last week I posted movie (video) files for fourteen high-end apophyllite specimens because they were complete hemispheres that were not easily visualized using still photographs. I questioned whether they would be of any value. I still believe that a collector must see a specimen in their hand to adequately evaluate a purchase. (That is why I have a 2 week no-questions-asked return policy.)

Through the wonders of the Internet I am able see statistics on how many visitors viewed the movie files. The most popular was #54506 which was viewed by 34 visitors out of the 16,784 visitors to the site during the last week. Those visitors viewed 85,070 pages on my site. 34 views out of 85,070 is pitiful.  Needless to say the extra effort is hardly worth it if visitors do not view them.

I received the following comment, "I would say that the virtue of the all-around movie is that it shows the entire specimen, adds a great deal to my understanding, and leaves the judgments about beauty and ugliness to the customer."  That is certainly true.

My response is that the photos are there as a guide to select which items are of interest, and that the final decision should be made with the specimen in hand. Look at the photos, have your choice shipped to you, and return it if it fails to meet your expectation.   My return rate is less than half of one percent, which I believe is testimony to my photographs and my accurate written descriptions.

Do not expect more video files in the future.

3/27/2012

This week a collector offered me a small collection of minerals specimens, mostly quartz, but also some fluorite, calcite and other minerals. The collector sent a spreadsheet and photographs of the specimens. I am sure they were good mineral specimens because the collector has a fine eye for minerals and high standards for quality.

My first response was to decline offering a price for the small collection. I did not want to insult him. (Mineral collectors are never pleased with the price when selling minerals. If you have not read my article on Investing in Minerals, then I suggest you read it now.) The collector expressed flexibility in selling and urged me to submit an offer anyway.

I should have followed my first instinct and declined again. But I foolishly offered a dollar amount. I was correct: -- he was insulted.

The problem was he paid too much for the minerals. He paid X. My estimate of their value was they were worth about 70% of X. And I offered him half of what I thought they were worth which is a fair wholesale value. All the collector knew though was that I was offering 35% of what he thought they were worth. His ASSUMPTION was that I was going to triple what I paid on them when I sell them. He thought the worst.

Here are the lessons learned from the experience:

  1. Collectors will never get back their investment, adjusted for inflation, if they buy at retail and try to sell at wholesale.
  2. When selling your minerals they are only worth the wholesale value if replaced in a wholesale venue like Tucson. No matter how much you paid, an Indian zeolite is only worth the price a dealer could buy it for in Tucson and that is a very low price.
  3. Ordinary minerals like quartz or fluorite will never appreciate like azurite from Bisbee or pyromorphite from the Wheatley Mine.
  4. Some minerals are falling in value rapidly. Typically they first come to market very highly priced because the extent of the find is unknown. Later when the market becomes flooded with specimens from the find, the prices fall. Recent examples include cubic magnetite from New York and the green fluorite from Riemvasmaak.
  5. I should have trusted my instincts, held my ground, and declined to make an offer. (I suggest reading Blink by Malcolm Gladwell for more information about instinctive decision making.)

The real lesson is that you should collect minerals solely for personal interest or appreciation of their beauty. You will never realize a return on your investment unless you buy only the finest specimens, free of damage, from dealers that have fair prices, and you do not try to resell for at least 10 years.

3/20/2012

After last week's commentary about calibrating computer displays, I thought I would share my decision with regular visitors: I decided to calibrate my display to accurately show the full range of values in images. This means that if you have a computer with a jazzed-up display my images will appear overly-bright with possibly overly-saturated colors.

One interesting note, in order to accurately calibrate my display, I had to adjust both the Windows 7 display properties (gamma adjustment) in the Control Panel and the separate color settings for my graphics card. There is no single adjustment that controls all. And it was no single process. It was trial and error until I could see the subtle 1% tints in the test image below. And I had to independently reduce the color saturation to make colors appear normal again.

I do not want to sound too cynical. It was not quick and easy, but it was well worth it and I encourage you to adjust your display.

One last piece of advice, open the test image below in your browser before starting the process, then as you make adjustments (Control Panel > Display > Color Calibration) reduce the calibration  window to cover only half your screen allowing you to see the test image at the same time. It makes the process easier.

Click for larger image

I am going through a major upheaval caused by migrating to a new computer + Windows 7 + new email servers. The most surprising aspect of the upgrade is the poor calibration of the display on my laptop. The colors are super-saturated, contrast is too high and the brightness is blindingly too bright.

This is NOT a subjective judgment.

I use a simple, computer-generated (no camera imaging involved) test image to see if the display shows the full dynamic range of black to white. My display, as it came from the factory does not show the subtle dark gray and light gray bars at the outside edges of the image.

I suspect the jazzed-up display is to give the impression of better-brighter-super-duper display to help the marketing department sell computers. I repeatedly encountered this marketing-led feature-creep when I was still a product designer.

So here's the conundrum: Should I darken my images so they look normal on these new jazzed displays? Or should I calibrate my monitor so it displays correctly which will make my images too bright on the new computers that people are currently buying?

Let me know what you think...3/6/2012

Last weekend was the NYC Mineral Show. It was a successful show, but it reminded me of why I dislike mineral shows: broken and damaged minerals caused by mishandling.

As a mineral dealer, I often preach that condition is the number one consideration when selecting a mineral for purchase. I recommend ALWAYS purchasing minerals in good condition, hopefully with no visible damage. My job as a dealer is to protect the minerals from future damage. But minerals shows are the single biggest contributor to damaged minerals.

Most damage is caused by show attendees, especially children. I will always spend time with kids to help them appreciate minerals and if they are genuinely interested will give them free specimens. But I lose my patience with the kids that walk down the aisles of a show grabbing any specimen in reach and then wiggle it until it breaks. I found a nice cavansite specimen totally destroyed this weekend. The kid must have really worked at it to get this much damage. And parents are not much better.

Show attendees should always ask permission before handling specimens or ask for assistance from the booth owner.

If I ever stop selling at shows it will because of the damage caused by ham-fisted attendees.

2/28/2012

After two recent motherboard failures on my Dell computer, I finally purchased a new computer. I foolishly thought the migration to a new computer would be quick and simple -- until I discovered that Windows 7 is not backwardly compatible with my old software. This means that I not only have to migrate all files, macros, databases, shortcuts that I've developed over the last 16 years, but now I have to learn several new programs because my old programs are no longer supported. (I loved using Paradox to manage my database...)

I do not want to go into the tired complaints of Macs versus Windows. When I was working as a designer I routinely used both systems on a daily basis. During the first years, there were big differences between them. But by 1998 both Macs and Windows were pretty much identical. Any program would run on both platforms with the same functionality. So I never took seriously this pseudo-religious fanaticism between the factions of Macs and Windows. But the failure of Windows 7 to be backwards compatible is very disappointing.

Now I remember why I rushed to buy one of the last Windows XP computers when I purchased my previous computer in 2007...

1/18/2012

I am writing this week from the Tucson airport where I am waiting to return from my buying trip. (I return to Tucson late next week to exhibit at the Tucson Gem & Mineral Show, booth #1129.)

I had a VERY successful buying trip -- much better than last year when I came home with money remaining in the bank. Some of the highlights of the minerals acquired are:

I could continue, but it will be better to surprise you in the coming months. I expect to begin posting the new mineral in the third week of February, after I return from the Tucson show. I will continue to update my site in the coming weeks, while I am traveling, but shipping will be delayed beginning February 3 and will resume February 17.

Remember, if you are attending the Tucson "Main" show (TGMS), please stop by and visit me in booth #1129.

1/18/2012

Yesterday I had a preview of post-apocalyptic life when my computer crashed yesterday. Total failure. Dead as a door nail.

It needed a new motherboard. I couldn't print, send email, pay bills, process orders, create invoices, post new minerals to my site, etc. I sat around with nothing to do feeling stupid and helpless.  Thank goodness for Dell's quick service response -- it was fixed within 18 hours.

As a result of the crash this site was updated a day late. As regular visitors know, this site is normally updated on Tuesday. The official time of the update is noon, New York time. But the minerals are actually posted at 11:30 A.M. to give me time to resolve any issues or errors.

System crashes and delayed updates are a good reason to sign-up for my email notification list. I now manage my notification list via Constant Contact which makes it very easy if you want to discontinue email notifications at a future date. If your email address is on the list, you will get an email every time new minerals are posted to this site, with direct links to the updated listings. It is very convenient.

And as always, I promise not to send promotional emails (except the update announcements) and I promise never to sell or share your email address with other businesses.

1/10/2012

I recently reviewed a mineral collection that was for sale. The collector had purchased many specimens via Internet-based auction sites. The prices paid for the auction specimens were recorded and shared with me. As I reviewed the collection I saw a consistent pattern that when the collector purchased from known mineral dealers he paid reasonable prices. But when specimens were purchased via Internet auction he overpaid for the specimens -- often grossly overpaid.

Why do collectors pay too much for auctioned specimens?

Because the the final auction price is determined by the BUYER (often inexperienced) and based SOLELY on the photographs presented in the auction. Since color rendition of mineral photographs is erratic, photographs often look too good. And the written descriptions are frequently useless. And what collector is confident about whether a price is fair?

The prices of mineral specimens sold via dealers are based on the dealer evaluating the specimen under balanced illumination and the value is set based on the dealer's long experience. Since the dealer wants return customers and a reputation for being fair, it is in the dealer's best interest to set a good price that will delight the customer upon receiving the specimen. This works in the purchaser's favor when buying.

When buying via online auctions, you really must do your research to avoid overpaying. I recommend the web site www.minfind.com because it makes comparison shopping for minerals easy and fast. You can find bargains in online auctions, but you must be knowledgeable and lucky to get a really good specimen at a bargain price because there is too much competition for the good pieces.

1/3/2012

We made it to 2012 safe and sound. Last year was a good one. I sold 3300 mineral specimens, down from the previous year, but the average price of the specimens went up -- mainly because diamond crystals are selling again. After the 2008 crash I did not sell a diamond for 18 months. Now the pent-up demand is causing diamonds to sell again, often for use in engagement rings. I guess people are getting married again. Let's hope 2012 is even better than 2011.

I am now preparing for my trip to Tucson at the end of the month. I will be in Tucson January 26-31 on a buying trip, acquiring new inventory for the coming year. Then I am participating in the Tucson Gem & Mineral Show (The Main Show), from February 9-12 in Booth #1129. If you are attending the show, please stop by my booth to say hello. I enjoy meeting people at shows. In fact, meeting other collectors is the ONLY reason why I participate in mineral shows. It would be a lot easier to stay home and only sell via the Internet.

I plan to maintain the regular Tuesday update of approximately 80 new specimens even though I will be traveling for three. Shipping may be delayed, but new postings will continue.

12/20/2011

As collectors, how should we handle old mine names? Should we change our labels every time a mine changes hands? Or should we eliminate the names and focus purely on geographic or geologic names?

I prefer to maintain old mine names as the name is an indication of when the specimen was collected. Many of the Herkimer Diamonds I sell were collected at a quarry in St. Johnsville, New York that was operated by Benchmark Industries at the time and therefore labeled as from the Benchmark Quarry, St. Johnsville, NY. The quarry is now operated by  Eastern Rock Products. But I have not changed the labels if the specimens were collected during the ownership if Benchmark. On specimens that I did not collect, and I am unsure when they were collected, I may list the locality as Eastern Rock Products Quarry (Benchmark Quarry), St. Johnsville, NY.

Another recent example is the North Geronimo Mine near Yuma, AZ. When it was worked a few years ago the specimens were labeled as from the Pure Potential Mine. Why did the miners rename the locality? Were they trying to hide the source of the specimens from other collectors?

Maintaining labels with the mine names at the time specimens were collected saves us the relentless task of updating specimen labels. It is already difficult maintaining mineral species with the IMA foolishness that goes on.

I look forward to the day that we eliminate all locality and reduce the locality designation to latitude and longitude coordinates. But until that time we should have a thought out approach to naming/renaming localities and our labels.

12/6/2011

This week I posted several very large mineral specimens. Photographing large specimens is very difficult. My photo stage and lighting (see the bottom of Digital Mineral Photography - Page 4)are designed around specimens up to about 20 cm (8 inches). When confronted with a large plate like the apophyllite and stilbite posted this week, all standard photo techniques fall apart. My diffusers are not large enough, the lighting generates hot spots and odd shadows and the large distance between lights and specimen pushes the camera to shoot in a low ISO/light mode which generates image "noise" usually apparent as grainy imaqges.

But as difficult as it is to photograph large specimens, they are not going to sell unless I list them. And some collectors restrict their acquisitions strictly to large specimens. I rememberwell-known collectors from Texas visiting my home. As soon as they saw my mineral display they said, "Oh, that's right -- you're the one that sells small specimens." This is true. I have a bias for miniature specimens, perhaps because I live in New York City where space is at a premium. I am envious of micromount collectors that can store their entire collection in the bottom of a closet.

In closing, I ask forgiveness for the less-than-optimum photographs on the large specimens posted this week. All I can promise is that they look much better when viewed in person.

11/29/2011

New finds in the mineral world happen all the time. Two years ago it was the octahedral cuprite crystals from the Rubtovskiy Mine in Russia. Several years ago it was grass-green pyromorphite from Daoping, China. There are new finds made every week of the year, though few are as prolific as these.

Buying minerals from a new find is a risk. Will the supply outstrip demand and prices fall? Is this a one-pocket one-time find and the supply is severely limited. Does one dealer control the entire find? Or will other dealers soon show up with the same material?

One of my longtime customers made the comparison of buying new mineral finds with buying stock in an initial public offering (IPO). Sometimes a stock opens low and continues upwards forever like Google after the IPO started at $85/share and is now trading at $588+. Or will a stock languish like the recent Groupon IPO that opened at $28 three weeks ago and is now trading at $15.24?

This week I posted some cubic magnetite crystals from ZCA Mine No. 4 in New York. When these were first found collectors, like me, paid crazy high prices for specimens. The supply outlasted demand and today's collectors do not know the importance of these specimens resulting in low demand and prices.

When the green pyromorphite was found at Daoping, I refrained from buying large quantities because I thought the supply would continue forever. I was wrong. I was ignorant of the Chinese "syndicate" that controls prices and the flow of minerals from China. Also the pyromorphite was found in the surface oxide zone at the deposit which was quickly mined through, depleting the deposit faster than expected. I wish I bought more.

As collectors what should you do when a dealer pitches you a "new find" of minerals? I suggest being cautious, make some inquiries with your favorite dealers, look for competing dealers on Minfind.com and read the show reports on Mindat, Mineralogical Record, etc. Use common sense when buying new finds so that you don't regret overpaying if the market is flooded within a year.

11/15/2011

The latest update for Mindex (the Mineral Index) is now available. This is an index that you can load onto your computer to look up mineral magazine and journal references. Mindex is a complete index of every mineral and mineral locality mentioned in:

It is an excellent reference source. If you have sets of any of the magazines listed above, Mindex makes the contents quickly accessible. You can search on any field. Most convenient is to search localities or minerals from regions or authors if you can recall who wrote an article of interest. It is a good supplement to internet reference sites, as it gives the source articles where you can find more information. (Note it is an index - not reproductions of the articles.)

See my Mindex page for further information.

For users of previous versions of Mindex, you can upgrade to the latest data for only $10 plus postage.

11/1/2011

This week I am changing to a new credit card processing method via PayPal.

I used to clear all transactions through Chase Paymentech, then through First Data. But small businesses like mine are severely penalized by by banks with outrageous hidden fees. In many instances I was paying a 6% commission for card transactions. This meant that I received only 94% of the price of the mineral. Even worse, if I charged sales tax or shipping, I received only 94% of those fees and had to pay the balance out of my pocket.

My total postage fees last year were $20,000+. The discount commission paid to the card clearing banks meant that even though I charged for postage, I lost $1000+ with no way to make up the balance.

When I started an account review on my card transactions, I had no idea the fees were that high. Like most companies, I believed that company that said the fees would be 2.4%. But when I actually dissected the statements and charges I learned the truth.

So I am switching, at least temporarily, to clearing all transactions through PayPal. Please be patient as I adjust to the new system and be tolerant if I request additional information.

A note of clarification on the commentary above: I still accept payment via credit card. The only difference you will notice is that there is a new receipt format that includes a PayPal logo. But the charge will still appear on your statement under the name John Betts Fine Minerals or abbreviated as JB Minerals.

I apologize for any confusion caused by my commentary.

10/25/2011

Old mineral collections often have vague or inaccurate localities on the labels. Mineral collectors were less demanding before 1980 -- they tolerated damage and cared little about mine names. One locality close to home is the New Street Quarry in Paterson, New Jersey. Old collections may simply label specimens from the site as from:

There were two quarries at the site. "New Street Quarry" is the generic name that covers both upper and lower quarries. A street divides them (New Street) so they are two localities, but were operated as one quarry. Using "West Paterson" on a label is grossly inaccurate as West Paterson is a nearby town.  The quarries are in the town of Paterson. It would be more accurate to use "western Paterson" to avoid confusion that the locality is a geopolitical name rather than a geographic description.

If an old specimen is not specifically labeled as from the upper or lower quarry, then using the generic "New Street Quarry" on the label is appropriate. In my experience, the upper quarry produced many more specimens, until recently.

Both sites are inactive and officially closed to collecting. But risk-tolerant collectors frequently visit most sites without much regard for the rules. Lower New Street Q. is hidden so collectors cannot be easily detected. There are condominiums built on the ledge above the upper quarry. Heavy hammering will disturb the residents above. You run the risk of arrest, fines and confiscation of tools if police catch you at either locality.

The upper quarry is south of New Street and the lower quarry is north of New Street. Google Earth Coordinates

Upper Quarry: 40°54'19.79"N, 74°11'5.00"W
Lower Quarry: 40°54'20.11"N, 74°11'12.89"W

I hope this clarifies, in a small way, the various names used over the years for these prolific localities.

10/18/2011

This week I uncovered several flats of mineral specimens from the depths of my warehouse. When a mineral find is plentiful, and prices are low, I set aside boxes of specimens until they are no longer available. This results in the occasional item number that is much lower than the recently added minerals that are currently numbered 53000+. A low item number is not an indication that it was posted on the site before. In fact, next week I am posting an item with a three digit number that dates to the early years of using a database to track each mineral I sell (about 17 years ago).

I also do not have a consistent policy regarding when I acquire an old specimen that I previously sold. Because I buy many mineral collections, I frequently obtain my own specimens. In fact, I have sold many specimens three times or more. Most of the time, I reuse the old  item number instead of creating a new item number. But occasionally I will issue a new number. Usually the deciding factor is whether it was trimmed or modified during the time somebody else owned the specimen.

So when you see a low item number on the site you cannot assume that it was sitting around unsold. I do relist items that failed to sell. But you cannot assume a low item number has any meaning beyond the fact that I originally purchased at an early date and cataloged it into my database.

10/11/2011

Are you aware that ballas diamonds diamonds are the hardest diamonds known?

The octahedral faces of all diamond crystals is 500 times harder than the cubic faces. The polycrystalline structure of ballas diamond only have the octahedral faces on the outside surfaces. And when a ballas cleaves it exposes another octahedral face beneath. That is why ballas are set in drill bits used for drilling through rock in the petroleum exploration field.

Ballas diamonds come from only two localities: Russia and the Paraguassu River District of Brazil. Most of the ballas are from Brazil. (I only have two available for sale, they are listed in my Brazil Gallery.)

The diffential hardness in diamond crystal faces is why cutting faceted gemstones from diamonds is so difficult. If cut along an octahedral face the diamond will never take a polish. And that is why the rotating head of diamond cutting machines was such a breakthrough in technology.

10/4/2011

There is no comparison shopping in the mineral world.

Collectors usually rationalize their lack of research before buying by saying each mineral specimen is unique and you cannot comparison shop. For some specimens this may be true. But when it comes to large finds of minerals, such as the cuprite crystal clusters from the Rubtovskiy Mine in Russia, there are many nearly-equal specimens to choose from many dealers. So it is possible to make comparisons before buying to locate the best specimen for the price. Consumers looking to buy major appliances also show the same resistance to researching various brands and models before purchasing. Research shows that these customers use one source of infomation when selecting appliances and most of the time that source is the salesman at the appliance store.

Why do mineral collectors fail to comparison shop before buying?

Fortunately many collectors avoid shopping around by patronizing a select group of trusted dealers that have proven accuracy in descriptions/photographs and fair pricing. And there is the new refernce: Minfind.com. By entering "cuprite russia" in the search box on the upper left of the Minfind home page you can see all cuprite specimens available from 15 mineral dealers. It is a great way to see the wide range of mineral prices, sizes and quality.

This week I posted an elbaite tourmaline crystal from Afghanistan that is listed on another web site at a much higher price. I acquired it from a collector that purchased it from the other dealer. Apparently the other dealer does not update his listings very often and is still displaying the specimen I am offering. But more importantly, look at the price differences. I am offering the specimen for $950. The other site priced it at $3900 reduced to $3000. (Yes, this is the EXACT SAME specimen.) Do you think the person that buys the tourmaline  from me knows he got a great price?

Hopefully, sites like Minfind.com will promote more knowledgable buying of minerals and gross differences in pricing will disappear in the future.

9/27/2011

Over the weekend I attended a local mineral show where I acquired many new mineral specimens for this site. The constant search for new mineral inventory is the most significant challenge when running a mineral business. I call it "feeding the beast" as in the movie Little Shop of Horrors where the man-eating plant keeps crying out, "Feed me." No matter how many collections I acquire or how many shows I attend, it is a non-stop challenge to acquire new minerals at fair prices.

One of my former suppliers attempted to become a wholesale mineral supplier by buying several large mineral collections. When those collections eventually sold out, he discovered he could not get more minerals easily. He was formerly in the steel business. He was accustomed to making a telephone call to a supplier and the new inventory would arrive within the week. Sadly he abandoned his foray into wholesale minerals, at least temporarily. One less supplier for me.

On average I post 80 mineral specimens to this site every Tuesday. That is 4000 specimens per year. About half the minerals I sell are from old mineral collections. One fourth of the minerals sold through this site are acquired from wholesale dealers, usually during the shows in Tucson, Arizona every January-February. That leaves another fourth to be acquired throughout the year by buying at regional shows. The local dealers at these shows see me buying anything good I can get my hands on. They think the 100 specimens I typically acquire at a show as significant. In fact, it is only 1/40th of what I need to buy in a single year.

I believe my success as a mineral dealer is partly due to my network of collectors and dealers that sell to me. The ability to steadily post new minerals every week keeps this site fresh. Beginning mineral dealers quickly realize that "feeding the beast" is the biggest task they must conquer.

9/20/2011

Last week this site was not updated. Judy and I traveled to the island of Santorini to celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary.

Our anniversary was actually back in January, but we postponed our trip until the weather was nicer. It was the first actual vacation I've taken in a while. I have been traveling many weeks this year, but until last week I managed to continue to update the site with new mineral listings while I was away from New York.

But now the summer is over. It is great to be home again. Our daughter returned to college. And the update schedule is back on track.

9/6/2011

A few weeks ago I received a query regarding the "powers" of the minerals sold on this site. They asked:

  1. Which of these are the best to use to ensure best blockage/reduction of EMF waves/radiation from microwaves, computers and cellphones (computers/cell phones particularly).
  2. Will using these you suggest, or any of the ones above in my list, cancel each other out?
  3. Will the efficacy of the crystal be reduced or removed if the crystal is broken into smaller or even finer particles?

My response was, "None of my minerals have magical powers. They are rocks." It was a flippant response and I regret being so abrupt.

Some dealers are willing to cater to fickle millionaire customers. Other dealers cater to metaphysical customers. I sell minerals to collectors and institutions that either appreciate their beauty, their geographic origin or are using them minerals in research. Perhaps there should be some sort of icon on a mineral dealer's web pages as a code to what type of dealer they are. Until that becomes standard visitors should try to discern the focus of a mineral dealer based on the they way minerals are described, how many exclamation marks and ALL CAPS are used , as well as the way minerals are photographed.

Clearly I am focused on the aestheics of a mineral specimen. This comes from being raised in a family of artists, receiving a Bachelor of Fine Arts in design, and working as a product designer, photographer and freelance illustrator for 30 years. My focus on aesthetics is why I try to make my mineral photographs as professional as possible. I hope that I attract similar collectors as my customers.

8/9/2011

Finally, after a year and a half, my online Mineral Museum was totally indexed by Google. The museum is generated using PHP (thanks to Dave Barthelmy at Webmineral.com for doing the programming!) which means the web pages are dynamically generated from a database. Google has a well documented prejudice against dynamic web pages, mainly due to the potential for circular traps during spidering the site. During spidering, Google follows links from one page to the other, indexing each page. But if it gets stuck in a circular path, it aborts the spidering.

I waited patiently for Google to index the museum. Every week I posted a sitemap to help it avoid circular traps, to no avail.

Last week I was surprised to discover Google had indexed all 35,294 web pages on my site, of which 33,000+ are my Mineral Museum. Hopefully this will make the museum pages more useful and accessible to collectors researching minerals. I have many localities, from historic collections, in the museum that are not easily found in other Internet reference sites. I hope the museum becomes a valuable asset to collectors.

8/2/2011

Every specimen listed for sale on this site is accompanied by a written description. The description describes the luster, transparency-translucency-opacity, the crystal form, the associated minerals, with occasional references of article, and lastly a description of the condition of the specimen. And because computer display frequently yield inaccurate color rendition, the written description should be referenced to verify the actual color of the mineral.

However I limit my written descriptions to 255 characters, not including the condition description. This limitation is like my own version of Twitter which limits texts to 140 characters. I am tempted to expand the descriptions, but the self-imposed limit forces the description to be to the point, without lots of florid adjectives and personal opinion. Regular visitors will recognize that I use the word "superb" fewer than 50 times per year (out of the 4000 descriptions written every year). In fact, I have been accused of omitting commas and writing in a more "active" tense modeled after newspaper writing. This is true and a conscious decision because commas would use up my precious 255 characters too quickly.

While my descriptions may be terse, if you are curious about a specimen, feel free to email me your questions. I usually respond the same day, unless it is a weekend when I may be off traveling.

7/26/2011

Repeat visitors to this site will notice a few items are being relisted again in the coming weeks, even though they were posted before. The are two reasons for relisting these items.

  1. For a 6 month period I had difficulty getting accurate color balance after my old camera failed and I had to calibrate the replacement camera. It took repeated attempts over the course of many weeks until the color balance was finally accurately calibrated. As a result, some of the minerals listed had poor color rendition were photographed again. The mineral of the week (above) is one example.
  2. I no longer automatically remove listed minerals after 6 months. I used to remove older items because they slowed gallery page loading. But now broadband access is available to a majority of the population making the periodic purge unnecessary. Additionally new aggregator web sites like minfind.com rewards sites with more items listed.

The good news is that the color accuracy is better than ever on my mineral photographs. And many of the relisted items are being offered at lower prices than previously.

7/19/2011

Last week I broke a record. No, it was the most minerals for the lowest price (as my competitors sometimes accuse). It was not the most expensive sale. It was not the fewest items sold in a week or the most items.

I shipped 147 pounds (323 kilograms) of mineral in a single day.

You say, "Big deal." What is not apparent is that I ship all items personally. When there is a shipping delay because the "shipping department" is closed for vacation, that is me on vacation.

And remember, I operate out of New York City where we do things differently. I NEVER use my car. There is no pick-up service (because I ship many packages overseas which require waiting in line at the Post Office). I carry all packages to the Post Office.

After last week's shipment I have determined my limit is carrying 147 pounds.

The high weight record was due to selling the big Franklin fluorescent specimens which were essentially ore specimens from a zinc mine and were very heavy.

Next ti9me I will space out the heavy specimens over several weeks so they do not have to be shipped simultaneously.

7/12/2011

One of the most common questions I get is: What types of lights do I use to photograph the minerals on this site?

I use Solux halogen bulbs that are balanced for 4800 degrees Kelvin color temperature that equals daylight at 10:00 A.M. The Solux bulbs are mounted in a WAC flexible arm lamp. Here is my typical photo setup (note the frosted mylar used as diffusers over the bulbs):

There are two WAC models available that will work. Model 204 is shown in my setup above. It mounts directly to a table or other platform and is wired to a separate 12V transformer. This is more economical because only one transformer is required for two lamps.

[Image]WAC Model 204   [Image] WAC Model DL-214

The other option is WAC Model DL-214 which is made to clamp onto a desk or vertical panel and has a swivel mount. Each lamp has a plug-in transformer which requires no wiring, but is more expensive because two lamps have two transformers.

Both lamps are easily found using a Google search and the Model DL-214 is available through Amazon.com.

7/5/2011

Many mineral dealers migrate to more expensive minerals. This is because the time it takes to list a $20 mineral specimen is the same as it takes to list a $2000 mineral specimen. The time to photograph the specimens are the same. The time to write descriptions are the same. The time to wrap and ship the specimens are the same.

I have chosen not to list only expensive mineral specimens because there are many types of customers with varying degrees of expertise and varying budgets. Beginning collectors want to buy low cost specimens because of their modest budgets. School teachers also need mineral specimens. Researchers need mineral specimens. As well as the more advanced collectors. I am not trying to pander to everyone. But I do no want to offer a little for everyone, and let the power of Google connect these collectors to my site.

I've been told by high-end collectors that they dislike my site because the low-priced minerals are mixed in. I've been told by beginning collectors that they are frustrated by the high prices of the good specimens I offer. I guess there is no pleasing people.

I like to think that the hunt is what is enjoyable about collecting: looking through a high proportion of specimens that are of no interest to find that one specimen that fills a gap in the collection. Whether you are in the field digging at a mine dump, strolling through a mineral show, or searching web sites, you have to make the effort to search for the special specimens.

That is why I offer a wide variety of minerals in varying price categories.

6/28/2011

Every mineral specimen on this site was washed with soap and water prior to being photographed. This means that any dust and loose matrix will be removed and that the specimens are as clean as they are going to be. Any further cleaning will require mechanical or chemical methods, usually reserved for specialty preparation laboratories.

Do not buy a specimen with the expectation that you can quickly improve the appearance by further cleaning. Also, look closely at the photographs before purchasing -- any dirt or matrix present in the photos will be present when you receive the specimen.

There are still many opportunities to improve the specimens I sell with further cleaning and trimming. I prefer to sell mineral specimens with as little improvement as possible. The new owner (the purchaser) can then decide if he wants to invest time and energy to trim/clean it further.

6/7/2011

Recently a collector inquired if a specimens was rare if it contained "sphalerite on slender quartz crystals." There is no easy answer to the question - rarity is a complex issue. A specimen of sphalerite on slender quartz crystals is common (the opposite of rare) from the mines in Peru. But if the same specimen was found in Maine then it is considered rare, if not one-of-a-kind. So rarity has many aspects. You can have rare specimens of:

When evaluating a specimen for rarity, the more you know about a species or locality or crystallography, the more you will be able to assess rarity. This is why most mineral collectors eventually start to focus their collecting to a type of minerals, or locality, or a crystal habit , or a chemical group. It is not possible to know everything about minerals, so focusing helps you narrow the knowledge you must learn to become an expert.

5/31/2011

Mineral collectors beware. There is a web site out there that is totally fraudulent, using photos and descriptions from other web sites, pretending as if they are the merchants that own the goods. The site is Alibaba.com and they are displaying diamonds and gold (and who knows what else) from my web site and other online merchants. Alibaba is based in Hong Kong, outside of the enforcement jurisdiction of most law abiding nations. Google was informed of the fraud, but still lists Alibaba in their search reasults.

One reassuring piece of news is that the CEO and COO of the company resigned after indictments for fraudulently offering gold. But nothing has stopped them from remaining in business and offering diamonds and other gem minerals that they do not own. Presumably they take orders, receive payment, but never deliver the goods.

Beware of Alibaba and their associated merchants. They cannot be trusted.

5/124/2011

Regular customers may notice I repeatedly use the same descriptions when reporting the condition of the specimen. The description always includes a statement regarding condition on specimens priced over $20.

I found myself repeastedly writing, "No damage" or "The termination is chipped." So I decided to code this information into my database. Yes, it is a shortcut and repetitive. But it now allows me to rapidly search for all specimens with "no damage" or similar condition. And it saves me typing, which is the hardest part of my job -- I am a one-finger typist.

I suspect most people do not read my descriptions judging from the email questions I get. If you do read my descriptions for every specimen, I apologize for repeating the same statements over and over again.

Of course my goal is to only offer  undamaged specimens. But that is not practical. So I provide an honest appraisal of condition, which allows the purchaser to judge if the price is discounted enough to compensate for damage.

One interesting note: damage is almost always more apparent in the photos on my web site, than when a specimen is viewed in my display case at a mineral show.

5/3/2011

This week I received an inquiry by somebody interested in investing in diamonds as an investment hedge against inflation. While I DO NOT advise buying minerals or diamonds as investments, it is a common question. In fact I receive at least one call per week from an investor or hedge fund interested in investing in diamonds or gold.

I believe that you should by minerals, diamonds or gold primarily because you want to collect them, not as investments. Concerns over whether your acquisitions will maintain their value, or increase in the event of inflation, should be a secondary issue. All minerals, diamonds, and gold go up over time. In my experience, quality minerals double in value every 10 years (approximately 7% return). But there is no secondary market for minerals or diamonds. If you own stocks or bonds, you may simply call your broker when you want to sell.

Who are you going to call when you want to sell minerals, diamonds or gold?

Buying at retail and selling at wholesale will only be profitable after 10 years when your sale price (wholesale) has appreciated to be more than your investment (retail) price.

One last thought: I believe that the best mineral investments are higher quality specimens. A single $7000 diamond is more salable/liquid than seven $1000 diamonds. (One interesting hedge to consider is you can make a big profit if you are willing to risk faceting a rough diamond into a finished gemstone. For example, the $28,500 diamond listed on my site would yield a 2 carat flawless white gemstone worth $50,000. So you can profit even if the value does not appreciate in the short term.)

But you should maintain the highest standards if you are buying as investment. Accept ABSOLUTELY NO DAMAGE on a specimen, buy the best available, pay fair market value established through research and comparison shopping. (Did you know that the average American consumer purchasing a major appliance, like stove or refrigerator, consults ONLY A SINGLE SOURCE when researching their purchase, usually a salesman at a single store?)

4/26/2011

During the Rochester Mineralogical Symposium there was a lecture about "fake" minerals. There are many true fake minerals out there. These are intentionally meant to deceive the purchaser. Unfortunately the talk did not address some of the more common fakes. And many of the examples cited in the lecture were not fakes, they were misidentified.

Many dealers misidentify minerals, usually unintentionally, based on sight-identification because of similarities with other minerals. Chinese minerals are often misidentified if the species is not the obvious fluorite, quartz, etc. Years ago I had Chinese ferberite specimens that were misidentified as bournonite. The seller did not know better, and I accepted the identification blindly. The error was quickly spotted at the first show and I corrected my label. And last week I posted an epidote crystal from Val di Vice, Torino, Italy. That was an error, not a fake. I received an email from a local collector and the locality was corrected to Margone, Val di Viù, Italy. No harm done.

Collectors should be careful to avoid fakes. Whether you are considering silver crystals from Germany or Morocco, sulfur from Sicily, or other questionable minerals, collectors should be fully informed, deal only with reputable dealers, and maintain a skeptical attitude. Most importantly, read as many mineral magazines as possible - not just the magazines with pretty pictures. Learn about the questionable minerals. Read the articles.

4/19/2011

Last week during the Rochester Mineralogical Symposium Ms. B. M. Meier, a student from James Madison University, presented a study of apophyllite from Virginia quarries. For year I have labeled apophyllite from Virginia as fluorapophyllite. The IMA renamed fluorapophyllite to Apophyllite-(KF) so I changed my listings. But the study, which surveyed specimens from all quarries, found no apophyllite-(KF) in any of the quarries. All specimens tested were  apophyllite-(KOH). It is possible that there are other specimens from Virginia, perhaps in different zones, that could be apophyllite-(KF). But I believe it is safe to relabel all apophyllite specimens from Virginia as apophyllite-(KOH).

Now I hope they study New Jersey apophyllite specimens. And I also hope for a study of mesolite-natrolite-scolecite from New Jersey localities too as there is much contradictory information. Finally we really ned a study of "scapolite" from the Grenville deposits of Canada and the US. Is it marialite or meionite...?

4/12/2011

I have photographed over 40,000 minerals specimens. My archive of mineral photographs currently exceeds 75,000 images culled from over 500,000 images  taken. I have worn out three Nikon cameras.

After all that experience, I just now discovered a new "automatic" function on my digital camera that affects photo quality.

Most of my photographs are created with a Nikon CoolPix 4500 camera. I own two of them, so I have a backup in case one needs service. Recently I wore out the zoom control on one camera and had to send it out for service. During the process of calibrating my alternate camera for my given photographic setup, I reviewed the many setting on the camera. I have done this process many times and have written them down so I do not reinvent the process from scratch each time.

This time however, I read a little further on one of the functions: color saturation. The "normal" setting for color saturation is actually a moderate enhancement to color saturation. This increases the vibrancy of the color in images. When photographing people it gives them rosy complexion making them look healthier. But it turns out it would also enhance the color on otherwise colorless minerals, like dark garnet on gray matrix. It actually made the color look false. And reds were always enhanced requiring me to reduce saturation manually when editing photos.

I discovered the color saturation setting of  "-2" is actually no enhancement at all. It is essentially a raw image. The results are much better and for the first time I am getting accurate color rendition of green prehnite, a notoriously difficult mineral to accurately portray.

There are still some minerals that totally defy photography. Cavansite is impossible to get accurate color in a digital image. This is a result of computer displays only having red, green and blue phosphors, with no yellow, making subtle blue-green tints difficult to replicate.

This lesson goes to show you that you can still learn by reading your camera manual after 5 years of use.

4/5/2011

This week I posted several individual slices of liddicoatite tourmaline that are from the same crystal. Many times liddicoatite exhibits widely varying color zoning that makes attractive sets when displayed in sequential order. But the recently posted liddicoatite slices are being sold individually.

Why not offer them as a set?

Because if all of the slices are similar, with no variation in the internal zoning, then all slices appear the same and there is little value and having more than one representative slice. And occasionally liddicoatite slices from a single crystal can vary widely. If they are sliced in varying thicknesses, the color saturation will vary. Additionally, internal flaws vary from slice to slice -- some liddicoatite slices may be nearly flawless while others will have internal patterns and flaws. When assembled into sets they do not add value to the whole. Which illustrates exactly why complete liddicoatite sets are so precious.

3/22/2011

Did you hear about Rockhounds State Park in New Mexico?

The parks department wants to prohibit rockhounding in Rockhound State Park.

Can you believe it?

Please go to the mindat.org discussion to learn more. There are email addresses for the officials involved. Please take the time to send emails to tell them that rockhounding is a relatively low-impact activity on public land (much less destructive than off-road vehicles), that there are fewer places every year for rockhounding on public land, and that is an asset to New Mexico tourism, especially given the state's important history in mining.

3/15/2011

This week I posted to this site, under the Educational Article section, my 2009 article The Minerals of New York City. This article was originally published in Rocks & Minerals magazine, May/June 2009 issue (Volume 84, No . 3 pages 204-252) and was awarded the 2009 Best Article in that magazine by the Friends of Mineralogy.

The online version was revised and updated including additional illustrations and a table of the the largest crystals found in NYC sorted by species. Addtionally the complete list of references was included, instead of the abridged references as published in Rocks & Minerals.

If you want the original printed version of the article, I sell back issues of those on the site too.

3/8/2011

Why do otherwise intelligent people fail to catalog their collections properly?

I purchased a collection recently. The collector thought the labels were unsightly in his mineral cabinets, so removed the labels and stored them separately nearby. He was confident in his memory and confident in his being able to properly identify the minerals at a later date. He was wrong.

Cataloging a collection is time consuming. But here is a quick method of keeping valuable records of your collection:
 

  1. Every time you purchase a mineral specimen, take a quick digital photograph of it sitting on the label.  Example:
  2. Then store the digital images in a folder on your computer, or in an online image management site like flickr.com.
  3. Then store the labels separately near the minerals.
  4. Leave a small note in your display case with the location of the labels and the location of the digital images along with passwords if required.

This method insures that if your minerals can be identified in the future if your memory fails or if you were to have a tragic accident. Simply looking at the images will make it possible to rematch the labels with the specimens.

Best of all: this method is fast and easy leaving you know excuses to prevent you from doing it.

3/1/2011

Have you seen the recent changes to www.minerals.net? It is worth taking a look. It is the brainchild of Hershel Friedman and was one of the early mineral-related web sites. It has been quietly running throughout the year. Now Hershel has updated the site with a new look, new educational information and has been granted limited use of some of my photographs. Take the time to explore the site, and tell any science teachers you may know.

2/22/2011

Last week I received a question regarding damage on mineral specimens: "Is the area where the specimen was attached to surrounding rock considered damage?" No, it is not damage and is usually referred to as a "contact" if it intersected rough limestone or a "cleavage face" if it cleaved away from an adjacent calcite crystal.

Damage is caused by mishandling after a specimen was extracted or during extraction. The most common form of damage is chipped or cleaved tips to crystal terminations. Sometimes whole crystals have broken off. Bruises occur at impact sited on edges or faces that crush the crystal structure often causing whitish areas of many closely spaced internal fractures.

Collectors need to learn to prevent damage when removing minerals by stuffing the cavities with rags or a shirt during extraction. Then the crystals should be wrapped in a soft cloth or plastic dry cleaner's bag to prevent surface scuffing during transport. I buy dry cleaning bags by the mile - they are thin and Moh's hardness of 2 which is softer than calcite. Storing small crystals in old egg cartons will also keep the crystals from rubbing against each other.

Sadly few collectors take the care that would preserve the value of the crystals. I always cringe when a collector tells me he has a "bucketful" of a new find. A bucket is the last place mineral specimens should be stored for transport - the specimens bounce against each other abrading edges and ruining the value to collectors.

2/1/2011

As I write this I am returning from Tucson from my annual buying trip. For those of you unfamiliar with the Tucson gem shows, it is the world's largest gathering of mineral, gem, jewelry, lapidary, equipment dealers that occurs every year in late January to mid-February in Tucson, Arizona. It is not a single show or venue. There are many separate shows, usually each specializing in one aspect of the industry. For retail mineral dealers like me it is an opportunity to buy from wholesale mineral suppliers. I acquire about 10% of my inventory in Tucson every year. Buying from Tucson suppliers is an opportunity to acquire new mineral discoveries, rare minerals and higher quality than the minerals I usually acquire when buying old mineral collections. It is amazing to see the huge tonnage of minerals shipped into Tucson then shipped out by the buyers.

Over the years the Tucson shows have grown to include more and more retail shows - or at least wholesale dealers trying to get retail prices. This has caused Tucson to lose relevance to dealers like me. I guess I could join the retail crowd, and start selling in Tucson too. But it is a major time commitment. Three weeks of selling and a week of driving is a long time to be away from home. For now I will still go early to buy some new finds.

There is one part of the Tucson shows that was always retail only: the Tucson Gem & Mineral Show (TGMS) which was the first show. All of the other "jump start" shows grew up around the TGMS. The shows all conclude with the 4-day TGMS at the convention center. This year, for the first time in 10 years I am returning to sell at the TGMS. The last time I sold at the TGMS I was just converting from part-time mineral dealer to fulltime mineral dealer. I also was not selling diamond crystals at the time. Selling in Tucson is one way to show my diamonds to western customers that cannot visit easily me in NYC.

If you are attending the TGMS, I hope you will take the time to stop my booth (#1321) and say hello. My booth this year isn't a big one, so I cannot display many minerals. But it is a start. And I will have a larger booth in future years.

1/25/2011

Until thirty years ago mineral collectors, dealers, suppliers were not concerned with exact mineral localities for the specimens they collected. Seeing a fluorite specimen labeled simply as from "Hardin County, Illinois" or from "Cumberland, England" was commonplace. Often dealers purposely omitted exact localities to avoid other dealers discovering the source of their supply. That changed with the introduction of Mineralogical Record magazine, which may not be the cause, but does mark the new era of mineral collecting that includes exact localities and not tolerating extensive damage on specimens.

Many dealers, me included, sell mineral specimens from old collections. These specimens come in with vague localities. Often it is possible to determine the source locality through research. I avoid attributing specimens to localities unless the evidence is overwhelming.

Last week I posted some amethyst crystals from the collection of Peter Nalle. Nalle's catalog listed that the amethyst crystals were from Amelia Courthouse, Virginia, purchased from Mr. Morefield in 1940. I chose to attribute the amethyst crystals to the Morefield Mine in Amelia Courthouse.

I was wrong.

Amethyst has not been found at the Morefield mine, except during recent times when the mine owner salted the dumps for fee collecting. The amethyst crystals probably occurred at the nearby Smith Farm or possibly the Rutherford Mine. Mr. Morefield probably sold the specimens to young Nalle, and they were properly listed in his catalog as from the village of Amelia Courthouse.

The attribution was incorrect and I am embarrassed by the incident. I learned my lesson. There is no need for pseudo-accuracy (by listing a specific mine name). Serious collectors know that exact localities were not common 70 years ago. Please accept my apologies.

1/11/2011

As the Tucson gem shows approach, I frequently get questions about whether it is worth attending, especially from beginning dealers. The answer depends on your needs. If you need fresh inventory from new finds and lots of them, then yes, it is definitely worth going. But you have to add the expense of travel to your cost basis of the inventory.

I sell about 4500 mineral specimens per year. I prefer to buy old collections, but I need to supplement those with additional inventory. So about 25% of my annual budget for acquisitions is spent in Tucson.

Having said all that, buying in Tucson has it's disadvantages:

  1. You are buying from the same sources as most other dealers so you end up selling the same items as everyone else.
  2. More and more Tucson "wholesalers" see the retail prices on the Internet and price their offerings at full retail. Genuine wholesale prices are hard to find -- but they can be found with lots of searching.
  3. It is a long drive to get there. If you fly, it is expensive to ship your purchases home (though that's exactly what I've done for the last 20 years).

I guess the bottom line is that if you are going to be a serious mineral dealer, then you have to attend.

Should collectors go? It certainly is a nice time of year to go south, especially after the winter we are experiencing this year. When you add in travel expenses any savings on buying lower down the supply chain is lost. So the only real advantage for the collector is to acquire specimens from small finds where perhaps only 10-15 excellent specimens were recovered. But Tucson is BIG, and the chances of you getting one of those new finds, before the vulture-like dealers snap them up, is not likely. But the hunt is part of the fun. Isn't it?

So if you can afford it, then it is lots of fun with many beautiful minerals to see.

1/11/2011

This week my Online Mineral Museum was updated with the minerals sold during 2010. There are now 33,860 mineral specimens illustrated with 71,013 images. And Google is slowly adding the minerals illustrated to their index so the museum comes up on searches. However only 26,500 mineral specimens are in their index at this time. Hopefully they will get all items listed soon.

My Mineral Museum only has 23% of the photographs illustrated on Mindat, but as a body of work it stands alone with many unique localities not found elsewhere on the Internet. Hopefully when I am ready to retire and sell this business, the new owners will continue to add to the museum and provide it as a service to mineral collectors.

If you have not looked through the museum, I suggest you take a few minutes and see what it has to offer. If you like what you see, tell a friend or your local mineral club or your local science teacher.  Go to: Online Mineral Museum

1/4/2011

This site does not use a "shopping cart" system for recording orders. This leads to the occasional frustration that an item is requested multiple times by different customers. Only one gets the item, and the others are frustrated. This is an unfortunate situations, and I apologize for this complication.

If orders were only received through the Internet, then a shopping cart would be suitable. But I get orders via telephone, voice mail, text message, email, as well as through my order form. The time stamp for each request is sorted and each request is filled in the order received. This means that an order placed via the Internet on my order form may arrive earlier than a telephone call or vice versa. No shopping cart system can track orders from multiple channels. In fact, on Tuesdays after the site is updated, customers that do call are urged to speak quickly in order reserve items before another order is placed.

What method is best for placing orders?

My online order form is the best method after the Tuesday update when there is the largest chance of multiple requests. The online order form instantly records the request. Email, text message, voice mail all take more time to transmit. The most successful customers open the order form and fill in their name, email, payment info (the minimum required) in advance of the minerals going online (some browsers fill in the order form automatically). Then they only have to fill in item numbers for their requests. Lastly, the minerals are usually online by 11:30 A.M. (N.Y. time), which gives me a 30 minute grace period to debug any errors that crop up unexpectedly. So do not wait until the official noon time to check for the new minerals.

12/14/2010

A collector recently asked how to restore luster to an Illinois fluorite specimen that sat outdoors for a number of years and dulled. Most likely the fluorite was unaltered and just needed cleaning. Most fluorite from Illinois was heavily coated with oil by the local miners to add luster. Eventually dust combines with the oil to make a thin coating which looks dull.

I suggested soaking the specimen in dishwashing detergent in water (I use Cascade). Make sure the water is room temperature to avoid thermal shock. Soak for 5 minutes and brush with an old toothbrush or soft bristle brush, then rinse thoroughly. If you want to recoat to brighten the luster, I have seen Armor-all used successfully. Simply spray the Armor-all on the crystals, let sit for a minute, then blot up any excess. Eventually the remaining Armor-all will dry leaving a thin surface coating. You can also use Mineral Oil that is sold in pharmacies as a laxative.

Lastly, the original Illinois miners used Silicone Spray lubricant, usually Krylon brand. Use the same procedure: spray on, set for a minute, then wipe away excess. The downside of silicone is that you cannot stick labels to it, which is why the miners always adhered their prices with Mineral Tack.

Nowadays the Chinese wholesale mineral dealers are using similar oil to enhance luster -  but often they use a low grade oil that has an odor.

FYI: Before I photograph minerals for this site, I wash all mineral specimens in detergent to remove most of the surface coatings.

12/7/2010

This week a visitor asked how to tell the difference between damage and naturally crystallized surfaces. My advice it to carry a 16x or 20x loupe to inspect the specimen edges and surfaces closely. I like to say that my customers all own loupes and know how to use them.

Over the web you should trust my written description. I write my dewcriptions with the specimen in my hand and under optimal illumination. Every effort is made to describe the minerals specimens accurately. I imagine being able to form a mental image of the specimen based on my written descriptions.

Natural surfaces have minute growth hillocks or crystallization patterns that distinguish them from cleaved faces. And cleaved faces have telltale glassy fractures that are easy to recognize once you see them under magnification. Additionally, 90% of damage is to the edges of prominent crystals. These edges easily get chipped, so inspect them carefully. There is a phrase used by mineral dealers that a badly chipped specimen looks, "like it was thrown in a 5 gallon bucket full of crystals and carried down the mountain on a lame donkey." The other type of damage is broken or missing crystals that only show the remnants of where they were. These are easy to spot most times.

There have been times when I've inspected a specimen and described it as undamaged only to discover when editing the photos of the specimen that there was damage. I didn't see the damage during the inspection, but when I double-checked, there was damage. And there are times when I honestly cannot tell of a surface is cleaved or natural, but this is exceptionally rare and I will say so in my written description.

Use a loupe, look at lots of minerals, you will soon recognize damage quickly.

11/23/2010

Occasionally I receive comments from customers like, "You must have really good lighting when you took your photos because the mineral is not as colorful as the photos when displayed in my case." This invariably leads me to inquire about the lighting in the customer's mineral display. I've heard everything from no lights at all (just ambient light) to fluorescent lights, Christmas tree lights, regular incandescent light bulbs, even sunlight. It is no wonder these poor light sources do not show the colors of minerals well.

Fluorescent light has mostly yellow and blue in the spectrum and yields poor rendition of yellow, red and orange like gold or wulfenite. Incandescent bulbs have no blue and green in the spectrum and makes azurite and malachite look dead. Daylight is good, but how do you display your minerals after sundown?

I recommend that you invest in lighting in proportion to the value of your collection. Investing perhaps 5% of the value of your collection is a good guideline. If your collection is worth $5000, then you should invest $250 in lighting. This will easily pay for some halogen fixtures and Solux daylight-balanced bulbs. If your collection is worth $200,000, then invest $10,000 in fiber optic lighting built into your display cases. You get the idea. (It may be more practical to include the cost of display cases too in the 5% investment.)

Since aesthetics are a large part of mineral collecting, why not invest a little to bring out the most beauty in your minerals?

For the record, I use 4700°K daylight-balanced halogen bulbs made by Solux for illuminating minerals when photographing. I use the same Solux bulbs in my tall display cases at mineral shows. I use no special photographic tricks to enhance the color of my minerals. In fact, I frequently reduce the color saturation on images to prevent them from looking too good.

11/2/2010

New collectors are often advised: "Get a good mineral book -- and read it." This is good advice. But you cannot stop at just one book. You should subscribe to a good mineral magazine, either Rocks & Minerals or Mineralogical Record, or both. You should assemble a reference library of books about minerals and/or mineral localities like state mineralogies.

Again, newbies might respond, "Why do I need books, I have the Internet! You can find anything on the Internet..." Wrong!

This last weekend, when I was preparing the posting of 90 new minerals I found no single reference had all of the information I needed. Here is a quick list of the references I used in no particular order:

As you can see no single reference could possibly cover the information found in this assortment of references. That is why collectors need to build a reference library. And please, please, please do NOT rely solely on the Internet for your information.

10/26/2010

A recent article in a mineral magazine claims that mineral collecting is being dumbed-down. According to the article, today's mineral collectors are not as knowledgeable about the minerals they collect and the hobby of mineral collecting is declining as a result. I think the assumptions are wrong.

Mineral collecting is declining because the world economy experienced a serious decline in the last two years and unemployment is high. It is that simple. There is no need to attribute the closing of mineral shows or mineral dealers going out of business to anything except the poor economy.

Ii is true that I have noticed some significant specimens on my site have gone unsold. It might be easy to attribute their failure to sell to today's collectors not knowing about classic mineral localities. Or they may not understand how good a specimen is for the locality or species. But in the end it is far more likely that collectors are conservative about spending money on a significant mineral. They probably understand full well how important the specimens are, but the time is not right to buy.

I think that today's collectors have access to better information than 20 years ago. There are excellent mineral books available now. Some mineral reference sites are robust and up-to-date. Plus mineral clubs and mineral shows are available in most communities. This gives collectors access to information -- if they want to learn. I think many new collectors are moving up the learning curve and are becoming more advanced. But the process is slow. But it is clear that mineral collecting is actually growing.

10/5/2010

Last week I started dispersing on this site the mineral collection of Peter B. Nalle (1923-2010) of Greenwich, Ct.

Peter worked along career as mining engineer and executive in mining companies. He grew up in Whitemarsh, Pa. and began mineral collecting at an early age. The earliest correspondence regarding minerals in his records dates to 1938 when Peter was 15 years old. One specimen was acquired in 1933. In the summer of 1942 Peter received permission from his parents to travel to California for a summer job at the New Almaden mercury mines. He received a M.S. in mining engineering at University of California and a M.S. from Columbia University.

After serving as a submariner during WWII Peter worked at the St. Joseph Lead Co. from 1948-1951 working as mine engineer and relief mine captain at the Bonne Terre Mine in Missouri. In 1951 he returned to California for a long series of positions at the Riverside Cement Co., starting as Mining Engineer and progressing through Assistant Mine Superintendent, Superintendent of Mining, Director of Mining and Manufacturing, and General Manager. During his work at Riverside Peter was responsible for bringing the Crestmore Mine into production.

In 1969 he moved to St. Joe Mineral Corp. where he was Director and Vice President and served on the boards of several mining companies. At St. Joe he managed many worldwide projects including finishing Balmat #4 Mine in New York, joint venture exploration group Jododex in Australia, evaluating the acquisitions of Massey Coal and Tennessee Consolidated Coal Co. Peter left St. Joe in 1978 to become a consulting mining engineer at Behre Dolbear & Co. in New York City.

I knew Peter through the New York Mineralogical Club where Peter was ever-present at club field trips, including two trips to Arizona where Peter and I spent long hours driving around the desert visiting mines. Peter's mineral collection was diverse and included localities that Peter worked at or visited in his travels. There are large mineral suites from Tick Canyon, Boron, Crestmore, Viburnum Trend. Many specimens have notations that they were gifts of the mine superintendent when Peter visited a far off mine. In his later years Peter bought minerals from dealers like Conklin, Blauwet, Himes, Fast and me.

During the next 3 months Peter's collection will be a large part of the minerals offered on this web site. I hope you find his collection of interest.

9/28/2010

This week I passed the milestone of cataloging my 50,000th mineral specimen. I started to add up the man-hours involved and my brain started to hurt. Doing anything 50,000 times takes a lot of time.

Not all of the minerals cataloged over the years made it to my site. Many sold at shows before I even had a web site. Others sold before they were photographed for this site. As you may know, my complete archive of mineral photographs is accessible to everyone via my Online Mineral Museum. There are about 30,700 minerals illustrated in the museum. At the end of every year, I add the items sold from the previous year to the museum.

I have commented before that I plan to sell my business/web site when I pass the 100,000 mineral milestone. At the current rate that should be in 13 years. That sounds like a short time. But again my brain starts to hurt when I think about the work still to be done to reach that milestone.

In the meantime, I hope you enjoy this week's update of new minerals and that you keep visiting every week.

9/21/2010

It is interesting that I give the impression of a large operation here. I am a one-man show.

I do it all: photography, web design, written descriptions, shipping, cataloging, buying, weekend mineral shows. My wife is an architect and not really involved in the operation of my business except to keep me company at shows occasionally. My daughter is now off to college and shows little interest in taking over the business. And typical of sole proprietors, I find it hard to "let go" and feel that I can perform each function better than a subordinate.

Of course, I recognize this holds me back from growth. If I had a helper, I could post more minerals each week. But with the economy still not back to pre-2007 levels it would be foolish to try to grow now.

When people email me questions, I reply as succinctly as I can. If a yes or know question was asked, I will answer yes or no. My brevity is often mistaken as I am too busy to chat. The real hindrance to correspondence is that I am a one-finger typist which makes it difficult for me to respond in-depth to queries. As I type this commentary it takes me a long time to hunt-and-peck my way through, and frequently cannot keep up with my thoughts, losing my train of thought along the way.

Being a one-man operation has one advantage: you get personal attention from the owner of the business. I know my minerals intimately. I have photographed each specimen personally, held it in my hand as I write written descriptions and 99% of the time examined it under 20x magnification. Large mineral businesses often lose the attention of the original owner (the most knowledgeable employee in the company) and their businesses suffer from poorly written descriptions, inaccurate labeling, or overly-enhanced photographs.

For the time being I plan to stay a one-man operation even though it will limit the business. I hope you, my customers appreciate the personal service I offer.

9/14/2010

There are three types of "experts" about minerals. When you ask these experts for help with mineral identification or mineral cleaning or techniques for collecting a particular locality, the experts respond differently to your questions.

  1. Has broad experience and will freely share their knowledge with you, but if they do not know the answer, they will tell you so. They do not guess. They tell you what information they require to determine the answer and will tell you how to get that information.
  2. Also willing to share knowledge, but will make up an answer or guess if they do not know the answer. This expert unfortunately rarely tells you they are guessing and you mistake their confidence for knowledge.
  3. Thinks the question you are asking is a competition and any guess might accidentally be right. Frequently these experts start by saying, "I do not know anything about what you are asking, but I think the answer is..."

Needless to say the last two types of experts should be avoided. Unfortunately these experts abound in minerals clubs, on Internet discussion or message boards, and walking the aisles at mineral shows. So it is the asker's responsibility to pursue how the expert justifies the answer and whether it is a guess or not.

7/27/2010

All minerals sold on my web site have a standard two week return policy. This allows the purchaser to decide whether to keep a mineral specimen or not after seeing the mineral specimen in person.

But there is another guarantee for my minerals: If at any time a mineral specimen is tested, and the mineral species identified on my label was incorrect, then I will refund the cost of the specimen, the cost of return shipping, and the cost of the test.

Of the 44,000 mineral specimens sold, I have had only a handful returned. (Usually the misidentification was due to labels being accidentally switched in an old collection, and I failed to detect the switch.)

If a mineral specimen is suspected  to be incorrect, have it tested by a reputable laboratory. Note that some tests cannot accurately identify all mineral species. For example only XRD will discern the structural differences between stilbite and stellerite. So make sure the test is valid for the mineral species. Note: EDS is not a reliable test for many species, notably zeolites.

I stand behind all mineral specimens sold, and there is no expiration on this guarantee.

7/20/2010

I was stunned to read on a mineral discussion board the host advising against instructing mineral collectors to perform a hardness test when trying to identify an unknown mineral. Instead of instructing the collector on how to perform a hardness test, he took the position that a novice can ruin a good specimen if the test is performed incorrectly.

To paraphrase a famous saying: Tell a man what mineral he has and he will ask about another tomorrow; teach a man to identify a mineral and he will not bother you again.

When I am asked for help in identifying a mineral, I ask for the following information: color, opacity-transparency, cleavage, hardness, specific gravity and luster. With those 5 attributes it is easy to identify almost any common mineral, possibly with the addition of reaction to HCL acid, fluorescence, and a few other mineral-specific tests in conjunction with a good mineral reference book (Yes, I said a book. It is something made of paper that used to be purchased in stores.)

As a result, I have started my next educational article on how to quickly and easily identify minerals in your home. It will take a few weeks, but it will summarize the tests I perform every week when confronted with unlabeled or questionable mineral specimens. These tests can be found by reading any good mineral book, but I will summarize it for the collectors that don't have a book and will try to keep terminology simple. Then when discussion boards need to instruct collectors, they can point to my article...

7/13/2010

Last week I posted a large blue-green smithsonite specimen attributed to the Kelly Mine in New Mexico. The color was not "Kelly blue" they made smithsonite specimens from the Kelly Mine famous to mineral collectors. Additionally the specimen did not have the silky surface luster typically found in the best Kelly Mine specimens. It was large though which was uncommon for Keely Mine specimens.

So what is fair market value for the specimen? Does the origin from the Kelly Mine add value?

The answer is simple: great Kelly Mine specimens are great because of their color and luster. The color and luster are the ONLY reason a specimen should command a high price. It is not valuable because it originated from the Kelly Mine.

This lesson is often lost on novice collectors. Origin or provenance do not determine value. The specimen determines the price. To paraphrase another dealer: when judging a specimen, look at the mineral first and the label second. Too often collectors overpay because a dealer touts a specimen's origin. These collectors frequently overlook color, luster, or condition and focus solely on what the label says.

When buying minerals, maintain a high standard for the quality of the mineral. (As always, I recommend not buying specimens with visible damage unless the price is significantly discounted.) Do not buy a specimen based solely on locality.

7/6/2010

Some customers have asked what is the best source of locality information for mineral occurrences.

I use primary references for 99% of all of my mineral labeling and I do NOT trust ANY internet reference site. The best locality references are state mineralogies like The Mineralogy of Maine, The Minerals of Colorado, The Minerals of Arizona, etc. plus country mineralogies like the Minerals of Mexico, Minerals of South Africa, etc. These references are thorough, often listing localities not found on newer Internet-based reference sites, and they went through a peer-review process for fact checking.

A 90% accuracy rate at Wikipedia or other  Internet-based reference is unacceptable. But Mineralogical Record is equally flawed (see my article on the errors in the Diamond Issue of Mineralogical Record). I prefer Rocks & Mineral Magazine because they do use peer-review to prevent factual errors and has better record at preventing errors from being published. However, when it comes time to check a county (rarely used in the USA except on mineral labels) for a known city, then Wikipedia is accurate.

So it is up to the collector to use judgment in using references online. Even better, every mineral collector should have a small reference library of essential reference books. Contrary to the opinions of recent collectors, not everything can be found online.

6/15/2010

A number of specimens this week were acquired from mineral collections assembled over the last 10-15 years via the internet. With a little searching you can find these on other dealer's archives or mineral reference sites. It is interesting to note the differences in descriptive text among dealers.

I try to communicate the essential attributes of mineral specimens: luster, transparency-translucency-opacity, color, crystal form, size, damage or condition, as well as information about the matrix. In fact, I try not to use the word matrix when possible.

(I feel it is better to describe an adamite as being, "on brown limonite gossan" instead of, "on brown matrix." And when the composition is known, it is incorrect to use the word "matrix". Correct: "A calcite crystal on gray limestone." Incorrect: "A calcite crystal on gray limestone matrix." The word matrix originated with fossil collectors to describe the general background rock instead of describing it.)

Some dealers write minimalist descriptions. Other dealers do not address damage or condition. Some prefer to offer opinions rather than facts. I am guilty of occasionally assessing the rarity or quality in subjective terms, but I refrain from "overselling" a specimen in most instances for fear of disappointing the customer once they see the specimen in person.

In the coming weeks I will post some old specimens I sold. These are listed in my Online Mineral Museum with the original descriptions. It is interesting to compare my old and new description style.

6/8/2010

I am pleased to report a new mineral museum is being constructed in Bethel, Maine thanks to the generosity of summer-residents Larry Stifler and his wife Mary McFadden. I was privileged to see behind the scenes of some of the acquisitions already made for the museum and can testify that this is going to be THE BEST museum of minerals from Maine on display. Harvard University might have a better collection, but sadly only a small fraction are on display. The new mineral museum in Bethel will be a must-visit destination for mineral collectors visiting west-central Maine.

The museum is still at least two years away from opening. Mr. Stifler announced at the Maine Mineral Symposium that they had signed a lease for a building in the historic downtown of Bethel. There is much work to be done to renovate/upgrade the building. Of course, a mineral museum is only as good as the displays and lighting, but the Stiflers show every indication of wanting to do a first-class museum.

Last year Perham's mineral store in West Paris, Maine closed after 90 years, leaving a large void in the Oxford County, Maine mineral world. The new museum will be just 17 miles up the road from the old Perham store. Hopefully they will have a gift shop to feed the need for beginning collectors and fill the void created by Perhams closing.

We all should thank the Stiflers for their generosity, their vision for promoting the hobby of mineral collecting ,and preserving the best Maine minerals.

6/1/2010

If you purchased small mineral specimens from me, the type that look small even in a thumbnail box (Perky box) you may have noticed the small pedestals I use in the thumbnail boxes to elevate diminutive specimens for better visibility in the thumbnail box. The pedestals are made from plastic pushpins that I buy from art supply stores.

I buy black pushpins for use in thumbnail boxes without styrofoam (black on black). And I buy white pushpins as pedestals in thumbnail boxes with white styrofoam liners. I cut the metal pins off and mount the plastic portion of the pushpin in the box with with mineral tack. Pushpin heads make perfect pedestals for any small mineral specimen or crystal. I even I use them to display my diamond crystals at mineral shows.

If you are mounting opaque minerals or white minerals on white pushpins, I use  white mineral tack to hold the specimen to the top of the pushpin. If you have a transparent mineral, like a diamond crystal, on a black pushpin, you cannot use mineral tack because it shows through the crystal. Then I use Museum Gel, a water-clear removable adhesive also available at art supply stores.

Best of all, these solutions are instant, requiring no glue drying, and completely reversible. You will not damage the crystals in any way.

5/25/2010

I have now purchased parts of three mineral collections that were assembled by buying at Internet auction web sites. Two of these collections kept records of the sales and I was stunned to see the high prices paid by the collectors.

When you buy a mineral in an auction, what determines the price you pay?

The price is determined by the losing bidder. You paid the price just above what he was willing to pay. Have either of you seen the specimen in person? No, you both based your bids on the photographs and the written description. Some auction sites have thorough accurate descriptions. Most do not. Ebay is the worst with more misinformation per page than any other site on the Internet. It appears the biggest factor of getting high bids are the photographs. I have seen big prices on very small mineral specimens because they were very photogenic and the bidders failed to look at the dimensions of the specimens.

Is bidding on minerals, against another bidder that may know nothing at all about minerals, really the best way to set the price of a mineral?

I do not think so. You are better off buying from a handful of trustworthy, fair dealers that set the specimen price by holding it in their hand, inspecting it under magnification, and comparing to others seen at mineral shows.

Auctions only benefit the dealer. No matter what, when the auction expires the specimen is sold. It will not sit on the dealers site for a month waiting for a buyer. That's why dealers use auctions to move out the minerals they cannot sell. Why can't they sell? Perhaps the price is too high or the specimen is damaged. But the dealer benefits by guaranteeing that it will be gone at the end of the auction. Rarely do dealers lose money on auctions.

I do not sell minerals at auctions, so I am obviously biased.
As of this week, I will no longer buy minerals purchased from Internet mineral auctions or Ebay.

5/11/2010

I recently heard of several collectors independently giving up the hobby of mineral collecting because of runaway price gouging and lack of access to reasonably priced minerals.

Acquiring minerals, whether at a show, online, or field collecting involves searching through lots of junk to find the keeper worth taking home. It is not easy and requires effort on the part of the collector. But it is possible to build fine collections still. There are respectable dealers out there still. Tom Loomis and John Veevart jump to mind.

I think the biggest cause of mineral price hyperinflation is due to the Internet. Herb Obodda has a travelogue of buying minerals in the mountains of Pakistan. In one photo there is a small mine on a steep slope with a steep drop straight down if anyone slipped off the narrow ledge. In the photo is a tent with a cot, and on the cot is a laptop computer opened to Dan Weinrich's web site. The miners now know for the first time what their finds are worth. The days of buying cheaply overseas, or at Tucson are long gone. There is complete transparency in the market. This is good for third-world countries, but bad for collectors and dealers.

But there ARE still minerals worth acquiring and the chase is part of the fun.

John H. Betts 4/27/2010

Many people have inquired about buying uncut diamond crystals and having them cut into faceted gemstones. I always advise that the potential savings are not worth the risk. It is possible to save lots of money -- if you know what you are doing and you have an experienced diamond cutter. But an ordinary lapidary, familiar with cutting gemstones from other precious gem materials, is not skilled enough and does not have the equipment to cut diamonds. Additionally, an inexperienced diamond cutter can ruin a gemstone.

If you want a cut diamond, then I advise that you buy a cut diamond. Learn how to use a 10x or 16x loupe and scrutinize each cut diamond. You need to evaluate the cost-per-carat against the flaws and imperfections in the cut diamond. After you have narrowed your choice down to a single gemstone you should take precautions that you actually receive the stone selected, and that a lesser stone was not swapped in it's place when you were not looking or when it was being set.

4/20/2010

There has been some confusion about locality names and the use of "districts", specifically regarding the southern Illinois fluorite mines. In general, the Illinois fluorite mines are known as the Illinois-Kentucky Fluorspar (Fluorite) District. But there are several mine groups, often labeled "sub-districts", especially in Mindat. The use of the term sub-district is incorrect and should be discontinued in favor of groups. The January-February 1997 issue of Mineralogical Record has a map on page 16 showing mine locations and the groups including famous ones like the Cave-in-Rock group, Rosiclare group, Commodore group, Goose Creek group, etc. Note the word "group" is not capitalized because these are not formal organizations or connected through mining companies.

Why should we discontinue using sub-district?

Because in the case of the Rosiclare group. If labeled as a "sub-district" it would be labeled the "Rosiclare Sub-District "and this is easily confused with the "sub-Rosiclare Level" (sometimes labeled as "Rosiclare sub-levels") which are geologic formations below the Rosiclare Level that underlies both sides of the Ohio River underneath the Rosiclare Group of mines.

Unfortunately many collectors use Mindat as the only reference for locality names and Mindat has adopted the Sub-District usage possibly growing out of a system used in the UK where the site originates. For authoritative labeling of Illinois fluorite mines all collectors should reference the issue of Mineralogical record cited above.

4/13/2010

I buy mineral collections. When I buy these collections there are always older specimens with minimal locality information on the old labels. Early mineral dealers felt it necessary to hide the exact source of the minerals they sold to prevent other dealers from buying up the supply of mineral specimens. That conduct continues today. It is still common to see in collection purple fluorite specimens labeled as from "Catron County, New Mexico" even though it has been well documented that they are from the Pine Canyon Deposit in Grant County, New Mexico (see M.R. v.20 #1).

When I get an incomplete label, I do not attribute the specimen to a more specific locality - unless I know beyond a doubt exactly where it originated. Other mineral dealers freely make attributions about localities and often base their attributions on incomplete locality data based on Internet web reference sites. Why do they add locality data? Is there a perceived super-accuracy in adding locality data?

A specific example is a specimen of Albite pseudomorphs after Scapolite from the collection of Richard Hauck that was labeled by him as from Griffith, Ontario, Canada. I recently acquired the specimen and the previous dealer had sold it as from the Spain Mine, Khartum, Griffith, Ontario Canada. The dealer based his attribution probably on a search of Mindat.org which shows only one mine name near Griffith. But the dealer and Mindat are wrong. These pseudomorphs are from the Route 41 road cut, 6 miles east of Griffith and if anybody ever read a real mineral magazine they would find several articles on the pseudomorphs (see R&M v.57 #1, M.R. v.13 #2, v.10 #6, v.9 #2).

I repeat my question: Why did the dealer feel the need to "enhance" the locality info beyond what was on the previous label?

There is no harm in having a general locality. There is nothing wrong with a tourmaline labeled simply as from Minas Gerais, Brazil. You do not need a mine name because many Brazilian localities are small prospects (and the owners do not want to advertise their existence for fear having the claim jumped).

I do not EVER make locality attributions without having a reference, or personal experience, regarding the origin of a mineral specimen.

4/6/2010

I recently learned one of the minerals sold a few weeks ago is being returned because the collector was disappointed with the color. There are two variables that affect color perception and expectation: illumination of the specimen and calibration of your computer display.

The minerals sold through this site are photographed under daylight illumination with carefully calibrated camera and image software to insure accurate representation. But if your computer display is not accurately calibrated you will not be viewing an image that corresponds to the actual mineral. Even LCD displays require calibration for hue and saturation. If you doubt that displays vary even at factory settings, go to a computer store and compare images identical on two adjacent display computers. They vary greatly in intensity of color and subtle hues, often most noticeable in neutral grays.

Your perception of color will vary if you view the mineral under less than daylight illumination. If you open my package in your kitchen under fluorescent or incandescent illumination the greens and blues and purples will not appear accurately. You should use daylight-balanced illumination in your mineral display and you should evaluate the color of a specimen under this daylight illumination.

I gladly accept returns, no questions asked. But you can reduce potential disappointment in the colors if you calibrate your monitor and view your minerals under daylight-balanced illumination.

3/30/2010

While cleaning my office I ran across my old "cheat sheet" for zeolite minerals. I created this reference when I started collecting zeolite minerals from the trap rock quarries of New Jersey. I was an inexperienced collector, and the zeolite and associated minerals were unfamiliar. So I created a quick reference that I eventually memorized. My quick reference included

The process of learning to recognize these minerals can be repeated for the minerals that you collect in your local region. Start with a good reference book. (Yes, I prefer books instead of internet sites.) Mineralogy (or it's earlier version Mineralogy for Amateurs) by John Sinkankas is my favorite reference. He lists distinctive charachteristics for each species and notes how to distinguish similar minerals that are frequently found in the same environment, like how to distinguish cerussite from anglesite.

reate your own reference sheet on an index card and use it as you study and catalog your mineral collection.

3/23/2010

Many mineral collectors have asked why I use "Celestine" instead of "Celestite."

Celestine was the name for hundreds of years. Then in the 1980-90s IMA scientists thought they would modernize the name to celestite for no good reason other than style. Then about 5 years ago common sense prevailed and they officially changed the name back to celestine. So I use celestine and incorporate celestite into my written descriptions in parentheses for the benefit of Google-searchers.

The IMA also officially changed "barite "to "baryte." In this instance "barite" has been used for 125+ years  here in the US. It is unclear why the recent nomenclature has reverted to 1850s-era spelling except perhaps a preference for UK-based terminology. I suppose the next revision will change "pyrite" to "iron pyrites." Therefore I continue to use barite until a reasonable explanation is offered for the revision.

3/16/2010

This week I reposted two specimens of amethyst "Cactus Quartz" from South Africa. In the past I have labeled them as from "20 km west of Pretoria, Magaliesberg Mountains, Guateng, South Africa." But last week I received an email from Bruce Cairncross, professor at  the University of Johannesburg and co-author of The Minerals of South Africa (1995). In his email he explained that the locality listed for the amethyst on amethyst specimens, commonly sold as Cactus Quartz or Spirit Quartz, had been given in the past as "Magaliesberg" or "15 km southwest of Marble Hall" which were incorrect and misleading.

Prof. Cairncross explained the correct locality is: "the quartz is dug from surface outcrops of quartz veins (not pegmatites) on two old farms, Boekenhouthoek AND Mathys Zyn Loop. The neighbouring farm Kwaggafontein is also a source of some specimens. These farms fall within the boundaries of one of the old apartheid-era homelands, KwaNdebele. As this land was expropriated for settlement by the government, no farming took place on the land and over time, informal settlements became established on the farms. These settlements have now grown into fairly large villages."

I thank Prof. Cairncross for this important clarification and have updated my currently available specimens and the historical specimens in my Virtual Mineral Museum. I have adopted the format used by Mindat.org for these specimens and list the locality as: Boekenhouthoek area, Mpumalanga Province, South Africa.

3/9/2010

After returning from my buying trip to Tucson last month I have now cataloged all the mineral I purchased. During the cataloging process, every specimen was individually inspected, washed and evaluated. During the process I noticed the unusually high incidence of oiled specimens. Applying oil to crystal surfaces of mineral specimens is an old practice. Colombian emeralds have been oiled at least for 600 years. Oil is used to enhance the surface luster of mineral specimens.

George Feist (1929-2005), one of the best mineral collectors I have known, insisted there was nothing wrong with an oiled mineral specimen. He explained that the oil gives the mineral the appearance that it had when it was originally excavated. As an experienced field collector I can testify that he is correct. Mineral specimens when they are first collected frequently come from a saturated, wet cavity and lose color, luster and clarity when they eventually dry. When the Illinois fluorite mines were still open, the local miners frequently cleaned their specimens in gasoline to remove hydrocarbons on the surfaces and then heavily oiled the surfaces to give a natural luster. You could tell an oiled fluorite because price tags would not stick to surfaces.

But now I have noticed that almost all of the high-end specimens that I purchased, including those from many of the top dealers, were oiled. When washed, water beaded up on the crystal faces. I also found a brown specimen had a brown surface treatment which I suspect was a brown shoe polish. I do my best to remove any surface coatings during the washing process. I use a strong dishwashing detergent to remove any solvent-based coatings. But not all coatings wash off. Presumably another solvent will remove them.

But as collectors you should decide for yourself whether an oiled surface is acceptable. To George Feist it was acceptable. And his collection stands out as one of the best assembled within his specialty of quartz and Midwest minerals.

2/23/2010

Many travelers have inquired about the difficulties of packing mineral specimens in carry-on luggage for a nairplane flight. I recently returned from my buying trip to Tucson. I shipped 90% of my purchases home via UPS. But the most valuable and fragile mineral specimens were carried in my hand luggage. Going through Tucson airport security may not  be typical, because they see many minerals packed in luggage so they are used to encountering minerals.

But here is what I have learned:

  1. Most mineral specimens are invisible to X-ray screening and will not cause any problems.
  2. Metallic specimens like galena or stibnite may appear on X-ray screening.
  3. Pack each specimen in it's own box and mark on the exterior "FRAGILE" because if it is selected for inspection, you will not be present to explain during the inspection.
  4. Long, slender, menacing-looking specimens may be judged as a weapon and should be shipped home separately.

Hand-carrying minerals is still the safest and most secure method of transporting valuable or fragile mineral specimens. There is no reason why most will not pass through the inspection process easily. But be prepared for hand inspection.

2/16/2010

Cataloging your collection is very important.  As collectors, we are simply the caretakers of the minerals until they are passed to a new owner in our later years. A catalog will prevent the loss of important information pertaining to a mineral specimen.

It is best to start your catalog early, rather than amassing hundreds or thousands of mineral specimens then cataloging them at a later date. Use any word processing or database program for your catalog. I have seen collection catalogs in Word, Excel, Access and dBase. I use Paradox, a powerful database that is no longer sold or supported.

Recently I learned of an alternative to cataloging that requires little of no typing. It is a simple alternative, that is just as valuable. Simply, use a digital camera to photograph each mineral specimen with the previous owner's label in the image. The label will give dealer name, price, species and locality. The image of the mineral will allow you to perfectly match the image to the particular specimen in the future. No numbering specimens, no laborious typing, and it is fast.

You will not be able to sort or search this image catalog, but it is a quick record of locality and price and cannot possibly mismatched to a wrong specimen because the mineral is illustrated in the image. Best of all, this type of image catalog is quick and easy, which makes it possible to catalog your entire collection in a weekend. In the future, if you decide for a more elaborate catalog database, you can always embed the images in the database.

It is any easy cataloging alternate and fast. So why not catalog your collection today!

2/9/2010

It has been many months since I had a feeding frenzy after updating my site. Before the collapse of the economy, it was common to have three or four requests for the same minerals in the first minutes after updating my mineral listings. But that was long ago...until two weeks ago when there was a hectic frenzy of many collectors clamoring for the same items.

So here are ways of improving your odds of getting a newly posted item on my web site:

  1. Do not wait until noon, or to receive my email notification, to check my new listings. They are online every week by 11:35. My email notifications can take up to 10 minutes to arrive (I send myself copies so I can see the delay).
  2. Use my order form as it INSTANTLY records the order in the queue. Email requests can take up to 10 minutes to be received by me.
  3. On my order form fill in ONLY you last name, email address, payment info, and item number. This will reduce the typing.
  4. Many eager customers open my order form early, around 11:25 and fill in their name, address, payment info then when they see an item all they have to fill in is the item number before hitting send.
  5. Hit send as soon as you fill in the first item number. If you see additional items you want, then submit subsequent orders the same way. All orders that day will be combined automatically.

Hopefully these tips will help you compete with other collectors for the best items in my new listings.

2/2/2010

I am writing this commentary while waiting for my return flight from my buying trip to Tucson. This is the first year I am returning without spending my entire budget. I shipped back approximately half of what I usually do.

Why did I only buy half as much as usual?

There were a number of factors relating to price and quality. The transparency of the Internet has caused foreign suppliers to price their minerals at retail and the increased attendance of retail buyers at Tucson supports their new price structures. As a result, genuine wholesale suppliers were few and far between.

Additionally there appears to be a reduction in quality. For many years foreign suppliers understood the importance of eliminating damage to specimens during collection and transport to shows. For example it used to be possible to get undamaged, or nearly undamaged, stibnite crystals from China. Now it appears they have relapsed to old, bad habits resulting in low quality.

Another interesting story is that about  ten Chinese mineral suppliers pooled their inventory into a single shipping container. In the past they did not like the food in Tucson, so they decided to include lots of local Chinese food in with their mineral shipment. To nobody's surprise, except these Chinese dealers, the customs inspection dogs detected the food in their container and their shipment was impounded. So these ten dealers only had old, tired inventory for sale.

Fortunately, I do not rely on Tucson for much of my inventory. About 80% of the minerals I sell are from old collections. So the reduced acquisitions in Tucson will not make much impact on my offerings.

I was able to find some genuinely new minerals that I will start posting to my site next Tuesday and will have a summary in next week's commentary of my acquisitions.

1/19/2010

I repeatedly receive inquiries from prospective customers as to whether a particular minerals specimen shown on my site is available. Apparently these collectors are used to dealing with other web sites that consistently display items that sold and are no longer available. My response is usually one of puzzlement when asked about availability. Why would I display an item for sale that had already sold? When you go to an online catalog like Staples.com, you don't expect an item on display to be sold out.

Of course, the hardcore visitors will point out that for about an hour, immediately after new minerals are post on Tuesday, there is a chance that two collectors will request the same item. But I am working furiously during that hour to rapidly remove the sold items to prevent duplicate requests, which is why my email confirmations may be delayed for an hour or so.

The bottom line is that sold mineral specimens are removed from the mineral galleries. This speeds the time the galleries load, and prevents duplicate requests. You will not see items marked sold in the galleries for sale. And in my Mineral Museum, all items are clearly marked sold with links to the mineral for sale galleries if the collector is interested in trying to find an alternate.

1/12//2010

Regular visitors to this site may have noticed a small change to my home page two weeks ago. A link was added (in the line above the Mineral of the Week) to my virtual Mineral Museum. I created an online Mineral Museum of over 31,000 minerals that were sold through this site. Each mineral specimen is illustrated with my photographs and a full description is provided. You can search by mineral species and/or locality as well as browse the site various other ways.

If you purchased a mineral through this site, you can now access the information, though the prices are no longer listed. For your collection catalog you can link to the museum page or you may save the entire page to your hard drive as long as it is for private use only.

The museum is not perfect. Some of my early listings (item numbers <20000) may have abridged locality data as I did not devote as much research time to full locality data in my early years. It was only when I discovered much of the locality data  was in error on the previous dealer's labels that I started to vet each and every locality with primary reference sources.

But there are photos of rare mineral species that are not illustrated elsewhere on Mindat or Webmineral. And there are obscure localities that are not referenced on the web. So it is a good reference.

At this time, Google has still not indexed the Mineral Museum.But in time Google will "spider" the site and pick up all the pages. In the meantime tell your friends and local mineral clubs about this new resource.

1/5//2010

I recently visited a mineral collector's web site where he was displaying his private mineral collection. Each mineral specimen was illustrated with photos and a thorough description. When looking at some of his expensive minerals I was amused to see several specimens with long history listed, but all of the previous owners were recent collectors. The following example is for illustration only, and is purely fictional, but illustrates a typical mineral specimen in the collection:

Ex Marshall Sussman; ex Bill Severance; ex Marty Zinn; ex Irv Brown; ex Steve Smale; ex Rob Lavinsky

I was struck by why would anyone want to own a specimen like this. All of the previous owners are still living and collecting minerals and all owned the specimens within the last 10 years. This long history of owners in a relatively short period says that the specimen was not good enough for any of these collectors to keep for themselves!

Provenence can be an important indicator to the value of a mineral specimen. But the names should be of significance and the mineral specimen should have been in circulation for decades, not years. Here is another fictitious example of provenance that indicates an important mineral specimen:

Ex Washington Roebling (1837-1926); ex Robert B. Gage (1875-1946); ex William Boyce Thompson (1869-1930, founder of Newmont Mining); ex Robert C. Linck (1905-1970); ex Victor Yount

You can see the latter example has a long history of notable collectors that kept the specimens for many years and all are noted for their connoisseurship.

One last observation: Remember you are collecting minerals, not mineral labels. You should buy the mineral first, and pay what the mineral is worth. If there is a history, that is an added bonus.

12/8//09

Why do I not use a "shopping cart" as other e-commerce web sites do?

Because every one of my minerals and diamonds are one-of-a-kind and "shopping cart" systems work best when the dealer has standard inventory, where multiples of an item are available. When I update the site on Tuesdays, it is not uncommon to receive nearly simultaneous orders from several customers for the same items. I get a headache imagining the crashing web server trying to deal with multiple requests.

Additionally, at the same time you are submitting an order for an item online, I may be selling that same item in person on the telephone, via email, at a mineral show or to a store visitor. Therefore every request submitted through the web site must be confirmed for availability, postage estimated, then a confirmation email sent.

Occasionally another problem occurs: an item requested was shoplifted, and no longer available, but will still show as available in our inventory database. The theft is not discovered until we receive a request for the item and discover it is missing.

Therefore my process is optimized to avoid unusual errors that are unique to selling minerals. I am sorry it is not easier.

12/1//09

Many  collectors have asked follow-up question about my article on Display Lighting for Minerals. Many want to know what color temperature is best for illumination. Answer: 3000°K is to warm. 4500°-5000°K is optimal as it approaches daylight illumination best. Anything higher makes gold look greenish, anything lower won't render blue, purples.

 If you have glass shelves, I do not think running strips vertically up the front corners is optimal for shelves wider than 24". It is better to run a strip across the front edge of each shelf, shining down on the shelf below. I just tried these two options yesterday in a mock-up for another collector. For maximum illumination, a strip across the frond edge AND rear edge works very well and is similar to the arrangement I use in my display at mineral shows.

Many have asked where I acquired my LED lights used in my show displays. I purchased my LED light strips from Arizona Case. See the bottom of this page: http://www.arizonacase.com/56_What%27s%20New.htm

11/17//09

For the past several years I have not been able to locate any diamonds from Canada. About five years ago I acquired several and have been selling from lot for several years. But for two year I have been totally out of diamond crystals from Canada. I kept inquiring with suppliers, and finally one came through with several parcels. Many of the new Canadian diamonds were posted to my site this week. All of the recent postings are from the Diavik Mine, the second Canadian diamond mine to begin producing.

To those that are unaware of the Canadian diamond mines, they were discovered in 1998 by the dogged exploration of Chuck Fipke and Stu Blusson that was chronicled in a superb book Barren Lands by Kevin Krajick. Fipke followed trace indicator minerals to their sources in the remotest part of the Northwest Territories to Lac de Grac. It was discovered that the diamondiferous diatremes had been scoured by glaciation resulting in circular lakes. Fipke's mine was called the Ekati Diamond Mine. After the discovery there was a land rush to stake claims, with Diavik becoming the second mine to come online.

This new stock of Canadian diamonds also has the added advantage of being reasonably priced. They are all quality diamonds and should be seen in person to be appreciated.

11/10//09

The recent article in Mineral News, September 2009 issue, page 12, by Alfredo Petrov illustrates the limitations of researching minerals via the Internet. In the article Mr. Petrov offers excellent research into the composition of the pseudomorphs discussed, but the author laments that the exact locality of the find is unknown, based on research using web-based references.

For the record, the locality is a road cut on Route 41, 6 miles east of Griffith, Ontario, Canada.

This illustrates why my first reference when researching mineral localities is Lanny Ream's (the founder of Mineral News) Mineral Index, also known as Mindex, now in it's 2008 edition. A quick query for "ps. scapolite" from "Canada" instantly revealed several references, the best being: An Introduction to the Mineralogy of Ontario's Grenville Province (1982) Robinson, George, and Chamberlain, Steven C., Min. Rec.,v.13 #2.

For those readers uninformed about Mindex, it is a:

Users can find many references in Mindex that are not listed on Mindat.org or other web-based mineral reference sites. It is available for a modest price and annual updates are only $10.

10/27//09

Recently a collector requested additional photos of a minerals specimen on this site. He complained that I do not show photographs of the bottom or rear of mineral specimens. That is is correct - if the bottom or rear has no minerals. Why take up the bandwidth to display photographs of raw, massive matrix that does nothing to add to the appreciation of the mineralization?

If a specimen has crystals on the rear, I will show the rear. If the bottom is sawn flat, I will not show a photo of the bottom, but I will describe the bottom as sawn in my written description. On average I display between one to five images per specimen, with more for extraordinary specimens.

As a prospective purchaser, you should not use the photographs on this site to decide whether to purchase a specimen or not. You must see the specimen in person to make that decision. You should use the photos to decide whether to order the specimen or not. Then, after the specimen arrives and you see it in person, you can decide if you want to keep it. I have a "no questions asked" return policy. There is no risk.

And it is always recommended to read my written descriptions of specimens. Often a description will answer any questions you may have about a specimen.

10/20//09

Last week I listed some common grammatical errors made by mineral collectors. This week I want to discuss the worst error: self-collected minerals. Most commonly used in sentences like, "This is my case of self-collected minerals."

A self collected mineral literally means a mineral that collected itself. You were walking along carrying a bucket, and the mineral jumped by itself into your bucket. The mineral was responsible for the act of collecting and you were not involved. Here are some other examples of compound words using self-.
self-cleaning oven = an oven that cleans itself
self-regulated system = a system that regulates itself
self-governed state = a state that governs itself

Therefore you can see the verb is initiated by the subject:
self-collected mineral = a mineral that collected itself

Here are some examples of the misuse of self-collected and the correct usage:
incorrect correct
This is a new mineral self-collected by John Smith at Franklin, New Jersey. This is a new mineral collected by John Smith at Franklin, New Jersey.
I self-collected this mineral last year. I collected this mineral last year. (OR I personally collected this mineral last year.)
His display case of self-collected minerals was impressive. His display case of personally collected minerals was impressive.

For the record, there is an accepted meaning for self-collected that is in common usage, but it has nothing to do with minerals. "Bob is level-headed and self-collected," meaning Bob has a collected manner and assurance.

10/13//09

After a heated discussion on Mindat about spelling and accuracy, I thought I would share my Top 10 List of Errors made by mineral collectors:
Incorrect Correct
double terminated doubly-terminated
Jap twin quartz Japan-law twinned quartz or quartz twinned following the Japan Law of Twinning
spessartine var. garnet spessartine garnet
flourite fluorite
Columbia (country) Colombia
Zaire Democratic Republic of the Congo
Smithsonian Museum Smithsonian Institution (or National Museum of Natural History)
Transvaal, South Africa divided into four provinces: Northern, Mpumalanga, North-West, and Gauteng of South Africa
spinel twin spinel-law twinned or twinned following the Spinel Law of Twinning (unless the species IS SPINEL)
roadcut road cut

The case of spinel law was recently seen in a written description stating, "a galena spinel twin" which is unclear whether the specimen has galena and spinel that are somehow twinned or perhaps it is a spinel  crystal twinned following the nonexistent galena law. You can see why the hyphen is necessary for "Spinel-law twinned galena".

10/6//09

I think every mineral collector should be required to take an Introduction to Mineralogy course. Or alternatively read a good book on mineralogy like Sinkankas's Mineralogy (formerly entitled Mineralogy for Amateurs). Too many of today's collectors are relying on online resources for "just in time" information. They get information when they need. But they do not understand the basics.

This lack of fundamental education became apparent when I was looking at a locality entry at Mindat.org, and collectors had submitted their photographs of minerals found at the locality. But it was apparent that the mineral species listed on some photographs were incorrect. The collectors could have easily distinguished between species with simple tests that can be done in less than a minute at home. Following are some examples:

These are EASY tests. Any good mineralogy book will tell you how to perform them. I have written an article on my site on a very simple specific gravity test that I routinely use. And using these tests in conjunction with each other will improve the accuracy of your mineral identifications.

In 1998 Dan Weinrich introduced hundreds of "barite" specimens from Hammam Zriba, Tunisia. A year later it was discovered they were actually celestine. A simple specific gravity test could have saved Dan the embarrasment of correcting his error with customers and magazines.

If you are going to post minerals to a public forum like Mindat.org, then you owe it to the other users to make your identifications accurate. And if you are a user of a public reference site, then you should be cautious of relying on their accuracy which is only as good as the original source.

9/22//09

Last week I referred to the camera I use for photography. Somebody asked what camera I would get if I had to replace my Nikon Coolpix 4500. The answer is any camera with these features:

  1. Macro to 1 cm (or 1 inch at a maximum)
  2. Large LCD display >2.5" diagonally
  3. Ability to shut off the internal flash.
  4. Aperture priority shooting mode.
  5. Manual white balance (read the manual before buying to understand if the process is easy).
  6. Spot focus
  7. Spot metering

Optional, but VERY desirable:

- An LCD that pivots independently from the camera/lens.

If you know of a camera that meets these requirements, email it to me at jhbnyc@aol.com and I will share the list next week.

9/8//09

I am pleased to announce a great new book by Vandall King on the history of mining in Oxford County, Maine: Maine Feldspar, Families, and Feuds.

(To Purchase this book email the author at: newryqs@gmail.com)

The book focuses on the mining for feldspar, and the incident minerals encountered, near the village of Albany. Fortunately for mineral collectotrs, King has unearthed much information about mines and minerals. Much of the book documents the huge beryl crystals discovered at the Bumpus Quarry that wre record breaking crystals and still stun most collectors.

The book is profusely illustrated with historic photographs, aerial maps courtesy of GoogleEarth, old mining postacards and newspaper clippings. King was fortunate to get many contemporary family photos from Albany residents showing family members at the huge beryl crystals. I wish the illustrations were numbered and referenced in the text, but that is a small criticism.

I am NOT selling the book, simply referring all interested customers to contact Mr. King directly at newryqs@gmail.com.

7/14/09

When the description are written for the mineral specimens on this web site, the most striking aspect of the specimen are the first adjective used.

 For example: "Kröhnkite Description: Bright blue kröhnkite covering both sides of matrix." It is the blue color that is most striking about the specimen, therefore the description lists that attribute first.

 Another example: "Natrolite. Description: Large pocket lined with fine, pink crystals of natrolite. Clean and undamaged. Stands upright with additional support." In this example, it is the large size of the pocket (larger than typical specimens from the locality) that is most significant attribute.

If you are contemplating purchasing a specimen, use the descriptive style as a guide to aid you in selecting the specimen right for you.

7/7/09

The recent issue of Rock & Gem had an article that included a photo of a specimen of "tourmaline, variety elbaite." The author and the editors should know better. Elbaite is not a variety - it is a species.

This error happens all the time, and I cannot believe it persists. The proper form for mineral names is simple: always list the proper mineral species first. Then follow with the variety or group. Here is an example:

Proper  usage is "Elbaite, variety Rubellite" or it can be shortened to "Elbaite var. Rubellite" (i.e species followed by variety). When making a general description, you can write "elbaite tourmaline" (i.e species followed by group name). "Rubellite tourmaline" is not acceptable except among experts where it is permissible to eliminate the scientific species. But it is never permissible in labeling or in print.

So can you tell which of the following are correct?

(None are correct.)

Some day we will eliminate varietal names. But until then, try to learn the species and use it at the beginning of any entry.

6/30/09

I have returned from two weeks vacation and plan regularly scheduled updates for the next weeks. I apologize to the mineral addicts that missed my regular updates.

This week I went through my warehouse and pulled from my show inventory (reserved for minerals shows) some older specimens that have never been on my site before. I plan similar postings in the coming weeks of "show" inventory.

Why do I have some minerals segregated for shows only?

Because large, showy specimens often get overlooked on this site. All of the small preview images on this site are the same size, and are much smaller than the specimens are. They are all equal on this site.

But at a mineral show, when collectors are walking the aisles, large/showy/colorful mineral specimens stand out from the others. So I set aside certain specimens for shows only. If they do not sell at shows, then I rotate them into my we inventory as I am this week.

So do not think that just because a specimen has a low number that it has been on this site before.

6/9/09

SPECIFIC GRAVITY TEST

Identifying minerals is not difficult. All you have to do is remember your introductory book on minerals. You should easily be able to determine the hardness, presence of cleavage, color, opacity-transparency. And best of all, if it is a single-species specimen, you can determine specific gravity.

I have developed a simple technique for determining specific gravity using a digital kitched scale:

  1. Turn on power and the scale should "zero" itself.
  2. Weigh the specimen and record the weight.
  3. Find a container large enough for the specimen and fill with water with room enough to submerge the specimen.
  4. Place the water-filled container on the scale and "zero" it out.
  5. Suspend the specimen from a wire or paperclip in the water, but not touching the bottom or sides.
  6. Record the weight reading.

Divide the weight in #6 into the weight in #2 and you get specific gravity.

Do not ask me how or why it works. The explanation will only confuse you. All you need to know is that it works, it is fast, it is easy and does not require any lab. equipment.

This technique is accurate to the first decimal place. And that will narrow down the possible mineral species of an unknown specimen making it fairly easy to get an accurate identification in your own home without spending money for testing.

Of course you will still need to search through the data to find the species that fits...

6/2/09

While attending the Rochester Mineralogical Symposium, I had several conversations with collectors about the Internet mineral business. Several collectors lamented that certain online mineral dealers post new minerals, then mark them as sold. But they are relisted at a later date. The collectors theorized that the dealers were trying to create the illusion that sales were hot and heavy to prompt their customers to buy quickly. Alternatively the collectors thought the dealers were trying to justify high prices by making it appear like specimens were selling at those prices. As an online mineral dealer I offered an alternate explanation: the high incidence of unpaid or canceled orders.

When a customer request a specimen from this this site, the specimen is immediately removed to prevent other customers from trying to request the same item. I work very hard to prevent reporting to a potential customer that the item they wanted sold prior to their request. Sadly it still happens occasionally.

But because a large proportion of orders are paid by PayPal, there is a time lag between ordering and sending the payment that allows the customer to get "buyer's regret" that makes them question their purchase. So the customer may decide not to pay their PayPal bill and the mineral order goes unfulfilled. As a result the minerals that were ordered, and pulled off this web site, must be relisted in the future making it appear like I am "churning" my inventory for some evil motive. And there are legitimate returns that must be relisted too. Fortunately my return rate is less than 1% so it is not as big a problem as canceled orders.

There is nothing I hate worse than relisting canceled minerals. Even the appearance that there is something fishy going on hurts my reputation. But I must relist the minerals eventually.

I guess the lesson is to avoid thinking the worst, and give the dealer the benefit of the doubt.

5/26/09

I estimate there are 100,000 mineral collectors in the US with another 100,00 collectors worldwide (email me if you want substantiation of these estimates), but only about 7,000 subscribe to Rocks & Minerals Magazine. Rocks & Minerals was founded in 1926 and is the oldest mineral magazine for amateurs. Best of all, they are the only US magazine that sends out all articles for peer review. This prevents errors and self-serving articles from being published.

The latest issue of Rocks & Minerals features my latest article: The Minerals Of New York City. Many of you might think that would be a short article. In fact, at over 35 full pages, with 73 illustrations, I am told it is the longest article the magazine has run. Most importantly the article documents the amazing minerals finds from within NYC. Did you know the US asbestos industry started in NYC, when the H.W. Johns company started mining anthophyllite on Staten Island, then when onto to merge with Manville to form Johns Manville? Did you know the best almandine garnet found in the USA was from a subway excavation in NYC? Did you know the inventor of the motion picture camera discovered the two best chrysoberyl specimens from NYC (and possibly all the US) nine years apart?

All of this and much much more is covered in my article. I am selling the magazine for $8.00 (less than the $8.95 cover price) plus $2.77 for shipping in the U.S.

Rocks and Minerals Magazine May-June 2009, vol. 84 #3 - New York State Special Issue III from featuring The Minerals of New York City, by John H. Betts
#61515, Rocks and Minerals Magazine May-June 2009, vol. 84 #3 - New York State Special Issue III, featuring The Minerals of New York City, by John H. Betts (lc) $8

5/5/09

I do not sell on Ebay because auctions only benefits the seller. There are no bargains on Ebay.

The prices paid on Ebay are too high for the quality of specimens sold. I prefer to sell my items at a fixed price and then delight my customers with a bargain. The downside is that each specimen is one-of-a-kind and only one customer will get a particular specimen. If two other customers want a specimen (a frequent occurrence on my site) they do not have an opportunity to outbid the first customer (thereby driving prices too high).

One bright spot is that since the new economy, post-Sept. 2008, the feeding frenzies on my web site have been reduced and most customers now get the specimens they want. But when I post new minerals at noon on Tuesday (NY time) it does get hectic so it will pay if you check my site early.

4/28/09

While presenting my talk at the Rochester Mineralogical Symposium I referred to "translucent yellow-green Titanite, variety Sphene" which caused a specialist in gem minerals to say that "sphene" was the transparent gem variety of titanite. The specimen I referred to was not gem-grade and not transparent she said, therefore it was not a gem variety.

She was correct about gem varieties - but she was wrong to correct me. There are other varieties in use. Gem varieties are a small subset of varietal names.

Some varieties refer to unique formations. For example chiastolite is the variety of andalusite that refers to twinned crystal with cross-shaped pattern when polished on the C-face. Herkimer Diamonds are the variety of doubly-terminated transparent quartz crystals from Herkimer County, NY. Troostite is the Mn-rich variety of willemite. Melanite is the black Ti-rich variety of andradite garnet.

I could go on. The bottom line is there are many types of varietal names, not just the gem varieties.

4/7/09

I am preparing an exhibit of mineral specimens from New York City to accompany my lecture at the Rochester Mineralogical Symposium in two weeks. I searched through hundreds of flats of minerals  last weekend trying to find a stilbite specimen I collected 10 years ago in Central Park, here in Manhattan. I never found the specimen. But it was the first time in several years that I have looked through the minerals I collected personally in the field.

I always thought I was careful about labeling finds so that in my senior years I would not forget the exact localities. Sadly, I failed to document a few of my finds. As I looked through the flats, I was able to remember most of the localities, but not all of them. This is a valuable lesson for every field collector - write down the date and locality before you box them away. Make sure there is a slip of paper (I use PostIt notes) with each specimen. Do not rely on writing the information on the box because water damage or sun bleaching can cause the writing to become illegible. Instead place the label inside the flat.

Why do I assume you store your minerals in flats? Because they are convenient and free if you can get your local store that sells beer to save them for you. Most collectors have learned that the cardboard flat of a case of Coors light comes in is the perfect bottom, with a cardboard flat from a case of any other type of beer for a lid. If you want to buy white flats, like dealers have at shows, you can buy them from  the Boxes section at Top Gem.

Do not rely on your memory for identifying your field collected minerals. Be sure to store a label with the specimens. This way the find will be identifiable when your memory fades, as it eventually will.

3/24/09

Last weekend I saw a mineral collection for sale. This was a collection with some significant mineral specimens. None of them were labeled.

If the collection had been assembled during the last 20 years, then I would have been able to recognize the minerals and their localities. But many specimens in the collection were much older and beyond my experience. Many I could not recognize the mineral species. And the best specimens I could not recognize the locality.

This is one more example why it is important to keep good records of the minerals in your collection. At the very least write the mineral and locality on a small label and tape it to the bottom of each specimen. Or if you have a digital camera, take a photo of each specimen and make a catalog with all known information.

Do not rely on your memory. 20 or 30 years from now you will make mistakes if you rely on your memory. And the information in your memory will be completely lost if you were killed in an accident crossing the street (I guess the lack of labeling of your collection will be the least of your worries in this instance).

The value of your collection is affected by proper labeling. In the case of the collection last weekend, I felt the collection was worthless (to me) because it lacked labeling. I suspect if the collection were properly labeled it would be worth $20,000. So those little labels are worth the effort it takes to create them and store them with your minerals.

3/17/09

This week I posted a hocartite specimen from the type locality. But when researching the type locality, the two best and most authoritative reference books (Fleischer's Glossary of Mineral Species and R. Bideaux's Handbook of Mineralogy) both list the type locality incorrectly. Apparently the original locality was garbled or phonetically misspelled originally and once it made it into the literature, it continued to propagate through references.

Both of those references list the type locality for hocartite as the Tacama Mine, Hocaya, Bolivia. The Tacama Mine apparently does not exist. And Hocaya is apparently a misspelling of Chocaya which is in fact the type locality. You should revise your references for hocartite type locality to be: Chocaya-Animas Mine, Atocha-Quechisla District, Bolivia.

Two other references did get the type locality correct: an article on Bolivian minerals in Mineralogical Record and the excellent book Minerals and Their Localities by Bernard and Hyrsl. Mindat.org lists the type locality correctly, while Webmineral.com lists the incorrect locality.

Can we learn anything from this? Not much unfortunately. I guess the lesson is to not trust any reference - even the most respected reference books have errors too.

2/24/09

This week is the 20th anniversary of my mineral business. As many of you know, I was a prolific field-collector of minerals in New England. Twenty years ago a friend asked if I wanted to share his booth at an upcoming mineral show and sell some of the tonnage of minerals I had collected. I accepted the offer and started the process of registering my business 20 years ago.

At the time I was working as a product design consultant creating products for Polaroid, Abu Garcia fishing equipment, Kodak and many other companies. Minerals were a part-time hobby. Over the years my business grew as I added more and more mineral shows. Then in 1996 the worldwide web (WWW) had been invented and minerals on the WWW were beginning. I started a modest web site via my AOL account.

At the time I was photographing my minerals on 35mm slides, then scanning the slides to get digital images. A tedious and expensive process. I quickly adopted digital imaging and now have an archive of over 50,000 digital mineral photos which I hope to utilize in an online mineral museum in the near future.

The web business took off and soon was a 40 hour/week job. In 2001 I changed careers to be a full-time mineral dealer.

In honor of my 20th anniversary, I am offering free shipping on orders of 20 or more mineral specimens. I know that many customers do not place large orders and this policy will only benefit my high volume customers. But I will allow you to assemble group orders with your friends or local mineral club in order to reach the 20 specimen threshold.

2/10/09

Some apparently lab-grown wire silver specimens came to light several years ago when there was a dealer in Tucson with many specimens of Freiberg wire silver specimens in a variety of sizes and prices, though all were expensive. These silver crystals were up to 8 inches long and usually had a crusty matrix that was not the same as historic silver specimens from Freiberg. Whenever one specimen sold, the dealer would pull another out of a box to fill the void. The large number of specimens immediately made me suspicious. Other were suspicious too.

Yet there was a big mineral auction recently with many specimens of silver wire-crystals from Freiberg, Germany that are possibly the same fakes. Why would a collector bid on suspected fake mineral specimens? Any mineral dealer will warn against buying them. Whether they are fake or not, they will always be under suspicion.

There was great debate at the time regarding these silver specimens. Most German mineralogists and collectors were convinced they were fake. At the 2001 Rochester Mineralogical Symposium there was much discussion of Georg Gebhard's presentation of the results of tests for trace impurities of lead, zinc and mercury that were present in genuine Freiberg silvers but not in the recent fakes. The problem was compounded when Mineralogical Record published a letter giving instructions for growing fake wire silver found in a 19th century text and the letter-writer's account of growing fake silver in a garage over the weekend. Some believed that possibly ALL wire silvers from Freiberg might be fakes.

The only people that fought the accusations that they were fake were those with financial interest in the issue - specifically mineral dealers that had sold them to high-end collectors and were afraid they would have to refund the money to all of their customers. There were elaborate stories about where the silver specimens came from. I do not know if any were substantiated. The dealers refused to allow inspection of documents that "proved" the specimens were from a legitimate source with access to historic specimens.

As collectors, we must do our "due diligence" to prevent overpaying for mineral specimens, especially with pre-auction estimates exceeding $25,000. There are many faked or enhanced mineral specimens, just as there are "married" antiques composed of parts from various pieces assembled into a complete, seemingly perfect antique.

Do your research. Work with honest dealers. And beware of auctions where there is no authentication by experts.

1/27/09

A regular customer was looking at a mineral specimen on this site that was described as having "No Damage." He inquired if it really had no damage. Huh?

I stand behind the descriptions on this web site. If I say, "No Damage" then I mean no damage. If I fail to see damage that was there prior to shipping a specimen, then I will refund the cost of the specimen, the cost of shipping to the customer, and the cost of return shipping.

Every specimen is accurately described - sometimes painfully so. I will describe damage that would not be noticed if the mineral specimen were in a display case at a mineral show. And the camera can see things that the human eye cannot see without magnification. I do not gloss over damage like some dealers that do not assess damage or lack of damage on mineral specimens. I do not make value judgments that the damage, "is not objectionable." I state the facts as accurately as possible.

Most collectors do not read my descriptions. I can tell because I frequently get email questions that are answered in my written descriptions. But you should know that if I write it, I mean it.

1/20/09

Today a woman called asking me to appraise the value of a mineral specimen OVER THE TELEPHONE!.

How can a mineral specimen be assessed over the telephone?? I asked her to hold the specimen closer to the telephone so I could see it better. She did not get the joke.

She described it as a specimen of Sicilian sulfur about hand-sized. When I proposed that it might be worth $500 if pristine or $50 if it damaged/digned she became indignant saying, "I was warned against asking a mineral dealer!"

I assured her that I was not interested in buying the specimen and that there was no conflict of interest in my "blind" assessment. She did not care - all mineral dealers are cheats.

Then why did she call?

As a result I have established a new policy: no appraisals ov value without seeing the specimen in person.

1/6/09

As mineral collectors, we are only the temporary caretakers of the mineral specimens in our collections (unless you are planning to be buried with your collection). As a result, you should always follow the credo "Do No Harm" when it comes to your mineral collection. Following are some common ways we harm our minerals:

Harmful Correct
Painting large crude numbers on sides or edges specimens where they are visible. Only paint numbers on the rear or bottom where there is no chance they will EVER be visible. If all sides are crystallized, and potentially visible, then mount the specimen on a base and place the number on the base.
Improperly storing specimens by stacking them one on top another because there is no more storage space. Store minerals specimens in drawers or mineral flats (12x15" boxes with lids) with each specimen in it's own box, separated from adjacent specimens. Stack flats, but do not stack minerals.
Store mineral specimens in a damp garage or basement. Moisture should be avoided at all costs. Moisture damages boxes, labels and mineral specimens. And a moist environment enables insects to thrive. Store in a dry environment, especially sulfide minerals.
Discard, misplace, or confuse labels because you will always remember the locality. Labels are documents that tell a specimen's origin and history. A specimen without a label loses the history, especially minerals from odd, little-known localities. You will NOT remember all details 30 years from now.

Even experienced collectors have been guilty of some of these errors above. Learn from their mistakes and care for your collection. After all, what is the point in collecting your minerals if you are going to neglect or abuse them?

12/30/08

During my recent upgrading of the design of my site, I spoke with several regular customers about the revisions I made and the revisions they wanted to see. One person requested larger photos. I knew immediately this person had a fancy, high-end computer with a high resolution display screen. The paradox of these high resolution displays is the photos actually appear SMALLER.

The more expensive, high resolution computer displays smaller photos??? YES.

Here is why: my typical image is 400 x 500 pixels. If you have a cheap, low resolution screen equal to old televisions display of 600 x 480 pixels, then my typical image will almost fill the entire screen. But if you had a new high-end 24-Inch WUXGA 1920 x 1200 pixel display my 500x400 images will only fill 1/6 of the visible area of the screen.

High resolution monitors = small images.

But did you know that Firefox and Internet Explorer browsers will increase photo size (and type size) when you hold down the "Control" key and rotate your mouse wheel? Try it, it is easy and will display images nicely. If your mouse does not have wheel, then hold down the "Control" key and hit the "+" key for larger images/text and the "-" for smaller.

12/16/08

It is a shame emails are no longer a reliable form of communication.

Emails are convenient. Emails are fast. But you cannot be certain the recipient actually received an email you sent.

We owe this lack of reliability to Spam Filters, which are a necessary evil to keep our inboxes from being cluttered with unwanted advertisements. But filtering software may be triggered by fairly innocuous phrases used in the emails between you and your favorite mineral dealer (hopefully that's me).

I make every effort to respond to inquiries in a timely manner. Such as simple questions or advice. But when I never receive a response, I assume it is because my email to them was never received. I know that is a big assumption, but it has proven to be true a large percentage of the time.

This is one reason why I always will send a simple email saying, "OK, I will get back to you shortly" to emails so that the sender knows their request was received and acknowledged.

But if you send me an email requesting help, and you do NOT get a response from me, do NOT blame me - instead check your Spam folder for  your email. I respond to all inquiries. The same goes if you order a mineral. If you do not receive my confirmation of the order by the end of the next business day, then check your spam folder. My email will be there.

12/9/08

Every week when new minerals are added to this site, I send email announcements to collectors that requested immediate notification. The 900 emails I sent each week probably put me on the list of spammers with email service providers. But I only send emails to people that requested my emails.

On each email I send, there are instructions on how to unsubscribe. But the conventional wisdom is you should not ever respond to a spammer. Many people forgot that they REQUESTED my emails. They are afraid to unsubscribe. So they either block my emails or they periodically change their email addresses to outrun the spammers.

Isn't this a sad situation? I only want to email collectors that are genuinely interested in the new listings. But collectors are afraid of unsubscribing.

As a result I sent emails last week to half of my email list requesting they renew their "subscription" for my emails. Only 10% renewed. Yet I am not sad about losing 90% of interested people, because now I know I am sending only to interested collectors.

The bottom line: If you do NOT want to receive my emails, then do not be afraid to email me and request removal.

11/11/08

This week I am posting an historic mineral I sold a few years ago, but I received it again in trade to sell again. The specimen originally had an historic label accompanying the specimen. The interim owner has misplaced the historic label. This highlights the importance of keeping careful records and organizing any historic information that accompanies a mineral specimen. Storing historical labels poses a significant problem for display specimens. It would clutter up a display case to have the historic documents sitting under each specimen, especially since some labels and cards are quite large. So that results in separating the labels from the specimens.

As owners of mineral specimens, we must recognize we are merely the temporary curators of the specimens and that they will be owned by others in the future. You should put in place some system, any system, to organize the old labels for retrieval in the future.

My preferred method is to have a unique number for each specimen. The best method I have seen is printing numbers on acetate (the type for making overhead projector slides) using a laser printer. These number/labels are then waterproof. The best adhesive to attach the number/labels to the specimen is Mineral Tack, the adhesive putty used by mineral dealers to mount specimens to bases. It sticks to almost every surface, but can be repositioned with little effort.

I DO NOT RECOMMEND USING PAINT TO APPLY NUMBERS.

Too often paint is placed on a convenient surface with little regard for whether it will be visible. Your judgment of where the number should be on a specimen is arbitrary and the future owners may not agree with your decision.

Once each specimen is numbered, you can place the corresponding numbers (in pencil) on the old labels and file in a binder or card file. Remember to add a note somewhere to your heirs as to where to find the historic labels. I have several notes throughout my collection cases regarding the location of the historic labels.

11/4/08

Once again, a collector emailed me questioning the locality of a specimen sold to him. He was concerned because he did not see the species listed on Mindat.org under the locality entry. I cannot believe how common this error occurs and wish Mindat did a better job at pointing out their species lists are INCOMPLETE.

If you read the fine print at the bottom of the locality pages on Mindat, you will see the text, "The above list contains all mineral locality references listed on mindat.org. This does not claim to be a complete list." (emphasis added)

Unfortunately this text is small, obscure, and easily overlooked.

This error is one reason I am offereing for sale the Mineral/Locality/Periaodical Index because there are many more mineral and locality entries that are not included in the Mindat database.

Remember Mindat, like Wikipedia, relies on contributors to add entries. They are not complete lists of the mineral occurences at the locality. AND the entries may be in error for identification.

You don't have to buy the Mineral/Locality/Periodical Index, but PLEASE recognize the Mindat.org does NOT list all mineral species in the locality entries and it should not be used as a definitive reference.

10/21/08

A few changes were made to this site during the last week in an effort to make the site easier to use:

  1. A direct link to Search the web site is in the upper right corner of every gallery and all new individual mineral pages.

  2. A new gallery of Minerals from Type Localities.

  3. Halides are no longer on the Assorted Gallery page, they were moved to the Fluorite Gallery since fluorite is a halide.

  4. Sulfosalt minerals are now combined with the Sulfide Gallery. They were part of the Assorted Gallery previously.

  5. A new gallery of jewelry designs utilizing uncut natural diamond crystals was added to help customers envision how to set diamonds.

  6. A button was added to the individual mineral web pages that link directly to the Online Order Form.

All new web pages for this week's minerals incorporate these changes and on any new future pages as they are generated. Since no mineral stays on the site longer that 5 months, all mineral pages will reflect these changes within 5 months.

Since I am making revisions, I welcome your suggestions. Please send them so I can add any suggestions to my "to do" list.

10/7/08

There is a difference between mineral collections assembled before 1980 and collections assembled after 1980. Before 1980 collectors cared less about the condition of the mineral specimens they acquired. Chipped crystals or missing crystals were tolerated. Collectors liked mounting the specimens permanently to display bases or to styrofoam bases in Perky boxes. Knowing the exact locality seemed unimportant and it was not uncommon to know only the state or country of origin.

After 1980 collectors started caring more about the quality of the specimens acquired. Damage was only tolerated when a locality NEVER produced undamaged specimens such as the early stibnite specimens from China that looked like they were thrown all together in a bucket and brought down the mountain on a lame donkey. After 1980 collectors stopped using permanent glues to mount specimens and switched to Mineral Tack or hot glue (both removable) to mount mineral specimens. Exact locality information was preserved, as well as information about previous owners of the specimens.

What prompted the change in attitudes?

I have seen a similar change in attitude among owners/collectors of wooden boats. I believe the catalyst for change was the new magazine WoodenBoat, and I believe the change in attitude for minerals collectors was caused by the magazine Mineralogical Record and the super-collectors like Dave Wilbur that grew out of that era. Remarkably both magazines started in the same year and in both cases the effect was not immediate. It took 8-10 years for attitudes to change. But it is a change for the better.

(Unfortunately, this effect also explains why older mineral collections are not as desirable as more recent collections.)

9/16/08

The more we interact with our mineral specimens, the greater the chance of damage. I guess this is entropy at it it's worst. A specimen comes out of the ground in perfect condition, just as it formed. Then it passes through a number of steps:

  1. The collector must transport the specimen home and hopefully wraps it carefully to protect it.

  2. Then the specimen is washed or cleaned with acid.

  3. It might be trimmed using a saw or rock trimmer.

  4. The specimen is displayed where it is exposed to light and possibly humidity.

  5. Eventually the specimen may be sold or traded to another collector or a dealer.

  6. It may be displayed at minerals shows.

  7. A customer acquires the specimen and transports it home.

  8. That takes back up to Step 2. again.

Every one of these steps has potential for damage to the specimen. If we left it in the ground, it would erode or decompose eventually. But our mishandling leads to more possible damage than natural processes.

We should strive at every step to assure safe handling to guard against damaging our mineral specimens. That is one reason why I dislike selling at minerals shows. To see kids walking down the aisle with sticky fingers touching every specimen they can reach just makes me sick (and mad). Perhaps I should only put my cuprosklodowskite specimens on the front tables and let the kids learn a bad lesson.

Remember, we are only the TEMPORARY owners of our mineral specimens. Eventually your collection will be dispersed and there will be a new owner. With that thought in mind we should strive to "do no harm" and that suggests handling our mineral specimens as little as possible.

9/9/08

This week two separate visitors to this site made the same inquiry. Each asked, "Is the color of the specimen pictured on the site accurate?" They were talking about different specimens. But I was puzzled by the question. Why would I knowing change the color of a specimen photograph? What good could come from it? If I enhanced the color, then it would inevitably lead to a return. It is risky to ship a specimen once. I do not want to risk further damage by having the customer wrap it and ship it back. I trust my packing. But I do not trust customer's packing.

(NOTE: The color is correct on my professionally calibrated monitor, but it is entirely possible for a visitor's monitor to be out of adjustment. I have no control over what is seen on your monitor. Just because it is "Factory Adjusted" does not mean it is properly calibrated for color balance and contrast.)

One of the visitors also asked, "You say 'no damage' on your web page, does the specimen really have no damage?"

Again, why would a I knowingly falsify the description of a mineral specimen? I am brutally honest about condition of the mineral specimens sold on this site. When I say "No damage," I mean no damage. Of course, I occasionally overlook some damage that was not obvious, but this oversight is unintentional and I will pay return shipping and fully refund the original shipping and specimen cost in this instance.

My honesty in photos and description has resulted in a return rate of 0.1%. (One mineral specimen in one thousand is returned.) That average speaks for itself.

9/2/08

Over the holiday weekend I revisited some old Maine collecting localities that I had not visited in 15 years. I was struck by how things had changed at several of the old quarries. The biggest change and most beneficial is the ATV and 4x4 recreation clubs are maintaining the old woods roads making access much easier. These clubs also appear to be negotiating recreational access to private lands and as a result I saw few No Trespassing signs.

One interesting aspect of these clubs maintaining the roads is that they are using old quarry dumps to use as fill along washed out roads. I actually did better collecting in the roads than I did at the dumps.

Another benefit of these clubs is that appears that almost every mountain has a series of trails to the top. This makes access easier and it is harder to get lost when out exploring.

The downside is that often several different groups is involved in creating or maintaining these trails so there is no single map that shows them all. I guess a good GPS will help. But it might be worth joining a few of these clubs in your favorite collecting area just to get their maps. I suggest contacting your local snowmobile, ATV and 4x4 clubs to see what maps they have available.

7/29/08

Bargaining for prices is common in mineral collecting and there is nothing wrong with it. When I buy from a wholesaler or collector, I will bargain, haggle, beg or whatever it takes to get the best price. And I do not take offense at collectors trying to get a discount in price when purchasing minerals. But the nature of the Internet, or any catalog-based business, where comparison shopping is easy forces me to list my specimens at my best price. This is especially true with diamonds and other high-end minerals where usually only one specimen is purchased at a time. Of course, I do have a discount policy for orders of 4 or more items totaling greater than $200. But this is to motivate purchasers to order more than one item at a time. It is worth it to me to give a discount on a shipment of 4 minerals, instead of packing 4 separate boxes with 1 mineral each.

If you are looking for a discount, here are some do's and don'ts:

Remember, a discount is a favor that the dealer extends to people he wants to keep happy. It is not automatic.

7/22/08

Last week I started to post specimens from Robert "Bob" Lambert's mineral collection. I neglected to mention that Bob passed away in April of this year. For collectors that are interested in background information, here is a summary of what I know about him:

Robert C. Lambert (1919-2008) was born in NYC and lived in New Rochelle where he owned an electronics business and worked later as a television repairman. He assembled a mineral collection of over 600 specimens. His mineral collection focused primarily on aesthetic specimens in the miniature to small-cabinet size, though he had several large specimens too.

His collection was displayed in several cases throughout his home wall-mounted at eye-level, hence Mr. Lambert's preference for specimens that stand upright for display. He acquired his minerals through several notable mineral dealers starting in the early 1970s, notable from the Zweibels (Mineral Kingdom), Norm Pellman, Lawrence Conklin, and later from Wilensky, Rich, and others including myself. His mineral collection is rich in specimens from Tsumeb, Bisbee, England, Mexico but he later added newer finds from China and worldwide classics.

In his later years he used his early specimens to trade with dealers to get better quality specimens. Typical of collectors of the 1970s he tolerated damage much more than collectors do today and he had a habit of mounting specimens using silicone glue which is not easily removed. In spite of these shortcomings he assembled a fine collection of beautiful mineral specimens.

We will all miss him.

7/8/08

The biggest concern I hear from prospective mineral collectors about buying over the Internet is concern about returns.

I have a "no questions asked" return policy. Simply send back the specimens within 2 weeks of the day received, and your payment will be promptly refunded.  I have a return rate of 0.1% (one in a thousand) because I am brutally honest about damage and condition of the mineral specimens sold on this site and my photos accurately describe the specimens.

The biggest reason I get for returns is due to misunderstandings about the size of the specimens. Judging the relative size of a specimen based on the photos is impossible. The preview image of a large specimen is the same as the preview image of a small specimen. Look at the comparison below:

     

The left specimen measures 60 mm high (6 cm). The right specimen measures 25 mm high (2.5 cm). That is a big difference!

So when you read the description of a specimen, and see the size is listed as "6x4x3 cm", how do you judge the size?

My advice is to get a ruler with mm and cm (remember there are 10 mm in 1 cm), and to sketch out on a scrap of paper the dimensions listed to get an approximation of the specimen size. In general the first to dimensions listed (6x4 cm in this case) are the visible area while the third dimension (3 cm in this case) is the depth away from the camera and is least important.

Another strategy is to measure a few of the mineral specimens you already have in your collection. Use them to decide the smallest acceptable specimen size and the smallest acceptable crystal size. Then you can verify that a specimen of interest meets those minimum standards.

These simple techniques will help you avoid the most common reason for returns.

6/10/08

Have you ever noticed that some field collectors consistently make good finds when on club field trips? Often others will say that collector was lucky, which might be true if it happens just once. But some collectors always make good finds, trip after trip. Why?

I believe the single biggest factor that leads to good finds is deciding where to dig.

The good collectors don't settle into collect until they have scouted around and selected a promising area to focus on. Too many collectors forget this important step and just randomly set down to start digging/hammering. The random method yields random results. But looking around, recognizing promising features, and making an educated decision will produce better results.

The next time you go on a club field trip, look around for where others have dug in the past, look over the rocks left behind (usually in a conspicuous pile next to the workings). If the rocks looks interesting, then dig in. Otherwise keep looking for a better site. Once you do settle down, remember to get down to fresh material by going down at least 4 feet if you are digging on a dump. Most mine dumps have had the top 3 feet turned over and over by collectors visiting the site over the last 50-100 years. So dig deep to get below that zone.

With a little thought and hard work, you too will make consistently good finds trip after trip.

6/3/08

Last week I visited the home of a mineral collector who had passed away recently. The collector had assembled a fine collection, often through trading minerals with dealers, always trading up. The collector left instructions for his heirs including an estimated value of the collection. Leaving your family instruction on how to dispose of your collection is a good idea. But estimating it's value is a bad idea for the following reasons:
 

  1. Your estimate is your's only and is not the same as other's estimates. If you ask Rob Lavinsky and me for estimated value you are going to get two vastly different estimates.

  2. The current value is if each specimen were sold at full retail. There is no way to realize the full value unless the heirs become mineral dealers and start selling at shows and through the web - and then they will have increased costs that will still deprive them of realizing the full value.

  3. The full value becomes a target in the heirs mind that, since it is unobtainable, will only lead to disappointment.

In this case, the heirs fell into the trap of number 3 above. And they probably can't get past it in their minds.

Instead of leaving an estimated value, leave your family the total you have invested in the collection.

In the case above, the collector 's investment was about 20-25% of the full retail value (remember: he traded for many of his specimens, and he started collecting many years ago when prices were reasonable). If he had instructed his heirs to accept 50% of the full retail, the estate would get twice what was invested in the collection. A fair price given the circumstances.

5/13/08

Mineral collectors fall into two general categories: those that prize an extraordinary mineral specimen and those that prize a great price or bargain. One focuses on the task of obtaining exemplary mineral specimens of high quality (though not necessarily at a high price). The other values the bargain more than the specimen quality.

Joe Cilen was the latter. He acquired a collection of 24,000 mineral specimens. When confronted with several specimens of a new find, he invariably did NOT pick the best. I guess he valued quantity over quality.

At the opposite extreme is a collector like Lou d'Alonzo who searches far and wide for quality specimens within his modest budget. He is a perfectionist and will not tolerate visible damage. But when he sees such a specimen he immediately commits to buying it.

As a result the two types of collectors assembled very different mineral collections, though spending about the same amount overall.

Which is better? I don't know. But if you can realize what type of collector you are - or the type you want to be - then you can focus your collecting. Or you can adjust your buying habits. If you are lucky, you will meet a more experienced collector of your type that can guide you in your acquisitions.

My advice is to be neither extreme. Find the middle ground. Never drop your standards for quality, but don't overspend. A collection of 1000 specimens valued at $20 each is much less impressive that 20 specimens valued at $1000 each. The latter will win awards, the former will not.

4/29/08

I was reading an article about a family that renovated the old house that they lived in. The owner had several "rules" on how to keep sane during the process and maintain a sense of humor. One of the rules is that anyone deserves 5 minutes in hell for every door hinge that they paint over.

I have a corollary to that rule: Mineral dealers and collectors deserve 5 minutes in hell for every cotton-filled box they use to store mineral specimens.

Perhaps I am prejudiced by the fact that I have photographed 35,000 mineral specimens and have cumulatively lost days worth of time removing cotton fibers from mineral specimens. But given the alternatives, there is no need to ever use cotton in a mineral storage box. And there are several reasons NOT to use cotton:

  1. Insects and vermin can live off the cotton fibers - notably silverfish. These make a mess of your mineral specimens as they shed and defecate.

  2. Cotton fibers easily are caught on minerals with rough surfaces, especially native copper specimens.

  3. When washing specimens, any cotton fibers that were not removed get matted against the specimen and become even harder to remove.

  4. Hydroscopic minerals, like halite, can draw moisture from humid air and actually liquefy and encapsulate the cotton fibers.

You get the idea...

If you feel the need for padding the boxes you store mineral specimens in, then I suggest using the polyethylene bags used in dry cleaning. These thin-walled bags are the default padding used by most professional dealers and have the advantage of being a Moh's hardness of 2, softer than calcite and other scratch-prone minerals.

But don't earn you time in hell by continuing to use cotton padding ;-)

4/22/08

Everyone knows my distaste for Internet-based mineral reference sites. Another instance occurred last week while completing my new article The Minerals of New York City. The editor of Rocks & Minerals magazine requested each mineral species should have corresponding formulas. I was optimistically hoping I could find an Internet site that used proper superscripts and subscripts for the mineral formulas, requiring less typing for me - and in case you don't know, I am a one-finger typist - so anything that can reduce my typing is appreciated.

What I found was complete disagreement in the formulas listed for many common species! Can you believe it???

Here is one example for the mineral Allanite-(Ce):

Fleischer's Glossary of Mineral Species: CaCeFe2+Al2(Si2O7)(SiO4)O(OH)

www.Mindat.org: {CaCe}{Al2Fe2+}[O|OH|SiO4|Si2O7]

www.Webmineral.org: (Ce,Ca,Y)2(Al,Fe+++)3(SiO4)3(OH)

For my article, I relied completely on Fleischer's Glossary of Mineral Species as I know the sources and accuracy. I do not know how Webmineral and Mindat arrived at their formulas.

I have said it before, and I will say it again: if a fundamental piece of information cannot be trusted, then how can we trust any information on these sites?

4/15/08

Last week a visitor to this site asked me to evaluate his collection based on the photos shown in his gallery on Mindat.org. I was willing to look at the gallery. But I cannot appraise value from tiny photographs illustrated on Mindat - especially without written descriptions that describe explicitly the level of damage to any crystals. The level of damage is not visible in most web images and damaged crystals have a large influence on the price of a mineral specimen.

That is why I go to great effort to accurately describe the minerals on this site.

When a collector assesses a potential purchase,  the balance between price and damage is weighed. How visible is the damage? Should I hold out for a better specimen at a higher cost? To help in answering these questions, I write a written description of each specimen. It is the most tiring task I must do each week. Often I feel nobody reads the descriptions. Especially after someone emails me a question that was explicitly answered in my written description.

But I encourage every customer to read the description before buying a specimen. It will prevent any disappointment and reduce returned specimens. (My return rate is less than 1% already, so maybe everyone is reading my descriptions and this commentary is unnecessary...)

4/1/08

When buying minerals via the Internet, there are many dealers out there ranging from poor to excellent. A customer asked me about other dealers and it started me thinking about the attributes you should look for when buying from an online mineral dealer. Here is a list of considerations:

  1. Look for unequivocal statement of condition or damage. Do not ASSUME anything regarding to damage. Just because a site doesn't say anything about a chipped crystal, you cannot assume the crystal is not chipped. If is is undamaged, the description on the site should say so. If it is undamaged it should say so too.

  2. Avoid buying specimens with damage visible to the naked eye. Of course pristine mineral specimens are much more expensive. So there is a trade-off to be made. You should assess how visible the damage is versus a discounted price.

  3. Do not buy at mineral auctions. Online auctions are watched by too many smart collectors, so there is little chance of sneaking away with a bargain. The real reason I don't advise auctions is that the price is set by you (and other bidders) based solely on the photograph - which can be misleading. You are better off buying from a web site where the mineral dealer sets the price, while holding the specimen in his hand and inspecting closely, then setting a fair price based on years of experience.

  4. Before you order a specimen, try to visualized the actual size of the specimen. Get out a ruler and sketch out the dimensions listed on the mineral specimen's description. See how big  it is compared to other specimens in your collection.

  5. Adjust the brightness and contrast of your computer monitor so you are not mislead about the specimen's color. I have a test image that I will send you with instructions if you are interested. Don't assume that because your monitor was set at the factory that it has been optimally calibrated.

  6. Look for a No-Questions-Asked return policy. This is a black and white issue, there is no middle ground. Either the dealer will accept any return or he will not. Avoid any that do not readily accept returns.

  7. Look for signs the dealer knows what he is talking about. I have seen other mineral dealers out there that don't know the difference between transparent and translucent. Needless to say his descriptions were poor and essentially worthless.

I hope these hints help.

3/25/08

They have changed the mineral nomenclature again. First we had Apatite. That was simple. Then that mineral was split into Fluorapatite, Hydroxylapatite, Chlorapatite, Clinohydroxylapatite, Strontium Apatite. Now it has been changed to Apatite-(CaF), Apatite-(CaCl), Apatite-(CaOH), Apatite-(SrOH), Apatite-(CaOH)-M. Similar changes have been made to apophyllite, columbite, ellestadite, axinite, tantalite, etc. I suspect the IMA (the organization that controls these changes) has a financial interest in labeling software, mineral reference book publishing, and label printers. They change the names periodically so we must all update our reference books, mineral labels, and collection catalogs.

It is like the old joke: How did they punish Helen Keller? A: They moved the furniture.

Changing mineral names is the same. Fluorapatite and Apatite-(CaF) are the same mineral species and equally clear as to the apparent chemistry of the species. So why change to meet an arbitrary naming system? Yes, the new name is clear. But so was the old name. If they really wanted to be clear, why not eliminate mineral names altogether and use only formulas: Ca5[F|(PO4)3]?

There is no use in protesting. The changes are official. But the changes in the nomenclature do not eliminate the inconsistencies. In fact there are many more inconsistencies than were fixed with this change. There is a long way to go. So don't panic.

But I wouldn't make any great effort to revise your labels yet. Surely more changes are to come. After all, it is the IMA's job to make these changes. If there were no changes to make then there would be no need for their existence and they would be out of a job. So you can count on more changes to come...

3/4/08

Last week, when I was not paying attention, this site had it's 1,000,000th visitor.

What a contrast between a web-based business and a mineral store, or even a dealer that sells exclusively at weekend mineral shows. It is unlikely that a traditional store or show dealer would ever have 1,000,000 customers look at his offerings. Yet it took relatively few years to achieve this milestone.

And I am approaching my 41,000 mineral specimen in inventory. That averages to one mineral specimen sold for every 24.4 visitors. Pretty good averages. I wish my averages at mineral shows were as good.

Note that I am referring to visitors, not the much misunderstood "hits" that many web sites use for statistics. A "hit" is generated any file call made by a visitor when he views a page. Every image, graphic, header logo on a web page generates a "hit." A single visitor to my weekly New Listings Pages will generate about 120 hits by viewing only two web pages. So you can see that hits are not a very valuable statistic. "Page Views" are a good alternate, but the numbers are still inordinately high. So I prefer to rely on Visitors as a gauge of activity on the site. (I am also distrustful of any site hyping their hit count, which as illustrated above, is easily misunderstood, therefore misleading.

2/26/08

Today a mineral collector emailed me distraught over buying a vanadinite cluster then researching it on the Internet and finding a references that said vanadinite gets darker and duller upon exposure to light. That is wrong. Vanadinite is stable. I suspect the original author was thinking of cuprite, which does get darker and duller upon exposure to light.

But this illustrates, again, why you CANNOT rely on Internet web sites for reference information. I have said it before, I will say it again: Get a good mineral reference book. A good reference book is fact checked prior to publication (with the famous exception of Dana's Mineralogy 8th edition). I have several books that I recommend in my article Reference Books for Mineral Collectors. Buy one and use it first, before using any Internet web site.

Every week I find errors even on "authoritative" sites. Because there is no fact checking, they cannot be trusted. And because they are not fully researched, there may be OMITTED information. For example, Mindat.org lists minerals that occur at various localities - but they do not publish ALL the minerals that occur at the localities. What's the point of such lists if they cannot be trusted to be complete?

In order to understand the source of the erroneous information about vanadinite, I did a Google search and found several "reference" web sites that were using the exact same text. I suspect one person posted the erroneous information and it was then picked up by another site and so on. Or these sites are somehow associated and using the same source code.

Either way this is an illustration how anybody can post false information on the Internet and it will take on a life of it's own. 

1/22/08

As my regular customers may know already, I am in the finishing stages of a large article for Rocks & Minerals magazine on the Minerals of New York City. Three mineral species found within the 5 boroughs of New York City rank among the best of their species found in the United States. You will notice I hedge my statement by saying "among the best" rather than potentially antagonizing collectors by saying "the best". (For the record, the three specimens are the famous almandine from the subway excavation on 35th Street, the chrysoberyl from 93rd Street and artinite from Spring Street on Staten Island.)

But this commentary is not about debating whether the best comes from NYC. This commentary is about ANYBODY judging what THE BEST mineral specimen is.

Several dealers I know are fond of saying they have the best of a mineral, or "this is the best I have seen." I am troubled by these statements, especially since they frequently come from dealers or collectors that don't travel or attend many shows. Perhaps they have a poor memory for the better specimens, or maybe they lack the vocabulary for moderating their superlative adjectives.

But who can say what the best specimen of a mineral species is? What criteria are you using?

The best specimens cannot be defined by any one person, because no two collectors will agree on the criteria and how to weigh them. And many of the best specimens are never seen by more than a handful of people. They pass through a dealer to a millionaire collector and are never shown again in public.

Since the judgment of a specimen is a personal matter, the adjectives should be personal. Saying a minerals is "my favorite" or "the best I have had" is better  - and more believable.

1/15/2008

Has the IMA lost sight of their purpose?

The IMA is responsible for establishing the official mineral names. Recently they announced many changes - including several that make no sense. One notable example is eliminating Hancockite as a mineral species and renaming it Epidote-(Pb). What is the point??? I wonder if they are going to make similar changes in the future. I suspect these changes are in the works:

Rhodochrosite will be renamed Calcite-(Mn)
Dolomite will be renamed Calcite-(CaMg)
Siderite will be renamed Calcite-(Fe)

Sounds farfetched? Not really. The IMA has strayed from it's task of determining valid species. They should NOT be renaming minerals that are established in the literature. Hancockite was first identified in 1899. Do we really need to make all reference books, museum mineral displays, and collectors catalog obsolete by changing the name? Of course not.

12/11/2007

Will Internet web sites ever replace a good mineral reference book?

Many new collectors think that the answer to that questions is yes. They think that everything they need to know can be found on Mindat.org or Webmineral.com.

Sadly these collectors are mistaken. The web sites listed above present only facts - they don't provide information.

My first stop reference book is Sinkankas' book Mineralogy (originally published as Mineralogy for Amateurs). What does this book provide that a web site does not? To begin with it has a listing for each mineral "Distinctive Features and Tests" that provides ways of identifying a mineral from others it may resemble. How do you tell if it is celestine or barite? Sinkankas says the flame test for celestine will have vivid red flame color due to the strontium content, barite will not. That is just one example of how this book provides more than just facts found on a web site. A good book will also have several crystal diagrams showing typical habits and twinning commonly found for a species. Here again Sinkankas book is excellent. And of course a good book will have the facts too.

But having a reference library is not as easy as Googling a mineral species. But the ease of use comes at a price- often meaningless facts with no guidance or experience. So I repeat the advice offered by many in the past: Buy a good mineral book, and use it.

Remember: There are only two weeks remaining before Christmas. That means this week is the last week you can place an order and have it arrive in time without the additional expense of Fedex shipping.

11/27/2007

Recently there was some discussion on Mindat.org regarding a Skorpionite specimen I sold and the owner posted a photo of a portion of the specimen to the site. Another collector, also one of my customers ,observed that the photo was probably not Skorpionite. The photo was removed and the owner started to search the specimen for the Skorpionite. (FYI: all Skorpionite specimens came from the same boulder at the Skorpion Mine.)

I reminded the owner that I have a LIFETIME GUARANTEE for all mineral specimens sold: If at any time a mineral specimen is tested, and the mineral species identified on my label was incorrect, then I will refund the cost of the specimen, the cost of return shipping, and the cost of the test.

In the case of the Skorpionite, even though the owner broke up the specimen, I was willing to refund his purchase price. I can take the pieces to my source and get my money back.

I stand behind all mineral specimens sold, and there is no expiration to this guarantee.

11/20/2007

Last week I sold a Calcite-Aragonite from the mineral collection of Upsala College that gave the locality as simply "Pinal County, Arizona". A question arose how an educational institution could have such inadequate labeling for a specimen in their collection. The assumption was that the specimen was acquired through their field work, so they would have better locality information available.

Many specimens in museum collections are not the result of field research by the museum. Most museum specimens are acquired from mineral dealers. Most often a benefactor purchases the specimen and donates it to the museum. Or a collector may buy the specimen as part of his/her private collection - then donate the collection in later years to a museum. And since most specimens passed through the hands of a dealer, there are several reasons incomplete locality data is available:

  1. The specimen was acquired in the early days of collecting when exact locality was unimportant (pre-1970).

  2. The specimen locality was withheld to prevent other dealers from acquiring the same material.

  3. The specimen came from an active mine, collected by the miners, and the mine company views the act of removing mineral specimens from the mine as pilfering the mine's valuable ore.

All of these are real examples of why locality data is frequently incomplete. Even when the locality appears complete , it may actually be purposely misleading. Do you have a specimen of octahedral purple fluorite in your collection from "Catron County, New Mexico" or the "T&G Claim, New Mexico"? This material actually came from the Judith Lynn Claim in Grant County, New Mexico, but the collectors were hiding the source of the material.

Fortunately the exact locality of origin is not necessary for the enjoyment of a beautiful mineral specimen...

10/2307

This week I posted some large natural diamond crystals to my web site.

The prices of uncut diamonds are starting to climb steeply. Apparently major jewelry manufacturers have discovered they can sell uncut diamonds in jewelry. DeBeers has a jewelry line called Talisman and the success of a new line called Diamond in the Rough has caught the attention of many smaller jewelry makers. Now everyone is clamoring for uncut diamonds.

This may be bad news for collectors that are looking for reasonable prices. As I acquire new diamond crystals, I will undoubtedly pay higher prices because of increased demand for quality crystals that are complete and undamaged. Already prices are high because of the dollar's weakness compared to other currencies. Fortunately I have a healthy inventory. But if you are considering purchasing an uncut diamond crystal, it is best not to delay hoping for prices to drop.

9/18/07

Among the new minerals posted this week is a vial of melanterite that is water soluble. Storing such a mineral in a glass vial is one solution, if the mineral is for reference only. But how should you store a water-soluble display mineral?

One solution is to use the European-style acrylic boxes that have a tight-fitting white base that effectively seal out moisture. However, I still suggest sealing the base to the top using silicone, putty or acrylic solvent. And placing a packet of Silica Gel dessicant inside with the mineral is a good idea too.

If you have non-display water-soluble minerals you do not need a glass vial. Simply place the mineral in a freezer bag with ziploc seal. I use freezer bags, instead of normal sandwich bags, because the thicker bag material is a better sealant at moisture that can migrate (slowly) through plastic.

There is no reason not to own water-soluble mineral specimens. With careful storage they can be displayed and enjoyed. (Remember to label them as water-soluble so the future owner of the specimens will not try to wash them  in water!)

8/28/2007

I frequently get requests for assistance in identifying mineral specimens from collectors around the world. I always reply that I (and everyone else in the world) cannot identify minerals based on photos. Color inaccuracy can be grossly misleading. And it is doubtful that a good quality photograph can be produced.

It seems that collectors have forgotton how to identify minerals. With ha few simple tests, you can narrow down the possibilities very quickly. You can identify seven charachteristics using visual observation or with simple tests:

  1. Hardness
  2. Streak
  3. Density (Specific Gravity)
  4. Color
  5. Opacity
  6. Cleavage
  7. Crystal System

Hardness can be determined with a hardness testing kit that you can assemble yourself for less than $20. Streak requires a white tile scrap. Testing for density requires a small scale and a cup of water. Any good mineral book will describe the process. You can also test for magnetism using a simple apparatus you can build for $5.

Then what do you do with the results of the above observations?

I use a computer database of mineral species called MinData created by Lanny Ream ( LR Ream Publishing, 208-659-3035 or www.LRREAM.com). Is a great tool for everything from searching for minerals by formula or characteristic or group. The best charachteristic of MinData is that you can do Boolean searches of multiple charachteristics of the mineral.

For example, by entering only four charachteristics color: brown, opacity: translucent, hardness: >5 <7, density: >6 will yeild a single mineral species: Manganotantalite.

The ability to do a Boolean search is something that online mineral databases like Mindat.org or Webmineral.com do not accomadate. I know that many collectors these days don't believe in owning reference books because all information can be found for free on the Internet. Sadly the information might be available, but the ability to search through 4000+ mineral species is NOT available.

Lanny Ream has put much effort into creating the MinData and charges only a modest fee ($75 I think) for the CD-rom. It is well worth the small investment.

7/10/2007

Recently I was asked about mineral nomenclature when identifying minerals in a series like calcite and rhodochrosite. Often minerals form in what is called a solid solution series. This means that most of the chemical formula is the same between two minerals, but two elements vary in proportion. In this instance:

calcite = CaCO3
rhodochrosite = MnCO3

You can easily see the CO3 part of each formula is the same, but one has calcium (Ca) and the other has manganese (Mn). But minerals are not perfect and seldom are pure "end members" of the series. More often the calcite may have Mn impurities or the rhodochrosite may have Ca impurities. If the specimen is tested and Mn is 51% and Ca is 49% then the mineral is identified as rhodochrosite. If it is 51% Ca and 49% Mn than it is identified as calcite (or possibly as Mn-rich calcite or calcite var. manganoan or the now obsolete name manganocalcite). Just a 2% difference is all it takes to change the identification. And some crystals vary by being zoned with varying composition - it may be calcite in the center and rhodochrosite in an outer layer.

Here in New England the pegmatite quarries frequently have a green apatite that fluoresces yellow under UV illumination. Local collectors call this mineral manganapatite. There is no such mineral species. A researcher did a review of several specimens from several quarries and found that they were all fluorapatite Ca5(PO4)3F with trace impurities of Mn which caused them to fluoresce. None had Mn content over 3%. If they had over 3% (or is it 10%?) then they would qualify to be called Mn-rich fluorapatite according to the IMA. (I am sure I will get a correction on this last tidbit, but I have forgotten the exact threshold.)

Some common mineral series are:

adamite - olivenite
albite - anorthite - microcline
amblygonite - montebrasite
austinite - conichalcite
calcite - magnesite - siderite - smithsonite -  rhodochrosite
descloizite - mottramite
dravite - schorl - elbaite
epidote - clinozoisite
grossular - andradite - uvarovite
pectolite - serandite
scheelite - powellite
tennantite - tetrahedrite - freibergite

I hope this clarifies how minerals are identified when they are not pure end members.

6/5/07

This week a customer questioned why some items are marked "net" and others are not. The notation "net" are hypertext and link to an explanation that "net" means no discount is applicable to these items. They have been priced at a firm price and at the lowest possible price for that item.

There would be no need to tag items as "net" if I did not have an automatic discount policy. If all prices were fixed, then effectively all items would be "net" by default.

But I offer discounts on orders of 4 or more items (if the total exceeds $200) as an incentive to order more than one item at a time. It does not mean that I have added extra padding to the price to allow for a discount. I actually lose money on the discounts. But it reduces the work required to ship the minerals. It is easier and faster to ship one box with four minerals in it, than it is to ship four boxes each with one mineral in it. There are are also added costs of boxes and commissions paid on credit card transactions when shipping four boxes instead of one box.

So the discount is an incentive. And the "net" notation indicates that my cost for the specimen prevents me from discounting the mineral. This is most apparent with the diamond crystals I sell, which have high inventory costs and the prices per carat per quality are pretty much standard throughout the world.

5/29/07

Recently I acquired a large number of mineral specimens from a collector that bought most of them through online mineral auctions. With each mineral specimen, I was supplied a printout of the auction listing so I could see the original descriptions and the bidding history for each item.

Many mineral specimens sold at auction for many times what I would sell them for. Then I realized, the prices at online auctions are set by the bidders - and  they have not seen the actual mineral specimen. The only thing the bidders have seen is a photograph of the mineral. Invariably an item with a great photo was bid beyond what the mineral specimen is worth.

Contrast that to the way I price minerals: after cleaning and trimming, I am holding the specimen in my hand, under good light, and evaluate the specimen based on size, quality, condition and history. Frequently I will research the rarity and associations in references before finally establishing the price. But the price is established independently how photogenic the specimen may be. If I get a great photo of a specimen, it may sell faster, but the price is set at what (I feel) it is worth when I hold it im my hand.

The allure of getting a bargain keeps buyers going back to online auction sites. But when buying quality, attractive minerals, you are better off buying from an online "catalog" site like this one, where prices are set based on the specimen, not on the photographs.

5/22/07

After shipping many packages last week, I have a better sense of what the new postage rates mean to mineral packages. Here are a few observations:

These small changes add up and incrrease the overall postage on each package by at least $1. Therefore, it is best to purchase more than one item at a time to spread the postage across more specimens.

5/8/07

Last week it happened again. A regular customer requested a mineral specimen from my new listings - but his email was filtered and it went into my Spam folder.

I have cautioned everyone before about this problem. I have no control over the filtering algorithms that are in place at my ISP. The safest way to request a mineral is to use my secure order form. The server instantly records the order form request, it cannot get lost or filtered, and it results in you getting into the queue earlier during the weekly feeding frenzy.

Yes, I hate filling out online forms too. Past customers only need to enter name (last name will suffice if you are in a hurry), your email address, and the item number that you are requesting. It is not required to list the price or description of the item you are requesting, but they are a good backup in case you misentered the item number. Some web browsers can be set to fill in your name and email address so you never have to do it again in the future.

It is that simple. If you are concerned about missing out on an item, the online order form is the best.

5/1/07

Last weekend, while selling at a mineral show, a well known mineral personality and rare mineral specialist came by to request immediate notification the next time I get in any variscite specimens from Utah. I explained that I never call customers to notify them of new arrivals. He got upset, misinterpreting my comments. He thought I said I would not  call him. I said I would not call anybody.

Why not?

Because I have 800 regular customers. At least 1/4 of them have specialties and would like advance notice of a certain mineral specialty. For example, look at the Mineral of the Week above. Pyromorphite collectors want notice, collectors of German minerals want notice, collectors of Albanese minerals want notice, collectors of pink minerals want notice, collectors of lead minerals want notice, collectors of cabinet-size specimens want notice. I would spend all of my time sending notices for the 5000 mineral specimens that I sell on this web site every year.

And it is only possible to give notice to one collector. It may make that collector happy, but the 20 other collectors that didn't get notice would be unhappy.

So my policy is simple: no notices. This way the regular visitors, that check my new listings every week, are rewarded for their efforts. After all, they are my most loyal customers. Many ordering every week, or at least once per month. The customer that made the request at the mineral show has only bought one mineral specimen from me ever. Why does he deserve advance notice over someone that buys from me every week?

Of course I do send mass email reminders that new minerals have been posted. And each email lists a few items out of the many posted. But these are sent to 2000 people around the world, and no one is given preferential treatment. If you want to receive email announcements, then email me at jhbnyc@aol.com

4/24/07

Sometimes I get emails from first-time visitors to this site that say my prices are too high. Usually I send them to a few other web sites with even higher prices.

But recently one customer sent me a large shipment of minerals acquired from other web sites and mineral auctions. It was a window into how other mineral dealers describe, label, and the quality of minerals they sell. It was a shock to see what other dealers are getting away with.

A few other dealers were honest about the quality of their mineral specimens and the extent of damage. Most were of the other dealers were criminal in the way they omitted mentioning damage or glossed over hugely damaged areas by saying they did not find it objectionable. (Of course they didn't find damage objectionable - they are the SELLERS!!!)

So when I get emails saying my prices are too high, I assume they are not judging minerals of equal quality.

Lastly, I was amazed at the poor labeling of several of the dealers. Aside from the misspelling of geographic names, they were often grossly in error, including misidentifying the mineral species. One dealer took the old historic labels and wrote his prices in red ink on the old labels. Old labels are historic documents - they should never be altered in any way. Period.

So when judging the prices of a web site, be sure to evaluate the dealers written descriptions, the historic labeling, the condition of the specimens, the quality of the wrapping and promptness of shipping. Not all internet mineral dealers are the same.

4/3/07

Displaying minerals on open shelves is an inefficient way to display a large collection. If you fill the shelves full, often the minerals at the rear are hard to see. And the spacing of the shelves results in low density of minerals stored per volume (i.e. minerals per cubic foot of storage space).

One way to improve displaying minerals on open shelves is to add stepped platforms at the rear of the shelves to elevate the minerals at the rear. This improves the visibility of the minerals at the rear, and allows for tighter spacing without looking overcrowded.

But even with stepped platforms on your shelves, it is difficult to display a large collection. My best suggestion for improving your storage while maintaining easy access, is to add a bank of thin drawers below the display shelves. Arrange your shelves from eye-level down to waist-level for your best, large specimens. Then below, from waist-level to the floor, have a bank of 2-3 inch high drawers for storing smaller specimens. You will be surprised at the quantity of minerals that you can store with such an arrangement. Best of all, they are all easily viewed and accessible. The best drawers are flat-files used by architects for storing large drawings.

Don't forget to have some good overhead lighting to illuminate the minerals in the drawer when opened. I use some Luxo-type lamps with halogen bulbs to illuminate my drawers and it works very well.

Remember, if you your displays don't accommodate your collection you should change your display. Don't change your collection.

3/27/07

I hate cotton-filled boxes.

Why do collectors use cotton-filled boxes for storing mineral specimens? They have absolutely no advantage over ANY alternative.

Cotton-filled boxes are made for the jewelry and gift industry for packing purchases. They are not intended for minerals. Period.

Invariably the cotton fibers get snagged by the matrix or fine crystals on a mineral specimen. The worst is a mineral like crystallized silver where the fine crystals are strong and easily become entangled in the cotton fibers. Once they are entangled it is almost impossible to remove the cotton fibers. The best way I've found is to use a small ball of mineral tack or duct tape and try to grab the cotton fibers to pull them off. Some specimens simply defy removing the cotton fibers.

There are several alternatives to use in the bottom of storage boxes for your mineral specimens. Most widely used today are dry-cleaning bags (lightweight polyethylene bags) that have a Moh's hardness of 2 and are readily available from many sources. I buy my bags from Cleaner Products (1-800-818-1234) for about $38 delivered. Another alternative padding are the various polystyrene foams used for packing delicate items. They are available in various thicknesses and come in white or natural. Lastly, I question the need for any padding in boxes. Unless you are packing for a move (where cotton filling provides inadequate protection) there is no need for ANY padding in the storage box for a mineral specimen.

Remember, we are only the temporary caretakers of the minerals in our collections. Our credo should be "Do no harm". Storing minerals in cotton-filled boxes violates that principle.

3/20/07

This week I posted several new mineral species. Most are not found in any reference books. The only information about them are in the abstracts published in various magazines or Internet databases. In most cases, the mineral species name is tentative.

A mineral species is first described and submitted to the IMA. Once accepted, it is assigned an IMA number, but does not become official until the description of the new mineral is published in a professional journal. In all cases I have provided the IMA number for the mineral species just in case there is a last minute spelling or name change.

Also posted this week are several mineral species from the Type locality. This is the locality where the first samples of a mineral were isolated and provide the basis for the description of the mineral species required for acceptance by the IMA. 99% of all mineral species have a type locality of record. Only the earliest minerals identified do not have a type locality because their identification preceded the formal study of mineralogy.

Collecting rare mineral species or mineral specimens from type localities is another facet of mineral collecting. There are more mineral species out there than the same 200 we see regularly at mineral shows. There are over 4000 mineral species known. If you get over 1000 species in your mineral collection you are to be congratulated. I learned recently one customer has over 3000 mineral species in his collection. That is a stunning accomplishment for an individual.

I urge serious collectors to expand their collecting beyond aesthetics and to learn more about the science and history of minerals

3/13/07

One of the advantages of buying mineral specimens over the Internet is that each specimen is photographed and described for you. The images and descrioptions can be saved and incorporated into your mineral collection catalog. The simplest way to save this information is to print out the web page and save the pages in a three-ring binder.

But you can save the web pages directly to your computer's hard drive. In MS Explorer click on "File" in the upper left corner of the browser window, then select "Save As" from the pop-up menu. If you save the page as an "archive" it will save all text, photos, and graphics to a single file that be easily viewed in the future. You can even link the archived page to your database of your collection catalog if you use one.

If you only want to save the photographs, you can right-click your mouse on a photograph and just save the JPEG to your hard drive.

This is a convenient way of building a catalog of your collection. It certainly takes less time than recreating all the same photos and descriptions yourself.

2/20/07

As regular visitors know, I recommend using Mineral Tack to mount mineral specimens to display bases. It is not permanent and will not harm the specimen. This means that a future owner of a specimen will be able to "undo" the mounting. This cannot easily be done with silicone, epoxy or other permanent glues. The rule of thumb should be, "Do no harm."

But there are two complaints about Mineral Tack: it leaves an oil stain on the specimen and does not always come off easily. The two problems are related. Mineral Tack is oil-based and relies on the oil content to remain pliable. If the oil is absorbed into the specimen matrix, then the Mineral Tack becomes stiff or hard, making removal difficult.

To remove the oil stain on the specimen, simply soak in a detergent. I use Cascade brand dishwashing detergent dissolved in water. It will cut through the oil and remove any residue. Repeat if necessary and always rinse thoroughly.

To remove old Mineral Tack from the specimen, scrape away as much as possible, then use a ball of fresh Mineral Tack, and press it repeatedly onto the old Mineral Tack. The oil in the new, will soften the old. And because Mineral Tack sticks to itself better than it sticks to minerals, it will eventually come off.

By the way, for really stubborn, hard Mineral Tack you can use any solvent and actually dissolve the Mineral Tack. You can use Goo Gone available at hardware stores or other solvents. I use a thinner called Bestine made for thinning rubber cement.

2/13/07

Recently a visitor told me about a specimen he acquired that was beryl, but had been sold to him as quartz (or maybe it was vice versa). I immediately responded that it would take less the 15 seconds to determine which was correct using a hardness test. Beryl scratches quartz. Quartz cannot scratch beryl.

Every collector can assemble a hardness kit for a few dollars by buying cheap kid's rocks at your local mineral show. My kit includes: my fingernail (2-2.5), a broken calcite crystal (3), a $1 fluorite octahedral cleavage (4), a cheap Mexican fluorapatite (5), an orthoclase I collected in Colorado (6),  a quartz crystal I dug in Herkimer N.Y. (7), a beryl crystal I dug in New Hampshire (7.5-8), a cleavage of a Utah topaz (8), lastly a cheap ruby crystal from India (9). There is no need to have a diamond in your hardness test kit - a diamond scratches everything so it will prove nothing.

If you don't have the patience to assemble your own hardness kit, you can purchase a kit from Ward's Earth Science Establishment in Rochester N.Y. I have one of their kits too. It has four double-ended scribes with hardnesses 5,6,7,8,8.5,9,10.

Testing hardness rules out many possibilities when you are faced with a misidentified mineral. You don't always need fancy quantitative testing to make an identification. Just remember the basics: hardness, streak, crystal system, color, opacity, cleavage, and specific gravity.

1/2307

A visitor to this web site recently noted the abundance of minerals priced less than $35 and complained about few minerals priced over $100. The reason is simple: the better mineral specimens sell immediately and are removed from the site in the first 30 minutes after being posted. Unless a visitor views the new listings between 11:45 to 12:15 on Tuesday, they will never see the best specimens that sold quickly.

I guess I could leave the sold minerals up on the site, and mark them SOLD. But the additional thumbnail images slow down page loading and only aggravates the customers that missed them. It would be good for my reputation, but making my pages load quickly is important to me and the 65% of the customers that still use dial-up connections.

1/16/07

An old-time dealer here in New York City recently approached me with an offer of Canadian Diamonds from a friendly source. I requested proof of the Kimberley Certificate for the diamonds. He said what does a Kimberely Certificate have to do with diamonds from Canada.

A Kimberely Certificate is required for all diamonds entering the United States and for all diamonds shipped out of the United States - regardless of country of origin. The name "Kimberely Certificate" does not refer to country of origin, it is a proof the diamonds followed the "Kimberely Process" where the diamonds are sealed at the mine to prevent smuggled diamonds from entering the supply chain.

The Kimberely Process was devised by the major diamond producing nations to protect the integrity of  their production and prevent blood diamonds from reaching the consumer. All diamonds require a Kimberley Certificate. All diamonds I sell on this site are purchased from legitimate wholesalers with the proper documentation.

1/9/07

Every effort is made to present accurate information on this web site. Locations are verified and updated to latest geographic names. Correct mineral species, with varietal names, are checked and double-checked. No "attributions" are made for old specimens with inadequate labeling - my labels repeat the old label unless there is absolutely no doubt about additional information.

Sometimes a mineral is  unintentionally posted with incorrect information. In these instances, I welcome corrections/updates. It is never an imposition to receive them. Usually when a correction is received I pull the specimen from the site and repost it at a later date with corrected information.

But there are times when people offer locality corrections based on the images. Comments like, "The specimen of mineral X is a yellow-green color indicating it is actually from location Z, not location Y as you have listed. If it were green or blue-green then I would believe the locality you have listed." In this instance it sound like the correction sent is based on a subtle color variation.

No matter how good your computer and monitor is, unless you use color calibration software, color rendition is poor with ANY computer.

I have addressed this problem in the past. Go to any computer store and look at the same image on several computers. There is a WIDE variation in color rendition - especially with yellows, browns, purples (a computer monitor only has red, green and blue pixels - how do you make yellow from those colors?) You will not that many computers stores display bright blue images on their computer displays because these are the most consistent colors - only the blue pixels are being used and no color mixing is involved. Poor color rendition of computers is the same reason I do not identify minerals from photographs emailed to me.

Please continue to send me corrections and I will continue to improve my site. But be wary of making any attributions based on the color of a mineral image. In those instances I will always trust the previous label that accompanied a specimen.

12/12/06

The new Leonard DiCaprio movie entitled Blood Diamond has highlighted the the issues of warring African factions financing their battles by enslaving miners and selling local diamonds. The income from diamonds are used to buy guns and equipment. As a result of the illegal trade in "conflict diamonds", the United Nations instituted the Kimberly Process where legally mined diamonds are sealed at the mine and documented with a Kimberly Certificate prior to export. The Kimberly Process has eliminated or significantly reduced smuggled diamonds from entering into marketplace as legal diamonds.

All diamonds sold on this web site are purchased from legal wholesalers and Kimberly Certificates are on file for them.

Frequently I get call from individuals trying to sell me diamonds. My first question is whether they have the Kimberly Certificates for the diamonds. If the answer is no, I terminate the conversation. Other mineral dealers have offered me diamonds too. Though they may be from non-conflict countries, but the diamonds must still have Kimberly Certificates prior to entering the United States.

One thing that the new movie conveniently omitted: the percentage of conflict diamonds is minuscule compared to the legal diamond mining from the major producing nations. Diamonds from Australia, Canada, Russia as well as legal countries in Africa such as South Africa, Botswana and DRC far outnumber the small production from Sierra Leone and other conflict countries. These major producers have willingly accepted the additional restrictions of the Kimberly Process to guarantee their production is untainted, thus guaranteeing open trade of their diamond production.

11/14/06

I was recently featured in a television show on the Dish Network about mineral collecting. The show presented (the reporter's choices for) the top 20 tips when collecting minerals. Many of the same points as I wrote about in my article Advice For Beginners: Nine Lessons Learned from Experience including:

But the video editors omitted my most important tip I have for collectors: Buy a good book and use it.

My favorite recommendation is the excellent Mineralogy by John Sinkankas. This was originally published in 1964 under the name Mineralogy for Amateurs but was revised and updated in 1986. It is the most concise, lucid explanation of mineralogy I have encountered. Sections on the fundamentals of mineralogy include mineral classifications, crystal growth, crystal systems, physical and optical properties, and tests and identification. 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.

Mineralogy is currently out of print, but readily available from used book dealers via the Internet.

An alternate reference that is still in print is Peterson's 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 million in sales, more probably than all other mineral books in total. 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 Mineralogy. If you cannot get a copy of Sinkankas’ Mineralogy then this book is a good alternative.

Don't just buy the book, and look at the illustrations. Read it cover to cover. Twice if possible. Doing so will give you a foundation in elementary mineralogy that will make you a skilled mineral collector.

10/17/06

Customers frequently request early notification when certain minerals are going to be posted to my web site. One customer might want notice of any minerals from Germany, another is looking for notice of gem crystals, another may want notice of cuprite specimens. You can see that it quickly becomes unmanageable. Every week 2000 customers visit my site to see the new listings. Presumably a fraction of those want advance notice about some type of minerals. If only 10% want email notice, then that is 200 emails, each about a different type of mineral.

That is more than I  can manage.

Buying minerals on the internet is like collecting minerals on a mine dump. You must look through many pieces of no interest, to find the one worth keeping. A collector that puts in the time, will be rewarded with fine specimens for his/her collection.

Rather than relying on me, I  suggest scheduling a reminder to prompt you to visit the site on Tuesday at noon when the new minerals are posted. Or sign my guestbook to receive the generic email announcements when the new minerals are online.

Remember, the time and effort that you expend is directly related to the results of your searches. The more you look, the more you will find.

9/12/06

Asbestos. Most people react in violent fear of the word. The same reaction is generated for "Radioactive".

Is it safe to collect these minerals? Yes. Collecting minerals is safe, even for the types of mineral above.

Asbestos causes asbestosis, a disease of the lungs, when short microfibers of this type of mineral are inhaled into the lungs. When asbestos is mined, the drilling and blasting generates the short microfibers. But a specimen sitting in your display cabinet is safe. However you should not grind it up into a fine powder and blow it around your room with a fan, then try some deep breathing exercises.

Radioactive minerals are safe to collect too. Distance is your best protection against radioactivity, and it takes surprisingly little distance to be safe since the hazard drops by the square of the distance. The dose from being 6" away from a specimen is 1/36th the dose of being 1" away. Actually the biggest danger from radioactive minerals is the Radon gas generated via radioactive decay. This gas is heavier than air and collects in the lower parts of your home. Because it is a gas, it is easily inhaled where it can cause health problems. But if your home has good ventilation, you are safe. If your home passes a radon test, then you will be OK. If in doubt, store radioactive minerals in your garage.

Other minerals are unsafe if ingested. If you have infants or pets that like to chew on things, prevent tjhem from ingesting any mineral specimen.

Collecting minerals is a safe hobby. There is no reason to overreact. A little education is all it takes to understand minerals and safely handle them.

8/29/06

All minerals sold on my web site have a standard two week return policy. This allows the purchaser to decide whether to keep a mineral specimen or not after seeing the mineral specimen in person.

But there is another guarantee for my minerals: If at any time a mineral specimen is tested, and the mineral species identified on my label was incorrect, then I will refund the cost of the specimen, the cost of return shipping, and the cost of the test.

Of the 30,000 mineral specimens sold, I have had only a handful returned. (Usually the misidentification was due to labels being accidentally switched in an old collection, and I failed to detect the switch.)

If a mineral specimen is suspected  to be incorrect, have it tested by a reputable laboratory. Not that some tests cannot accurately identify all mineral species. For example only XRD will discern the structural differences between stilbite and stellerite. So make sure the test is valid for the mineral species. Note: EDS is not a reliable test for many species, notably zeolites.

I stand behind all mineral specimens sold, and there is no expiration to this guarantee.

8/22/06

Last week a regular customer complained about having to fill in the order form every week. Repeat customers are encouraged to use the order form because it instantly records the order and there is little chance of it getting lost or overlooked (as opposed to an email that may get filtered, sent to the Spam folder, or simply lost en route).

But repeat customers do not have to fully fill out the order form. All you need provide is name (last name will suffice), email address, and payment method (for repeat customers this means using the "Credit Card Number used on last order" option from the drop-down menu).

Did you know there are a number of software programs that automatically fill out order forms for you? Using them is even less work.

Lastly, you can send an email if your order is not urgent and you don't worry about getting in the queue quickly.

I could use cookies (a web page programming applet) to automatically recognize return customers and fill in the order form automatically. But cookies are usually associated with suspicious spyware and frequently refused by the best antivirus/antispyware programs. So that leaves you back at the beginning.

I have tried to make everything about my site easy to use. My current system is the best compromise between ease of use and safe, secure, simple programming. If you have suggestions though, please share them with me.

8/8/06

This week's new minerals are an experiment. Almost all of the minerals posted are from the eastern United States. This is direct contrast to my normal practice of posting a wide variety of minerals from a broad range of localities. I have no idea if it will work. My guess is that a few customers will like it, the rest will ignore it. We'll see...

This week there are several mineral specimens with old mineral names like "Pyroxene" which is no longer a mineral, but a group of 19 mineral species, including: Aegirine, Augite, Diopside, Enstatite, Hedenbergite, Omphacite, and Spodumene. That is a pretty diverse list. These minerals vary widely in appearance and characteristics. But with old specimens, there is little I can do unless their is a reference on the occurrence that clarifies the actual mineral species. Sadly there are few references for these historic minerals that I posted this week.

A few of the "pyroxenes" are clearly diopside. But I hesitate to make attributions without solid evidence. And determinations cannot be made with simple EDS tests that can be done cheaply. Some require XRD. So I have resorted to simply restating what is on the label.

Note: Dr. Lupulescu at the New York State Museum is systematically testing all of the amphibole specimens in the museum's collection to provide up-to-date identification in the new amphibole nomenclature. He is finding many surprises, and many minerals incorrectly identified.

7/18/06

Every week I post new mineral specimens to this web site at noon (or slightly earlier) on Tuesday. Almost immediately orders start to pour in.

Some customers wonder why I do not send email order confirmations right away. When orders come in, I focus my time and energy on removing sold specimens from the New Listings Galleries. But I usually delay sending email confirmations for two reasons:

  1. Delaying confirmations allows customers to combine multiple orders into one larger shipment. And the combined orders may meet the minimum to qualify for an automatic discount.
  2. Delaying confirmations allows customers to cancel an order. Buyer's remorse is common. Not a week goes by without at least one cancellation.

All customers should rest assured, even though order confirmations are delayed, all requests are filled in the order received. In fact ,one tactic that results in better chances of getting all items you want is to submit many small orders. As soon as you spot an item you want, submit an order for that one, then continue shopping. This will get your request into the queue earlier and improve your chances.

7/11/06

This week many of the minerals posted to my web site are from an old collection dating to the late 1800s. When it was purchased, all I knew was the previous owner and that it had old pen-and-ink labels with many of the mineral specimens. The minerals were filthy from years of neglect, but I could see many classic locations were represented. It was clear there were no "killer" specimens - top quality specimens that would make purchasing the collection worthwhile. But I purchased the collection anyway, mainly to help out the widow and the mineral club that was helping her dispose of the collection. Out of 600+ mineral specimens in the collection, about 125-150 are worthy of being offered on this web site.

Fortunately, I got very lucky...

The very first specimen that I selected to be posted to the web site had the only label in the collection that was signed by the original owner ca. 1895: John A. Manley. If I had not picked out that specimen first, I would have dispersed the collection around the world to my customers, without ever knowing the history of the collection. That is pure luck.

Here is what I now know about the collection:

Look for more classic minerals from John A. Manley in the coming weeks on this web site and at my booth at the East Coast Gem & Mineral Show in West Springfield, Massachusetts.

6/13/06

Is your monitor properly calibrated?

Most people respond, "Yes, I haven't changed the factory settings since I bought it last year." The assumption is the monitor was properly calibrated in the factory and there is no need to make any adjustments after you purchase the monitor. Sadly, these assumptions are flawed.

Monitor manufacturers do not calibrate monitors. And your computer, software and interior lighting all affect what you see on your monitor. As evidence of this, I suggest visiting a computer store and looking at side-by-side comparisons of monitors displaying the same images. You will see there is a wide variety of color rendition.

I am not going to tell you how to calibrate your monitor. But I am going to help you identify if your monitor needs calibration. Click on the small test image to see the full-size test pattern:

In each half of the image are tints: top row - cyan, red; middle row - yellow, gray; bottom row - green, magenta. The white half has 5% tints of the these colors. The black half has 95% tints.

Can you see all of the tints?

If your monitor is set too dark, you will not see all of the 95% tints. If your monitor is too light, you will not see the 5% tints. If your monitor has too much red (most common) the gray squares (middle row, right side) will have reddish hue. The most difficult color for monitors to display are yellows. This is because the red, green, blue phosphors in the monitor do not easily combine to make yellow. How do the yellow squares (middle row, left side) look? Do the look yellow or pink?

If you discover the need to calibrate your monitor after using this test image, I suggest purchasing one of the software programs that will control your monitor. The added bonus of using color calibration software is it will also improve the color of prints you make on your computer.

6/6/06

Recently one of the mineral magazines ran an article about buying minerals via the Internet. Rather than writing helpful advice to guide readers on avoiding potential problems when buying via the Internet, they chose express their personal opinions of the Internet buying experience (one of them admitted to never buying over the Internet - why was he writing for the article?) and they debated the value of seeing the minerals in person at mineral shows along with other issues.

A few observations about buying via the Internet:

The bottom line is that buying minerals through the Internet is safe and easy as long as you:

If you follow these guidelines, you will find you can build a good collection easily and effortlessly.

5/23/06

I am working my way through an old collection of thumbnail-sized mineral specimens, all mounted in Perky-style display boxes. In the early day (before mineral tack was invented) most minerals specimens were glued using white glue (Elmer's) to the styrofoam insert in the Perky boxes. Then Mineral Tack was invented, the pliable putty that adheres to the mineral and the insert.

Once collectors saw how easy Mineral Tack made mounting thumbnail-sized specimens, they stopped gluing the minerals. This was a step in the right direction. White glue is nearly permanent. (The golden rule that mineral collectors should always follow is: do nothing to a mineral specimen that is not reversible.) At least white glue can be soaked in water for a few days to soften it and allow for removal of the glue.

But there were also cheapskate collectors that did not want to pay for Mineral Tack (or did not know where it could be purchased). They saw the advantages of using a putty. But they did not use Mineral Tack. Some used silly-putty, or plumber's putty, or soft patching compound, or silicone-based adhesives.

My advice: Do not use ANY substitute for Mineral Tack.

I found these alternatives go rancid over time, resulting in an unpleasant odor. Or it hardened over time leading to failure and damage to the specimen. Or it is not easily removable like Mineral Tack is. Silly putty is the worst - it refuses to peel off the mineral.

The bottom line is: don't take any short cuts. Use the right product for the job. Mineral Tack is the best.

5/16/06

Last week I posted some thumbnail-sized mineral specimens that were from an old collection. Each specimen was mounted in a Perky-style box. Now normally when I prepare minerals to be posted to this site, I wash each specimen in soap and water. But the thumbnail specimens were in closed boxes - so they didn't need washing. Right? Wrong, they were filthy.

How can minerals in closed boxes get so dirty?

I guess it is possible they were dirty before being mounted. But I am beginning to believe there is another explanation. Perhaps there is a microscopic ecosystem that lives in boxes of minerals (and any other box that is stored in a basement or garage). There is a similar ecosystem that lives in your mattress where dust mites live off of our discarded skin tissue. Apparently up to one-third of the weight of an old mattress is the feces and skeletons of these dust mites. Why couldn't a mineral collection stored in boxes have similar residents?

It is not uncommon to open a flat of minerals from a basement and see small, pale spiders. What are they surviving off of? They must be eating something...

What is to be learned from this? I suggest that minerals should not be stored in damp areas like basements or garages. If you must store your minerals in these environments, place them in large tupperware-style bins to seal out moisture and insects. Wash your minerals periodically. Discard old boxes and wrapping.

In the meantime, I know that every specimen must be washed - even if it was mounted in a sealed Perky box.

5/9/06

Last week I sold a book from my mineral library that was a pronunciation dictionary of mineral names and geological terms. That prompted a few questions from visitors about rules for pronouncing mineral names. Here are some guidelines:

These general guidelines will get you through most of the common mineral names. And every grammarian will tell you language is fluid and rules change over time. Many latin words have been Americanized. Therefore you might still make a mistake. Attending lectures at mineral clubs and symposia will expose you to more knowledgeable speakers. Listening to them you will pick up acceptable pronunciation.

Remember, no matter how you pronounce it, if you say with confidence nobody will argue with you.

4/25/06

Frequently I get questions about repairing mineral specimens. While I am no expert at making repairs, I can tell you what NOT to do when making a repair:

In general, a specimen with three complete crystals and one incomplete crystal is more valuable than a specimen with the same three complete crystals and a repaired crystal that was poorly done.

One collector once taught me that it is better to intertionally chip a quartz crystal (resulting in a clean conchoidal surface) to remove a bruise that is highly visible.

Finally, assess whether making the repair is worth it. Why are you making the repair? You will always know it is repaired and will never enjoy it fully. And it is unethical to repair a specimen in order to unload it on an unsuspecting collector. Why not just keep it as is?

4/11/06

I just returned from the Rochester Mineralogical Symposium, and I sadly report that Fred Pough died on Friday while attending the symposium. Fred was entering the symposium when he collapsed in the lobby. He made it to the hospital with a pulse, but died a few hours later. Fred was 99 years old and the sypmosium was planning on celebrating early his 100th birthday. Sadly it turned into a memorium.

Fred Pough was the mineral curator at the American Museum of Natural History here in New York. He is best known for his book: Peterson's Field Guide: Rocks & Minerals (ISBN 0-395-91096-x in paperback) which was updated with the 5th edition in 1996 with color photographs by the noted mineral photographer Jeff Scovil. This Field Guide has passed one milllion in sales, more than all other mineral books in total. It was my first mineral book, and others of my generation. When I was writing the article Manhattan Mineral Collecting I consulted many references and journals (including Conklin's article on the Kingsbridge District in Manhattan) about the brown tourmalines I recovered in northern Manhattan. All references, except Pough's book, incorrectly identified the tourmalines as uvite. Pough's book correctly identified them as dravite which was later confirmed through analysis.

I was 10 feet away when he collapsed. I prefer not to remember him that way. My best memory was one year earlier, also at the Rochester Mineralogical Symposium, where Fred was enjoying the "Hospitality Suite". The open bar fueled the storytelling of minerals and mineral collecting. Though Fred was 98 at the time, and got around with the aid of a walker, his mind was sharp as a tack. He loved to talk minerals and freely shared his knowledge with others. And he closed the bar every night that year. He was up until two in the morning with all of us. And he had a ball.

When he died last Friday, he was doing what he loved best: visiting with colleagues and talking about minerals.

I will miss you Fred.

4/4/06

Last week I received a flurry of requests for Mineral Tack, the soft pliable adhesive used to mount minerals to bases. I regularly recommend it's use because it is removable without destroying the mineral. I used to get Mineral Tack from David Shannon in Mesa, AZ. Sadly he died a few years ago and his widow, Colleen decided not to carry the white (gray actually) Mineral Tack because, "it leaves an oily stain on the mineral." While this is true, I do not want to use the alternative that she is selling: blue mineral tack. When mounting a transparent mineral, the blue shows though and looks unnatural.

The only place to get white mineral tack now appears to be Mikon in Germany. Unfortunately, the quantity quoted me was for a 6 kilo roll, which is OK for me because I mount thousands of specimens each year. But it will take the average collector a lifetime to use up.

The average collector would be wise to haunt the local mineral shows and find the many small dealers that sell packets of the old white mineral tack. Shannon sold them to dealers in prepackaged small sizes, often with the dealers name preprinted on the package.

Otherwise, you might consider gathering a group from your local mineral club and group-purchasing a 6 kilo roll from Mikon.

3/28/06

When you order a book from Amazon.com do you expect to negotiate the price with the company? When you order outdoor goods from L.L. Bean do you try to negotiate the price? Of course you don't. The Internet marketplace is based on the assumption that the seller has put his best price on the items for sale and there is no negotiation.

I spend lots of time researching prices for the minerals posted in an effort to keep my prices reasonable. If I mistakenly price a mineral too high, it won't sell. If I put a price that's too low, it will attract 10 requests (since only one customer will be successful in getting the specimen, the other 9 customers will be deeply upset). So my prices are hopefully "right" priced.

I routinely get requests trying to negotiate a lower price for a specimen and I am often confused by this. The beauty of the Internet, and the power of Google, is that you can search for other specimens in an effort to get lower prices. If my price is too high on a specimen, then you should have no problem finding a cheaper alternate with Google. If my price seems low, then don't hesitate and order it quickly because somebody else is probably doing the same thing and whoever submits the order first will get the specimen.

NOTE: In order to motivate customers to purchase multiple items at one time, I offer a discount on orders over $200. I lose income on these orders, but it is faster and easier to ship 4 minerals in one box instead of shipping four boxes each with a single specimen inside.

3/21/06

Last week I purchased the mineral collection of John Rorer, Jr. It was a delight to see a collection that was beautifully curated. Every mineral specimen had a label stored in the same box as the specimen. There was a computerized database with all pertinent information fully written out. And there were accompanying binders with print-outs of articles on the minerals, the mine, the town, as well as copies of any correspondence. Few collections can compare to the organization of his collection.

The only thing I would have added was to add a corresponding number to each mineral specimen in case the labels were ever mixed up. Yes, each mineral had a label in the bottom of the box. But minerals can be accidentally switched. If the boxes do not have high sides, it is possible that one could jump out while moving the collection (all were in mineral flats for easy handling).

I guess the guiding rule when you organize your collection should be: Can a 12 year old child figure it out. A number on each specimen corresponding to the number on the label would have been a small task and would make the collection completely foolproof.

3/14/06

Selling minerals over the Internet has a curse: every mineral must have a written description and that description must state whether a mineral specimen is damaged whether it is visible or not.

There are times when I want to write, "It looks beautiful, you can't see any damage with the naked eye, but if you examine every nook and cranny you will find one corner is chipped." But usually, because space is limited, I will only write, "one corner is chipped." The equivalent in the gem trade is the phrase "eye clean" that indicates the damage is not easily visible.

Occasionally I will state, "Minute damage is visible when viewed under magnfication." This is typical for gem crystals, such as tourmaline or aquamarine, where they are commonly transported in bags of loose crystals rubbing against each other. Sometimes the damage is on a rear corner where it is not visible when displayed. To me that is no more objectionable than having a rough surface on the bottom of the specimen: it is not visible.

The bottom line is that customers look for my usual phrase, "no damage" before ordering a mineral. Often this means that perfectly good mineral specimens will not sell, even though the damage is not visible. It pays to read my descriptions thoroughly. It try my best to communicate the condition of the specimen. And remember, you may always return a mineral specimen opurchased from this site. No questions asked.

3/7/06

Last week a collector asked for advice on shipping his mineral collection to his new home. I prepared the following tips for packing minerals. This is the system I use to ship large quantities of minerals back from Tucson every year. It is not the only system, but it works well. The system depends on isolating the loads of minerals in a large box to keep the minerals on the bottom from being crushed by the minerals on the top and it works no matter how the box is oriented (the minerals on the "top" may become the bottom minerals if the box is turned upside down.
 

  1. Individually wrap the minerals with many layers of toilet paper so there is about one inch of cushioning on all sides. If it is a soft mineral like calcite, use a first layer of dry-cleaning bags that have a Moh's hardness of 2.5-3. Then use the toilet paper around the plastic layer.
  2. Pack the toilet-paper-wrapped minerals into mineral flats. I buy my mineral flats from Foothills at 915-534-7095. Use flats that are only high enough for one layer of minerals. This usually means 2" high flats for small specimens, 3" high flats for miniature specimens and 4" or 5" flats for larger specimens. Fill each flat entirely with minerals, making sure there is no room for the minerals to shift. Close the flat and tape it shut on all four sides.
  3. Then pack 18x12x12" shipping boxes (I use heavy-duty boxes which are much stronger) with the mineral flats. Place a layer of styrofoam peanuts in the bottom first, place the flats in the shipping box, and fill the space around all sides of the flats with more styrofoam peanuts. Pack only enough flats to allow at least a 1" layer of styrofoam peanuts on the top before closing the box. The goal is at least 1" of styrofoam peanuts around all sides of the flats.
  4. Tape the shipping box closed with tape on ALL EDGES. By taping all edges you spread the load on the tape and reduce the chances of the tape failing. Some tapes are better than others. Use a tape that is sticky and remember most tapes stick better to tape, than it does to boxboard - so wrap tape all the way around the box so the end is sticking to itself if possible.

This is a simple system and uses readily available supplies. The only items that require some searching are 18x12x12" shipping boxes. But you can usually find these at U-Haul rental centers or office supply stores. This year I shipped 500 specimens, including some very fragile specimens without a loose crumb when the minerals were unwrapped.

2/28/06

A question arose last week about exactly when the New Mineral listings are posted to this site every week. I state at the top of my home page that the new minerals are posted at NOON on Tuesday. But a few eager customers discovered that the new listings are actually accessible earlier than that.

It is true: I start the process of posting new minerals at 11:35 on Tuesday. But the update in not instaneous. The process usually involves:

  1. Upload the individual mineral pages and large photos.
  2. Upload the new gallery pages and thumbnail photos.
  3. Delete all sold mineral pages and photos.
  4. Manually verify that the pages are up and running.
  5. Reindex the search engine listings.
  6. Send out emails to the customers requesting notice of new listings

As you can imagine, all this takes time. Since the new minerals are accessible at step 2 above, it is usually possible to see the new listings by 11:45. That leaves me 15 minutes leeway to fix any errors if they arise.

Once a few years ago my update was not online at noon. Due to ISP problems the new listings were not ready until 12:30. Many regular visitor were confused, upset, and disappointed. I learned that day to always have everything smoothly running prior to the stated noon time. That is why I start early and why it pays to check in early on Tuesday.

2/14/06

All of the new minerals I acquired on my buying trip to Tucson are now cataloged, priced and labeled. I acquired over 600 mineral specimens including:

I gave up on trying to write up a complete summary of my observations on the minerals this year. There is just too much to write about and not enough time.

Look for the above minerals in the coming weeks. My plan is to continue posting 80+ mineral specimens every week and at least half will be new minerals acquired in Tucson.

1/17/06

I recently received an inquiry from a mineral collector that specialized in collecting only sphalerite. He purchased a specimen from this web site and asked to notified if any other sphalerite specimens are available from "rare or unusual" locations. I am completely stumped on how to respond to his request.

What is a rare or unusual location?

What may be unusual to this collector, may be ordinary to me or other collectors. For example, sphalerite is very rare in the trap rock quarry in Southbury, Connecticut. But I have repeatedly offered  sphalerite specimens from that quarry and NEVER had a single customer buy one. Unless you collect regularly at this location, there is no way to know how rare it is.

I also acquire many old collections, often with old specimens from old Dana localities (these are localities listed by Dana in his Catalogue of American Mineral Localities). The localities were once commonly available through dealers like George English, A.E. Foote, and others. When I get an old specimen, it may be rare now but was not always considered rare. I may have had many other specimens from this location and find it rather ordinary.

I think the bottom line is that "rare" and "unusual" are best judged by the collector.

Building a collection requires some effort by the collector. The collector must put in the time to scan the newly listed mineral each week. (I make it very easy to see the new listings with a prominent link the the new listings at the top of my home page.) He will be in the best position to judge whether a specimen fills a gap in his collection.

1/10/06

Somebody recently asked about who my my customers are and why do they buy my minerals. There is no single answer. I have many different types of customers. I sell to individual collectors in the U.S. and abroad. I sell to museums that have mineral collections. I sell to students and researchers. I sell to corporations and colleges. There is no typical customer.

And there is no typical mineral collection. Everyone has a different specialty and I try to keep them all coming back to my site. Here is a sampling of some types of mineral collections:

You get the idea. The point is: not everybody is out there collecting the same thing. In fact, I believe that there is a collector out there for every mineral specimen, no matter the cost, size or aesthetics.

1/03/06

Last week an old customer called about a mineral specimen she had purchased. It was a gold in quartz and was labeled as from "Yukon Territory, Canada" and she was concerned that the location was too general. She wanted to know the exact mine name.

Unfortunately the interest in exact mineral localities is modern. Before 1920 it was common to have only the country or state as the ONLY locality information for a mineral specimen. Mineral collecting focused on the mineral - not the locality. Even early books on minerals showed only passing interest in exact mineral localities.

With the growth of mineral journals and the increase in the number of mineral dealers, locality information started to become more exact. As articles were written about specific locations, having minerals in your collection from the localities mentioned became important. Eventually full mineral locations were given with many mineral specimens (though some countries still produce sketchy locality information - China is on top of that list).

So when you get a hematite and quartz specimen labeled as from "Cumberland, England" or a sphalerite on dolomite labeled from "Tri-State District, Missouri" know that is probably an old specimen and there is no other locality information available.

Conversely, if you do get an old specimen (with an old label) that lists the specific mine name, then your specimen is more valuable because of this information. Collectors of minerals of Cornwall, England will pay more for a specimen if the exact mine name is known. But beware: the exact mine location on a new label may merely an attribution made by a dealer, with no true evidence of origin. Do not value the specimen more unless it has historic support.

12/27/05

This is the last update for the year 2005. It has been a busy year:

It makes me tired just thinking about the above.

Now the cycle begins again. In less than 4 weeks I will return to Tucson, Az. to start buying new finds for the upcoming year. Now is the time to send your requests. I will add your requests to my shopping list. Send me an email at jhbnyc@aol.com if you have any requests.

In the meantime, there are lots of great minerals in the queue for the upcoming weeks, including some great new diamond crystals.

Have a happy and safe New Year celebration. Cheers!

12/13/05

Recently a customer stated she was worried about buying "conflict diamonds". Conflict diamonds, also known as blood diamonds, are diamonds mined by rebels to fund their regional wars. The two countries cited by the United Nations as conflict states are Angola and Sierra Leone. I do not sell diamonds from these countries.

At the height of the problem with diamond smuggling the adjacent countries of  Liberia and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC, formerly Zaire) were mentioned in the blood diamond discussions, not because they are conflict countries, but because conflict diamonds from neighboring Angola and Sierra Leone were smuggled over the borders and sold along with legitimate diamonds.

The problem of smuggling has now been solved. Since January 1, 2003, the "Kimberley Process" has been put into place by 70 diamond-producing countries. In the Kimberley Process, diamonds are shipped in sealed containers with documentation of legitimate origin. The process has been an overwhelming success and diamond smuggling has been drastically reduced from conflict countries.

For the record, DRC is  nearly tied with Botswana and Australia as the largest diamond producing countries (by carat weight), and the DRC diamonds are entirely legitimate. There are no restrictions to selling diamonds from the DRC.

12/05/05

Recently a parent asked about gift ideas for his son who is interested in minerals. He was thinking of getting his son a rock tumbler, but was concerned about the noise and the long time it takes to get results. I agreed with his fears. But I was wondering what should you get a child with a budding interest in minerals?

The first choice is a good book on minerals. There are not many books that I recommend. But you cannot go wrong the Peterson Field Guide: Rocks & Minerals by Frederick Pough (ISBN 0-395-91096-x in paperback). This book is one of the best all around books and the latest edition has many color photos by Jeff Scovil. There were more copies of this book printed through the years than all other field guides combined.

If you want to buy some equipment for your child, then I suggest buying a student microscope, preferably a stereo microscope. The smallest mineral specimens look fantastic under magnification. Anyone (adults included) can spend long hours looking at minerals in a microscope.

Another gift idea is trays or boxes for storing a child's mineral collection. Plastic boxes with lid and internal dividers will protect minerals from damage and keep them organized and clean. You could also print up custom mineral labels with the child's name and blank lines for mineral type and locality. The child can spend long hours labeling his collection - a task that is best started when a collection is small.

11/15/05

Last week I expressed my belief that collecting minerals is a growing pastime and is experiencing growth in all categories of expertise. Mineral clubs and mineral magazines have helped expose new collectors to the joys of mineral collecting. But as a dealer, I see a correlation to another influence that brings in new mineral collectors: museums. Mineral displays in museums exposes the average public to the beauty of minerals. I believe it is the single largest influence to get non-collectors to become collectors of minerals.

Why do I think museums play such a significant role? Because there is a correlation between museum location and collecting populations. Houston, Denver, Los Angeles, New York City, and Washington D.C. have important collections of minerals on display. They are also where there is the greatest number of new mineral collectors. And there is a large group of regional museums like the Bruce Museum in Connecticut and the Sterling Hill Mining Museum in N.J. that also expose lots of people to mineral collecting. Years ago I was told that the mineral displays in the American Museum of Natural History, here in New York City, were in the top 4 exhibits visited by the public.

Sadly, some of the best museums are downsizing or eliminating their mineral displays. The Field Museum in Chicago has no minerals on display worth seeing. And the mineral museum at Harvard University (in my opinion it was one of the top three mineral exhibits in the US) has reduced their mineral displays to make more offices for administrators (just what we need ;-). Lastly, there has been many reports about the Philadelphia Academy of Sciences trying to sell their entire collection.

I do not understand why museums in Denver, Houston and Dallas are building their mineral displays up, when other museums are downsizing. But the relationship with building interest in the field of mineral collecting is clear. As long as their are minerals displayed in museums, we will see new collectors entering the field.

11/8/05

Old time mineral dealers are worried that mineral collecting is losing collectors and will soon be dead as a hobby. They base their opinion on the fact that their regular customers are dying off and they are not getting new customers.

I disagree. Mineral collecting is growing rapidly. Mineral collecting is not dying.

The Internet has provided a new path for collectors to enter the hobby. Through the Internet collectors can learn about collecting locations, local mineral clubs, mineral magazines, and references on minerals like Mindat.org or Webmineral.com. And the Internet provides access to hundreds of mineral dealers around the world. Using the power of Google.com, collectors can find several dealers of any given mineral occurrence, making comparison shopping easier than ever before.

Perhaps the problem with the older dealers is they think of mineral collecting as a "hobby". Nobody thinks that collectors of fine art or antiques are participating in a hobby. They are collecting items that interests them and are willing to pay for important items. The same is happening with collecting minerals - serious collectors are starting to enter the field. I agree with Dave Wilbur when he attributes serious specimen mining by Bryan Lees as the cause why serious collectors are now attracted to minerals.

When assessing the health of mineral collecting, do not look to magazine subscribers as an indicator. Here in New York, the local mineral club has about 300 members. I estimate that only 10% subscribe to Rocks & Minerals magazine and 5% subscribe to Mineralogical Record (few subscribe to both). The mineral magazines have done a poor job at penetrating their "base" and must now compete with online mineral references.

Mineral collecting is growing in popularity. Minerals are more popular than ever. And prices are rising equal or greater than the rate of inflation.

10/25/05

This week I cataloged mineral #32000. Every mineral I've offered for sale since 1992 has had a unique number in sequential order assigned when it is cataloged into my database. (Minerals sold before 1992 were not numbered.) The number appears on my web site, my photos on Mindat and Webmineral.com, and on my labels that accompany every specimen.

Visitors have often asked why the minerals offered each week are not in strict order. For instance, this week the minerals posted include: 9799, 16774, 17765, 19729, 20496, 21676, 22490, 23724, 24806, 25065, 25431, 25436, 25548, 27621, 27623, 27850, 27853, 28987, 31361, 31365, 31371, 31374, 31434, 31481, 31617, 31857, 31926, 31974-32023.

This is because I have two stocks of minerals. One is for mineral shows only. These tend to be larger specimens with little historic value. The other stock minerals are posted to this web site. These tend to be smaller specimens, frequently with historic labels and provenance. I prefer to sell the historic specimens through the web site because customers are able to focus on the details of a specimen, and I can sho wimages of all old labels (not easy to do at mineral shows).

When my web stock is depleted I will cannibalize my show stock for more specimens. When I do not have show scheduled in the near future, all new acquisitions will go into my web stock. The end result is that the minerals offered on this site may have been acquired 4 years ago or 4 days ago, with item numbers that seem random.

Also, I frequently obtain specimens in old collections that I sold long ago. When possible, I use the original number. There are 5 specimens this week that I sold several years ago to another dealer (Brian Scholten).

So you can see that the numbers are assigned when they are acquired, not when they are posted to the site.

10/4/05

Last week this site quietly had it's 700,000th visitor. Soon it will pass the 3/4 millionth visitor. When I started this site, I had no idea that I would ever reach such a wide audience. And now there are more and more mineral dealers online. I was afraid that would dilute the number of visits to my site. In fact, the opposite has happened. More visitors come to the site every week than ever before.

Note that I am referring to "visitors" to the site. This is different than the common statistic on most sites called "hits". My counter counts actual individuals that come to the site. It is smart enough to know if you were at the site earlier in the day or the previous day. All visits from the same individual are counted as only one "visit".

The other way of counting "hits" counts the numbers of calls to the site's web server. Every image and every web page counts as a hit. If a viewer calls up my New Listings page it generates 51 hits, one for the page and 50 for the images embedded in that page. Obviously my "hit" count is MUCH HIGHER than my visitor count. It is so big that I have stopped counting.

8/16/05

Recently a friend was describing another collector's mineral collection. As my friend spoke, it was clear he was impressed with the other's collection. He described the collection and how well organized it was. He remarked is was organized in drawers and display cases, carefully cataloged, with all historic labels archived in books.

As I listened, it occurred to me that he was impressed not just by the mineral specimens, but also by the organization. As collectors we tend to focus on acquiring great mineral specimens. But it is the presentation and organization that contribute equally to the appreciation of a collection. The minerals are the content. The display is the presentation. The cataloging and labeling are the organization.

I suggest that you devote as much energy to the presentation and organization as you devote to content. A collection presented haphazardly will not be appreciated as much as the same collection presented in optimum conditions.

Collectors rarely consider these aspects. But cleary my friend's reactions to seeing a good collection reveal how much it adds to the viewing experience.

8/9/05

Here in the eastern United States, where the high population density has led to rapid urban development, I often hear complaints that there are no mineral collecting locations remaining. Usually I point out that I have several mineral collecting localities listed in my section on field trips. And in my section on educational articles, there are several long articles that I wrote after researching old locations and "rediscovering" them as collecting locations.

Not everyone has access to a library of historic mineral books and magazines. So what can you do if you can't find a place to collect minerals?

Find new spots to collect is the simple answer. Keep tools and boots in the back of your car so that when you pass road construction (after work hours), you can stop and check out the recently exposed minerals. This is often very productive. Even the most boring rock (pardon the pun) may have shrinkage fractures filled with late mineralization like pyrite or calcite. Building foundation excavations are another good location to check out. Many nice amethyst clusters have been found this way in Rhode  Island and Massachusetts.

I have a catalog of the minerals in the collection of the New York Mineralogical Club dating back to the 1880s. I plotted the locations listed on a city map. Nearly all of the minerals were collected when the city was digging tunnels for the subways. Minerals can be found almost anywhere. But you have to get out and look for them.

7/19/05

Last week a new visitor to this site inquired about a phrase used to describe a mineral specimen: "No external damage". He was unsure what that meant. I guess he wondered why I didn't say, "No damage."

He was right. Damage is when something happens to a mineral specimen during mining or after it was extracted by the miner. An edge is chipped, a crystal is broken, a surface is scratched or some other alteration to the exterior of a specimen due to carelessness by the owner. It is not possible to damage a specimen internally. Therefore all damage is external, making the need to qualify my description redundant. "No damage" means no damage to external surfaces.

If a crystal has internal flaws such as fractures or inclusions or bubbles these are entirely natural and caused by natural stress or processes. They are imperfections or flaws, but they are naturally occurring.

7/12/05

I just finished reading the book Genuine Diamonds in Arkansas by Glenn Worthington. In his writing about the value of diamonds, he proposes changing the four C's of assessing diamonds (Carat weight, Color, Clarity, Cut) by adding a fifth C: Country of Origin. I agree completely.

Diamonds from some countries are hard to get in today's marketplace. The production in India has dwindled as localities are long exhausted. Botswana and South Africa are large producers, therefore plentiful, which keeps prices down. The entire ore production in Australia is crushed to 15 mm making the chances of getting a large diamond extremely unlikely.

Scarcity affects value. Supply versus demand.

The same holds true of any mineral. Amethyst from Brazil or Uruguay is plentiful and inexpensive. Amethyst from New Hampshire or Virginia or Pennsylvania is rare and therefore more expensive. One of my customers collects minerals that only occur at one location. Isn't that a great specialty? I had never thought of that before, but it results in a collection of rare minerals from worldwide locations. Of course, because the minerals occur only at one location, the supply is limited (or possibly controlled by a monopoly) and that drives prices higher. Hopefully a new find of a mineral at a new location will not flood the market and drive prices down (reducing the value of his collection). Cavansite was originally found as microcrystals in Oregon. Then the floodgates opened up in cavansite production from India. Prices adjusted accordingly.

5/24/05

A regular customer recently asked about the categories used to classify minerals. The common categories are Micromounts, Thumbnail, Miniature, Cabinet and Large Cabinet specimens. On the west coast they often substitute Toenail for Thumbnail.

The latter two categories vary from dealer to dealer, but the sizes listed here are how they are categorized on this site.

Did you know that there is a list of all minerals on this site, sorted by size? You can go to the list Sorted by Size and browse through all minerals on this web site (over 500 specimens at any given time).

5/10/05

I spent the weekend attending the marathon auction of Jay lininger's mineral collection. Jay was the co-founder of Matrix magazine, a journal on the history of minerals and mineral collecting. Jay's collecting specialty was Pennsylvania minerals, and 2400 specimens of his Pennsylvania mineral collection were auctioned over a 17 hour auction, spread over two days.

Jay was a real mineral collector - he acquired anything that fit his collection, regardless of whether he already had three (or more) similar specimens in his collection. Jay was also a typical collector: he failed to catalog his collection or keep old labels with his minerals!

If someone as knowledgeable and intelligent as Jay failed to catalog his collection, then those of us that have not cataloged our collections are in good company. Though my personal collection is not fully cataloged into a computer database, I have at least made sure there is a label with each specimen. Jay failed to do even that.

It was sad to realize that Jay had acquired many historic specimens, with stories to go with each specimen. Jay knew this history in his head. But when he died, that history was lost. No labels or documentation to pass the history on to the next owner of the specimen. Jay forgot that he was merely the current caretaker of the minerals, and that a new owner would take over after Jay's passing.

Also at the auction was the antithesis of Jay, a collector who dcuments everything about a specimen, including copies of emails, articles, and any history that he can gather on a specimen. This collector has my extreme admiration for his detailed documentation of his mineral collection. In addition he has a fine eye for minerals and purchases the best specimens when available. We should all strive to avoid Jay's mistakes and try to reach the ideal of this other collector.

5/3/05

At mineral shows, and sometimes in email, I get comments from collectors about the prices of minerals. Sometimes they comment about how they paid $3 thirty years ago for the same mineral that I am selling for $30. But the ones that make me laugh are the visitors that see a mineral (let's say an aquamarine crystal) and say they have them by the bucketful in the hillside behind their house. I have grown to understand that these collectors are incapable of judging quality in a mineral specimen. To them, an aquamarine is an aquamarine. Or probably they have common beryl in their backyard and they think that all beryl is aquamarine.

At the last mineral show, a visitor commented on how he paid $3 for a poldervaartite while he pointed to one I had for $250. I guess to this customer a poldervaartite is a poldervaartite. Regardless of whether his was an opaque, brown crystal with no luster or complete crystals. He was looking at my translucent pink crystals with brilliant surface luster on the crystal faces. To him a poldervaartite is a poldervaartite.

I recommend that collectors learn to judge quality in a mineral specimen. Study competition-quality mineral displays at shows; look at the best specimens of noted mineral dealers; visit museum collections; read every mineral magazine available; etc. Only by spending time will you begin to discern the subtle differences that make good specimens good. Do not be a "checkbox" collector - someone that checks off the box in Fleischer's Glossary of Mineral Species when he buys a mineral and says, "I've got that one now, no need to look at another one of those ever again."

4/26/05

I was selling last weekend at the New Jersey Earth Science Association mineral show. While talking to several other mineral dealers, they all mentioned that Internet mineral sales are killing the local mineral shows. I disagree.

Internet customers do not go to mineral shows (in general). Mineral show attendees rarely buy over the Internet. I believe there are two separate populations. They are buying via whatever venue is most convenient. Those that buy over the Internet frequently are residents of remote areas where there are no (or few) local mineral shows. Internet buyer are comfortable with return policies and are not afraid to have a mineral sent to them without holding it in their hand first.

I believe that the Internet has made buying (and trading) minerals easier and has enabled a broader audience to collect minerals. It is true that with so many distractions in life, that some mineral shows are experiencing declining attendance. But other shows are experiencing growth. The large shows are growing the most.

Perhaps it is the large number of mineral dealers that is hurting the sales at mineral shows. If you look at old magazines, you will see the number of mineral dealers has probably quadrupled over the last 40 years. That says to me that mineral collecting is growing.

One final thought: the big mineral shows are losing their importance. Dealers used to hold out their best new specimens for major shows like Denver or Tucson. Nowadays, if a big new find is made, it is rapidly sold through web sites. This is the real change in mineral shows...

4/12/05

This I week I added a special page with images of  22 pages crystal drawings of diamonds.

In 1916 Victor Goldschmidt published the  nine volume Atlas der Krystalformen. It was a compilation of crystal diagrams from many books and references. I have scanned the 22 pages from the atlas containing diamond crystal drawings. Because the diamond drawings were derived from many different sources, the style varies from line drawings to shaded illustrations. Because these were scanned from a second-generation copy of the Atlas, the quality varies. But it is the most comprehensive collection of diamond crystal illustrations available.

In addition, I have added crystal diagrams to my gallery of diamonds. Eight crystal habits are represented. These are the most common forms found in diamond crystals. Though most diamonds are blend of two forms. The crystal illustrations have been added to help buyers understand the crystal system when reading the descriptions of each diamond crystal for sale. I hope you find them helpful.

4/5/05

When describing the minerals for sale on this site, I include a summary description of the condition of each mineral specimen. When the crystal is obviously in pristine condition, I may write "no damage". When it looks clean and no damage is visible I may write "no visible damage" if there is doubt about the condition of the rear of the specimen. When a crystal is missing anywhere on the specimen I will write "missing crystal" or "incomplete crystal". There are variations of these descriptions, but all are a description of the exterior condition of the mineral specimen.

A mineral specimen described as undamaged may be internally flawed. Most minerals have some internal flaws, or inclusions, or water bubbles, or silky areas. Rarely do descriptions describe the internal condition. It is the mineral photograph that best communicates the interior condition. Only if a mineral is described as "flawless" can you be assured of the internal perfection - few specimens earn that label.

NOTE: Just because a specimen omits the description "no damage" does not mean that the specimen is chipped or cleaved. There are times when I cannot tell if a surface formed with an irregular shape (naturally) or whether it was damaged after it was collected. In those instances I do not attempt to make a judgement as a purchaser may disagree with a "no damage" assessment.

3/15/05

When I buy old mineral collections, occasionally I get specimens where the mineral identification is questionable. When it is an important specimen, I pay to have the mineral analyzed to confirm the mineral species. The amazing thing: the old identifications are almost always correct! How did they do it?

It isn't rocket science. Today's mineralogists rely on EDS, XRD, microprobe, Raman mass spectroscopy, etc. 80 years ago mineralogists used a blowpipe, hardness kits, specific gravity, thin sections under a polarizing microscope. With these these low-tech tests they were able to narrow the possibilities and eventually confirm the mineral species - correctly.

Any good book on minerals discusses the testing and identification of a mineral. With some study time, and some basic test equipment, mineral identification is within reach of any mineral collector.

Note: It is easy to show a mineral to an "expert" and get an identification. It is much harder to get a CORRECT identification ;-)

2/15/05

This week I passed another milestone: I cataloged the 30,000th mineral specimen.

I started using a numerical identification system in 1993 and since that time, every mineral sold has had a unique number. All information on each specimen and an archive of photos documents all of the sold minerals. It is very easy to look up an old specimen, view it's image, and review the detail of the specimen. Since I regularly buy mineral collections, it is not uncommon to get back a mineral I sold years ago.

My archives make researching old specimens very easy. And if little or no locality information is available, I can look up similar specimens to see what locality is listed for them, thereby determine an otherwise unknown locality.

I prefer a simple number system because it also determines the chronology of the specimen. And sorting by number is easy (for example: list all tourmalines number >19065 and < 27122). I have written about using databases before, but a simple number is easier to use that number + prefix.

Sadly, I should have planned for the 30,000th specimen to be something special. But the luck of the draw resulted in an old Vanadinite being the milestone mineral. I suspect that I will hit 40,000th in about a year. Perhaps I will plan better for that milestone.

2/8/05

Everyone asks what was new at Tucson. That begs the question: What is a NEW mineral?

I have several definitions of new:

This year there were "new" minerals that fit all of these categories. All will be posted in the coming weeks. New tourmalines from the famous Mt. Mica; minerals from the collections of Dick Bideaux and Chuck Leavitt; newly accepted mineral species.

There might even be a special update during the midweek...

1/18/05

Recently a visitor inquired about why the rhodochrosite from the N'Chwaning Mine fluoresces when all the sources on the Internet indicate that rhodochrosite does not fluoresce. There are two problems with the question:

  1. The Internet is not an authoritative reference for mineral information.
  2. Mineral composition is rarely pure (as indicated by the formula).

The first is obvious. The information found when researching via the Internet is inadequate. Only the information some webmaster is voluntarily posting is available. It is far from thorough. Especially information about fluorescing minerals. There are no references that I know of that lists all occurrences of fluorescent minerals. I wish there were. I wish Lanny Ream's Mineral Database, a program that I regularly use to research minerals, listed fluorescence under properties. It would make identifying minerals much easier. But when researching, you must assume that just because something is not listed on the Internet, doesn't make it false.

The second problem is that minerals vary in composition. Rhodochrosite is MnCO, calcite is CaCO. It is possible to have calcium impurities in rhodochrosite, and you can have manganese impurities in calcite. At Franklin, New Jersey it is the manganese impurities in the calcite that makes it fluoresce under UV illumination. It is therefore possible to have calcium impurities in rhodochrosite make it fluoresce in a similar way.

The bottom line is: there is no single authoritative reference for mineral information. And the Internet is a poor substitute for a good reference book.

1/11/05

Why do mineral labels sometimes give incomplete, vague, or inaccurate locality information?

There are several reasons. In pre-1945 times mineral dealers and mineral collectors did not care much about exact localities. It was not uncommon to see only the country listed on a label. Or perhaps a vague area such as "Siberia" or a mining district such as "Alston Moor." At the time, mineral dealers kept their labels vague to protect their sources of specimens from competing dealers. Sometimes completely incorrect locations are given. Almost every collection from the 1960-70s has a specimen of purple fluorite labeled from "Catron County, New Mexico." This location was a dealer/collector's way of keeping claim jumpers away from the real location in Grant County.

Other times labels are incorrect because dealers get innacurate location information from importers that sell wholesale minerals. Ten years ago many Chinese minerals were labeled as from Guandong. That is where the mineral dealers were located - but not where the minerals were mined. The Brandberg amethyst crystals available on the market are not from Brandberg, they are from the nearby Goboseb Mountains.

Lastly, there can be simple mix-ups. Labels get switched in collections by accident. This is the best reason for pasting a unique number on the specimen in a discrete location that will correspond to a label and separate catalog.

Innaccurate mineral locations are a part of collecting. Get to know your area of special interest so that you can recognize incorrect labels. Visit museum collections and take notes. If you find an error on my web site, please take the time to email me.

12/28/2004

Keeping track of minerals with origin and all source information is difficult. I have over 5000 mineral specimens in inventory, each is cataloged into a database to track them. (The database can be a curse. It will tell me that I have a particular specimen SOMEWHERE in my warehouse. It does not tell me where. I have spent hours looking for a $12 specimen!)

In spite of my computerized record keeping, errors are made in the labeling of specimens. Sometimes doubtful information is highlighted with the notation (?) after the information meaning that I cannot verify the information. This week I posted a lazulite with a Russian mineral label that I cannot translate. I did my best to provide the locality, but I am not certain.

Occasionally I will make an error in my records and list the wrong locality. This week I reposted several spherical diamond crystals that I incorrectly listed in the past as from the DRC. My diamond supplier visited this week and pointed out that they were actually from Brazil. OOPS! They are relisted this week with the correct information.

I strive for accuracy on this site and welcome corrections. Please share with me your comments by emailing me.

12/21/2004

I get frequent requests to identify minerals, often with photos accompanying the request. Sight identification is difficult. Sight identification from photographs is impossible.

However, with just a few simple tests, it is possible to identify most of the common minerals. If you can identify the hardness, color, luster, cleavage/fracture, opacity, streak, you have a pretty good start. Additionally, if you can identify the shape of the crystal, then you can try to identify the crystal system. Lastly, if you have a small piece of the mineral and can weigh dry, then weigh it in water, you can determine specific gravity. It really isn't hard to do. It does not take any special equipment or caustic chemicals. (Though a small bottle of dilute hydrochloric acid and a shortwave ultraviolet UV lamp are also great diagnostic tools.)

Also, if you know the locality, and the associated minerals found at that location, you can use that information to narrow down the possibilities. Almost every magazine article or collecting guide will provide a list of minerals found at a site. Then use that list to investigate the mineral species possibilities. When I first started collecting zeolite minerals in New Jersey, I made a crib-sheet of distinguishing characteristics of heulandite, chabazite, apophyllite, etc. to help in my identification. It worked. To this day sight-identification of zeolites is very easy for me.

What do you do when you get all the attributes of a mineral determined? Go to a good book on minerals. My favorite is Mineralogy by John Sinkankas. In the back are determinative tables. The tables list minerals are sorted by Luster, Crystal System, Hardness, Fracture and Cleavage, Streak, Specific Gravity and Fluorescence. By starting with one attribute and checking the minerals listed, then cross referencing to another attribute you can find the minerals that fit both attributes. Then read further about each mineral listed and see if all the other things you know about the mineral fits the description in the book. You can also use software like the Fersman Database or The Mineral Database (my favorite) published by Lanny Ream. You can query the database with the known attributes. By querying for a mineral that is color blue, translucent, colorless streak, hardness 7, vitreous luster, it yields the minerals: cordierite or elbaite. It has found that 2 minerals that fit the criteria out of the 4000+ listing in the database. Pretty neat! Next time you have an unknown, try a few test sat home first. You will find it is pretty easy to figure out what you have.

NOTE: There is a saying to keep in mind when you are identifying minerals: "When you hear hoofbeats, think HORSE, not ZEBRA." Meaning you should assume it is the most common mineral, not an exotic mineral. It is most likely quartz, not pollucite. It is most likely cavansite, not pentagonite. And so on.

12/6/2004

Many have asked about caring for their mineral collection. They want to know how to keep their minerals clean. Even if you have display cases with door, dust will still build up on the minerals over time.

My advice is to remove all minerals on display once a year and clean them and the cases.

The minerals can be submerged into luke warm water with a detergent dissolved in it. I prefer Cascade dishwashing detergent. It very effectively removes dirt and grime. I use an old toothbrush to gently scrub the crevices to remove any stubborn dirt. Then rinse under running water, drain and set aside to dry. Once dry they can be replaced in the display case.

Before returning the minerals to your display case, wash the shelves and glass doors so they are spotless and streak free. I prefer to use Windex, though any window cleaner will suffice.

Going through this process once a year will keep your minerals clean and give you the opportunity to curate your collection - remove duplicates, add new acquisitions and reorganize. Why not take a day during the upcoming holidays to clean your mineral display?

11/16/2004

Many people are confused about the differences between mineral species names, varietal names, group names. Following are the three categories.

  1. Mineral species are the IMA accepted names for a given formula/crystal structure.
  2. Varietal names are trade name or colloquial names given to a unique formation or mineral occurrence. Amethyst is the varietal name for the purple variety of the mineral species Quartz.
  3. Mineral group names are given to the minerals that are components of a solid solution series OR a chemical/structural category of minerals. The wolframite group is composed of the mineral species Hubnerite and Ferberite.

The best way to be safe when labeling your mineral collection is ALWAYS use the proper mineral species name. The list of accepted mineral names can be found in Fleischer's Glossary of Mineral Species - an indispensable reference of accepted mineral names. If you have an old mineral listing a species that is no longer listed in Fleischer's, therefore no longer a valid mineral name, then itis obsolete and can be listed as the varietal name. The best reference for determining the correct mineral species of an obsolete name is in the Glossary of Obsolete Mineral Names by Peter Bayliss. (Both publications can be purchased from Mineralogical Record.)

Every specimen I sell lists the mineral name first, with varietal name denoted with the abbreviation "var." A label listing Quartz var. Amethyst is read as, "Quartz, variety Amethyst". It is possible to eliminate the varietal names, but they add historical perspective and often are descriptive of color or other characteristics of the mineral specimen. Spodumene var. Kunzite tells you that it is the pink variety of spodumene. Varietal names are also a glimpse into the history of the specimen. A specimen labeled in the old days Polyadelphite can be relabeled today as Andradite var. Polyadelphite and we know that is was originally collected prior to 1892 when the name Polyadelphite became obsolete.

Sound confusing? It really isn't. If you don't have these references, then you can rely on the dealers that you obtain your minerals from to do the research. Every specimen I sell gets researched in order to ensure accuracy in the labeling. Some other dealers show the same care.

10/26/2004

While selling minerals at a local mineral show, two ladies visited my booth and remarked on my display cases. They asked where they should go to get display cases for their collection. I advised them that Ikea has a wide variety of display cases at reasonable prices. One of the ladies scrunched up her nose and exclaimed. "You want me to get a cheap case from them? Their furniture is junk!"

I could not disagree more. They make some very nice display cases and their prices are within reach of every collector.

This lady proceeded to show me the mineral she had purchased at the show. It was one of those fake quartz clusters with gold plating that gives a shiny blue iridescence. It cost $3. Why was this woman complaining that Ikea cases would be inappropriate for her collection? She was buying the lowest end of the mineral spectrum. It it wasn't even natural. (I am not saying that she shouldn't buy the mineral. I have a sub-collection of manmade minerals too. But she should keep perspective when judging display cases relative to her collection.)

This does bring up a good rule of thumb: spend 1/10th of your budget on display cases and lighting. If your collection is worth $1,000, then purchase a $100 display case. If your collection is worth $10,000, then purchase a $1000 display case with top-quality lighting. There is no sense in storing an expensive collection in cardboard flats or in a cabinet that has no lighting.

Display cases add as much to the enjoyment of a collection as do good mineral specimens. Take the time and money to display your collection to it's full potential. Your satisfaction will come when visitors "Ooh" and "Aah"  over your collection.

10/19/2004

Occasionally, when describing minerals on this site, I will write, "Hard to photograph - must be seen in person to be appreciated." Today I realized that ALL minerals are hard to photograph! But some are worse than others.

If minerals were easy to photograph, then everyone would be able to document their mineral collection with beautiful photographs that accurately describe the minerals in the collection. Anyone who has attempted mineral photography knows that it is not easy.

There are very few good mineral photographers in the world. There are many good mineral photographs by amateurs, but they are striking because of the beauty of the mineral specimen, not because of the photographers skill.

A good mineral photographer can capture a mineral specimen at it's best. But some minerals can defy even the best mineral photographers. I do use the the "hard to photograph" description very often. When I do, trust my judgment - you will like the mineral specimen when you see it in person.. In essence, I am saying do not judge the mineral specimen based on the quality of the photograph.

10/12/2004

Each week the 2 pages of new minerals are always posted to two New Listings Galleries sorted by price. The first page (labeled Page 1A) has mineral priced under $50. The second page (labeled Page 1B) has the better, more expensive pieces. Sold minerals are removed from the New Listings galleries as quickly as possible. It is not uncommon for 30 pieces to sell in the first 2 hours. You may never see the best specimens if they sell with the first few orders.

If you regularly find that the minerals on this site are not good enough for your collection, I suggest checking the new listings closer to the time when I post them to the site (noon NY time). In fact the new minerals are online around 11:45, but I take a few moments to make sure all pages are properly posted. Then email notices of the newly posted minerals are sent to customers at noon. The sooner you check the pages, the better your chances of seeing the good minerals before they sell.

9/28/2004

Occasionally a visitor will ask why I sell inexpensive minerals on the same site as $8000 minerals. The answer is simple: all minerals are not expensive.

I sell all kinds of minerals. I sell minerals from type localities. I sell locality specimens. I sell gem minerals. I sell minerals for beginners and for serious collectors. There are all kinds of minerals and all kinds of collectors.

This site features minerals from around the world in all price ranges. It should not be judged based on any one group of minerals. Hopefully there is something for everyone. Hopefully you will find an item of interest for your collection. If not, feel free to email me your requests and I will do my best to post items in the future that meet your requirements.

As you progress and evolve as a collector, you may shift from one class or category of minerals. You can rely on this site to always have something for your collection - no matter what you collect...

9/14/2004

I have heard that unfounded rumors are being spread that I sell "conflict diamonds". This is entirely false.

Conflict diamonds, also known as blood diamonds, are diamonds mined by rebels to fund their regional wars. The two countries cited by the United Nations as conflict states are Angola and Sierra Leone. I do not sell diamonds from these countries.

Frequently, the adjacent countries of  Liberia and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC, formerly Zaire) are mentioned in the blood diamond discussions, not because they are conflict countries, but because conflict diamonds from neighboring Angola and Sierra Leone are smuggled over the borders and sold along with legitimate diamonds.

The problem of smuggling has now been solved. Since January 1, 2003, the "Kimberley Process" has been put into place by 70 diamond-producing countries. In the Kimberley Process, diamonds are shipped in sealed containers with documentation of legitimate origin. The process has been an overwhelming success and diamond smuggling has been drastically reduced from conflict countries.

For the record, DRC is  nearly tied with Botswana and Australia as the largest diamond producing countries (by carat weight), and the DRC diamonds are entirely legitimate. There are no restrictions to selling diamonds from the DRC.

8/24/2004

This web site uses metric measurements to describe the minerals listed. Metric is the standard system used for the majority of the world's population. Metric is superior in many ways. It is much simpler and more precise to describe a mineral as 33 mm long, instead of the cumbersome to write 1-5/32" long. Or when describing the size of a specimen, it is much easier to write 6 x 5 x 4 cm instead of  2-3/8 x 2 x 1-9/16" Just look at the way the English measurement looks on the page! Yikes!

To convert from metric to English measurement all you have to know is:

1 inch = 2.54 cm  OR  1 inch = 25.4 mm

To convert metric millimeters to inches, divide by 25.4
35 mm divided by 25.4= 1.37 inches (approx. 1-1/3 inches)

To convert metric centimeters to inches, divide by 2.54
7 cm divided by 2.54  = 2.75 inches (approx. 2-3/4 inches)

But let's be practical, you can't use measurements by themselves. Whether in inches or centimeters or millimeters, you must still get out a ruler and visualize the sizes using the scale. When a minerals is listed as 6x5x4 cm, you should sketch out the dimensions on a piece of paper then visualize the specimen.

Since my measurements, just get a ruler that includes metric. After that the process in metrix is exactly the same as with inches.

8/3/2004

This week I posted several radioactive minerals. They are sitting next to me as I write this. To the uninformed, this might incite panic and fear.Fear are unfounded. With a little care, radioactive minerals can be a valued addition to any mineral collection. As a guide to the collector I offer the following advice:

  1. There is no danger from direct radiation unless you store them in close proximity to your body. The radiation at 24" away is almost equal to background (harmless levels for radiation found naturally everywhere). You are safe if you do not place radioactive minerals under your pillow or carry them in your pants pockets.

  2. Very little radioactivity can penetrate glass or plastic.

  3. There is a danger from ingestion. You should wash your hands before eating if you have handled the specimen. I prefer to mount the specimens to bases to allow handling the specimen without handline the mineral itself.

  4. Store in a location where children cannot access them.

  5. Radioactive specimens produce Radon gas. Prolonged exposure to Radon gas is a health hazard. The gas is heavier than air, so it accumulates in your basement. However, most homes are well ventilated and dangerous buildup of Radon gas (caused by this specimen) is unlikely. Here in the Northeast, where granite bedrock produces Radon gas, basements have special ventilators to remove any Radon buildup.

Many collectors specialize in collecting radioctive minerals. With care, they can be a fascinating part of every mineral collection.

7/27/2004

Last week I purchased part of an old mineral collection. There is nothing unusual about that. I buy around 15-20 collections a year. This year I am already up to 17 collections and it is only July.

What was unusual about this collection was the amount of ruined specimens due to improper storage. The collection was stored in the basement and garage. The owner reasoned that these were cool, dry locations and would not harm the minerals.

WRONG!

Of the many choices to to store a mineral collection, a basement is the worst choice because it is too damp. The garage is the second worse choice because it is also damp and exposes the minerals to extreme temperatures during hot summers and cold winters.

I discarded about 1/3 of the specimens in the collection. The most affected were sulfides that decomposed due to "Pyrite Disease". The one known (and proven) way to halt pyrite disease is to eliminate moisture. Since moisture is the enemy, a room on a top floor or an attic is a good place to store a collection. Definitely store the collection indoors. If you must box the collection away, I suggest buying large Tupperware bins that seal out moisture and prevent mice from building nests amongst the collection (yes, the collection I bought had mice nests too).

What is the point in having a valuable mineral collection if you are going to damage it though neglect? If you can't fit  it in the house, then cull out the duplicates, trade away the lesser specimens, give some to your kids or neighbor's kids. Get the collection to a manageable size, then store it indoors in a dry room - not in the basement.

7/6/2004

Old labels are documentation of the history of a specimen. Care should be taken to keep all old labels along with a mineral specimen.

Did you know that old labels can be flattened and cleaned very easily?

To clean an old label, simply use a pink eraser like you had in third grade. Stroke the eraser over old label starting from the center and stroking off the edge. This pattern will prevent accidentally wrinkling the label. Be careful not to pull too hard with the eraser or you will tear the label.

(One visitor adds these comments: The pink eraser you mention is made of CHEAP abrasives... do you remember digging holes in the paper as a kid? Instead, recommend either the VINYL or the Kneaded eraser. Both can be purchased cheaply in any art store or place that carries art supplies.)

A wrinkled label can be flattened with a housdehold iron. Place the label between thin fabric to protect the label, then apply a hot iron to flatten. Do not use steam settings on the iron.

What do you do if a label rips? Nothing. Do not attempt to tape the label. All tapes will discolor the label eventually. Instead you should place the parts of the label in a thin polyethylene or glassine envelope. These envelopes are available in many sizes.

Remember, my number one rule in my article Advice For Beginners: Nine Lessons Learned from Experience: Keep those old labels!

6/8/2004

Many regular visitors have wondered about minerals with low numbers in my listings. This week I posted #983 to my site. Items with low numbers usually are one of the following:

The end result is that I have the specimen again. Rather than catalog the item with a new inventory number, I choose to keep the original number. This helps determine when the mineral was originally acquired by me, when it was sold, and the general sequence of the sale.

In the case of #983, it was first cataloged in 1995 - one of the first years that I used a computer database to start tracking each mineral.

5/25/2004

Recently a visitor stated his philosophy as, "buying great rocks instead of staying safe with mediocre stuff."

Does that mean a collector that buys mediocre minerals is a mediocre collector? Just because a mineral is worth less than $100 does that make it mediocre?

Buying minerals is just like field collecting. You must search through thousands of specimens to find a specimen that you value highly and want to add to your collection. If it costs less than $100 or $50, who cares? A few years ago, at the Tucson Gem & Mineral Show, several museums were invited to assemble display composed entirely of minerals purchased for less than $50. The displays were beautiful.

There are no mediocre minerals. There is one collector in the world for each specimen. As a mineral dealer, I view that my job is to match each specimen to the customer that will appreciate it. I do not limit the minerals I sell to a particular price range. I sell minerals from $12 to $12,000. Most importantly, I sell less expensive minerals for beginners, because they are the future of mineral collecting.

5/18/2004

How often do you wash the mineral specimens in your collection?

I keep many of my specimens in cases behind glass doors. There are only small gaps between the doors and the walls of the cases. But every time I pick up a specimen to show a visitor, I see a halo on the shelf where the specimen was. Most of the shelf surfaces has a very thin layer of fine dust. Where the specimen was - no dust.

What is the use of glass doors if they don't keep the dust out!!??

I suppose the minerals would get a lot more dusty if I didn't have the glass doors. I can't imagine what collectors do in areas like Tucson, where fine dust blows in off the desert every day. (After selling in Tucson for a week I have to wash my entire inventory.)

Whether you keep minerals in a case with doors or in drawers, you must still wash them occasionally. I recommend once per year. It is a good excuse to rearrange your displays, incorporate new acquisitions, and weed out any specimens for deacquisition.

Use warm water and dishwashing detergent - I use Cascade brand detergent. Soak the minerals for a few minutes ,then brush them using an old toothbrush (if they are not delicate), and rinse under running water. Be careful to avoid washing minerals that are water soluble including: carnallite, chalcanthite, halite, halotrichite, hanksite, inyoite, kernite, melanterite, nahcolite, natron, sylvite, thenardite, trona, villiaumite.

If you have an ultrasonic cleaner, you can use that too. But I find that it is little help in cleaning the minor dust build up from the previous year. I do recommend cleaning newly acquired minerals in an ultrasonic cleaner, in conjunction with detergent.

Don't neglect your minerals. Clean them. Otherwise they will end up looking some old museum displays that haven't been cleaned in 20 years.

4/27/2004

I sold a mineral specimen last week that had a crystal glued onto matrix. The customer discovered it and was disappointed (rightfully so). I failed to spot the fake. Of course, I refunded the customer's purchase and reimbursed him for return shipping.

Faked minerals are everywhere. And they are not new. Minerals have been faked for hundreds of years. Gluing crystals onto matrix is common. Faking localities is well known from various dealers, though mistakes can be unintentional. Growing crystals onto matrix and selling them as genuine is becoming common too.

What can be done to keep faked minerals out of your collection?

To begin with, buy from a reputable dealer. I try to catch any fakes before they hit the market. If crystals are glued onto matrix, I will remove them and sell the individual crystals. I got an emerald specimen recently with 4 emerald crystals glued onto matrix. Fortunately the glue job was so obvious a blind man could spot the fake. I soaked off the crystals and ended up with a genuine crystal on matrix plus 4 loose crystals.

If you have suspect specimen, check it with an ultraviolet light. Most glues will fluoresce under UV illumination. Though modern adhesives are quite sophisticated and cannot be spotted with UV. Use a microscope to inspect for visible glue.

Last weekend I saw two faked specimens that were so good they would have fooled anyone. In this instance there may be no harm. If the fabrication is so good that it cannot be detected, then how will you ever spot it? Owning a good fake is OK, as long as you don't pay full price as if it were genuine. (I collect faked and manmade minerals. Other collect well known fakes by certain dealers. It is an excellent reference in detecting fakes in the future.)

If you discover that a specimen is faked, I will gladly refund your purchase. My guarantee of satisfaction is the foundation of my long relationships with my regular customers.

4/6/2004

This week I realized how Mineral  Tack has changed mineral collecting. Mineral Tack is the sticky putty that is used to mount minerals to bases or displays.

How has Mineral Tack improved mineral collecting?

Before we had Mineral Tack, minerals would be glued to bases or styrofoam using Elmer's Glue or epoxy. Neither of these glues are easily removeable. Epoxy yellows with age. Elmer's requires soaking in water for 2 days. Before Mineral Tack, the only alternative to mounting was placing the mineral in cotton-filled boxes. (For the record: I hate cotton-filled boxes. This mainly grew from my habit of photographing minerals on black backgrounds, where every loose cotton fiber is visible.)

With Mineral Tack, minerals may be adhered to bases or display boxes and it is easily removeable. This eliminates any need for cotton. I stick all of my show minerals into white boxes. The mineral tack keeps the minerals from rolling around and eliminates damage.

As I progress through the collection of Phillip Greybill, that I recently acquired, I discovered over half the minerals were glued to styrofoam. Given the time that the collection was assembled, it was acceptable. And it has prevented damage to the specimens over the years. I appreciate that the minerals are better off being glued down. But I sure wish they had invented mineral tack years before.

3/16/2004

I just purchased the latest version of Fleischer's Glossary of Mineral Species (2004) and found that has been upgraded to include the type locality for each mineral. The type locality is where the mineral was first isolated and analyzed to determine the chemistry and crystallography. The type locality is not easily found in a single reference - one of the reasons I created the Quick Reference for Mineral Species, Formula, Class, and Type Locality for many of the commonly encountered minerals.

Now the latest Fleischer's has it all, with the added benefit that the current country name and provinces are correctly given. No more obsolete country names like Zaire or Southwest-Africa.

(On a side note, Zaire has not been used since 1997, seven years ago. Yet Mineralogical Record continues to use Zaire. M.R. is 35 years old and for 7 of those years they have been using the wrong name - 1/5 of the issues in print.)

In order to add the type localities to Fleischer's they eliminated the mineral groups at the rear of the book. That is a small price to pay. Mineral groups are readily referenced in several other sources. But type localities are not. So it is a fair trade.

If you are looking for a thorough reference for mineral formula, crystal system, and type locality, I highly recommend the latest edition of Fleischer's Glossary of Mineral Species.

3/9/2004

Last week the counter on my home page passed 500,000 visitors.

It has been a long time since I started this web site. Breaking the 500k milestone is a sign of the hard work and time investment since this site was started in 1997. In the seven years this site has been running, over 16,000 minerals have been offered here for sale.  (It makes me tired just thinking about photographing and describing each mineral!) But is has been all worthwhile. This site has enabled me to switch careers and go into minerals full time - a passion since I first started collecting in 1969.

Thank you to everyone that has made this site successful. I hope you are around when I break the 1 million visitor milestone!

3/2/2004

Vertical mineral specimens usually require some type of support to display the specimen upright. I regularly receive questions about the best solution for supporting minerals.

Lightweight minerals, that are not too tall, may be supported using Mineral Tack - the pliable putty sold for just that purpose. Using mineral tack to stick the mineral to an acrylic stand is a good, inexpensive solution that can easily be reversed.

Tall minerals, especially heavy specimens, will overwhelm mineral tack and eventually fall over. A stiffer adhesive is required. The best option is hot glue. Hot glue is easily removable using any number of easily available solvents. It takes some skill to use hot glue without making a mess. Hot glue varies in color, be sure to use the colorless variety.

Permanent supports were popularized by Joseph Freilich's use of black bases created by Alec Madoff. However, these stands are custom-made and require the specimen to be in the possession of  Mr. Madoff. And they cost from $30 on up.

A easier alternative is Sculpey Clay that is available in many different colors. I use black clay. After molding the clay into a hemisphere, the mineral is pressed into the clay, then it is removed. The clay is then baked on low heat in the oven for 20 minutes, turning the clay rock hard. The mineral is refitted into the clay base, occasionally using some additional glue to keep the base attached.

Sculpey Clay is a good solution, if you are comfortable with home crafts projects. And the results look almost as good as the professionals.

1/272004

A customer recently asked about the descriptive term "classic" as used by mineral dealers when describing a locality. In general, "classic" means three things:

  1. It must be famous locality, either because it was heavily studied or there were articles published about the site throughout the years. Because ordinary mineral localities are not heavily studied, usually there is a unique mineralogical setting, or paragenesis or mineral series associated with the site.
  2. The site produced large volume of mineral specimens, enough that they were disseminated around the world through trading or mineral dealers. Small sites, that were quickly mined out, are too insignificant to be called classic.
  3. Finally, the site must be lost or closed, no longer producing specimens.

A fourth qualification might apply: it must produce high quality specimens. However, there are many "classic" localities that do not fit that criterion, Branchville, Connecticut for example.

The term "classic" is greatly misused by the touts and shills in the mineral business, especially on Ebay. It pays to ask the dealer why he describes a location as classic. More often than not, they don't have a clear answer. It is best to use the criteria above as a guide.

1/20/2004

An old mineral dealer, long set in his ways, railed at me over the use of centimeters and millimeters when measuring mineral specimens. "Why do you have to be so pretentious?!" he exclaimed.

Pretentious? For using the metric system? Millimeters and centimeters are pretentious?

The metric system was devised in 1799. The Columbia Encyclopedia states, "it has since been adopted by most technologically advanced countries in the world." Here in the United States any business with the Federal government has been in metric units only since 1991; FDA requires metric units on all food packaging since 1994; all federally-funded highway construction must be in metric units since 2000; and in 2001 all U.S. stock exchanges switched to decimal trading.

On the practical side it is much simpler and more precise to describe a mineral as 33 mm long, instead of the cumbersome to write 1-5/32" long. Or when describing the size of a specimen, it is much easier to write 6 x 5 x 4 cm instead of  2-3/8 x 2 x 1-9/16" Just look at the way the English measurement looks on the page!

It is not pretentious to use metric measurements. Metric measurements are the preferred units throughout the modern world. By 2009 all products sold in the European Union will be in metric only measurements. I think that the old mineral dealer should learn a few new tricks, instead of insulting those that are adapting to the future.

12/16/2003

This week I added a new article: Simple Magnetometer You can Build  - Identify Magnetic Minerals Easily. It shows how to build a simple device that detects magnetic objects. Best of all, it will cost less than a dollar to build.

12/2/2003

Have you ever wanted to accurately measure crystals, but find they are too small to measure accurately with an ordinary ruler?

Then buy a Machinists Pocket Microscope. It a 5" long aluminum tube with simple optics and have internal reticles that are visible when looking through the scope. Several different reticles are available. I use a scope with a 5 mm field of view and the reticle is divided into 0.1 mm increments (McMaster Carr Item No. 1452T42, available at 1-732-329-3200 for $22). The scope makes it easy to measure .1 mm crystals up to 4 mm crystals.

This is an essential tool that comes in handy. Add it to your kit of tools along with a hardness test kit, streak plate, and magnetic balance (for detecting faintly magnetic minerals).

11/25/2003

Good lighting is essential to fully appreciating mineral specimens. The mineral photographs on this site are taken under fully balanced, daylight illumination. This results in the proper rendering of difficult colors such as blues, greens, and violet (azurite, cavansite, etc.).

When wrapping minerals for shipment, I frequently note that the incandescent lighting in my shipping room makes some minerals look dull and colorless compared to their photos. I hope that purchasers open their boxes near a window with good lighting. Otherwise they will not see the full range of colors in the minerals.

Incandescent lighting (common light bulbs) have an abundance of yellow and reds, but lack blues and greens. Fluorescent lighting usually has yellow and blue-purple in their spectrum, resulting in poor rendition of red minerals. Halogen lights are better, especially the higher wattage bulbs, though they still lack some blue in the spectrum. As I have written before, Solux halogen bulbs are the only light sources I have found that accurately render all colors found in minerals. Of course the best lighting of all is natural daylight. But it is impractical to illuminate a mineral collection with daylight.

Please be aware how illumination affects the colors of minerals. Open my packages near a window to get full spectrum illumination. Add Solux lighting to your display cases. Your minerals will look better and your enjoyment will increase.

11/18/2003

Mineral collectors and dealers often rely on online resources to research minerals. Usually they are looking to verify locality information or the spelling of a locality. Unfortunately, the information available online is VERY poor.

One of the most popular online databases of mineral information is Mindat.org. It is a great site for certain types of information. But the locality listings for each mineral is very limited. Mindat does not make any claims to having complete locality listings. So my criticism is not aimed at Mindat. My criticism is aimed at collectors and dealers that limit their research only to online sources.

The best research sources can be found in my articles: Reference Books for Mineral Collectors and Gem & Mineral Research: How to Get Answers to Your Questions. My favorite research sources are back issues of Mineralogical Record and Rocks & Minerals, used in conjunction with Lanny Ream's excellent index of those magazines, The Mineral Index. I also use regional mineralogy reference books like Mineralogy of Maine, Minerals of California, Minerals of Colorado, Minerals of Mexico, etc. Lastly, for locality spelling and country, province, county divisions I use the 2002 Oxford Atlas of the World - the most up-to-date and thorough atlas currently available.

At the end of a day of cataloging minerals, my workspace is cluttered with dozens of reference books. Seldom can any online site provide equal information to these reference books. The Internet is a wonderful tool and way of communicating. But it is no substitute for a good collection of basic reference books.

Any good mineral collection deserves a good reference library. Do not overlook building your library as you build your collection. And do not limit your research to the inadequate date available on the Internet.

11/7/2003

The recent wildfires in California prompted several questions about insuring mineral collections. Most mineral collectors do not insure their collections because the cost is too high. Insurance companies limit the coverage of collectible under the standard homeowners policy. Instead they require a rider that covers the collectibles based on an appraised value. Often the riders are expensive - I was quoted $30 per $1000 coverage per year.

Do you need to insure your collection? Are you at risk? What are the risks to a mineral collection?

Unless you have rare gemstones or gold specimens in your collection, you don't need to worry about theft. Thieves want items they can sell quickly like TVs or jewelry. They do not want minerals.

Water damage from a broken pipe won't hurt most minerals. Only water soluble minerals can be damaged by water, and most of those will survive too. I had a water pipe break and soak a large plate of halite from Trona, California. The water did not damage the specimen and only resulted in a puddle of brine on the counter beneath the specimen. Water will ruin books and old mineral labels. Paper items should be stored where they are protected from water. I store mine behind glass-front display cases.

Unless you live in California, you don't need to worry about earthquakes. If you do, a crushproof vault or room with special mineral storage containers are a better investment than insurance.

The real worries are the types of damage that will totally destroy your home. Fire, hurricane or tornado damage will destroy a collection. Assess whether your collection is at risk to these catastrophes. (If you are building a new house, it would be advisable to add a sprinkler system to your mineral room.)

If you decide that you are at risk, want insurance and can get a reasonable insurance premium for coverage, then you will need to get an appraisal of your mineral collection. Ask your local mineral dealer if he can do the appraisal. It will cost you an appraisal fee, but it is worth the expense if you are insuring an important collection.

10/28/2003

When was the last time you "curated" your displayed mineral collection?

Every two years you should empty your display case, wash all of your minerals in soap and water, and rearrange your collection, while weeding out any minerals that no longer belong. Think of it like the regular changing of the batteries in your smoke alarm annually or changing the oil in your car every 6 months.

Choose every even  or odd year. Find a weekend that you have free time, like the Saturday and Sunday after Thanksgiving. Then spend the time it takes to wash each mineral. Even if your display cases have glass doors, dust will still penetrate and settle on your minerals and shelves.

To wash minerals, I suggest using dish washing detergent dissolved in warm water. Use an old toothbrush to remove surface dirt while submerging them in the soapy water, then rinse well and let dry for a few hours. While the minerals are drying, clean the shelves and glass doors if you have them.

Then replace your minerals on the shelves. Place the tall specimens first at the rear of the shelves where they will stand tall above the shorter specimens and still be seen. Then place the medium tall specimens in the middle and the short/flat specimens in the front. Do not hesitate to remove lesser specimens and add any recent acquisitions.

By going through this regimen every two years, your collection will be kept clean and up-to-date.

10/21/2003

Some visitors are hesitant to buy minerals based on photographs. It is true that photographs are not as good as holding a specimen in your hand. But there are times when the photos show more than seeing the specimen in person.

When describing the nminerals on this site, I write the description while observing the specimen in front of me. Later, when preparing the photographs for the minerals, I will see a new detail that I missed when describing the specimen. Frequently, damage on the specimen  (that was overlooked when writing the description) will show in the photographs. This week, rare crystal faces were discovered in a photograph of an Elba pyrite specimen (#20949, Pyrite with rare diploid faces).

Obviously not all mineral photographs are equal. I try my best to accurately describe each mineral specimen and that care extends to the photographs. Any flaw that will show when displaying a mineral will be visible in the photographs. If you can't see a flaw in the photos, you are not going to see the flaw when the mineral is displayed on your shelf.

10/14/2003

Old collections frequently have non-specific locations listed as the origin of a mineral specimen. Apparently there was less interest in the exact origin of a specimen back then. It is not uncommon to see a mineral location listed as from "England" or even worse "Africa". Today we want to know everything short of the GPS coordinates ( and even those would be helpful).

The temptation, when reselling an old specimen with a general locality, is to attribute it to a very specific mine or district. While this is sometimes possible when the identification is obvious, a locality attribution should always be labeled as an attribution.

When I make a locality attribution I will place the information in parentheses like: (Santa Eulalia), Mexico. If the locality attribution is uncertain it will be followed by a question mark in the parentheses as in: (Santa Eulalia?), Mexico.

I wish I had the confidence (or is it audacity?) to make locality attributions like other mineral dealers. But evidence of an attributed locality is usually slim and based on scant evidence. Therefore I play it safe. As a result, minerals are often sold for less than they would if they have a complete locality.

I hope that my customer appreciate this attitude towards accuracy, and will encourage other dealers to follow the same standards.

10/7/2003

Selecting minerals each week to be added to this web site is a difficult job. It would be easy if I just posted a group of similar, thematically-organized minerals. I could easily post 60 diamonds, or minerals from Bisbee, or thumbnail-sized minerals. But there is no advantage in posting minerals that way.

I choose to offer variety, to try to have something for everyone.

Of course, that is not possible. About 2000 collectors regularly visit this site. Each one has a special interest or request. There is no way I ca add minerals each week to keep them all happy. But I do my best to mix it up, and offer a wide mix. And that mix extends beyond the weekly updates, I try to vary the new minerals throughout the month of four weekly updates.

Hopefully, you will find some minerals for your area of interest.

9/30/2003

What makes a $75 mineral specimen worth more than a $10 mineral specimen?

There are many factors such as:

(I have written about some of the other factors that affect value rarity in my article Mineral Prices: Why So High? )

Most of the time a $75 specimen noticeably worth more than a $10 specimen. Even when comparing between different dealers. And if you, as a buyer, can see the difference between a $10 specimen and a $75 specimen, then the other collectors that you show your collection to will notice the difference.

Joe Cilen assembled a collection of over 24,000 mineral specimens. When he was presented a selection of several specimens from a find, he always chose the 2nd or 3rd best. Imagine what his collection could have been if he always bought the best?

If you have a fixed budget for buying minerals, I highly urge you to buy fewer specimens of better quality. Ten years after starting to collect with that philosophy your collection will be much better than some other guy that only buy $10 specimens.

9/16/2003

I received a comment this week from a 15 year old student complaining that my site was the worst site in the world. He was doing a school project on minerals and could not find any of the answers he needed. He was upset that my site did not help him. (At least he bothered to look at my site. All too often students email me the questions they need answered and they want me to answer for them.)

I freely share my knowledge of mineral collecting with any correspondent. I will not do a students homework for them. I do not attempt to provide information that can be found elsewhere. Why should I list the properties of a mineral, when the information is readily available in any basic mineral book or the many mineral databases on the Internet.

Today, students are being taught "just in time learning." They get the answers when they are needed, and don't bother memorizing facts.

Unfortunately, they don't bother to read my article Gem & Mineral Research: How to Get Answers to Your Questions. If they did they would learn where to get the answers they are seeking.

It seems there are going to many web sites that do not answer questions for students. I wonder if they write all these sites too complaining that fail to answer questions...

8/12/2003

A new customer recently purchased a quartz crystal from me. When he got it, he emailed that he wanted a natural quartz specimen, not one that had been made or fashioned by man. It was a natural quartz crystal, but he could not believe it formed naturally by nature. That same wonder and awe is why we all collect minerals. On every level of collecting, we are amazed at natural formations, each one-of-a-kind.

Antique collectors or coin collectors or almost every other type of collector are searching for manmade items. Mineral collectors collect NATURAL works of art.

7/29/2003

After purchasing a new camera, I spent extra time calibrating my computer monitor and camera white balance so that my mineral photographs accurately capture the subtle hues of the mineral specimens. When calibrating my monitor, I learned on one of several web sites on the subject, that most computer monitors are biased towards blue when they leave the factory.

I used a special computer test image and compared the image on my screen to an actual test card with the exact same colors. It was true, my monitor had a blue tint when it was set to the factory defaults. So I corrected the color cast on the monitor, then corrected the color on the new camera.

But if all monitors are shipped from the factory with a blue bias, and my monitor is now corrected, then I am not seeing on my monitor the same that you are seeing on your monitor. It is a Catch-22: the color is accurate on my monitor only, but the rest of the world has miscalibrated color.

Should I use the factory defaults so that my images are adjusted to represent the rest of the world? It is not likely that everyone out there is going to calibrate their monitors.

There is no good solution. For now, I am going to use the recalibrated settings...

7/22/2003

I finally upgraded my digital camera after many years using my trusty Sony Mavica. I recently purchased the Nikon Coolpix 4500. This is possibly the the BEST digital camera for photographing minerals.

Unfortunately, Nikon decided to discontinue the model! But you can still buy them on Ebay and from old dealers stock. If you are looking for a digital camera, I recommend the 4500 without reservation.

Having said all that, I am still getting used to using the new camera. This week's new mineral listings were the first images I shot with the new camera. As a result, they are not my best photos. But they adequately describe the minerals and most of them are in focus. So the images will suffice for now.

I upgraded to the 4500 because it is a 4 megapixel camera. I get many requests from publishers to use my images in books, posters, magazines, etc. But my old camera (1 megapixel) produced images that were too low in resolution for most uses except the web. With the new Nikon camera, I will be able to sell my images for more applications. (If you are a subscriber to Colored Stone, the recent issue has one of my images in the article on Tiger-eye.)

7/15/2003

When assembling a mineral collection, you should focus on getting quality specimens - don't focus on buying at bargain prices. The value of a specimen to a collector is in the uniqueness, the specialness. Of course, you must buy within your budget. But after the purchase is complete, the only thing that counts is whether it is a good quality mineral.

Think about it. When a museum assembles a display of minerals, do they include a mineral because it was purchased at a great price? No, they include mineral specimens that are fine examples of a particular find.

When you look at the mineral displays at a mineral show, have you ever seen a display that touts a specimen because the owner paid little money to obtain it? No, the minerals displayed are there because they represent the best of the owner's collection.

The price paid for a specimen is only important at the time of purchase. Don't focus on building a collection of inexpensive acquisitions. Instead, focus on obtaining the best example of a mineral from the given locality. Try to obtain extraordinary specimens. They will become the pride and joy of your collection, long after the original purchase price is forgotten.

Remember, junky minerals purchased at bargain prices are still junky minerals.

6/24/2003

Occasionally I receive comments saying that the minerals on this site are "overpriced". This means that the minerals are not worth the price.

I think these visitors should make a distinction between "high priced" and "overpriced".

A minerals specimen can be priced at $500, yet still be a bargain. If other dealers are selling similar specimens at 5 or 10 times the price, then it is not overpriced - though it may be high priced.

I strive to keep my prices fair. Evidence of the fair prices is found in the fact that many retail mineral dealers regularly buy from me. These dealers see my minerals as fairly priced. They may be high priced - but they are worth it.

6/17/2003

Every week I get at least one inquiry about the use of "var." in mineral names, as in "Quartz var. Amethyst". This style of naming mineral varieties is a carryover from other sciences as biology and botany.

You should read this as "Quartz, variety Amethyst". The mineral is quartz and that is how all my minerals are listed, by the accepted mineral name. The varietal name is amethyst so that is listed afterwards. Other common varieties of quartz are smoky, citrine, morion, Herkimer Diamond. But they are all composed of quartz. Other minerals have varieties too. Kunzite, hiddenite, emerald, aquamarine, ruby, sapphire are all common varietal names for various minerals.

Note: the proper way of writing it uses a comma after the mineral name (Spodumene, variety Kunzite or Beryl, var. Morganite). In common use the comma is frequently omitted, especially when the abbreviation "var." is used. But you can impress your colleagues if you use the comma...

6/3/2003

Over 400,000 web surfers have visited this web site since I opened! That is a lot of vistors...

The counter only records unique vistors to this home page. The regular customers that bypass the home page and go straight to the new listings are not included in the count.

The average visitor looks at 6 web pages per visit and spends on average 8 minutes on the site. Many visitors arrive through the "back door" by searching on Google or other search engines and clicking through directly to a specific mineral page. Then if they decide to stay, they get to the home page. Hence the relatively low average number of pages vuiewed and short visit time.

It is hard to remember to the early years for this site - when only 20 minerals were posted each month and I was lucky to get 100 hits a week.

5/27/2003

There are two sizes to the preview images in the mineral galleries. The "normal" preview image is 100 pixels high and is used for most of the minerals posted to this web site. The size was selected to maintain a reasonable time for the gallery pages to load using a dial-up phone connection.

Larger preview images are used for two types of mineral specimens:

  1. Large specimens in excess of 6 inches or 15 cm
  2. Expensive mineral specimens priced over $300-400.

The larger preview images slow the time a page loads, so they are kept to a minimum. But the larger size is meant to convey either large size or importance of a specimen.

The time a web page takes to load is directly affected by the size and number of images. Sold minerals are removed from the galleries shortly after the orders are received to reduce the images and speed page loading. (Have you ever noticed how long other sites take for their pages to load - and then you find out many of the items have sold already? Very maddening!)

5/20/2003

Have you ever wondered how I select the Mineral of the Week? Is it the best item offered that week? Is it the most expensive item from the week? Or are there other attributes that go towards the decision?

The answer is: there is no answer.

The Mineral of the Week is selected based on one factor: the mineral is an important specimen, that unless brought to the attention of collectors, might otherwise be overlooked in the crowded mineral galleries on this site.

It is very easy to miss the special minerals each week. For example, you won't know a mineral specimen was once in the Smithsonian Museum collection unless you read the descriptions for each piece. Or the small preview image in the mineral galleries may make a specimen look insignificant.

So a specimen is selected each week that collectors should not overlook. It is as simple as that.

5/13/2003

Frequently I have customers show up at my front door unannounced. They expect to find a retail showroom. Instead they find a residence. Local NYC residents also request to save on shipping by picking up their package here.

Visitors and pickups are only possible with prior arrangements. My business is mail order (and regional mineral shows). My business is not retail.

If you want to visit, please call or email in advance to schedule an appointment. It is best to arrange an appointment at least 2 weeks in advance of your visit. When you set up your appointment, have a wish list of items you want to see. All of the minerals are stored in my warehouse, 30 blocks away. Advance notice will allow me to retrieve the requested minerals from the warehouse before your visit.

I welcome visitors, but only with advance notice.

4/8/2003

When the description are written for the mineral specimens on this web site, the most striking aspect of the specimen are the first adjectives used.

 For example:

It is the blue color that is most striking about the specimen, therefore the description lists that attribute first.

 Another example:

In this example, it is the large size of the pocket (larger than typical specimens from the locality) that is most significant attribute.

If you are contemplating purchasing a specimen, use the descriptive style as a guide to aid you in selecting the specimen right for you.

3/25/2003

Many have emailed compliments about the photographs on this site. While I try to capture the beauty (often hidden) in every specimen, I strive first and foremost to accurately capture the mineral.

It would be very easy to make a mineral look better than it does in reality. To see mineral photos that have been "jazzed", take a look at a recent cover of Rock & Gem magazine. They artificially enhance the color saturation to make their magazine more salable. Unfortunately, it disappoints collectors when they discover no mineral can match their artificially enhanced photos.

On the other hand, I try to capture the subtle colors and translucency of each specimen in my photographs. Frequently, the color saturation  must be reduced to make the photos more like the actual specimen. It would only result in returned packages if the photos look better than the minerals.

Too bad other dealers do not have similar standards. As a result, internet visitors are skeptical about all photos on the web. Only after they place an order on this site, and compare a mineral with the photo, will they realize the extra effort that goes into the photographic accuracy on this site.

3/18/2003

Regular visitors to this site know new minerals are posted every Tuesday at 12:00 noon, New York time. Sometimes the minerals are up earlier because I have a schedule conflict and cannot be at the computer at the required time. Other days the new listings may be 15 minutes late because of a slow internet connection or a sluggish web server.

But my target is always 12:00 noon.

Recently, I have started uploading my new data differently resulting in more predictable time for completion of the update. Hopefully, you can rely on the pages being posted on time.

Also, some visitors experience difficulties seeing the newly posted web pages because their browsers show cached versions of the older pages. If you cannot see the newly posted pages (and you received my email notice that the new pages were up and running), then hold down the "SHIFT" key on your keyboard and hit "RELOAD" (REFRESH) several times on your browser until you can see the new pages. (This forces your browser to get the new page, instead of using the version in the cache memory.)

Lastly, this week I posted mineral specimen number 20000. I started cataloging my inventory in 1995 and it took that long to get to 20,000 minerals. Since I only have 5,000 left in my warehouse, that means I have sold 15,000 minerals since 1995.

3/4/2003

I get frequent requests to identify minerals, often with photos accompanying the request. Site identification is difficult, site identification from photographs is impossible. However, with just a few simple tests, it is possible to identify most of the common minerals.

If you can identify the hardness, color, luster, cleavage/fracture, opacity, streak, you have a pretty good start. Additionally, if you can identify the shape of the crystal, then you can try to identify the crystal system. Lastly, if you have a small piece of the mineral and can weigh dry, then weigh it in water, you can determine specific gravity. It really isn't hard to do. And it does not take any special equipment or caustic chemicals. (Though a small bottle of dilute hydrochloric acid and a shortwave ultraviolet UV lamp are also a grerat diagnostic tools.)

What do you do when you get all the attributes of a mineral determined?

Go to a good book on minerals. My favorite is Mineralogy by John Sinkankas. In the back are determinative tables. The tables list minerals are sorted by Luster, Crystal System, Hardness, Fracture and Cleavage, Streak, Specific Gravity and Fluorescence. By starting with one attribute and checking the minerals listed, then cross referencing to another attribute you can find the minerals that fit both attributes. Then read further about each mineral listed and see if all the other things you know aboutr the mineral fits the description in the book.

You can also use software like the Fersman Database or The Mineral Database (my favorite) published by Lanny Ream at Mineral News. You can query the database with the known attributes. By querying for a mineral that is color blue, translucent, colorless streak, hardness 7, vitreous luster, it yeilds the minerals: cordierite or elbaite. It has found that 2 minerals out of the 4000+ listing in the database fit the criteria. Pretty neat!

Next time you have an unknown, try a few test sat home first. You will find it is pretty easy to figure out what you have.

1/14/2003

I get all kinds of comments. Some visitor are worried because my prices are too low. They think there is something wrong with the minerals. Other people think my prices are too high. Recently, a correspondent questioned the high prices on my gem-quality emerald specimens. He directed me to a competitors web site with "cheaper prices".

After comparing his emeralds to my emeralds I can see mine were correctly priced:

The competitor has a 15 mm emerald for $1075.
I have a 17 mm emerald for $1200.

The competitor has a 40 mm emerald for $4250.
I have a 25 mm emerald for $750.

What the fellow was fooled by was that the competitor's web site had larger photos. He didn't bother to look at the sizes of the specimens. He saw a larger photo and thought the specimen was larger.

Don't be fooled by large photos. I go to great effort to accurately describe each mineral specimen. Read the individual descriptions of each specimen and compare carefully.

1/7/2003

One of the advantages of buying minerals through the Internet is that each specimen has been photographed and described for you. It is very easy to save the images and descriptive web pages to your own computer. Then you can integrate that information and the images into your catalog of your personal collection.

Using the photos on this web site for your personal collection catalog is not a copyright infringement. Personal use falls under the "fair use" doctrine. However, the images can NEVER be published in any way - no personal web pages, no publications, no videos. ONLY your personal collection catalog is fair use.

To save an image, right mouse click on the image and select "Save Picture As" or "Save Image" and save it to a folder of your mineral images. You can save an entire web page to your computer by going up to the top command bar in your web browser and click on "File", then click "Save As" or "Save" and file in a folder on your hard drive.

You can build a great personal collection catalog this way.  Good luck!

12/31/2002

Wow! Another year is done!

It is hard to believe it. This year I posted 3,137 mineral specimens to this web site. 2,739 of those minerals sold. It took almost 1500 packages to ship the orders to customers (and 150 trip to the Post Office). Best of all, no packages were lost and only 4 mineral specimens were damaged in shipment! Pretty good averages.

Thank you to all of my customers that made this success possible.

I hope everyone out there has a happy New Year's celebration and best wishes for 3003!

12/24/2002

This week some excellent thumbnail and miniature mineral specimens were added to the site. While they are higher priced than average, the quality is exceptional. It is a good opportunity to pick up some hard-to-find minerals.

These better-than-average minerals may be wasted this week since many regular customers are on vacation or traveling. If you have missed out in the past, because another customer ordered before you, this week the reduced competition will improve your chances.

Many customers inquired whether there would be new minerals posted this week. The answer is almost always "YES" unless it is announced the week before. In general, the only times that new minerals are not posted, is when I am traveling. I will skip a week in early February when I travel to the Tucson shows. And I usually miss 2 weeks in August, when the whole world seems to shut down for vacation. But you should count on new minerals being posted every week.

I hope those of you that celebrate Christmas have a happy holiday!

12/17/2002

This week I received several inquiries about discounts on purchases. I thought it might be good to reveiew the discount policy for the minerals on this site:

As a courtesy to customers purchasing 4 or more minerals at one time, we extend the following discounts:

- 10% off on orders over $200
- 15% off on orders over $400
- 20% off on orders over $600

These discounts do not apply to single specimens priced above these values, only on purchases of 4 or more minerals. These discounts apply to each transaction at the time of payment - they do not apply to orders with multiple payment methods or accumulate over multiple purchases. Discounts do not apply to specimens with the notation "net" after the price. These are priced at the lowest price possible.

However, the value of the "net" priced specimens does apply to the total to qualify for the discounts listed above.
For example, an order for the following four specimens:

Sub Total: $622

The subtotal exceeds the $600 minimum to qualify for 20% discount. However, the $400 aquamarine is priced "net" so the discount only applies to the remaining three specimen ($222). Total discount = $44.40

I hope this clarifies the policy. The nature of the internet is essentially a non-negotiable marketplace. That forces me to put my BEST price on the specimen at the time I post it to my site. If, after a few months, an item has not sold, I MIGHT be negotiable on the price. But, at this time, every item I post to my site sells quickly.

12/3/2002

Many dealers sell mineral specimens without thoroughly investigating the accuracy of the localities listed. This same sloppy attitude is manifest in mineral magazines too. It is not uncommon to see locations liike, "Coscuez, Muzo, Colombia". This makes it appear like Cosquez in a town in Muzo province in Colombia. In fact, Coscuez and Muzo are both mine names in the Vasquez-Yacopi Mining District of Colombia.

Every week, when I am writing the descriptions of the minerals to be posted on this site, I am surrounded by 6-8 books to double-check the accuracy of localities. For geographic names, the Oxford 2001 World Atlas is the best reference - especially for spelling accuracy. Then I refer to regional mineralogy books like The Minerals of Mexico to verify mine names, mining districts, nearest towns, etc.

It would be easy to simply repeat the info on an old label. But that is the lazy man's route. To me, there is nothing worse than a specimen labeled with a broad locality. Sadly, there are occasions where no further information is available. But I am trying my best to give the most complete information possible.

11/19/2002

Recently a customer inquired about using minerals as investments. It is an interesting question. To the best of my knowledge, nobody has written about the subject. All I could offer the customer was my personal experience.

I personally buy minerals as a long term investment. When great mineral are plentiful, I will buy the best available ,then stash them in the back of my warehouse. I hold them until they are no longer plentiful. Recently I have been stashing the great red vanadinites available from Morocco. These bright red crystals are arguably the best specimen available in years from that classic locality. But they are very plentiful now. Therefore the price is low.

In the past, I have stashed away New Mexico pseudomorphs, calcite on calcite from China, fluorite from southern Illinois, zeolites from New Jersey and several others. Most of the time no special knowledge of the future mining situation was required to recognize the potential as a good investment. Though it was announced well in advance that the Illinois fluorite mines were closing. It was surprising to notice that only a few other buyers were smart enough to stash fluorites when they were plentiful.

Another sign that minerals are a good investment is the number of millionaire collectors that buy minerals. But they are operating at a different level than most of us. Maybe that will be the subject of future commentary...

11/5/2002

Every week new minerals are added to this site. The minerals are online at 12:00 noon (New York time) or within a few minutes afterward. Each week, half of the new listings sell in the first 12 hours. Several customers have complained that the items they requested were not available. They said they were going to give up on buying minerals at this site.

Do not give up. The chances are still pretty good that the item you want will be available. However, if one item is stunningly beautiful and a low price, many customers are going to request that item. (All orders are filled in the order received.) However, fewer than 10 pieces sell in the first hour. And rarely do the really special pieces sell quickly. Last week there was a copper in gypsum that was very good. It lasted 12 hours before selling. So you always have a chance.

Here are some ways to improve your chances of getting an item before it sells to another customer:

  1. Get email notification of the new minerals by submitting your email to my Guestbook.
    Note: there is a time lag between when the items are posted and when the emails are sent. I first inspect the pages to make sure they are working properly, then send the emails. It can take 15 minutes for you to get the email (or more).

  2. Do not wait for my email. The minerals are posted at 12:00 to 12:05 (N.Y .time). There is a time delay, while I inspect the new web pages, before my emails are sent. But the minerals can be viewed. Set a reminder on your computer to check the update.

  3. My order form opens a separate browser window. Open the order form, and fill in your name and personal information, prior to the new minerals being posted. Then you only have to fill in the items wanted and hit "send". In your other browser window, regularly hit reload (hold down the "shift "key on your keyboard to force a full reload) until you see the new minerals.

I know this sounds like a lot of work and that most people have better things to do with their time. But the advantage of getting a good mineral goes to the early bird. This is true when field collecting or attending mineral shows or buying on the Internet.

10/8/2002

I am always advising beginning collectors to save the labels that come with the a specimen. The label tells the original locality where a specimen is found. But there is historic pedigree information that is on some labels too. These old labels are worth keeping with the specimen - no matter how many old labels there are.

What labels are worth keeping and what labels should be discarded?

My rule of thumb for keeping old labels:

All of the above add to the historic background information about a mineral specimen.

However, if an old label just lists a locality, with no other information, then you can safely discard the old label and replace it with your typical collection label.

Remember, always have at least one label with each specimen. Read my article Advice For Beginners: Nine Lessons Learned from Experience for more information.

9/24/2002

I advise all collectors to buy undamaged specimens whenever possible. There are rare occasions where undamaged specimens are never found. The first large stibnite crystals out of China many years ago were all dinged. They looked like they were thrown in a bucket and carried down the mountain on a lame donkey. But collectors should strive for undamaged specimens whenever possible.

But what is an undamaged mineral specimen?

There is no "correct" answer to these questions. Under high enough scrutiny flaws can be found in every mineral specimen.

My personal threshold accepts any specimen where there is no visible damage (with the naked eye) on the "display" side of a specimen.

It is up to each collector to determine the threshold for damage. Think about it. Make a conscious decision. Let your regular dealers know what is acceptable for you and what is not acceptable. It will strengthen your collection and make collecting easier.

9/17/2002

Did you hear the story about the farmer that went into L.L. Bean in Maine. He heard they had a return policy if he wasn't satisfied. He brought with him his old, worn out work boots. When the clerk asked, the farmer said that he bought the boots 10 years ago. The clerk observed that he must have liked the boots if he used them for 10 years. So why was the farmer returning them? The farmer replied, "I just thought they should have lasted longer." L.L. Bean refunded the farmers money.

When selling at mineral shows, I repeatedly hear from customers that buying through the Internet is too risky.

What's the risk???

My return policy is simple: send it back and your money will be refunded. As an extra courtesy, I will pay return shipping.

If a customer does not like the minerals, they get a COMPLETE refund of all charges: shipping to the customer, shipping the specimen back to me, and the cost of the specimen.

So what's the risk???

If you don't like the minerals when they arrive in the mail, send them back - no questions asked. (In fact, I don't want to know why a mineral is returned.) Your satisfaction is more important to me than a few dollars.

9/10/2002

When I purchase mineral collections, I get a unique opportunity to see what people collect and compare the collections. It is quite illuminating to see the difference between new collections and old collections.

New collections are much higher quality (in general) because of the emphasis on collecting damage-free mineral specimens. This is due to the evolution of mineral collecting as a hobby and mineral dealers that supply top-quality specimens.

Old collections often have a very large proportion of damaged specimens. They have dinged terminations, missing crystals, or clumsy repairs. Perhaps this is because "popular" mineral collecting, as a hobby, is only about 100 years old. In the early days there may not have been any undamaged specimens available.

Even though old collections are not top quality, they do have mineral specimens from localities that no longer exist. Many mineral localities are now under urban and suburban buildings, or overgrown with 100 year-old vegetation to the point that their exact locality is completely obscured.

So the mineral specimens in old collections are all we have left of the localities. And they are an important asset to any mineral collection.

7/23/2002

Novice collectors frequently ask about why I list old collectors as the previous owners of a mineral specimen. Or why old labels from other dealers are included with a mineral specimen.

Old labels are part of a mineral specimen's history. As a collector myself, I am baffled at how novice collectors can ignore the history of a mineral specimen. The history is one of many aspects that are part of mineral collecting.

The history of a mineral specimen DOES increase it's value. Therefore that information is included with the specimen and in the mineral description so the purchaser can understand how the mineral specimen was priced.

If a specimen was once in the Bement collection, then the specimen was good enough for that well known, discriminating collector. Or if a specimen was previously owned by Washington Roebling, the designer and builder of the Brooklyn Bridge (and well known mineral collector in his time), then that too adds value to a specimen. If a specimen was sold by a mineral dealer whose high standards are well known (such as George English, Lazard Cahn, or living dealers like Lawrence Conklin or Herb Obodda), then the specimen is more valuable. If a specimen was once in an important mineral museum like the Smithsonian, or the American Museum of Natural History then that history adds value.

The old labels accompanying the specimen are the only documentation we have to track a specimen's history. So the labels are integral to the value of a mineral specimen. That is why my first piece of advice to any collector is, "Save the old labels."

Many collectors start collecting minerals based on pure aesthetics. As they become more knowledgeable, other factors like relative rarity, locality, and history enter into appreciating a specimen. Learn to appreciate a mineral specimen on many levels. Your collection will be stronger and have greater breadth.

7/16/2002

I was visiting a prominent mineral dealer recently. He inquired how large was my private collection. When I replied that it was probably 4000 specimens he grimmaced, rolled his eyes, then suggested that was too big and that I should pare down my collection.

I could not disagree more. Why impose limits?

He may have been used to dealing with high-end collectors that limit their collections to 400-600 top-quality specimens. But there is no "perfect size" for a mineral collection. And  I reject ANY suggestion that there is.

I have many collections:

Every collector has lots of different collections. It is absurd to impose an arbitrary limit to a collection. And there cannot possibly be a good reason to even attempt to limit a collection size (except if you live in a one room apartment).

I encourage every collector to set their own limits. Don't listen to anybody else. Your collection is for yourself. The specimens are selected by you, to please you. Have fun and ENJOY!

7/9/2002

When buying old mineral collections they commonly have a wide variety of quality within the collection. There is usually a subsection of high quality minerals that the owner takes great pride in displaying. The majority of specimens in most collections are "reference" specimens of wide variety and quality level. Then there is usually a large lot of field collected mineral specimens that the owner personally collected.

This wide variety leads to problems when selling the minerals in the collection. Unlike some other mineral dealers, I do not sell all levels of quality on my web site. Though there are many price levels represented here, each mineral specimen must meet the following minimum criteria to be listed here:

  1. Quality - Minimal damage to the display side of the mineral specimen. (No mineral specimen is perfect. Under increasing levels of magnification different amount of damage will be observed. The goal is finding mineral specimens with no noticeable damage.)

  2. Distinct, Well  Formed Crystals - The minerals selected for this site must have crystals that are easily visible, distinct from the matrix, and minimal inclusions or internal imperfections. Drusy minerals are generally not offered on this site unless the mineral cannot be obtained any other way.

  3. Photogenic - The minerals on this site must be photographable, yielding a satisfactory image at the relatively low resolution required for speedy download through the Internet.

These rules are flexible. Some minerals rarely occur in specimens that meet these requirements. However, most specimens here meet at least two of the criteria above.

The point it that many mineral specimens are never posted to this site. Only the best of a collection.

7/2/2002

Every once in a while, somebody will question why I live in New York City. As a 20 year resident of New York, I recognize that this question has it's origins in the preconceptions formed during the 1960s and 1970s when it seemed the city was going to self-destruct. I have many reasons for living and working in the city.

The best reason to be here, as a mineral dealer, is that there is a large population of gem merchants from Brazil, Pakistan, India, and other gem regions around the world. They are always bringing into the country new finds. Most often they are bringing gem material. But occasionally they will import mineral specimens. As one of the few mineral dealers in NYC, they search me out.

I don't have to travel the world looking for new finds. The new finds come to me.

This week's new group of epidote crystals from Iran is a prime example. As an American, it is doubtful that I could even enter that country, let alone search out new mineral finds there. But the epidote specimens found there way here. It is a great advantage to be in NYC.

4/23/2002

I regularly get requests for discounts on purchases from customers. My discount policy is:

As a courtesy to customers purchasing 4 or more minerals at one time, we extend the following discounts:

- 10% off on orders over $200
- 15% off on orders over $400
- 20% off on orders over $600

These discounts do not apply to single specimens priced above these values, only on purchases of 4 or more minerals. These discounts apply to each transaction at the time of payment - they do not apply to orders with multiple payment methods or accumulate over multiple purchases. The discounts also do not apply to the high-end minerals in the Back Room which are priced as "net".

This discount is offered to motivate customer to purchase more than one mineral at a time. Wrapping and shipping mineral specimens is the most labor intensive part of running a web-based mineral business. Shipping fewer packages, with multiple specimens, reduces the shipping labor.

Please take advantage of the policy. But do not request addtional discounts.

4/16/2002

Frequently I get questions from customers on how I can bring myself to sell a great specimen, rather than put it in my personal collection. Many times it hurts to sell a specimen that is better than the one from the same locality in my personal collection. But I have a set policy: All minerals are offered here on this web site first - even if I want it for my personal collection. If a specimen I want does not sell after a period of time, I will pull it from the site and put it in my collection.

The reason for this policy is so I do not compete with my customers for the best specimens. The customers get first pick.Other dealers, who keep large collections may be competing with customers for good specimens. They only offer the second-best specimens on their site and they keep the best specimens. My policy avoids this conflict of interest.

Most often, good specimens sell before I get a chance to pull them for myself. It hurts. But I get the satisfaction in keeping a good customer happy with a good specimen.

4/9/2002

Recently a customer inquired about international delivery - how long, how much, do packages get lost?

During the course of a year, I ship approximately 300 packages to international destinations.

In all of my years shipping packages around the world, I have not had ANY packages lost. Ever. I am confident that they will arrive eventually.

However, a package of mineral specimens takes longer to arrive than a paper document because it must go through customs inspection. Many times the inspection only involves reading the declaration on the package exterior. But a fraction of the packages are set aside for inspecting the contents. In addition, there may be import duties that must be paid by the recipient prior to receipt.

If a package is delayed in delivery, a "trace"on the package can be filed after 30 days from the shipping date. Usually the package is held up in customs, and the trace will prompt it to be sent on through the system. Most often the packagfe arrives about a week after the trace is filed.

A few months back, shortly after 9/11, I sent two different packages to Europe on the same day. One package arrived in 5 days, the other arrived 3 months later. So the system is inconsistent, but it does work.

4/2/02

Last week I got an enquiry from one of my regular customers. He is on my list for email notification every time new minerals are added to this web site. Last week my announcement to him stated that,"over 70 mineral specimens were added to the site." However, when this customer went to the site, he only could see 42 new mineral specimens in the New Listings Galleries. He wanted to know why he didn't see them all.

The answer is because all  sold specimens are removed from the web site. There are no "Sold" signs on this site (except if the Mineral of the Week sells - it is marked sold and stays posted for the entire week).

Leaving sold specimens on the site simply slows down page loading. The average web surfer will only tolerate a page loading for about 20 seconds. I am already pushing beyond that limit on many of my web pages. As a result, I remove sold minerals as soon as possible.

3/26/02

This week I have made a subtle change that hopefully will make my order form easier to use. When clicking on the link to the order form, it will spawn a new browser window. This will allow you to easily shift back and forth between mineral pages/galleries and the order form.

When links spawn new browser windows it can be very annoying if used on all links. Your computer "desktop" very quickly fills with too many windows. Hopefully this revision will avoid that annoying problem, because only the link to the order form will behave that way.

The new style link has been "installed" in all of the galleries and the individual mineral pages starting this week. It will slowly be added to older mineral pages as time permits.

I welcome your comments on this change. Please email me at jhbnyc@aol.com.

3/5/02

Twice during the last mineral shows I was set up at (Tucson and NYC) customers asked about a mineral specimen and asked, "Why is it so inexpensive." Never at a loss for words, I responded, "Huh?"

I found it incredible that anyone would ask the question. But it happened twice. One specimen was an $1800 aquamarine in quartz matrix. The other was a $125 malachite specimen. Obviously, they were two different categories of collectors with two different budget limitations. Yet they both hesitated to buy the mineral specimens because they appeared too inexpensive. In fact, both customers did not buy the specimens.

Then I realized that my prices are set for Internet sales through this web site. This site is where 90% of my stock sells. Because I price my specimens primarily for Internet sales, and because there is no negotiation on prices on the Internet, I try to "right" price the specimens.

At mineral shows, it is common to negotiate a price with the dealer. As a result, dealers add in an extra percentage to give them room for negotiation.

In the future, when buying at mineral shows, the proper response when confronted with a mineral specimen that appears to you it is under priced should be, "I'll take it." Have the confidence in your own judgment. Don't rely on the price to confirm it's value. Rely on your experience.

1/22/02

Recently a customer commented that my site offers mainly thumbnail specimens. I was surprised by this perception as I try very hard to offer a wide range of minerals in all sizes (and price ranges). About one third of the specimens I add every week are thumbnail size. Currently available on this site:

While it is true that there are more thumbnail specimens than other category, it is not out of proportion considering the number of thumbnail specimens found when collecting minerals in the field. You always dig up more small specimens than large specimens.

There is one other phenomenon specific to the Internet: small specimens appear to be a better bargain than large specimens. This is because all of the images are about the same size. It is not until the specimen dimensions are closely compared that it become clear that a specimen much larger than another specimen. Without close scrutiny customers are attracted to the apparent better value of smaller specimens.

Occasionally large preview images will be posted for an extra large specimen to give a relative importance. But this slows page loading and many people still use 56K modems and are intolerant of slow pages.

I hope this explains why 1/3 of the specimens are thumbnail size.

1/8/02

Many changes to the site this week:

I hope you find these changes for the better.

12/11/01

A special note for the regular visitors:

When mineral are first added to the site Tuesdays at Noon, they are posted in the New Listing Gallery split into two pages (as well as listed in the Mineral and Locality galleries as usual). When minerals sell they are removed from the galleries, as soon as possible after an order is received. As soon as half of the new listings have sold, the two New Listing galleries are combined back to one page. (The link to New Listing 1B is removed.)

So if you visit the site after the New Listings are combined, you won't see two pages listed - BUT YOU WILL SEE ALL THE NEW MINERALS THAT ARE AVAILABLE.

12/4/01

One customer recently asked why several specimens he requested had sold already. I explained that there is a feeding frenzy every week after I post new minerals. Many customers plan their lunch hour on Tuesdays around my regular weekly update. The customer commented that he was going to buy at mineral shows instead, where there is less chance of other customers beating him to the good minerals.

Unfortunately, the feeding frenzy at mineral shows is just as bad, if not worse.

The first hour of any mineral show is also a feeding frenzy of serious mineral collectors snapping up the best specimens. The really serious collectors volunteer to help set up mineral shows, so they can look the minerals over before the show opens.

Somebody has always been there before you.

My recommendation is to either play the game and participate in the feeding frenzy OR take a more relaxed attitude and buy from the available offerings. If there is little of interest left over, then wait for another day.

There are some mineral dealers that will not go to look at a mineral collection for sale if another dealer has been there first. I always look at these collections - there is always something of interest. Frequently, I have found hidden treasures that were overlooked by previous buyers.

You should never give up. Persistence pays off.

11/6/01

There are many tricks and techniques that mineral collectors use when curating their collections. One of the most useful I can recommend is a small dispenser filled with rubber cement thinner. This is a very thin, rapid evaporating solvent that comes in handy for many uses. I use Bestine brand rubber cement thinner. A one gallon can will last you for years.

How do you use it?

A few uses that quickly come come to mind:

  1. Removing old labels from thumbnail boxes.

  2. Removing "hot glue" from mineral specimens.

  3. Soften old mineral tack so it is more easily removed.

  4. Cleaning water soluble minerals.

  5. Cleaning glass and plastic of glue residue or sticky labels.

The list is endless. Suffice it to say that there are many uses for rubber cement thinner and it is a valuable tool to have available in your bag of tricks.

10/30/01

Many customers and collectors inquire about the best method to catalog a collection. Most are looking for a software package for creating a computerized collection catalog. What they don't realize is that the software is probably already on their computer.

That's right - most computers have programs to create a collection catalog.

You can use any database program for cataloging collections. Database software includes Excel, Access, dBase, Paradox or any similar programs. Is one better than the other? Not really. With today's programs they can be easily read by other programs. Some are easier to use, more intuitive or user-friendly. But they are generally equal.

I use Paradox because that is where I first learned and because it allows for fairly sophisticated queries (e.g. list all minerals priced over $19 from Russia that are larger than a thumbnail). But because Excel easily opens Paradox databases, I frequently open  my catalog in Excel to use it's more advanced math functions for analyzing costs, averages, etc.

By using a database to catalog a collection, you can "merge" the data into documents using Word or any other word processing program. First a template is set up, designed and formatted with the database fields inserted as variables. Then the data entries are merged to make a new document. I have templates that use my database catalog to automatically generate mineral labels, web pages, mail catalogs and collection catalogs.

Once you learn how to merge the data into a Word document you will be stunned at how powerful a tool it is and how easy it is to use.

10/23/01

Displaying minerals is part of collecting minerals. As many of you know, I highly advise displaying your complete collection so it is easily accessible - after all, what good is a collections of minerals if it is buried in boxes scattered around your basement.

Occasionally purchasers request stands for displaying mineral specimens. There is no such thing as an ideal stand for a given specimen. The design of the stand, and the orientation of a mineral specimen is entirely dependent on how it will be displayed and where it will be displayed. For this discussion I will ignore storing in drawers and focus on displaying in glass display cases.

The biggest factor in determining specimen orientation is shelf height. If a specimen is displayed on low shelf, the viewing angle will be from above. If a specimen is displayed on a high shelf, the viewing angle will be from the front. Or if a specimen is displayed in a glass-top case, the specimen will be viewed from directly above. As you can see, the same specimen would need three different stands in order to be displayed in any of the three orientations.

As a collector, what can you do?

Find a way to make your own stands. Then you can change the stand as you change the display location. Many collectors use hot glue guns and glue their specimens to bases of clear acrylic. Mineral tack can also be used. Other collectors use clay available in art supply stores to mold stands that conform to mineral specimens. Lastly, you can have a professional make display stands. Here in New York City we are fortunate to have freelance display stand makers that work for the American Museum of Natural History.

Just remember the most important rule: don't do anything to the mineral specimen that cannot be removed or reversed. Hot glue can easily be removed. Elmers Glue can be removed with some time and effort. Epoxy cannot be easily removed.

9/25/01

As I was photographing the minerals for this week's update, my wife passed through the room and said, "That's a pretty one." My response was they are all pretty minerals. Later she came through and saw a different mineral specimen and made the same comment. I reiterated that all the mineral specimens are pretty.

It is true, on some level every mineral specimen is attractive, pretty, aesthetic, etc.

Perhaps there is something based in evolution or the collective unconscious, that prompts the same response to sparkling objects. The  same way people respond to sparkling city lights at night, or an illuminated Christmas tree, or the stars in the sky. Minerals are colorful, reflective, refractive, iridescent, chatoyant, etc. And this prompt a fundamental response in people.

Of course there are minerals that fail. They may have heavy damage or clay obscuring the crystals or oxide encrustation. But with a little clean up or trimming, or viewed under a microscope, they all have attractive parts.

This accounts for the broad range of minerals found in every collection. A typical collection  has a small percentage of dazzling show-stoppers. Often the bulk are more common, readily available minerals. Wealthy collectors may frown on these specimens. They shouldn't. Serious collectors know that they can learn from these specimens and that they can be as aesthetic and attractive as high priced minerals.

8/14/01

I have just returned from the East Coast Gem & Mineral Show. Lots of fun and many new minerals. The find of the show were the carrollites that were selling for around $10 for undamaged crystals in matrix. That's right, $10! There are also several dealers trying to dump their carrollites which says to me that prices are going to fall dramatically, the way Chinese pyromorphites have, because supply is greater than demand.

Invariably at mineral shows, customers come up asking me to look at a mineral specimen from another dealer. They want to know if the specimen is OK and if the price is fair. It places me in a very difficult situation. I would be very uncomfortable if it were the other way around. And there is no absolute price for a given mineral specimen. (I refer anyone interested in mineral pricing to read my article: Mineral Prices: Why So High? Though it is written with tongue in cheek, it is all true.)

It is impossible for me to assess a specimen without knowing the full history and researching the locality. And the opposite is true, no other dealer could assess my minerals without doing the same research.

When a collection comes in, I verify the mineral and locality, check to see what the largest crystals from the find were and assess the specimen against the references. Also the original collector's history and the age of the specimen are factored in. Lastly, I check if there are any unique minerals, associations, or crystal habits present.

Any assessment of a mineral specimen done without this research is inaccurate, flawed, and worthless. Please don't ask me to assess other mineral dealers stock.

7/24/01

About a week ago I participated in a collecting to trip to the Millington Quarry in New Jersey sponsored by the Morris Museum Mineral Club. While everyone found minerals, I was extremely fortunate to uncover several pockets of natrolite. One pocket produced long white crystals of natroltite, about the diameter of pencil lead, in radiating sprays on matrix. Another pocket, the most difficult to excavate due to it's location, had "fingers" of  green prehnite coated with fine white natrolite crystals.

Do'nt expect to see these mineral on my web site though. They are not shippable.

I have shipped delicate wulfenite, cerussite, and other minerals successfully by packing in soap powder. But I am afraid the natrolites defy shipping this way. I can't see ruining a good specimen by trying to ship it. Sometimes a delicate mineral can be tacked inside a box with room around it. As long as the tack holds the mineral will arrive undamaged. (The tack never holds...)

If anybody reading this has a good suggestion on shipping delicate minerals, please email me at jhbnyc@aol.com

7/17/01

Frequently several specimens of find (a partuicular mineral from a particular locality) are acquired at the same time (for example the turquoise pseudomorphs after beryl this week). The question always arises, should they be offereed one at a time over a prolonged period or should the posted all at once?

On this site, all specimens from the same find are posted all at once.

This way, you the customer can decide which specimen is better or the best value given the retail prices. It also avoids the frequent customer query, "Do you have any better?" The answer is almost always no.

If too many from a find are available, the BEST are posted first. This avoids disappointing customers that buy the early items.

Occasionally new minerals are acquired that are better than previously posted specimens from the same find. It is not planned, merely coincidental. But if you want to trade up, it is allowed. For instance, the emerald specimen posted this week is better than the two other emeralds posted a few weeks ago.

7/03/01

This week a customer inquired why the mineral photograph on her computer (and when it was printed) did not match the color of the specimen when it was received. There are many reasons this can happen:

  1. The specimen was not being viewed under "daylight" illumination - full spectrum lighting with equal distribution throughout the visible spectrum.

  2. The computer monitor is out of adjustment. Since color printers are calibrated to print what the monitor shows, the color print was out of adjustment too.

  3. The monitor may be an LCD screen, typically found on laptop computers and more recently flat panel displays. Color (and darkness) varies depending on viewing angle to the screen.

  4. The viewer could be insensitive to certain colors. 12% of the population has some dysfunction in color discrimination.

  5. The original photo had an abnormal color shift.

So what can be done to solve these problems?

Here are a few ideas:

  1. Display your minerals under "daylight" illumination.  Definitely do not use ordinary incandescent light bulbs or fluorescent lights of any kind. I use SoLux bulbs. These yield the most accurate color rendition of any commercially available light source. So much so that SoLux bulb have been adopted as standard illumination in many museums around the world.

  2. Calibrate your monitor using one of the many software programs available. Photoshop has a "gamma" correction setup when first installing the software and comes bundled with P2C2 software to insure that color prints match the calibrated monitor.

  3. If you are using an LCD display on your computer then make sure your viewing angle is correct. I use an LCD screen for all of my work, and maintain a test image on my display at all times to make sure I am at the correct viewing angle.

  4. You may have an insensitivity to color. Macbeth has a three step color sensitivity test to discern difficulties in people viewing and perceiving subtle colors. Find someone that has these tests (they are too expensive to purchase) and take them to determine if you have difficulties.

  5. It is possible that the original photo is out of color balance. However, I go through great pains to insure color accuracy. The camera is white balanced at the beginning of each session, daylight illumination is used during photography, and Photoshop software is used during image editing. If the original photo is off, then simply send the mineral back for a refund.

The problem of color accuracy is the single biggest problem in Internet sales of minerals. The bottom line is can never be eliminated. As a result, I will always have a money back guarantee. If you are not completely satisfied with an items, return it within 10 days for a full refund, including return shipping. No questions asked, no explanation necessary.

6/26/01

I am sitting here surrounded by flats of minerals and at least 20 reference books. As I mentioned last week, I am cataloging all of the eastern U.S. minerals that I have acquired in 5 collections recently purchased. But the cataloging is proceeding at a very slow pace - because of poor labeling from the original dealers or collectors.

I don't just repeat what an old label says. Each specimen is examined and compared to reference books. The exact location, if available, must be determined. (There is nothing worse than an old label that says "Amethyst, Brazil".) Occasionally I get stumped, like a beryl specimen from New Hampshire labeled the "Larry Mine". No mention of the Larry Mine can be found, so the town and county are still unknown. In this instance I am reduced to simply repeating what the original label gives. But all other minerals are vetted to the best of my ability to ensure the customer receives exactly what is described.

As a result of this slow process, I am still not finished cataloging. I had hoped to be done by late last week. But stay tuned, they are on their way...

Don't forget to email me if you are interested in receiving the catalog of eastern minerals for sale when it is ready

6/12/01

A number of regular visitors have commented that they see last week's mineral update when the view the site after the regular Tuesday update. This is caused by your web browser. Before I tell you how to solve the problem, you should know the regular schedule:

  1. The update begins with sending the new files via FTP to the web server. This begins at 12:30 P.M. (All times are New York local).

  2. The FTP transfer concludes by 1:00 P.M. Each page is inspected via the web to ensure that everything is functioning satisfactorily.

  3. By 1:15 P.M. emails are sent to the customers on my email list informing them of the new listings.

  4. First orders are received by 1:20 P.M.

  5. At 3:00  P.M. the first wave of sold minerals are removed from the New Listings gallery in order to reduce the gallery size and prevent duplicate requests for items already sold.

  6. Email confirmations of orders are sent Wednesday morning.

So what should you do if you can't see the new update?

Your browser is displaying the old version of the New Listings because it is stored in the "cache", a temporary memory built into the browser to speed reloading recently viewed web sites. If you viewed the New Listings recently, it may be using the cached version rather than looking up the new page. In order to see the updated page you need clear your cache in your browser:

In MS Internet Explorer:

  1. Click on "Tools" in the top command bar.

  2. Click on "Internet Options" in the drop down list.

  3. Under "Temporary Internet Files" click on "Delete Files" and confirm.

  4. Exit the menu and reload the web page.

In AOL:

  1. Click on "My Aol"

  2. Click on "Preferences"

  3. Click on "WWW"

  4. Under "Temporary Internet Files" click on "Delete Files"

  5. Exit the menu and reload the web page.

In Netscape:

  1. Click on "Edit" in the top command bar.

  2. Click on "Preferences" in the drop down list.

  3. Double-click on "Advanced".

  4. Click on "Cache"

  5. Click on "Clear Disk Cache" and confirm.

  6. Exit the Preferences menu and reload the web page.

I hope this helps...

6/1/01

Last weekend I saw another mineral collection for sale that I had high hopes for. On the phone, the owner said the entire collection was cataloged. That is always a good sign. Every mineral had a number that corresponded to a card in the catalog.

But the catalog was SORTED BY MINERAL!!!

So when trying to get information about specimen #775, it was impossible to find card #775 unless the mineral was known. Fortunately specimen #775 was beryl and was easy to look up "beryl" in the card catalog and find card #775.

But there were many specimens in the collection that had difficult to identify mineral species or had more than one mineral species. Finding the catalog cards for these specimens was impossible.

From this example, a lesson can be learned: organize your collection catalog for retrieval. Meaning, if you use numbers to identify specimens, then sort your catalog by number. If you want to sort your catalog by mineral, then add a prefix to the tag on the specimen (i.e. #BER775 for the specimen discussed above) so that locating the catalog card is easier.

Of course with computers, sorting your catalog can be done several ways. But remember, the catalog should optimized fro retrieving information.

5/29/01

As many of you know, I buy mineral collections. On average, I see one collection a week for sale. I have seen great collections and I have seen worthless collections. The biggest disappointment is seeing a good collection, that was ruined by a neglectful or thoughtless owner. The worst crime is gluing minerals to ugly bases made of styrofoam or unfinished wood.

As a rule of thumb, you should never do ANYTHING to your minerals that is not REVERSIBLE.

This means that if you want to glue a specimen to a wood base, make sure the glue is easily dissolvable and removable. Same goes if you want to number each specimen - make sure the number can be removed by future owners.

Many collectors scorn the use of mineral tack for several reasons. But of all the things negative about it ,at least you can unmount the specimen and remove the tack. (Fortunately, mineral tack is now available in white, which eliminates another negative complaint about the blue variety of mineral tack.)

The next time you are about to do anything to a mineral specimen, ask yourself whether it can be undone. If it can't, then try to find an alternate method that can be undone.

5/22/01

Frequently old-time mineral collectors are heard at mineral shows complaining about high mineral prices. They remember when they could get a particular mineral for $2 and are surprised to see it selling for $20 or more. It is true that mineral prices are goining up. But so is the cost of housing, automobiles and just about everygthing else. Have you bought a cup of coffee at Starbucks lately?

But some minerals are dropping in prices. Yes, it is true!

Take for example the cubic magnetite crystals found only in Balmat, New York. I still have the first specimen I bought from that find. I paid $150 for a thumbnail specimen. Now prices for cubic magnetite specimens has fallen to more reasonable levels as supply has aligned with demand.

Another example is Chinese fluorite. When that stuff first hit the market, prices were sky high. Now prices have fallen, because supply has increased to meet the demand. My guess is Chinese pyromorphite will begin to fall soon too, especially if they keep finding more and more.

Of course there are examples where the discovers of a mineral find have made a long-term plan, and they slowly release specimens to avoid flooding the market (and driving prices down). Rhodochrosite from the Sweet Home Mine in Colorado is one example. And they are still selling off elbaite tourmaline from the famous discovery in 1972 at the Dunton Quarry in Maine.

So when you see a high priced mineral specimen, you must gamble on whether the supply will continue to grow, and therefore prices will fall, so it will pay to delay your purchase. Or should you buy now because it is truly a one time find that produced a very limited number of specimens.

5/15/01

Because of my many locality articles on this site, I frequently get emails about how to find minerals at each location. Of course, the question is almost unanswerable because minerals are found in many places. However, there are some general strategies for collecting minerals at a given location:

  1. Look carefully at any exposed ledge or cut that was originally worked. At first glance you won't see much. Now look again but very closely. Invariably there are minerals exposed, but they are hard to see because of weathering or lichen growth.

  2. Take a walk over the dumps. Start at the bottom and slowly work upwards looking closely at the minerals on the surface. These have been washed by the rain and easiest to see anything newly exposed. You should start at the bottom of the dump because as you walk around your footprints will obscure any minerals on the surface. Once disturbed you can't see a thing.

  3. Dig deep into the dumps. In general I dig at least three feet down before I spend much time looking at the rocks. You must figure that a mine last worked in 1945 has had 55 years of collectors looking it over before you. If 20 collectors per year visited the site and then1100 others that were there before you. You must dig down to get to the more productive (less picked over) minerals.

  4. If you want to do hard rock collecting, look closely where others worked before you. I remember collecting at a trench-like cut that was following a pegmatite vein downwards. Most collectors were lazy and tried to find minerals in the wall of the trench because it was at eye level. But the trench was created by excavating the pegmatite that extended down. By following the pegmatite and working the floor of the trench I was able to recoved some nice specimens.

There is no single way to find minerals at a site. These strategies are a good start. If you need more help, join your local mineral club and go collecting alongside more experienced collectors.

5/8/01

I have always been a macro mineral collector. Thumbnail minerals, the smallest I collected, only attracted me if their crystals were large and colorful. Even though the history and locality of a mineral highly interests me, it is the aesthetics that are most important.

I always knew that microminerals were more beautiful than macro minerals and easier to obtain. But the cost of a microscope and the need for a dedicated set up area always hindered me. Well, I just jumped in with both feet and bought Al Stevenson's micromineral collection (10,000 specimens) and a microscope. If I look at 50 per hour (a little more than one minute per specimen) it will take me 5 weeks to go through all of them!

But I have discovered the beauty of microminerals. Even when looking at macro specimens, many new thing can be seen with a microscope that I was missing before.

I urge every collector to get a microscope. Even if you can only afford a student microscope or a used microscope from a school or institution. Get one now. By looking on Ebay and other auction listings it is not too hard to find a good deal. And it will open a whole new world of mineral collecting.

5/1/01

I recently recieved an email that asked, "I don't know if it's me or not but it seems as if the minerals you've put on your website the last couple Tuesdays have been... I don't know, smaller(?) than usual and the updates to the backroom more infrequent. Is that right? I could be me."

In fact, My updates have been much larger than usual. 3 weeks ago the update was so large it was split into 2 pages. And the specimens have been much larger too. In fact,my customers that collect thumbnail minerals have requested that I not neglect them. Finally, several new minerals have been added each week to the Back Room. But they sell quickly.

My guess is the customer is tuning into the site after the first wave of orders has been received. I attempt to remove sold minerals immediately. I think he is seeing the unsold minerals. He is missing the full update.

I remove the minerals quickly for 2 reasons. First, it speeds page loading and there are many customers using old modems that get irritated by slow pages. Second, it reduces the chances of a customer requesting an item that has already sold. As you can imagine, it is disappointing to not get an item shown in the galleries.

This week there are 60 new minerals added to the site and many are LARGE cabinet specimens (including a monster specimen of gypsum from Oklahoma). By Wednesday morning at least half will have sold. By Sunday many more will be gone. They will not be in any of the galleries. The only way to see sold minerals is browsing the sorted lists that are only updated on Tuesdays.

4/24/01

Recently a young collector approached me at a mineral show. I inquired about what he collected. He responded saying he was into collecting "world-class" miniature mineral specimens. That got me thinking about the other world-class collectors I have known. The one common characteristic among them was their ability to spot a "world-class" specimen from among the ordinary minerals offered at a mineral show.

Dave Wilbur is a classic example. He is able to spot a great specimen, and buy it without being prejudiced by a low price. The specimen I bought from the Idarado Mine in the Sotheby's auction of Joe Freilich's mineral collection was formerly in Dave Wilbur's collection. Dave paid $20 for it. I paid more than 500 times that amount at auction - and I consider it a bargain.

On the other hand, there are collectors that cannot believe an inexpensive mineral specimen is a good one. They rely on the guidance of their favorite dealers to "confirm" a specimen's value by escalating the price. These collectors are able to build a great collection, but they pay maximum prices doing so. And they are competing with all the other high-end collectors for these pieces.

My advice to the young collector, and to aspiring "world-class" collectors, is to gain the confidence in your own judgment about what makes a great specimen. Of course, you must also study show cases and learn a lot about minerals along the way. But the key is to approach each specimen without prejudice. Base your judgment on the specimen alone, not the price or the dealer or anything else that is not visible when they are displayed in your mineral case.

3/13/01

This week I have added a group of minerals that have been requested by customers. Usually requests are slipped in one or two each week as they are found, photographed and prepared. But the recent glut of new minerals resulting from my trip to Tucson has put requests on the back burner. This week I am making up for lost time.

I wish I could respond to all requests individually with instantly photographed specimens and email correspondence. But the reality of running a full time mineral business is that photos are only taken once or twice per week. And locating a requested mineral is not instantaneous either. It could take an hour to search through my stock of 5000 mineral specimens to locate a single specimen. Most often requests are located during a mineral show when most of my stock is on display (this site represents about 7% of my available stock).

So please email me if you are looking for a specific mineral. I will do my best to locate it in a timely manner. And there is no committment to buy on your part unless it meets your expectations.

3/6/01

The latest issue of Rocks & Minerals magazine (March/April, 2001) arrived today with my long-promised article on Digital Mineral Photography. It is eleven pages long with 14 color illustrations. I have been holding my breath waiting to see if the color photographs were accurately reporoduced. To my delight, they did an outstanding job. If you want to know my basic  photographic techniques, I highly recommend picking up this issue.

Because the article includes my web site address, it is assumed many people may be viewing this site for the first time. It is worth covering some important points about this site:

  1. Fifty to sixty new minerals are posted to this site every Tuesday afternoon at 2:00 P.M. (New York time). All new items are grouped on New Minerals Page 1.

  2. The previous three weeks new listings are rotated down through New Minerals Page 2, 3, 4.

  3. The visitors that request notification via email, will receive an email announcement immediately after the update is complete.

  4. As mineral orders are received, the minerals are removed from the galleries.  As a result, you will not see any "Sold" signs, unless the Mineral of the Week sells.

  5. The individual mineral pages remain on the web site after they see, accessible through the sorted lists of all minerals. The sorted lists are only updated with the reghular Tuesday update.

For other commonly asked questions I recommend reading the Frequently Asked Questions page.

2/20/01

Yesterday a customer emailed an observation, that in my advice to beginners I recommend that collectors should never buy dinged or damaged specimens. Yet on my site, I offer such specimens for sale. Why?

I have been aware of this contradiction for some time. And apparently my customers have too, as the dinged specimens frequently do not sell. But sometimes buying a dinged specimen  from a particular locality is the only alternative to having no specimen at all from that locality. Or a pristine, undamaged specimen is out of the price range of the collector, and only imperfect specimens are affordable. Since every collector is different (boy, is that an understatement!) offering a dinged specimen is one way of satisfying different collecting budgets and tastes.

It is also true that no specimen is perfect. Under magnification some minor damage can always be found. And when describing the specimens for this web site, every flaw is mentioned in order to prevent returns. So the tendency is to exaggerate the flaws rather than ignore them.

Of course, in a perfect world I would be easily ably to obtain pristine, perfect specimens. These would be the only items offered and my customers would all have unlimited budgets to buy these beauties. Obviously this does not reflect the real world.

So if I get a unique specimen, from a famous locality that has been closed for many years, I will offer it on this site in the hopes that it will fill a niche in some collection, somewhere. This happened recently when I offered some pseudomalachite specimens from the Schuyler Mine in North Arlington, New Jersey - the oldest copper mine in the U.S. They weren't perfect, but they are nearly unobtainable from any other source.

I stand by my recommendation to only buy undamaged specimens, if you can. But I will temper the wording to reflect the realities of the collecting world. And I will continue to offer a wide variety of minerals, some with minor damage, in the hope of satisfying collector's needs. It is up to the collector to decide whether the specimen is worthy of their collection. Lastly, I will continue to strive to offer the best quality minerals possible at affordable prices.

2/13/01

This week is the first full week of new minerals recently acquired in Tucson. Last week was limited to the few specimens I could hand -carry on the plane home. All others were shipped back. Five big boxes (about 20 flats or  400 specimens) arrived safely.

Many of the new acquisitions are for show stock. These are usually large, dramatic specimens that command attention at retail mineral shows. Most of the minerals sold on this site tend to be smaller, unique specimens that benefit from display via close-up photographs. For example, the beautiful, delicate crystals of cyanotrichite from the Grandview Mine in Arizona are best sold via the Internet. If these were put out at mineral shows they would be poked and prodded by collectors and their children. They would probably not survive a full show.

On the other hand, large specimens do not sell well via the Internet. The large, commanding size of these specimens cannot be easily comprehended through small images. The large specimens in the Decorator Sized gallery are all examples of minerals best sold at shows.

But do not misconstrue these comments -all size minerals are offered on this site as well as at shows in my booth. If you live in the Northeast U.S., check out my show schedule to see what minerals I will be attending.

2/6/01

One of the main reasons for returned minerals is the actual color of the mineral differs from what the customer expected. I have had gray calcites returned because they "looked white on my monitor" or white mnerals come back because they expected a darker gray. Clearly these customer's monitors did not match mine.

As a tool for preventing these returns I have created a test image (below) so visitors can see if their monitors are properly adjusted for brightness and contrast. This is a "system independent" test image created in Photoshop and should display the same on every computer - the only variable will be the monitors settings.

It is a gray scale, with black and white extremes, and 14 shades of gray in between. There are brackets beneath the lightest gray and the darkest gray. Can you see these grays? Adjust your monitors brightness and contrast until you can.

Then when you are viewing the mineral images on this site you can be certain you are seeing the same detail that I see when creating the images.

This works for setting brightness and contrast. Now all we need is a test image for color tint and hue. Anybody have any ideas?

1/30/01

As I write this I am sitting in Tucson, after shopping for several days I am exhausted and broke. In general, Tucson was a disappointment this year. Everybody is selling the same stuff. Or it is overpriced because dealers are afraid of missing out on every last dollar. However, I managed to make the trip worthwhile, finding lots of unique specimens.

A week ago (three days before departing for Tucson, and three days after leaving my full time job to run my mineral business full time) I managed to lose part of my left index finger. As a mineral collector, I wish I could say I lost while extracting a three foot plate of crystals off a pocket wall. Or I lost it while blasting a ledge to access a new find of minerals. But the reality is more mundane, I lost it  while building shelves for my home office.

The loss of the finger may have a big effect - it was the only finger I typed with. Yes, it is true, I am not even a two-finger typist. I typed all of my articles (several over 10,000 words each) with just my left index finger. Maybe after my finger has healed I will take the time to learn touch typing...

While in Tucson, I saw the pre-press proofs of my article on Digital Mineral Photography in Rocks & Mineral magazine. It is due out in the next issue and will be available in a few weeks. For those of you that have asked my advice on photography, you will want to get this issue as I disclose many of my techniques.

I will back on schedule next week, hopefully with some of the goodies I picked up down here. See you then...

1/16/01

The Freilich Mineral Collection Auction at Sotheby's has come and gone. I attended all three sessions and bought two specimens for my personal collection.

First some statistics:
Unsold Lots Lots sold  for less than minimum estimate Lots sold within estimate range Lots sold  for more than maximum estimate Sales totals
(not including buyers premium 15-20%)
Session 1 22 30 14 10 $1,194,500
Session 2 66 88 16 10 $557,250
Session 3 80 65 13 19 $413,400
Total 168 183 43 39 $2,165,150

(The numbers here are fairly accurate, though there may be small errors.)

A few observations:

1/9/01

BIG NEWS!

I am making the leap! In about a week I will devote all of my time and energy to my mineral business. That's right - I will be a full time mineral dealer.

It was a hard decision to turn away from 23 years as a design consultant. I always took great pride in designing a product that sells in the millions of units per year. But the mineral business is thriving, and I figured now is the time.

I won't miss working until midnight every night. Or spending every lunch hour rushing to wrap packages and go to the Post Office. Now I can do those things during regular hours. The mineral business will no longer be second priority to my day job.

Hopefully, this shift will mean improved service to customers. Orders received before noon, will be shipped the same day - by 5:00 P.M. And telephone orders will be easier to accept, since I will be at my home office most of the time. The biggest change will be more minerals will be offered each week.

I am not sure exactly how to squeeze in more minerals each week. The New Listings gallery is at the maximum size with 50 specimens. If any more are added loading time will get even slower. It is possible to add a second page of new minerals, but statistics show that the second page only gets about half the viewers as the first page. Or the update schedule could be changed to 2 updates per week. Perhaps late Monday and then early on Thursday. But those of you that receive email notification of the new mineral updates would get 2 email per week, and that might be a nuisance.

1/2/01

This week I want to pass along a couple of tricks to help viewers with slow modem connections. By using the "Cache" on your browser you can speed page loading. The cache (local memory) actually saves a copy to your computer of the text and images on a web page you are viewing. Then when you return to a web page, it loads from your cache rather than waiting for the same information to be resent over the Internet.

So the first tip is: let each page load fully. This will fully cache all information. For example, if you go to the New Listings Gallery, let it load fully before clicking on an individual mineral for details. This way, when you go back to the New Listings Gallery it will be fully cached and will load quickly.

The second tip: Use the right mouse button to open a new window for individual mineral pages. I know this can lead to too many browser windows open, but it is the best way to keep from reloading larger gallery pages. Again using the New Listings Gallery as an example, if you right-click on an image or link and select "Open in New Window" (Internet Eplorer and Netscape) it will open a new browser window with the selected page while keeping the New Listings Gallery page open. Then, instead of using your "Back" button to go back to the New Listings Gallery, you simply close the last mineral page window. The New Listings Gallery will be fully ready and loaded beneath. Try it. It takes a little getting used to closing a window rather than using the Back button. But if you are suffering with a slow modem, it will greatly improve your online experience, especially when vierwing galleries with many individual thumbnail images.

Many visitors request that sold minerals should not be removed from the galleries so quickly. But when first posted the galleries have 50-60 images on them. Viewers with slow modem connections must wait for some time to fully load the pages. So the thumbnails are pulled from the site as fast as possible, especially in the first few hours after they are listed, when half of the items sell. This is also the best way to avoid dissappointing customers because an item requested has already sold. (Unscrupulous dealers use the old "Bait & Switch" where several items are posted that are really great bargains. Then when these bargains are ordered by a customer, they are informed that the items sold already, but they have other specimens available for more money.)

For the visitors that miss an item, you can still see the minerals. The thumbnails have been removed from the galleries, but they are still on the site. You can get to them through the sorted lists:
Sorted by Price - Sorted by Size - Sorted by Mineral Name - Sorted by Number

Links to these pages are at the bottom of every mineral gallery.

12/26/00

As previously mentioned in this column, the Joseph Freilich collection will be auctioned off here in New York City at Sotheby's auction house. The collection catalog is now online. Go to: Mineral Collection of Joseph A. Freilich (NY7586)

Some quick statistics observed about the lots of minerals to be offered:

Total lots: 433

Lots estimated to sell over $10,000: 135 (9 are estimated to go over $100,000.)

Lots estimated to sell under $1,000: 24

The best item estimated to sell at the highest price:  lot 76 - Aquamarine Beryl from Pioniera Mine, Minas Gerais, Brazil. 5 3/8 x 2 1/2 in.; 137 x 63 mm. Single transparent sea-green aquamarine crystal with large second order crystal faces and multiple-sided crystal faces.
Estimated sale price: US $270,000 - US $300,000

The item estimated to sell at the lowest price: lot 319 - Fluorescent Minerals from New Jersey. Various sizes. Seven highly fluorescent minerals of various types. These specimens are from the world-famous Franklin and Ogdensburg, New Jersey, zinc deposit mines, renowned for their fluorescent minerals.
Estimated sale price: US $500 - US $700

Previews begin January 5th and the auction runs from the afternoon of January 11 through the morning of January 12.

If you are in town to visit the auction I hope you will make an appointment to stop by and visit with me. Otherwise I hope to see you there!

12/12/00

Occasionally I get comments that the mineral photographs on this site are too good. Usually from potential customers that don't trust quality, accurate photographs. Just think about it, only on the Internet, where good photography is a rarity, would a customer NOT purchase from a dealer with good quality photographs.

You don't see this same prejudice from mail order companies. Do you ever hear complaints that the photographs in the L.L. Bean catalog are too good? Or Eddie Bauer, Sharper Image, Etc.? But on the Internet, good photographs are a negative! One mineral dealer suggested that he intentionally presents poor images so the customers are delighted when they get the mineral in person. Another dealer boasts about how little time is spent taking photographs!

What ever happened to valuing quality and attention to detail?

I attempt to create the best, most descriptive, image that accurately represents each mineral specimen - to approximate the aesthetics of a specimen when displayed in a mineral cabinet. If you value this effort and recognize that accurate images are the best way to prevent disappointment upon receiving the minerals, then you are whom this site is aimed at.

I am sorry, I will not apologize for good mineral photography to the visitors that expect mediocrity...

12/5/00

A good customer asked why collectors don't include the acquisition date on their labels. Good question!

It is common to record the acquisition date (and the source for the specimen) in collection catalog databases or card files. But the label is passed from owner to owner as the specimen changes hands. Most often, the collection catalog is separated from the specimen over time. As  a result, it is advisable to have as much of the history of the specimen included on the label.

Many old-time collectors did record the acquisition date on their labels. Among the specimens I have had in the Pedigreed Minerals gallery, Bement, Swoboda, Schumacher, Sidebottom, Swigert, Weigand all recorded the acquisition date on the labels. Unfortunately, Zara, Lizzul, Cilen, and the Millers did not record acquisition dates.

Including anything more on the label than mineral species and locality appears to have fallen out of favor with recent collectors. As a collector/dealer that values the history and provenance of each specimen, I urge every collector to add acquisition date to their labels. When practical, keep all original labels with the specimen too. This documents the previous ownership, however usually without recording the dates of ownership.

One of my favorite specimens in my personal collection has a hand-written Carl Bosch label dated 1883, a label from the US National Museum (Smithsonian), and Doris Biggs who acquired the specimen in trade for a donation of an important mineral find from Pennsylvania. Knowing the history adds to the appreciation of the specimen.

With the advent of computer generated labels, capable of cleary printing 5 point type, there is no reason not to include more information on mineral labels. It is better, in my opinion, to have type that is barely legible with lots of information than a label with big type and only minerals and locality.

What do you think?

11/28/00

A Lesson for Collectors

Joe Cilen amassed an amazing collection of almost 24,000 mineral specimens .But Joe had the bad habit of selecting lesser specimens when presented with more than one to choose from. I am sure this was to save money. After all, Joe worked two jobs all his life to pay for his mineral collecting hobby. But imagine how much better his collection would have been if he bought the best available mineral specimen each time he had a choice.

This lesson is a good one for beginners to learn.

Think about your collection from a long term point of view.  Every time you buy a specimen ask yourself if, from the perspective of 20 years in the future, whether the specimen will stand up to your future collecting standards.

Many advanced collectors know to buy the best available. I frequently get emails asking for verification that a particular mineral specimen offered is the best I have available. (For the record: I always offer the best specimens first if I have multiples.)

Joe Cilen's collection turned out to be great because he was buying at a time when many minerals from old locations were available and underappreciated. But it could have been so much better...

11/21/00

Another mineral dealer I know, makes a big deal out of the fact that he does not personally collect minerals. He says that he does not compete with his customers for the best specimens.

I think that is baloney. First, a dealer must be passionate about what he sells. If the dealer does not collect minerals, then the minerals are just a commodity and he might as well be selling hog bellies or grain futures.

Secondly, I do not compete with my customers for the best specimens - my customers get first chance at all the good specimens. If the good specimens do not sell within a period of time, then I will gladly add the specimens to my collection. Since every mineral I post to this site is special and unique in some way, and I only buy specimens for resale that meet my personal collecting standards, I am happy to add them to my collection.

But the unique and special qualities of each specimen often cannot be appreciated by collectors outside a specific region. The large 11 cm New Hampshire smoky quartz I posted two weeks ago is unusual for it's size, and collectors that have been to the locality know that crystals over 2 cm are uncommon. But the rest of the world cannot appreciate that fact.

Same goes for the natrolite crystal aggregate added last week from the Millington Quarry in New Jersey. I have collected at the quarry for 10 years and never gotten another specimen like it.

So when they do not sell, I add them to my collection. But not until customers have had their chance, and there is little doubt that it was missed. (Items I think should not be overlooked ,are added periodically to the Overlooked Treasures Gallery to call special notice to them.)

But to chastise a dealer for collecting the same things he sells is wrong - as long as the customers get first chance.

11/14/00

Last week the New York Mineralogical Club, the oldest mineral club in the U.S., had their annual banquet. The guest speakers were Joseph Freilich and Dave Wilbur.

Joe made a lively and engaging presentation about the joys of collecting. Dave made an enthusiastic presentation about connoisseurship and minerals. It was the culmination of their project of assembling one of the most important mineral collection during the last 3 years.

Dave explained what "real" connoisseurship is about and illuminated the guiding principles that he used when assembling this collection. It caused me to rename my gallery of best minerals which had been called the Connoisseur's Gallery. Nothing on my web site is high enough quality for true connoisseurs and it was terribly pretentious to allude to that level of quality. Now it is simply My Best Minerals (on this site).

The big news is: the Freilich mineral and book collection will be auctioned off at Sotheby's in New York City on January 11 & 12, 2001.

This could be good news. Or it could be bad news. Clearly Sotheby's strategy is to bring mineral collecting to a wider audience of collectors. It is possible, that collectors used to paying $100,000+ for an antique, will willingly pay as much for one-of-a-kind mineral specimens. Of course, this will lead to an escalation of mineral prices at the high-end. Conversely, prices could fail to meet reserves and the existing high-end mineral collectors will find out their recent purchases are not worth what they have been paying.

Whichever happens, it is certain that the auction will be an event to attend. It is strategically timed to precede Tucson, so the collectors can stop in New York to attend the auction, prior to heading down to Tucson.

So clear your calendar, book your flights, and come to New York in January! Be sure to stop in and visit me when you are in town (please call in advance to schedule an appointment.)

10/31/00

This week I have added some new minerals recently acquired from an old collection. Included in this group are some pseudomalachite specimens from the old Schuyler Mine in North Arlington, New Jersey. This copper mine is thought to be the first mine in the United States dating back to 1712-1715.

That is one of the joys of getting old collections.

Sure, it is nice to get a specimen from a new find. All you have to do is pick from the thousands available. (Look how much fluorite is now available from the Rogerley Mine in Weardale, England. Soon it will be so plentiful that it will be sold by the pound.)

But old collections are different. They are the product of a single collector, building a collection over the years, and presumably represents the best available specimens at the time (nobody would buy the worst specimens available...).

If you have an old mineral collection for sale let me know. I regularly buy collections, often sight unseen through the mail. If you are interested in details on selling a mineral collection I have added a page with more information. Go to: Sell Your Mineral Collection.

In the meantime, I hope you enjoy the great old minerals in this week's new offerings.

10/24/00

One of my visitors inquired about what to look for when field collecting. I responded that it is a BIG subject and cannot be answered easily because every locality is different.

A good place to start is Field Collecting Gemstones and Minerals by John Sinkankas. Read it, reread it, then memorize it. He has crammed in more useful knowledge in that one book than all other mineral collecting books combined.

But my real advice to any beginning collector is: Join your local mineral club. There is a mineral club near you wherever you are. Annual dues are reasonable and the information you gain from more experienced collectors is the best education you can find.

If you have several mineral clubs to choose from, find out which conducts the best field trips. Usually field collectors will belong to only one club in a region. Find out which one. (If it is hard to decide, get a list of the past year's field trips from each club and compare the quantity and variety.)

Participating in club field trips is the best way to learn how to field collect. Ask the more experienced for guidance, observe how others collect, what tools they use and see what mineral associations lead to a find. Again, the information and techniques vary from site to site. But their local knowledge can not be found in any book.

You can find your local mineral club at this site: Mineral Club Directory.

10/17/00

I have submitted the final draft of my new article on Digital Mineral Photography to Rocks & Minerals magazine. It sounds like it will be in the January-February or March-April issue next year. Soon my secrets will be out. Do you think all mineral web sites will start to look like mine?

The single biggest drawback of digital photography is the problem of computer monitor calibration.

Each photographer tries to accurately describe the subject. There has been much discussion on one of the mineral email list servers about a particular specimen posted recently to Ebay with wacky color. It is entirely possible the photographer thinks he nailed it perfectly. But his monitor may be thoroughly out of adjustment. After correcting the image to look like the subject on his computer, it was goofy on everybody else's computer. It is interesting that the email list responses ranged from ridicule to "looks good on my computer." That is because all the computer monitors that viewed the site are all out of whack IN RELATION TO THE PHOTOGRAPHER MONITOR.

This is Einstein's law of special relativity as applied to digital imaging!

The only sure fire way to guarantee the viewer sees the same as the photographer is for the photographer to create a print or "hard copy" and mail it to the person. Not very practical.

So is there an alternate? First, I suggest reading the description of the specimen (at least on my site...). If the description says "white" but you see pink then your monitor does not match mine. I would like to think my monitor is perfect. But I know better. I have calibrated it using Adobe Photoshop's color calibration routine. But I am sure it is not perfect. Still I recommend reading the description when it comes to judging colors...

10/10/00

Occasionally a frequent visitor to this site will note certain specimens have been on the site for some time. Compared to the weekly update of new minerals, that seem to fly off the site, it looks like there is something wrong with these specimens.

There is nothing wrong with them. In fact, I select for this site only special specimens, from my regular show inventory, that are beyond ordinary.

Perhaps  minerals do not sell because the photos fail to capture the beauty of the specimen. Or the price looks high compared to another specimen. One is $36, one is $50, one is $350. But to look at the thumbnail view they don't look that different. Only after carefully reading the descriptions and comparing overall sizes do you realize the relative values are related to size and uniqueness of the mineral occurrence.

Another reason minerals stay around on the site, is that it takes time for search engines to pick up a new mineral page. I added several goosecreekite specimens to my site about 4 weeks ago. The search engine robots have yet to pick up on their presences. In addition, there are not many collectors for a large rare specimen of goosecreekite. (Even though most of the goosecreekite specimens I have available are better than the best on display at the Smithsonian!) So these will sit on the site and slowly be sold.

Occasionally, I will select items that have not sold and add them to the Overlooked Treasures Gallery. This gallery is a collection of quality minerals at fair prices. But for some odd reason they never sold.

The bottom line is there is nothing wrong with a specimen that has been on the site for a few months. Every once in a while you should look through the other galleries to see what is there...

10/3/00

I just returned from Washington, D.C. where I had a chance to see the new mineral hall at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History. It was very impressive as you would expect from the country's national museum. Most notable was the design of the lighting illuminating each specimen. Through the use of pin spot light sources, and sometimes fiber optic lighting, they actually were able to achieve a mineral display that equals a photograph by Jeff Scovil or the Van Pelts.

As I have written before, mineral photos are always better than the actual specimen. A photograph is taken from a single point of view, with optimum lighting, and the specimen is supported in the best pose. It is nearly impossible to achieve a similarly aesthetic museum display. But the Smithsonian really did a great job, especially with three fantastic tourmaline specimens from California and Brazil.

It took 2 hours to thoroughly go through the exhibit and there were minimal crowds when the museum first opens. However, the proximity of the Hope Diamond, one of the museum's most popular exhibits, guarantees crowds later in the day.

If you get an opportunity to visit the museum. It is well worth the trip.

9/26/00

It was a pleasure to meet some of my customers last weekend at the Franklin, NJ mineral show. (The anonymity and impersonality of the Internet is its biggest disadvantage - it is hard to get to know the person at the other end of an email...)

When talking with one customer, he mentioned upon seeing a specimen in person, that it looked pink on his computer screen when it was in fact white. Other customers have similarly reported other color shifts in the photos when compared to the actual specimen.

I work very hard to guarantee color accuracy of the original jpeg images. All images are adjusted in Photoshop image editing software. Photoshop has a built in monitor calibration that guarantees accurate color reproduction.

But I have no control over the monitors of my customers. Nothing short of using monitor calibration software, and viewing the images using a calibrated software program like Photoshop will ensure that you see what I see.

I have developed a theory about why some customer prefer my site over another dealers: their monitors match my monitor, they see what I see. And therefore can see the beauty and why I selected each specimen as being "web-worthy" (believe me, there are many that are not web-worthy).

If the colors are dull, it might be your monitor. If the colors are overly saturated, it might be your monitor. If the description says "blue-green" and you see yellow-green, it might be your monitor.

Or maybe it is my monitor...

The bottom line is, there is a money back guarantee. If the mineral specimen is not what you expected you may send it back. No questions asked. No explanation necessary.

9/20/00

When I buy minerals for resale or go collecting in the field I always ask, "Would I put this specimen in my personal collection?" If the answer is no, then the specimen is left for the next person.

It is an emotional  conflict whether to offer a really good specimen for sale or to keep it. Often a good specimen does not sell, usually due to the inadequacy of the Internet for selling three dimensional aesthetic objects. I regularly pull these unsold specimens for addition to my personal collection and often I am happy about the situation.

Usually, I put specimens  out for a period of time to see if there are any nibbles. The manganite from Ilfeld, Germany is a good example. It is better than anything in my collection.

Sometimes it goes the other way, I get a specimen for my collection that is an upgrade and the lesser specimen currently in my collection is offered for sale here on the site. The purple fluorapatite from Mt. Rubellite, Maine is a good example from this week's update.

The important point is they pass the aesthetic, historic, mineralogic criteria that I set for a specimen in my personal collection. Any specimens that fail to meet these criteria are left unpurchased, left behind in the field or is sold off to other dealers if they came in as part of a larger lot of mineral specimens. This site is a reflection of my personal collecting sensibilities. It may not match your own. But it isn't just a random group of minerals.

9/12/00

A few milestones passed while I was on vacation: this site passed the 100,000 visitor mark and my database mineral inventory passed the 11,000th specimen. In celebration of these milestones I have posted some special minerals this week that are not likely to be found on any other sites on the Internet.

First is a collection of amethyst crystals from a one-time find in a housing development in Massachusetts. It is likely that few other specimens from this find will be available.

Also this week is a fine collection of minerals from classic localities like the Red Cloud Mine, Tsumeb Mine. These were sold to me by a collector and the quality is exceptional. Don't miss the manganite from Ilfeld, Germany or the two cuprite specimens from Zaire.

The most noteworthy additions this week are some superb goosecreekite specimens. Goosecreekite is a rare zeolite mineral related to epistilbite. I obtained the entire lot from a find in India and was delighted to get some excellent large clusters with well defined crystals. Try searching the Internet to find anything comparable...

I am also beginning a reorganization of the my web site to make it better. Now is the time to email me if you have any suggestions to make it better. Your comments are very helpful. Please take the time to help.

8/15/00

Thanks to everybody that took the time to say hello at the East Coast Gem & Mineral Show last weekend. It was a great show in many ways. I am most pleased to announce that several collectors sold me minerals from their collections and these are are scheduled for future updates. Look for a fantastic collection of large analcime clusters from Mt. St. Hilaire in the near future...

One visitor stopped by to talk. He mentioned he found it helpful when I clearly state in the description that a specimen is "pristine and undamaged". I didn't realize the importance of this phrase in the description. Often it is omitted due to space limitations.

It would get pretty monotonous if I kept repeating the phrase. Kind of like the way one dealer only has "rare" and "very rare" mineral species. Or over-using the adjective "superb" and "world-class".

It should be assumed that a specimen is undamaged unless otherwise stated. I feel obliged to describe the flaws in a specimen to avoid disappointment when a specimen arrives. And every effort is made to sell only undamaged specimens. Don't think worse of a specimen just because it does not explicitly state lack of damage.

8/1/00

Well, my worst nightmare finally materialized. A real mineralogist visited my site. As promised, I post visitor comments even if they are negative. This anonymous visitor observed:

"Interesting site. I thought you'd like to know that bravoite is a discredited mineral. It was found to be nickeloan pyrite by Bayliss. For reference see Amer. Mineral. (1989) 1172-73. Also, you make a grevious error in putting wulfenite under the oxide category. It is more aptly placed in Other as you do not have a Molybdate category."

Very true. Bravoite has been discredited. I have corrected the error. Regarding the assignment of Wulfenite to the Oxide gallery it was an erroneous decision. Wulfenite, Pb(MoO4), is a molybdate. I dropped it into the Oxide gallery since it was predominantly oxygen. But that is not the definition of an oxide. (1451 minerals out of 3983 mineral species include oxygen.) As a molybdate it belongs in the Other gallery of miscellaneous minerals.

However, I must point out in my defense that there is no single, absolute way to divide minerals into classes and groups. Throughout mineralogical studies there have been many debates about classification of minerals. Strunz, Dana, Hey classify minerals differently. At least one well known mineral  afficianado still supports classifying silicates as oxides. And a well known internet mineral site lists molybdates as a sub-category of sulfates. But today everyone appears to follow Dana's system and I apologize for my error.

There are many inconsistencies on the site. Most are ambiguous at best, with room for interpretation. For example, does a mineral from the Czech Republic belong in the Europe gallery or in the Russian (& former Soviet republics) gallery? And why should barite have a separate gallery when it is a sulfate? The galleries are there as a convenience to group similar minerals together and divid ethe site into smaller pages that load faster. I suppose I could use non-mineral groups like other dealers. I could use gem minerals, semi-precious minerals, orange minerals, hard minerals, soft minerals...

I knew it was only a matter of time before somebody complained. I am always happy to listen and learn. The process of refining and inproving the site is never ending. Please email me your comments.

7/25/00

A few beginners have asked about standard conventions on naming and labelling mineral specimens. To summarize the accepted standards:

  1. Always start with the proper mineral species name.

  2. For varietal names use the form: Mineral Name variety Varietal Name. For example: Beryl variety Morganite, or Quartz variety Herkimer Diamond.

  3. The word "variety" can be abbreviated as "var." For example: Beryl var. Aquamarine.

  4. Use proper English. It is "doubly-terminated", not "double terminated". It is "Japan-law twin", not "Japanese law Twin". Use "personally collected", not "self collected" (a mineral does not collect itself...)

Why be so complicated? Why can't I just call my specimen "Aquamarine" or "Herkimer Diamond"?

Because mineral references sort information by mineral species. Familiar varieties like Kunzite, Morganite, Emerald, Herkimer Diamonds, Hiddenite, Adularia are not mineral names. Period. End of discussion. It is likely that these might be found in the index, but what about more obscure varietal names like Valencianite, Endlichite, Campylite, Melanite? How about "Faden Quartz"? You won't find that one in the index of any book. It should be labeled "Quartz variety Faden-growth".

I learned this lesson the hard way when I used to catalog all of my mineral in the "accepted" nomenclature like "Smoky Quartz" or "Herkimer Diamond". When it came time to sort through the catalog to list all quartz specimens for example I found that I had to look for Citrine, Amethyst, Smoky, Milky, Morion, etc. What a pain...

So my advice is to always list the accepted mineral species first. (Don't ask me what to do when a mineral species is discredited - that is your problem.) The best reference for accepted mineral species  names is Glossary of Mineral Species by Michael Fleischer and Joseph Mandarino. Buy it and use it.

6/6/00

An Internet corollary to Murphy's Law (anything that can go wrong, will go wrong) is: if somebody can misunderstand, they will misunderstand. This is especially true about emails and other Internet correspondence. 

Many times an innocent email has been misconstrued as acidic in tone. Even these weekly commentaries have been misunderstood. In last week's commentary I said, "there is no preset price or comparison shopping (with unique specimens) as with commodity items like hamburger, appliances or Arkansas quartz crystals." The comment was about the fact that you cannot comparison shop what are essentially one-of-a-kind mineral specimens. 

(In last week's update there was a specimen recovered from the new water tunnel 700 feet beneath New York City. You could search the Internet or mineral shows for a year and never find another specimen like it.)

But my comment caused concern that I was disparaging Arkansas Quartz. This of course was not the point at all. There are many beautiful quartz specimens that come from Arkansas. But they are sold by the pound. That is what I call a commodity, and there is comparison shopping with commodity specimens. You can find other quartz specimens to compare the price to.

(And to all the butchers and appliance salesmen out there, I would like to go on record as liking hamburger and kitchen appliances.)

I guess I am trying to say, that you should think the best, not the worst, when reading comments from somebody. Perhaps we should start using the ubiquitous "happy faces" at the beginning of our correspondence so readers will know what tone they are written in... ;-)

5/30/00

I recently purchased the best specimens, in my opinion, of the new find of pyromorphite from the Loudville Lead Mine in Loudville, Massachusetts. (This new find will be published soon in Rocks & Minerals magazine, and I will be offering them at the East Coast Gem & Mineral Show in August.)

When negotiating the price the collector said basically, "If you don't want to pay my price, go try to find another." And he was absolutely right, there is no preset price or comparison shopping as with commodity items like hamburger, appliances or Arkansas quartz crystals. He had the best specimens I had ever seen from this old mine . Even Harvard University acquired a specimen from this find for their collection.

Where else was I going to get another specimen as good? If I wanted any of his specimens, I had to pay his prices.

When you look at minerals for sale keep this in mind. Too often collectors (and myself) have regretted passing on a specimen saying," the price is too high, I will look for a cheaper one." And when they can't find a cheaper specimen, they try to buy the first one they saw and find it has sold. If you see a great specimen that catches your eye, think twice before passing. Odds are if it catches your eye it will catch others as well.

"You never regret buying a specimen, you only regret not buying a specimen."

5/24/00

Often questions are emailed to this site requesting advice on where to get a specimen tested and identified. It seems people have forgotten how to run some basic tests to identify minerals themselves.

My advice is to purchase a good mineral reference book like Mineralogy by John Sinkankas and learn how to identify cleavage and crystal form, test for hardness, acid solubility, and specific gravity. The equipment required costs less than the $35 that a testing laboratory will charge. And you will learn something as you go through the process of identifying your specimens.

Of course, it helps to have information about the minerals known from the location where they were collected. Using the locality list of minerals and a reference book, narrow down the possible minerals that your unknown specimen could be. Then work through the physical properties one by one. Remember, when confronted with a choice between an exotic mineral and a common mineral, it is most likely that your unknown specimen is the common mineral.

If this fails, I recommend joining your local mineral club, going to one of their meetings and asking some more experienced collectors for help. If you stump them, then they will help you get your specimen tested, often for free, at a nearby university, geologic survey or museum.

4/25/00

Finally, there is a new book to summarize out of date mineral names! 

The new Glossary of Obsolete Mineral Names by Peter Bayliss was recently released by the Mineralogical Record. The format is a dictionary-style listing with the equivalent modern mineral name listed for each entry. In addition, the original reference that used the name is listed for further research. (I know some collectors that desire the reference that discredited the out of date mineral name. Sadly this is lacking.)

Many of youhave read my article on References for Mineral Collectors that recommends the 6th Edition of Dana's Mineralogy and An Index of Mineral Species and Varieties Arranged Chemically by Hey for researching old mineral names. In fact, all of the old mineral names in these two books have been summarized in this new publication. ISt is now a quick, one-stop first reference for deciphering old mineral labels. However, you may still want the older Dana and Hey books to actually learn more about the locality or original research on the mineral in question. But if you cannot afford the old books or cannot find a copy, then the new Glossary of Obsolete Mineral Names is worth adding to your library. The price is only $32.

While you are ordering, you might consider getting the latest Glossary of Mineral Species 1999 if don't already have one...

4/18/00

I just returned from four days of sleep deprivation and nonstop fun at the Rochester Mineralogical Symposium. One of my favorite sessions was conducted by Joe Mandarino (author of the Glossary of Mineral Species) on mineral names and nomenclature. Going into the session my interest centered around the elimination of biotite and lepidolite as valid mineral names.

Normal language evolves, and as usage changes over time, the language is revised to reflect those changes. Popular usage becomes acceptable. Mineral names are exactly the opposite. It seems the longer a mineral species has been around, the better the chances of it being eliminated. What could be more common than biotite or lepidolite?

Biotite is now a series of dark micas without lithium. The series end members are  phlogopite - KMg3AlSi3O10(OH)2  and annite - KMg2+3AlSi3O10(OH)2. The middle species biotite was eliminated.

Lepidolite is now a series of light micas with substantial lithium. The series end members are trilithionite - KLi1.5Al1.5Si3O10F2 and polylithionite - KLi2AlSi4O10F2. The middle species lepidolite was eliminated.

Why? I was hoping for guidance and explanation. Instead I learned that wolframite has been eliminated and is now a series name!

Privately, I queried Dr. Mandarino for a common sense solution for the ordinary mineral collectors. He confirmed that using biotite, lepidolite, wolframite are acceptable when the exact species is not known. However, as specific mineral localities are studied, and the mineralogy is known, he encouraged the use of the exact mineral species.

Lastly, he advocates the complete elimination of all varietal names. That means amethyst, citrine, aquamarine, sphene, etc. should no longer be used. It is not likely these will ever be eliminated from common usage. More to the point, why bother to eliminate them? They are valuable descriptive terms for common mineral species.

The IMA has lost sight of their goals. In an effort to simplify, they have made everything more complicated. It is up to you to decide whether you should recatalog the mineral names in your collection. After you finish correcting mineral names you can start revising geographic names (Zaire, Myanmar, Czechoslovakia, etc. are no longer valid)...

4/11/00

During the next week I will be attending the Rochester Mineral Symposium. It is a fantastic event, with excellent lectures, good dealers, and overall a lot of fun. If you are in the area, be sure to make an effort to visit. (There may be delays in shipping orders this week while I am on the road.)

I am currently working on an article on digital mineral photography. I am torn between wanting to share my techniques and disclosing my secrets. The last thing I want is my competition learning how to photograph minerals. Many customers and visitors have commented on the quality of the photographs on this site. I always caution not to purchase the image in the photo, but the mineral described. Is the size right? Is there any damage? Is it a good specimen? Is the price reasonable? These should be the first questions you answer before ordering a specimen.

Other dealers prefer to use lesser quality photos so the customer is delighted with the specimen when it arrives. I have never had a photograph come close to capturing the full beauty of a specimen. Frequently, it is impossible to get a good image and the description of the mineral includes the phrase, "Very difficult to photograph this specimen, must be seen to be appreciated." In this instance, remember there is a money back guarantee on all purchases. Don't hesitate to take a chance. If the specimen does not meet your standards, ship it back for a full refund, including postage both ways. You cannot go wrong.

4/5/00

It is great to get out in the field again after a long winter. Every collecting trip brings new discoveries.

I have two goals when field collecting: to find at least one great specimen and to smash only one finger

The latter is more predictable. Though I got a laugh at the quarry safety officer saying he didn't want any participants to even stub a toe. It wouldn't be a real collecting trip if I didn't abuse my body in some way. Last weekend I got away with only a small blood blister resulting from a severely pinched finger.

The goal of finding one really good specimen on every trip is more difficult. It is amazing how, as the day goes on. my standards get lower. After a half day of collecting at a "dry" site, any scrap starts to look good. Fortunately, this month's collecting trip have been very fruitful including some real killers.

After the specimens are trimmed and cleaned a few may find there way to my site. In the meantime, I have posted some finds from last year's field trips to the site this week.

3/21/00

Last weekend's field trip to collect at the old Prospect Park Quarry in Haledon, New Jersey was a blast. This active quarry has been closed to collectors for at least 30 years. During recent times they were excavating very unproductive zones (from a mineral collecting point of view). Due to limits of the excavatable property, they are now forced to shift back to the more mineralized zones which should be good for collectors.

Though it was great to collect specimens in the quarry personally, it gave a new perspective on the quality of specimens in old collections from this quarry. Joe Cilen's collection was filled with hundreds of specimens from Prospect Park. I took for granted the quality of these specimens. After seeing what has been found recently, I have a renewed appreciation for the good specimens that Joe collected.

I am actively pursuing the great specimens from old collections. They are a perfect complement to the newly available specimens, and provide perspective on what a fine specimen is from this locality. Only time will tell what will be found in the future.

3/14/00

A customer complained that the metric dimensions used to describe the minerals on this site make the minerals seem larger.

Metric dimensions are used throughout the world and the U.S. adopted the metric standard many years ago. For minerals, metric is much easier to use for small dimensions such as crystal size. It is far easier to say a crystal is 2mm long rather than .078 inches or 5/64ths of an inch.

Every customer  is encouraged to use the dimensions as follows.

  1. Select a specimen from your collection that is the smallest specimen you are willing to purchase.

  2. Measure it in inches and metric.

  3. Use those dimensions as your minimum acceptable size to screen out specimens you are considering to purchase.

That way you will never have a specimen arrive in the mail that is smaller than you are willing to accept. You can do the same with crystal dimensions - establish the minimum crystal size you are willing to keep. Some may want to establish the largest acceptable size too.

The leading cause of returned minerals is disappointment from the mineral being a different size than imagined. This simple exercise will help you avoid this problem, whether shopping on this site or others...

3/7/00

As I visit with people at shows I hear all kinds of comments. Some complain mineral prices are too expensive, others say prices are great. It is surprising how little consensus there is. Of course, if two dealers are side by side, selling the exact same quality minerals from identical locations, then it is easy to say one has more expensive minerals than the other. I guess the same goes for Internet mineral dealers.

But what is the right price for a unique specimen from an unusual location?

This week's new mineral listings includes the two best specimens of emerald in matrix from a new find in China. One specimen has crystals longer than 4" and great color! What is the right price for such unique specimens? As a dealer I don't even know their value. All I can go by is what I paid for them.

I got to the importer first, and purchased all the best specimens. Did I pay too much? Are my prices too high? I don't know. Only time will tell. If I still have these specimens in 6 month I guess we will all know the answer.

2/15/00

The experiment of thematic updates of the past weeks has ended. Three weeks ago all the new minerals were from the British Isles. Two weeks ago the update was all rare minerals from Connecticut.

A lesson was learned. It is better to have an assortment of specimens in the hope of having something for everyone, rather than many specimens for a very narrow group of collectors. From now on the minerals added every week will be a broad range of prices, minerals, localities and sizes.

The mineral show season starts this weekend with Albany, NY show. All of the minerals on this site have been packed up to take to the shows. For the past few months there has been little competition for the specimens offered here on this site. However, there are four shows in the next four weekends, and many of these minerals will rapidly sell. If you have been hesitating on any specimens, this may be your last opportunity to get them before they hit the shows...

If you plan on visiting the Albany show (or Meriden, Ct., New York City, N.Y., or Clifton, N.J. shows in the coming weeks) I hope you will stop by to visit my booth. I always welcome an opportunity to meet the collectors that are only known by email address.

2/8/00

I just got back from Tucson with lots of goodies. As I visited my competition, other Internet mineral dealers, I realized that they were stuck in their motel rooms and were limited to visiting only easily accessible dealers nearby  to find new material. My advantage of being able to freely explore the peripheral shows and back corners of Tucson lead to some great finds.

I connected with a Chinese geologist that just arrived with long green emerald crystals in matrix from a knew find in the remote mountains of China. I picked up the best of a new find of Japan-law twin quartz crystals from Pampa Blanca, Peru. I also reconnected with my supplier of diamonds in matrix from Fuxian, China and got some nice large diamonds, easily visible to the naked eye. Lastly, I scored some good local Arizona and New Mexico minerals from local collectors including some classic wulfenite and vanadinite specimens. Of course, I got some of new finds that everyone is aware of, like fluorite from the Rogerley Mine, Pyromorphite from the Guang Xi Mine in China, Hematite from Nador, Morocco.

The point is: I am not out there filling requests or just reselling what other dealers offer - I am hand-picking exquisite, aesthetic specimens that are "right" priced. As these new acquisitions are posted to the site in the coming weeks, it is hoped you will find a special mineral specimen that no other internet mineral dealer has available.  That is how we hope to distinguish this site from the competition.

2/1/00

I will be in Tucson during the next few days trying to find some under-appreciated treasures. There may be some delays filling orders this week as a result.

During this period of interruption, be assured that all orders will be filled in the order they are received. Please accept my apologies for any inconvenience this may cause.

This is also your last opportunity to request any special items for me to locate while I am searching Tucson. There is no committment on your part to purchase, but I will use your requests to gather specimens for the site.

Are any of you going to be in Tucson over the weekend? Email me, We can meet and I will buy you a beer...

1/18/00

Big changes this week: A search utility has been added to the home page at the bottom and in an effort to optimize page loading some galleries have been rearranged. Four new galleries have been added:

Each of the first three galleries was split out of a larger gallery. Tsumeb minerals used to be grouped in with all African minerals; British Isle minerals used to be grouped under European minerals; and New York & New Jersey were part of Mid-Atlantic states.

The gallery of Overlooked Treasures are beautiful specimens that have been missed by visitors, but should have been snapped up right away. They are clean, well formed, little or no damage, and reasonably priced. They come with my personal recommendation - money back if not completely delighted with the specimens.

The Millington Quarry Gallery has been merged into the New York & New Jersey Gallery. Lastly, the Mid-Atlantic Gallery is now the South & Mid-Atlantic Gallery to resolve the contradiction that it included Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas.

I hope you will take the time to visit the new galleries and that you find it easier and faster loading. Enjoy...

1/12/00

Judging from the web traffic, everybody has survived the holidays and returned to the weekly routine. It is interesting to see how web traffic fluctuates during the year. Traffic dips during the Christmas-New Years week, in late spring when school is getting out, and in the summer when everyone is out collecting or on vacation. February to March is always the peak season for traffic as winter shuts everyone in and Tucson stirs interest.

I am now into my second year of providing weekly updates of new minerals. It started with 20 new specimens each week. Lately, there are usually 40 new specimens each week. For the future updates I will limit the updates to 30 each week to allow me to stockpile some specimens for the Tucson and February-to-March show season. Beginning in mid-February local weekend mineral shows are back-to-back for several weeks. Since I usually photograph minerals on weekends for the following week's update, a weekend show prevents the usual routine. I am now photographing specimens for those weekly updates (you should see what is coming... Good Stuff!)

In addition to the stockpile of new minerals prepared for this period, there is also a big pile of minerals from orders that were cancelled. When a mineral order is received, the specimens are removed right away from the mineral galleries on the site. This reduces loading time for the galleries and minimizes the disappointment of requesting a mineral that has already sold (though that will still happen...). But often the customer gets cold feet, or forgets, or loses interest, and they fail to send payment. (This is the only reason I prefer credit card transaction - the sale is completed and out the door. No waiting for checks to arrive, or for an email response.) The worst thing about this phenomenon, is that it is always the best mineral specimens that are requested - when the order is cancelled the sit around unseen until the opportunity arises for them to be reposted to my site.

The coming weeks are also going to heavily weighted for specific locality galleries. This week is Canadian minerals. Next week will be Tsumeb minerals. Look for Michigan Copper Country, minerals from England, and Connecticut rarities in future updates.

1/4/2000

Well, we survived the Y2K bug. I hope your computer has survived with no surprises. (Can somebody tell me what to do with all this canned food I've got stashed...)

Several customers have suggested adding an auction page so that minerals don't sell out as fast. In theory, a specimen stays on the site until a certain date, and every customer has an equal chance to get the specimen. There is no advantage to being an early bird when new minerals are added. While I have entertained the idea, I hesitate to add an auction because an auction ONLY BENEFITS THE DEALER.

An auction maximizes the price of a sold specimen. The dealer benefits and the richest customers benefit.

I attempt to put fair prices on each specimen. Then the customer is delighted to get a good value. And there is no overinflation of prices due to competitive bidding. If you think minerals at auction sell for less than fixed price,  take a look at the foolish bids on the junk available on Ebay and you will change your mind. Though everybody remembers the great find they got at an auction. Sadly, the good deals are far outnumbered by the overly inflated prices of the majority of the sales.

Of course, occasionally I price specimens too high. They will not sell and will be removed after a period. Often, these specimens sell at shows where the customer can really appreciate the quality of the specimen that I can see when I set the price. (As goods as the photographs are on my pages, they are a poor substitute to holding a specimen in your hands.)

As a result, if you want to get the good pieces at good prices be sure to check this site around 4:00 to 4:30 P.M. (NY time) every Tuesday. (This corresponds to Wednesday morning for the Pacific rim countries and accounts for why I call it a Wednesday update.)

12/28/99

In a desperate effort to clear out minerals prior to the world financial collapse on January 1, I have put many specimens on sale in a special Discount Gallery. I only do this about three time per year in an effort to test whether a specimen hasn't sold because of the price, or if there is some other reason.

If you think about it, to each person a mineral specimen can only be overpriced or underpriced. If it is underpriced it sells immediately. If it is overpriced it languishes until a customer comes along that appreciates it. If a mineral is priced low, there are more people that think the specimen is underpriced. If the mineral is priced high, most viewers will think it is overpriced.

No single web site is viewed by all collectors. It is a matter of time until the right customer comes along for each mineral specimen posted to this site. Therefore a mineral will sell at any price, within reason. It is only a matter of time...

My hope of course, is to sell minerals within a reasonable amount of time and price the minerals on this site at the right price.

12/21/99

I had a call last week from a new collector. Like many of us, he had rediscovered the joy of mineral collecting after many years. He asked for guidance in building his collection. He had spent the last year buying minerals, but he recognized he might be making bad decisions.

Looking back on our conversation, I thought about the advice given and wondered what single piece of advice was the most important. Also, the recent evaluation of my personal collection and subsequent de-accession of many minerals in my personal collection.

The answer was clear.

The best advice for any collector is to spread your acquisition budget over the fewest number of specimens as possible. In essence: buy a few very high quality minerals - DO NOT many inexpensive minerals.

Unfortunately this is lesson that must be learned through experience. And it sounds like a conflict of interest coming from a mineral dealer. But I am a collector first and foremost. Now that I getting rid of the hundreds of lesser specimens I acquired in my first years collecting, I wish somebody had given me this advice when I started.

You don't have to take my advice. But years from now, when you realize that it is good advice, remember you heard it here.

12/14/99

I am beginning to rethink my philosophy about mineral collecting. Many of you have read my article Advice For Beginners: Nine Lessons Learned from Experience. In the article, I advise "Don’t collect more specimens than you canno display." This is in response to the thousands of collectors with closets and garages filled with boxes of minerals.  

But there is an alternative...  

I recently added to this site a page of photographs of some of the minerals I personally collected in the field. (Often collectors label these "self-collected minerals". However, I have never seen a mineral collect itself.) The process of photographing each specimen is laborious and time consuming. But by posting them to a web page I can share the collection with others. And that is the same reason collectors display their collection.

 Is it possible web pages will replace mineral displays? Maybe...  

For me at least, I can now box these specimens away in drawers or a closet and still enjoy them and share with others. The pressure is off to get more display cases or a larger room for the collection. The web page also provides a great catalog of the collection, and is much better than a dry, type-written list off a database.

 Other collectors have been displaying their minerals on the Internet. One of my favorites is Shinichi Kato's collection. I had never considered how the virtual display of a collection can free the collector from maintaining a real display. You will probably choose to still display your very best specimens at home, but the virtual display can expand the selection of minerals you share with others. It is worth considering...


12/7/99

I can't believe there is only 8 weeks until world-famous mineral shows begin in Tucson, Arizona. Every year I travel down to the shows to hand pick minerals for the coming year from various suppliers and wholesalers. Most of my sources are actually  collectors/miners that bring their finds to Tucson to sell.

I am preparing my shopping list and setting up advance deals now. If you are looking for specific minerals or have a wish list ,email it to me to see what I can dig up. There is  no committment on your part. (I figure if one person wants it, then several will be interested.) Conversely, I do not make any promises that I can locate what you want, but I will keep my eyes open. Be sure to include specimen size, price range and specific localities.


11/30/99

This week I am permanently changing the schedule for adding new minerals to this site. As many of you were aware, I routinely added new minerals around 12:00 noon, New York City time on the Tuesday prior to the announced Wednesday date.

This allowed for the regular customers, with inside information, to visit the site before the casual visitors checked in on Wednesday, the formally announced day. It also allowed for the visitors in Japan and western Pacific region to visit the site early on Wednesday, their time, and my announced Wednesday update would be waiting for them. However, my regular Japanese customers were being regularly beat to the best minerals because the Noon update was before they awoke in the morning.

So beginning with this week, minerals will now be added to my site around 4:30 P.M. New York City time.

For the customers on the east coast that want to check this site while at work, this will still leave time to visit before the end of the day. For those that view the site from home, the new schedule will reduce the advance opportunity of the early birds. Lastly, for my Japanese, Australia and western Pacific customers, this will permit viewing the update closer to the posting time (as long as they visit the site before they eat breakfast).

I hope the new schedule is satisfactory. It is very difficult to juggle worldwide time zones. This is my best compromise in the hope of keeping all of my loyal customers happy. I welcome your comments on the subject. If it becomes apparent that the new schedule has made matters worse I will reevaluate it at a later date.


11/23/99

I finally completed the reorganization of my personal mineral collection. It is an exercise I think every collector should go through at least every 5 years. By going through the process of reviewing each specimen, grouping them, organizing them, and evaluating the duplicates in my collection I learned many things about how I personally collect.

For example, I organized my collection by locality. That is my personal preference. (Many collectors organize their collection by size or by mineral species.) From this I realized that I also sell minerals by locality on this site. I place greater emphasis on a mineral specimen from a classic locality or from an uncommon locality. Sometimes the specimen descriptions sound redundant always pointing out the importance of the specimens in the context of locality ("classic" "unusual" "hard-to-find" "lost locality"). But because I collect that way personally, I tend to describe minerals that way.

My personal favorite is New England minerals, and New Jersey minerals. This grew fromcollecting extensively at these localities and therefore appreciating the uniqueness or rarity of the specimens from the locations.

I urge every collector to develop a specialty to their collections. It provides focus to collecting and the allocation of acquisition budget. I also urge you to go through every specimen in your collection and evaluate it. If nothing else, rearrange the specimens in your display case. You never know what you may find. You may find an unappreciated beauty. Or you may learn something about yourself...


11/16/99

It often gets ridiculous all the offerings from various "collections". On my site alone there is Joe Cilen's, Robert Bates', Doris Biggs', Robert Sahno's, Gladys Swigert's, Richard Heck's collections, to name just a few. And there is the recent madness around John Barlow's collection coming to the market. 

Is buying mineral specimens from another collector's (well-known or not) collection good?

The answer is yes. Here is why:

Mineral collecting is not easy. If you are a field collector you must sort through 99.9% junk to find the .1% worth keeping. At a mineral show you must sort through the common or  damaged or overpriced or unremarkable specimens offered by dealers to find the unique, right-priced, undamaged specimen for your personal collection. In short you must work at collecting to build a collection that fulfills your interest and vision.

When you buy minerals from a noteworthy collection you are benefitting from another collector doing the work. Often a collector like Heck or Barlow would haunt the hallways of Tucson to see the dealers before they were formally open. Or the dealer held out special specimens for them because of previous requests. Robert Bates traded minerals with collectors all over the world for 45 years. It would take as long to build the same collection, but many of the minerals available then are no longer available.

So there is a genuine benefit to buying mineral specimens from a noteworthy collector or collection. Yes there is much hype, and you must be careful to pay the right price. But, in general, you are benefitting from another collectors knowledge and effort when building their collection.


11/09/99

Many collectors contemplate the disposition of their collection upon their death or in old age. John Barlow sold his collection while he could enjoy the money. Some collectors have family members that share a genuine interest in minerals and are pleased to pass along their collection to them. These are the lucky collectors.

The unlucky collectors are the ones that plan to leave their collection to a museum. The illusion is they are adding to an important collection, filling-in an inadequate collection, or preserving their collection intact. Sadly, museums have a disappointing record at preserving collections. Most often the curator does not fully appreciate the subtleties of a specimen or occurrence. Often donated collections are de-acquisitioned to fund the purchase of a single crowd-pleasing showpiece. Too often a part-time curator will mismanage the collection, intentionally or unintentionally.

I recently learned of three different regional museums that have mismanaged their mineral collections. It has made me rethink my personal plans for my collection. I urge you to develop a plan for the disposition of your collection. A wise man said, "Object of value end up where they are most appreciated." This often means that your museum donation will end up in private hands sooner or later.

If you decide to dispose of all or a portion of your collection keep me in mind. I  regularly purchase collections, often without seeing them and find that old collections are the only way to get the classic minerals that are no longer being mined.

John Betts


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