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Collection Building

By Bill Shelton

Collections might seem to have a life of their own, but that is not the case for many of us. We have a plan of sorts that helps guide us when it comes to acquiring and managing samples in our cabinets.  Exactly how can an individual proceed?  What are some of the many decisions they may make to expand and mature their own collection?

This can be a very complex process; we may not be doing the same things as other collectors.  Living here in Arizona, it is likely that you at least think about a suite of minerals from here – but do you also choose certain places; i.e. Bisbee and Ajo or places in a particular county like Pima?  Maybe the selection process will involve a chemical context such as lead bearing species or perhaps secondary minerals (that will involve a chemical signature) and again you can limit the choices to certain areas.  One can easily do a collection of unusual crystal forms or more or less common species from little-known localities. 

Did you ever go to mindat.org and just enter Bisbee or Ajo and see what pops up?  Well, when I did there was a very brief list for “Bisbee” and prominently displayed we find 326 species and varieties and almost no other places were included.  Ajo on the other hand will show pages of worldwide places that contain “ajo” anywhere in the name and among them is Ajo, Arizona with 127 species and varieties listed.  In terms of worldwide localities, Bisbee ranks very high based on the number of noted species and varieties.  As a collector, you may decide to try and get all the macro size species or only the rarer species found in selected localities. It is all about choices and what you determine you would like to do. As one can see, a collector might choose to build a collection of all the species that are found in both of these districts.  There will be quite a few since the deposits are somewhat alike and azurite is famous from both as an example. 

We found 286 valid species for Bisbee and 100 for Ajo – also there are 6 type minerals for Bisbee and 2 type minerals for Ajo.  One can see where this may lead – type collecting has always been a part of our hobby. Besides, you only need to get 8 specimens.  You may already see that it is a trap of sorts since that will be easier said than done.  Add a few type species from other places and you are on your way to a new collection or perhaps a new sub collection.  How many places have odd or unusual quartz crystals here?  That can be a topic to investigate and perhaps you will add it to the growing collection you are creating.  I bet you will have a lot more than eight samples if you choose to do this!

As for me, I seem to have this penchant for former Soviet Union minerals and that is a lot of area and species to cover, but it does focus me away from collecting everything.  Among the many items, I have a small suite of odd eudialyte group minerals and seem to think it is a good idea to get more of them if they ever come available.  I also feel a need to get as many different Dalnegorsk minerals as possible in macro specimens and with hopefully decent crystals present – as you see, I must be picking and choosing, but then you get to omit things you really don’t care to have anyway.  But the disease is never cured since I must have twenty or more beryls form the Urals and so on and so forth.  So, why so many beryls you may ask?  Well, I like them, and why not if they please me?  After all, you make up the rules for what will be in your collection and then follow or change them to suit yourself.  

The number of pieces you may have can be an issue.  It has been said that some collectors add one and get rid of one so they keep the same number of species in the collection.  Well, I seem to add but not get rid of much and think a lot of you do the same thing.  After all, the best collections are in museums and heaven knows how many they may have. Well, actually I do know – the American Museum of Natural History has about 100,000 minerals according to their website – it seems to me like a lot more may be there. They also claim 3,700 gems and actually have 5,000 minerals on display.  So, we now know that it is imperative to go to New York and see all 5,000 of them for ourselves.   According to data from the internet, the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. has 413,616 records (for specimens) and has 560 type mineral specimens.  The Sorbonne in France has 13,000 samples with 1500 on display.  The University of Manchester (Manchester Museum) states that they have some 17,000 specimens of meteorites, gemstones, ore samples and rare minerals. I also found the British Museum claims to have 80 million specimens including minerals and much more.

Did you realize that a great many pieces came from private collectors in the past? Even today, we see collectors sometimes choose to donate their pieces to museums. So there is another thing you can think about doing at some point.  If you ask a museum, they might tell you what they want and then you can work together to achieve a goal. They will probably like to have all the type material and a full set from Bisbee will no doubt be of interest too.  As a cautionary note, museums do reject donations when the specimens are not sufficiently good to achieve their purposes.  You should plan ahead if you have a notion of donating away your collection at some time in the future.  With a good plan, you help build their collection just as you have built your own.