When is a rock not a rock? When it's a mineral!

Collecting Rocks and Minerals

How do you start a rock collection?

There are no rules! Look and see what grabs your attention first and start there. The specimen that caught your eye may not be a rock at all! It may be a mineral.

The first thing to learn about collecting: the difference between a rock and a mineral.

Minerals are the stuff rocks are made from—they are the building blocks. A mineral stands alone, as its very own special inorganic thing.

Because every rock is already a collection in itself— a combination of minerals and organic material— technically, you could start a collection with just one rock! But for many collectors, minerals are where it’s at.

What’s special about minerals?

Each mineral has to prove itself worthy of the name. There’s even an International Mineralogy Association to identify and name them! Officially and scientifically, a substance doesn’t earn distinction as a mineral unless it means five requirements:

  • naturally occurring
  • inorganic
  • solid
  • definite chemical composition
  • ordered internal structure

Find more detailed information about minerals here, on geology.com.

New minerals are still being discovered.

After being founded in 1958, the IMA (International Mineralogical Association) has stayed busy ever since! They consider their list of over 5,000 known minerals as a ‘work in progress’ as an average of 50-60 new ones are discovered and added every year.

Most of these minerals you will never see, and there are reasons: they are incredibly rare, aren’t mined because it’s economically nonviable or in some cases, their structure makes them impossible, impractical or potentially dangerous specimens. However, that still leaves a mind-blowing quantity of minerals for collecting!

Want the newest, updated master list of all known minerals? Get ready, it’s a 215 page document!

Every mineral has a story.

To get specific, scientific information about each of the current 5477 minerals in the IMA database, see the RRUFF Project website. For example, you could also search the database for minerals by their chemical structure, locality, oldest known age, crystal system, year they were listed… this is not only an incredible resource for learning about your specimen, but could also be helpful with organizing and documenting your collection.

The RRUFF Project database could inspire you to take your collection into all kinds of new directions!

Collection possibilities are infinite.

You’ll never run out of new specimens to discover, because, as you’ll see when you consult the IMA database, a mineral can also have many varieties for you to investigate. One mineral may lead to another type entirely, based on a shared property that catches your imagination.

No two specimens are alike.

Because no two specimens are alike, no two collections will ever be alike, either. Your rock and mineral collection will always be unique.

Your obsession rules!

This is all about you and where your obsession may lead you. There are no rules about which minerals you should have in a collection. There are collectors who choose to collect by type, size, color or origin/locality. Others may collect more whimsically, but even those seemingly random collections have a strict organization—Each choice has been made based on the aesthetic, reasoning and point of view of a unique human being!

Narrow your focus if you love the thrill of the hunt, or just collect what you love spontaneously… it is completely up to you.

All that being said about being guided by obsession and having no rules, we do offer a one piece of advice for beginning collectors:   Keep the labels of your specimens and make some notes about where you found them. You may be glad later that you made the effort.

Minerals have are MAKE history.

Knowing the source or some unusual story about your specimen will add to the fun, so a little documentation could be helpful. The documented history of a specimen can also add to its value. The following is one well-known example of a mineral specimen with a story to tell!

Passed through centuries from collector to collector, some exceptional mineral specimens have amassed stories so full of treachery and misfortune, that they’re said to be cursed. The Hope Diamond is not the only beautiful or rare specimen in the Smithsonian collection but having a vivid history and tales of a curse make it legendary. For all this and more, visit the Smithsonian National Museum Hall of Geology, Gems & Minerals.

Of course, every specimen won’t have this high level of drama attached, but many do tell interesting stories. Your new specimen may have a story to tell, even if it’s only interesting to you! To get an idea of how the pros document their new specimens, visit The Mineralogical Record’s What’s New report.

On the other hand, to see some stunning specimens so visually dramatic that they need no words at all, take a look at The Collector’s Edge, a high end dealer site.

The mineral collecting world itself is not without its own mystery and intrigue! For a taste of the adventure, check out The Mineralogical Records’ Stolen Specimen Alert notices.

Mineral collections and connections.

Minerals are everything and everywhere.

Following your new obsession can lead to a whole new relationship with minerals. You may find yourself saying “Please pass the Halcite” at the dinner table. You may find yourself searching for info like “How many minerals were used to make this light bulb?” (Answer: 18 or more minerals are used to make an LED bulb.)

In fact, your obsession with minerals could lead you to mind-boggling connections between a humble specimen in your collection and its role in the advancement of human civilization. Here’s a list of 10 minerals that make our modern lives possible. And don’t forget the minerals that are essential to the human body, either. Nothing humble about those!

Minerals connect us all.

Of course, thanks to minerals, there is one very fundamental connection we can all make: Every human being is made from the same minerals. While most people don’t pause to ponder this profundity at any length, there are others who do! Want to connect with other mineral enthusiasts? Here’s a list of clubs and societies for rock, mineral, gem and fossil collectors in the DC-Maryland-Northern Virginia area.

Share your enthusiasm with your family, too.  Inspire your kids or grandkids with an unusual mineral or fossil. Ask us at the store! We can also recommend some guidebooks for taking your family out on a rock hunt! See some of our recommendations below.

Resources and Recommendations

Maryland Geological Survey
List of Clubs and Societies in the DC Area
http://www.mgs.md.gov/geology/clubs.html

Maryland Minerals
This website has slideshows, links for just about every aspect of mineral collecting in Maryland. It also has a schedule for shows and exhibits.
http://marylandminerals.com/

The Backyard Naturalist’s recommended guides for rocks and minerals:

Rocks & Minerals of North America
A pocket guide by National Geographic

Geology
From St. Martin’s Press

Rock Hound’s Logbook & Journal
by Dan R. Lynch

Rock & Mineral
Eyewitness DVD

 

Minerals are everywhere

Collecting can lead to a whole new relationship with minerals. You may find yourself saying “Please pass the Halcite” at the dinner table. You may find yourself searching for info like “How many minerals were used to make this light bulb?” (Answer: 18, or more, are used to make an LED bulb.) There’s a lot of potential to make mind-boggling connections between a specimen in your collection and the mineral’s role in the advancement of human civilization.

Making connections with other collectors can open new worlds for you, too. Here’s a list of clubs and societies for rock, mineral, gem and fossil collectors in the DC-Maryland-Northern Virginia area.
Watch for shows and events like this one: The Gem, Lapidary, and Mineral Society of Montgomery County’s 55th Annual Gem, Mineral, and Fossil Show.

Share your enthusiasm with your family, too.  Inspire your kids or grandkids with an unusual mineral or fossil. Ask us at the store! We can also recommend some guidebooks for taking your family out on a rock hunt! See some of our recommendations below.

Resources

Maryland Geological Survey List of Clubs and Societies in the DC Area http://www.mgs.md.gov/geology/clubs.html

Maryland Minerals/strong> This website has slideshows, links for just about every aspect of mineral collecting in Maryland. It also has a schedule for shows and exhibits. http://marylandminerals.com/

The Backyard Naturalist’s recommended guides for rocks and minerals:

Rocks & Minerals of North America A pocket guide by National Geographic

Geology From St. Martin’s Press

Rock Hound’s Logbook & Journal by Dan R. Lynch

Rock & Mineral Eyewitness DVD