The Mind of a Mineral Collector

Blue apatite
Grainy aggregate of blue apatite, (© Raimond Spekking / CC BY-SA 4.0 (via Wikimedia Commons)

Editor’s Note: The Rockhound Review is a space where guest contributors can weigh in on topics stirring within the rock, gem and mineral community or share their insights (serious and lighthearted) about a specific topic. The views shared here are those of the guest contributors.

By Mark Maller

Did you ever call a cab and then think of cabochons? Only a rockhound or someone in lapidary would–and tumbling is polishing, not gymnastics.

We consider ourselves rockhounds or rock collectors but no satisfactory label or term fits everyone in this hobby or occupation. Rockhound with its Dalmatian connotation suggests that we dig up and sniff out rocks which are not always true.

Beyond Labels

Rock collector suggests the three types of rocks: sedimentary, igneous and metamorphic, not mineral specimens. Mineralogist is only for professional geologists who specialize in minerals. So how do you know when you are truly a rock and mineral hobbyist? Well, you think like one, even if you have only a small collection.

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It is not always the size or quality of your collection that matters because we do not all have the money for expensive purchases or cannot go on field trips. Minerals are luxury items. In some states, such as Illinois formerly glacier land, finding an amethyst would be a miracle. Florida and other flat states, especially near urban areas are hardly rock paradise. When a rockhound hears the saying “between a rock and a hard place”, she might think of her last field trip. Living in a flat area I would think of my joy in finding a hunk of flint!

So when you see the word conundrum, you think of corundum, not a difficult puzzle. When smelt is mentioned, everyone thinks of the fish and you think of how an ore melts and fuses. Many of the collectors I know when they say they like cleavage…well you know they are not thinking of women. Their eyes are studying the split or cut of the stone, not the lady holding it. Now that’s a rockhound! Calcite, quartz and serpentine, for instance, have interesting cleavage for the magnifying glass.

Minerals on the Mind

A classic and rich specimen of sharp, lustrous, porcelaneous, off-white harmotome crystals from the quarries at Strontian, Scotland. (Rob Lavinsky, – CC-BY-SA-3.0)

Here are some other signs that you have minerals on your mind.

Harmotome sounds like a dangerous book. You think of zeolite crystals.

Conglomerate is not a corporate merger—you think of a pebbly rock in matrix.

Mercury is not only the first planet from the sun. You recall that it’s a heavy metallic element (Hg) frequently associated with cinnabar.

The 1-10 scale is not how attraction is rated.

You only think of Moh’s famous hardness scale—Frederich Moh– everyone else thinks of Moe in the Three Stooges.

In Illinois fluorite is the state mineral, though there is precious little to find there, even in the southern tip where it was located. (Beautiful Chinese fluorite is available at good prices these days.) But to the average outsider, Fluor-Rite sounds like a dandy floor polish. If you tell your maid you’ve got fluorite, she will look for the bottle.

Someone mentions appetite, you think of apatite with hexagonal crystals. At a rock and mineral show, I once overheard a lady say that she had a big appetite, and her male friend said, seriously, “is it for sale?”

Personally, I call myself a mineral collector and hope people know what I mean. The hobby needs another useful umbrella name that covers all of us. It would enable the public to understand the hobby better and clarify what we do.

Any suggestions?

Corundum specimen.



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