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What defines a mineral's 'quality?' - (13)
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Tracy




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PostPosted: Jan 15, 2008 22:00    Post subject: What defines a mineral's 'quality?' - (13)  

Greetings to all -

I am enjoying reading all of the postings to this Forum and am happy for its success and popularity. May I submit a question on behalf of lesser-trained, "collector-explorers" like me? Any and all input is welcome.

I am a bit confused on how “quality” is determined when it comes to minerals. In some respects it is obvious (color, shape, transparency, perfections, etc) but in others less so. For example, why are Les Farges pyros considered to be of “better quality” than Chinese ones, if both produce(d) specimens with similar color and crystal forms? Why are Berbes fluorites considered to be “better quality” than cubic purple fluorites from other places? For species which are not evaluated for things like color and transparency (e.g., "metallic" minerals), or which tend to have only one or two crystal habits, it becomes even more confusing to me.

If someone handed me two identical specimens, one from Locality X and the other from Locality Y, I would be able to say which of the two I thought was more attractive/esthetic, but not which was of better quality. Is there an easy way, in for instance is there a system and/or a basic set of criteria, that one one could use to judge quality in minerals? Or is it a skill that is only acquired through years of study or experience? I don’t expect a fast answer, maybe there is no one answer at all…still I am open to any guidance.

I emphasize that I am asking about quality, not value. Perhaps the same question with respect to value could be addressed in a separate posting...?

No disrespect intended to Chinese pyros or to non-Berbes purple cubic fluorites. Looking forward to reading any comments/responses.

Many thanks in advance,
Tracy
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PostPosted: Jan 17, 2008 13:22    Post subject: Re: What defines a mineral's 'quality?' - (13)  

Great topic Tracy! I will try to help you.

Once in a while on shows we heard comments about somebody highly reputed to have a "very good eye". What it means? it means somebody who visiting different displays / dealers have the capacity, after a fast view, to do a reasonable good appreciation of hidden brightness "quality" specimens on the middle of hundreds other specimens, that although very similar don't have the same virtue to be considered quality specimens. Why this person have this gift? is a kind of spontaneous or genetic miracle?. Of course not, I consider that it is simply the result of a mix of hundred thousands minerals already seen, hundreds mineral's museum visited, a reasonable good taste about esthetics and (on the vast majority) thousands of mineral's magazines and hundreds of mineral books read.

With this fund you accumulate a huge experience that can guide you to appreciate minor differences between a just "OK" specimen and a great one.
What I say is that is not easy to answer you with just some words telling you exactly what you should do to discover yourself the best and the worst. On the start I think that the best is to use your common sense and leave room to your intuition. If you like a specimen, that could be enough for you to consider it as a good specimen. If after the years you discover that your "wow" looks now like a "sigh", don't worry, you had a learning process to pass and during the process, of course, always some mistake happens and this is the price to pay on your training.

Is a lot of skills to help you to start to discriminate a "Les Farge's green" and a green Les Farges Pyro. Also is a lot of skills to give to you to help you to recognize a gemmy, delicate and brilliant Berbe's Fluorite of an other one corroded, not brilliant, not gemmy and not graced Fluorite, also from Berbes, and I will enjoy to write about it during next days & weeks, but for now my answer should be just an appetizer waiting for my and (hopefully) other people comments.
At the moment I'm preparing my next Tucson show and that signify a huge amount of time spent, so although I enjoy a lot this topic, the timing is not the best for me to answer you properly. I will try to do it on the close future.

Jordi
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PostPosted: Jan 22, 2008 14:06    Post subject: Re: What defines a mineral's 'quality?' - (13)  

Hi Tracy and Jordi,
Only a short comment about the topic.
If a locality is famous and has a good background of producing a lot of species during an extended period of time, it will produce minerals considered of more quality than other lesser known localities. For example, in general specimens from Tsumeb will be considered of more quality than similar ones from other localities, only because Tsumeb is very very famous. Other Tsumeb-like localities must still "work a lot" to be famous.
On the other hand, sometimes quality and value doesn't walk in the same way. For example for me it's still a little surprising that a high-quality specimen of clear, perfect, aesthetic and very nice apophyllite from Poona costs only 10-20 Euro, but I think this is another subject.

David Hospital
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PostPosted: Jan 23, 2008 14:00    Post subject: Re: What defines a mineral's 'quality?' - (13)  

Jordi and David -

Thanks for the responses. They are helpful though they stir up many additional questions for me. With Tucson around the corner and limited time to write a posting I would like to toss out a few of my thoughts, with the rest to follow after things have quieted down...I am "writing out loud" so bear with me if they ramble...

1) to Jordi's comments about getting started by trusting one's intuition, and how "lesson-learned" specimens constitute the price one pays to develop an ability to judge quality: it seems that this puts "collector-explorers" like me at a great disadvantage. It suggests that the best way to learn about minerals is to choose one or two species/localities/themes/etc and focus exclusively on them instead of exposing myself to all the possibilities out there and seeing what interests me most. If one preferred to roam about (like I do), given that it is difficult to predict ahead of time what will become the eventual focus, trusting one's instinct could be a very expensive learning experience! It also puts people with full-time careers that do not involve mineralogical sciences, and in many cases with limited time to read and travel and study, at an even bigger disadvantage. Apart from that, the primary instinct one would most likely use when starting to build a mineral collection is esthetics, which we have already established in previous postings does not necessarily equal quality. All of which perhaps explains why so many people buying minerals today pay more attention to the artistry than to the science of minerals. I'm not suggesting that all this knowledge can be obtainedin a few easy steps, but is there perhaps a compromise approach?

2) To David's comment about famous localities: beyond places like Tsumeb, which are hard NOT to know that they are famous, what makes a locality "famous?" And does "famous" always equal "quality?" What if a locality is famous for one mineral species but awful for another? For instance, in the MinRec article that Joan so kindly posted - which includes some well-deserved praise for Jordi's Forum - in discussing the new find of Meyer Quarry galenas, the author says -

"...The best of the specimens are rounded clusters of sharp, brilliant galena crystals, as well as beautiful crystal-covered plates to 15 cm across. Some of the clusters came out covered with crusts of brown smithsonite, and small, mediocre pyrite and calcite crystals are sometimes present..."

Why are the galenas good and the calcites and pyrites only mediocre? Meyer Quarry is famous today (if not always, I do not know) because it drew attention at the Munich show and got written about in MinRec, does that make the Meyer Quarry pyrites better too?

3) To what extent does buying minerals through the Internet interfere with one's ability to intuitively sense quality? On the one hand, one can exchange a lot of emails with the seller and learn a lot about the specimen's history and/or special features. On the other hand, the tactile experience of holding it in one's hand isn't there...how important is that aspect?

I apologize for writing such a long posting; my thoughts go on and on and my question expands. At its core I am still trying to understand how, for example, two completely identical pyrite cubes from different localities might vary significantly in quality - but this one basic question triggers many others. The answers will hopefully come in February...thanks for reading and all inputs welcomed, I look forward to continuing this discussion.
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PostPosted: Jan 24, 2008 08:28    Post subject: Re: What defines a mineral's 'quality?' - (13)  

When this topic was first introduced I wrote a long and carefully crafted response which disappeared somewhere in cyberspace because, I assume, I had not been logged in. As a result I am not going to do that again, I can't even remember what I wrote, but I will ramble a bit in response to TAK's queries.


A specimen's degree of quality is very much a subjective thing. While most advanced collectors might agree on a certain selection of specimens as all being of high quality, there will be dissenters, as one might expect. How does one become an advanced collector? You get there by collecting and by observing what others collect and by not being afraid to ask questions. I knew David P. Wilber when he was not a famous collector, but he had a great eye for esthetics. When considering a purchase he would go around to various people (people whose opinions he considered important) at a mineral show with the specimen in hand and ask each a series of questions, such as:

1. How would you rate this specimen on a scale of 1 to 10?
2. Have you seen better ones?
3. If so, how many?
4. How rare is this mineral?
5. Is the locality still producing?

These are not the very questions that he ask, but they are representative of the sort of questions he would ask. Within a year or so he had assembled one of the best small collections of minerals in private hands. The questions helped, but his innate ability to tastefully select specimens probably counted as much or more, and this is not necessarily something that one can learn.

To be a high quality specimen, it does not have to have come from a noted locality like Tsumeb, or Bisbee, for example. A great specimen can be a one-of-a-kind from a here-to-fore unrecognized locality. But it must have a certain esthetic appeal. A rare dog is still a rare dog and while some collectors will pay a lot for a rare dog it will never lay claim to being a high quality specimen.

A good way to learn about quality is to look at special and competitive exhibits at mineral shows. Look at what wins first prizes and try to figure out why it/they garnered that award. The best thing, however, in my opinion is to try to develop a relationship with someone (or several someones) who is recognized as a superior collector who would not mind doing a bit of tutoring. Identify some specimens being offered by dealers that you think are really first class and then have this person critique your selection. You don't have to buy them first, just point them out.

You also have to trust your judgement at some point and be willing to test it by spending some money. Many top collectors are continually upgrading what they have, which means that specimens once selected may become less charming to them and so will be replaced. With luck, these can be used to trade up or they can be sold for what they cost, at least. Really good specimens tend to appreciate in value over time even if they are not the best that the locality has produced. A very good example is the adamite from Mapimi, Durango, Mexico. When it was first discovered it was very abundant and flats and flats of very nice specimens were readily available for very little money. Today, almost any decent adamite from Mapimi can be sold for a lot of money. There are, of course, unlimited other examples.

So much for rambling. Hope this helps.

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PostPosted: Jan 24, 2008 10:52    Post subject: Re: What defines a mineral's 'quality?' - (13)  

John has provided you with some strategically key information to help you move to an advanced collector status, TAK (if you are not there already). Now, I would like to expand just a little further into a phenomenon I have encountered over the years. It is the shift in collecting emphasis that one sees with time with regards to specific minerals. Here is an example.

In the 1970's, the San Francisco mine in Sonora, Mexico became a rage mineral location to collect because of its beautiful but fragile arrangements of yellow-orange wulfenite with red-orange to yellow mimetite. Indeed, it maintained a sophisticated status as a highly desirable mineral to have in one's collection into the mid 1990's, at which time, collectors coming into the scene began to focus on gem minerals and other minerals. More than that, the newer breed of collector began to shift away from the more fragile minerals (unless it was a new location/new mineral/exceptional crystal sizes and so forth). Wulfenites, except for those locations producing specimens that were more forgiving regarding fragility, ie, Los Lamentos, are pretty much out of vogue now (this hurts because I am a wulfenite collector but such is life).

I must point out a practice that I abhor regardless of the species, which does affect quality. Manufacturing or reproducing parts of specimens to repair damage AND loss of parts of crystals is something started several years ago to restore specimens to pristine pre-damaged conditon. This is a bad, bad, bad practice that should have never started. In the ideal world, with complete honesty and no avarice, fixing specimens to an undamaged state and keeping this notation with the specimen would work. We all know mankind better, unfortunately. These notes, more than likely, will NOT be kept with the specimens into perpetuity because it will (or should, in my opinion) lower the value of the piece when compared to a specimen with no damage and of similar unaltered quality. My fear is that given the high values of mineral specimens, the documentation of the altered specimen goes away and one pays full price for an artiificially enhanced specimen without knowing it. This is a great disservice to the collecting community.

Those are some of my additional thoughts on the matter of quality. I hope they provide some insight and food for thought.

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PostPosted: Jan 26, 2008 21:10    Post subject: Re: What defines a mineral's 'quality?' - (13)  

Additional thank yous to John and Tony. Additional thoughts and questions...

John - could you please elaborate a bit on your statement?

A rare dog is still a rare dog and while some collectors will pay a lot for a rare dog it will never lay claim to being a high quality specimen.

By "rare dog" I am assuming you are referring to oddball specimens? Because in your list of example questions, rarity was one of the things to consider when assessing quality. Could you also perhaps offer your opinion on what I perceive as an overuse of the word "rare?" I have become skeptical when reading that a modestly-priced specimen is "rare" because if something is truly rare I can't imagine it as being within reach of the typical (much less the mid-level) collector's budget. On top of which, there are so many parameters to which the term "rare" applies - rare for the locality, rare for its occurrence, rare form, rare color, rare association,....practically everything is rare for one reason or another, so rarity is a tough criterion to master. If I understood correctly, you were saying that collectors might be attracted to oddballs, but just because something is an oddball doesn't guarantee that it is of good quality - did I understand correctly? In the minerals realm there is a fine line between rare and unusual, or so it seems to me.

Also - thanks for your super recommendation to find a tutor. I would add my own two cents which is that a tutor could advise you based on his/her knowledge of what you like - because as you and the others are saying, beauty is in the eye of the beholder...which brings me to two lasts questions based on your posting: First, if I understood right, esthetics ranks higher than other parameters in defining quality. Is that an absolute truth? Second, can a dealer be a tutor, or is it awkward to ask one seller about a specimen someone else is offering? A dealer I have purchased from once told me I had a good eye - hopefully not just in the interest of completing a sale...

Tony - your input speaks directly to my core question - how it is possible to have two specimens which are identical in appearance, yet differ radically in quality? In your wulfenite example, you mentioned that some wulfenites are more fragile than others. How can that be so? How could there be so much variability within a species that specimens from one locality could be more fragile than specimens from another? (this is a generic question embedded within a specific one)

Regarding my status as a collector, I describe myself at this point as knowing a bit more than some and far less than others. I collect minerals because everything there is to learn about them interests me, and I like to learn. At present, though, I'm overwhelmed by the variety and scope of things that a seasoned collector knows, and of which I have yet to grasp...think of me as "in transition."

Thanks for reading...and to all for having this cyber-discussion with me.
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PostPosted: Jan 27, 2008 06:21    Post subject: Re: What defines a mineral's 'quality?' - (13)  

Well, TAK, I think you have a pretty fair idea of what I meant by "rare dog." Clearly I was referring to something that is rare in terms of volume, perhaps only a few tiny fragments exist in total. These are eagerly sought by some collectors, but they would never qualify as being high-quality specimens. Just the same, they are likely to retain their value or even become more valuable in time, unless a newer discovery makes them less rare.

You are correct in that there are many classes of rare and you have well characterized what they are. A rare form for a crystal will generally add value to a specimen, but you have to be familiar enough with the mineral to be able to recognize that the form is indeed rare. The same may be said for color and for association and probably even size although size alone does not make a specimen valuable in most cases unless, perhaps, we are talking about gem crystals when size really does matter. In my use of the word rare in my sample questions, I was using that in the context of "how many similar specimens are likely to exist" and I should have explained it better.

Yes, some dealers will use the term rare all too readily, it is incumbent upon the buyer to ask what makes it rare and to probe even more to find out if the "rarity" factor is being exaggerated.

A dealer can be a good tutor but you cannot ask them to comment on specimens from a competing dealer, that is generally considered unethical. Even another collector may be reluctant to come between a dealer and his/her sale. These things have to be done with discretion, but they can be done.

In general esthetics ranks very high in terms of assessing quality but this is not true universally. A good example is the recently published book Masterpieces of the Mineral World wherein Wendell Wilson goes on and on in the introduction about esthetics, yet the book is filled with images of large gemmy single crystals which have very little "esthetic" appeal whasoever. Go figure!

The bottom line is that you have to develop your own sense of what works and what doesn't by looking at what is available. A very good way to do this is to look at what is being sold on the internet by dealers and the prices ask. Jordi's web site is excellent for this because he usually has multiple examples of the same material and the prices are based largely on esthetics. You can match the prices with the visual appeal, in most cases. Since Jordi is an excellent judge of esthetics, you would be learning from a master. I should add that I work for Jordi, so skeptics may want to believe that I am saying this simply for that reason only, but I am saying it because it is true. One can say much the same about some other internet dealers.

Finally (pant, pant) two specimens that are "identical in appearance" are not likely to "radically differ in quality." Unless we are missing something here (damage?) the two should be very similar in their level of quality or desireability. Sometimes a hairline fracture, barely discernible, can make a huge difference in value. The wulfenite examples Tony cited are well chosen. The wulfenites from the San Francisco mine are thin wisps that you feel you could almost blow off of the matrix, while those from Los Lamentos are thick stubby things that are not fragile at all. Both are very appealing in their own way, examples of both can be found in high quality specimens, but they are so different in character it is almost as though we are dealing in two totally different minerals.

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PostPosted: Jan 29, 2008 15:44    Post subject: Re: What defines a mineral's 'quality?' - (13)  

Hello everybody.

Lots of interesting thoughts about this subject. I think it is almost impossible to define what´s a "quality" mineral or not. Of cause there is several "rules" which defines "quality" But to choose out "quality" depends on which platform you are on right now. A well edjucated person with lots of knowledge will for sure pick out "quality" specimens in a different way than a beginner. A beginner will have a much more wider sight of what he/she belives is "quality". Everything is "quality" when you starts to collect minerals.

So though you have the knowlegde and a better platform to define a minerals "quality" it do not have to be "quality" at all for another person with the same knowledge. Everybody have its own way to define the word "quality".

I consider myself as a person with some knowledge on the subject. When I do collect and buy minerals I go for "quality" in the way of that there is certain "rules" that lies in the bottom. But sometimes I do buy minerals which has not "quality" at all. But the mineral specimen fits into my special collection and making a hole. So in that case I concider that "quality" mineral as a "quality" mineral, if you understand what I mean. Sometimes I hit the inner 10 and sometimes not. But it makes me go further into this very interesting subject called mineralogy.
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PostPosted: Jan 29, 2008 21:54    Post subject: Re: What defines a mineral's 'quality?' - (13)  

I am now fully rested after having run on and on in my last contribution to this thread. Let me say that, largely in agreement with Jan, quality is very much in the eyes of the beholder. I can appreciate the lovely specimens that cost tens of thousands of dollars, but they are not what I would collect even if I could afford them. I favor mineral specimens that are interesting in some uncommon way. They either display a habit that is very rare or even unique, or they are mysterious in terms of what they are, which means that they show some feature that makes you think about how they might have formed, or they display an unusual association (meaning the other minerals with the dominant one are unusual in some respect), or they reveal a complex history that is fun to speculate on. In other words, they are intellectually challenging. If you see a glass case full of spectacular minerals, after a while it is just another case full of spectacular minerals, similar expamples of each you have seen elsewhere before many times. Some may be better than what you have seen before, others not so. What is fun for me is to open drawer after drawer and pull out specimens that few people have ever seen before, all the while explaining what is magical about them. The reaction that I get most of the time is very rewarding. I believe that the people I share my collection with go away feeling that they have seen many things that are totally new to them. And they even get to handle most of them.

One nice feature of such collecting is that you do not have to be wealthy to pursue it. Great and interesting specimens are always out there to be found if one is constantly looking for them. Note that the mineral journals that carry articles like " What's new in . . ." do not always focus exclusively on the super expensive trophy specimens.

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PostPosted: Feb 17, 2008 15:11    Post subject: Re: What defines a mineral's 'quality?' - (13)  

More Sunday musings...

This is the first chance I've had in the past two weeks to respond, over which I've spent much time mulling over Jan's and John's last postings on this topic. I've tried repeatedly to organize my thoughts and rephrase my question in a way that properly expresses my remaining confusion about how to define quality in mineral specimens. But the more I think it over, the more I am becoming aware that if I still feel as though my question is still only partially answered, maybe it's because, at this stage of my evolution as a collector, I'm not experienced enough to know the answer(s).

The idea that "quality" is relative to a collector's knowledge and experience, and also is in part defined by individual preferences, makes perfect sense to me. What is not entirely clear are the criteria used by mineralogical journals and websites to make statements like "<locality X> produces the best <mineral Y> specimens in the world" or to publish lists of specimens from specific localities that are "must-haves" for every collector. I imagine that, personal tastes aside, there are some fundamental objective criteria used to determine the quality of a specimen or collection, and with time (and conversation, and study) I hope to learn what those criteria are. At the end of the day, though, my collection is as good (or as incomplete) as I alone judge it to be. To me, a real challenge (and one of the fascinations) in collecting minerals is that there are unlimited parameters to choose from when creating my own personal "measuring stick" for evaluating quality. My measuring stick is taking shape, but is not finished just yet - and who knows, maybe down the road I'll discover that I'd rather use a completely different stick.

I have to throw in a last question at this point. To what extent are the objective criteria that I have always imagined exist influenced by popular opinion? Returning to my original puzzle, more fleshed out this time - if I am looking at two pyrite cubes that are identical in all respects (e.g., size, form, brightness, condition) except that one comes from Locality A and the other from Locality B, how could it be that the they differ in "quality?" - the answer lies in what is known about each locality's history (geological, mineralogical, chronological), how common pyrites from these localities are, and a variety of other parameters - and somewhere there must be a difference between the specimens, if one considers every angle. Once I have enough information, it is up to me to decide, using my personal measuring stick, which one I think is better in quality - this part I get. Now, to make it more complicated, what if 95%+ of all collectors, including the most well-respected experts in the minerals world, disagree with me? Who sets the standards? Maybe, like Tony's wulfenite example, they fluctuate depending on what is in vogue at the time, and truly objective criteria do not exist?

I've rambled enough on this topic, so I will stop here. The opinions others have shared with me are fascinating and thought-provoking (and make me ramble - sorry), and I look forward to more postings, if there is anything left to be said, now that the Tucson shows are over. Thanks as always for reading, and for weighing in. - Tracy
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PostPosted: Feb 18, 2008 14:32    Post subject: Re: What defines a mineral's 'quality?' - (13)  

Extremely interesting post Tracy. Unfortunately Tucson Show is not really over, at least for me, due the trip back and the huge amount of things pending after all these three weeks outside Barcelona.

As soon as I will be ready I will answer you, but it could take still some time, hopefully on the meantime some other helps.

Jordi
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PostPosted: Feb 18, 2008 15:13    Post subject: Re: What defines a mineral's 'quality?' - (13)  

I have gone through the insightful comments from John White and Tony Potucek and I think there is a fundamental question that is not being answered. As an aside, I did enjoy John's comment about a book supposedly defining aesthetics and then proceeding to picture single gem crystals. I believe part of the struggle in this discussion is the overlap of quality onto aesthetics onto desirability and ultimately value.

I will start by stating that on one level, quality is an absolute and not subjective. First and foremost, are the crystals free of damage and does the specimen have broken crystals or not? This is completely independent of where a specimen comes from and even how large or small the crystals are. Once the level of quality is discerned as acceptable or not, then the collector can determine all of the other nuances that play into deciding whether the specimen is one you want to own.

There are some collectors who are comfortable buying specimens with visible damage or repaired crystals. Just because someone buys a piece like this, it does not make it a quality specimen. Others will not even look at a specimen that has so much as a "wilbur" on any of the crystals. Others, like myself, use a particular locality or species as a selection criteria.

Once you determine if a specimen meets your minimum requirements for crystal perfection, then, you can begin to ask all the other questions, like why is the 5cm perfect pyrite cube from Spain selling for $200 with no apparent takers and a similar specimen from the Magma mine, Superior, Arizona has a price tag of $750 and four people clamoring over the piece? Now we enter the true realm of mineral collecting.
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PostPosted: Feb 19, 2008 05:53    Post subject: Re: What defines a mineral's 'quality?' - (13)  

Now back from Tucson I have time to address some of TAK's comments and questions, but I sense that we still will have a long way to go before this issue is settled.

I should begin by pointing out that there is no particular consensus with respect to which minerals are classics or "must haves" among the collecting community. While most would agree over the vast majority of examples out there, what makes this hobby fascinating is that there is always room for divergence of opinion. Jordi, for example, hates specimens that have been cut and polished, so that would rule out the wonderful sections of rhodochrosite from Argentina. On a personal level, wire silver leaves me absolutely cold. To me they all look the same, more or less, and unappealing.

So, you must assume that you do not need to collect what other people tell you to collect. You should collect what pleases and interests you, unless you are collecting to win some sort of trophy, in which case you would be ceding your independence of choice in a way that I find regrettable.

If you have decided that you want to pursue "classics" then it is fairly easy to start out because there are hundreds, if not thousands, of examples upon which virtually all collectors will agree that they qualify. But the term classics is usually assigned to localities more than to specimens. As Les pointed out, a pyrite cube from Navajun may well be a classic, but you will seldom see one in a competitive display because they are so abundantly produced, everyone has one. There are, however, groupings of these pyrites that are so dramatic and sculptural that they literally take your breath away, and these may well end up in a competitive display.

So, as far as your question goes, two identical pyrite cubes from two different localities do not differ in quality, but they may differ in desireability. If I found a cube of pyrite like those from Spain up the road in York (PA) it would be very exciting indeed and its desireability among Pennsylvania collectors, in particular, would be very high.

Hope these rambling comments help.

_________________
John S. White
aka Rondinaire
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PostPosted: Feb 19, 2008 07:39    Post subject: Re: What defines a mineral's 'quality?' - (13)  

I can echo most of the thoughts presented in this thread and especially the very balanced views by John S. White who has a long experience in the appraisal of mineral quality. But as it has been pointed out, quality is to a certain extent a subjective matter based on personal taste or current popular preferences. Still as mentioned by Les there probably exists a set of fundamental and generally accepted criteria of quality when mineral specimens are concerned. Maybe it could help if we try to make a distinction between general "quality" and "desirability". Especially the latter will be heavily influenced by personal tastes and collecting strategies. Many minerals are very desirable and collectible even if they would in no way compare to other mineral specimens based on general quality criteria. But also with rare species and common minerals that are rare at a popular locality ( i.e. Pyrite from Franklin, N.J.) a collector would select the better crystallized, least damaged specimen with the best colour and overall aesthetic appeal over a specimen judged as "inferior". Thus the desirability of any species or any species from a given locality could probably be rated on "quality" scale when compared to its peers and I suspect most experienced collectors familiar with the species or localties would agree on the rating. What I believe is a disservice both to mineral collecting and mineralogy is to use general quality criteria to judge the majority of species as "not collectible" and the rest as "collectible" only from certain localities based on aesthetic appeal alone.
I do not completely agree with the statements made by Les regarding damaged or repaired specimens. While every collector would prefer a totally undamaged specimen with no repairs over the identical specimen with damages and repairs, this is not the real life situations (unless you deeply regret accidently breaking or damaging one of your specimens). The real life decisions you see in the mineral market today is the choice between specimens with no visible damage and repairs and other specimens with such flaws but scoring higher based on other quality criteria. If it should be true as stated by Les that specimens with undamaged crystals allways are of a higher quality than specimens with broken crystals and repairs regardless of where the specimen comes from and how large or small the crystals are, we would all be micromounters and there would be no market for the "uncommon" species from popular localities. Especially skillful repairs on some minerals seem to influence the quality (and value) to a surprisingly little extent. Some of the most fabulous specimens of Sweet Home mine Rhodochrosite and Pederneira Tourmalines that grace the top shelves of high end collectors and museums have been severely broken and skilfully repaired. It is the same case with the large Phosphohyllite specimen considered by many to be one of the most exceptional display specimens in the world. I think every collector and museum would regard it as a quality specimen, even if it is repaired. On many higly rated display-specimens of Rhodochrosite there are even large broken crystals that only marginally influence the quality rating because the cleavages look like crystal faces to the less knowledgable spectator. I do not think any of the owners of such specimens would trade them for a specimen with smaller crystals and less aesthetic appeal just to have a specimen without visible damages or repairs. But a too visible damage to crystals or repair may distract from the aesthetic appeal and this severely influence the overall quality. I believe the question of damages and repairs are relative to other factors influencing the overall quality rating of a specimen. I would say in many cases uniqueness and exceptional aesthetic appeal will totally dominate over damages and repairs if these are not obvious to the ordinary spectator.

Knut
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PostPosted: Mar 02, 2008 09:42    Post subject: Re: What defines a mineral's 'quality?' - (13)  

hello!
Very interesting question!
Maybe the origin of the specimen will be important because of the history of the place it comes from.
It's the case for azurites from chessy,because this place is known for a long time,and some well known mineralogists,like haüy or bedant, have worked on azurite specimens from this place.
However you can find some wonderfull cristals from Morroco,USA,Namibia,and from some secret places in France,where there are beautifull cristals!
It is the same thing for me about pyromorphite from Ussel,or Bunker hill,or Daoping.
Something else is possible: How many specimens have been taken out from this place or another place.If a lot have been taken out,these specimens are common,and less expensive than some uncommon specimens.
However,common specimens are more often seen,and more often wanted,so more expensive?!
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PostPosted: Mar 21, 2008 12:03    Post subject: Re: What defines a mineral's 'quality?' - (13)  

Finally I have some time to answer the first questions of Tracy. To do it I would like to recover the list wrote by John initially and play with it a little bit.

The John's list was:

1. How would you rate this specimen on a scale of 1 to 10?
2. Have you seen better ones?
3. If so, how many?
4. How rare is this mineral?
5. Is the locality still producing?

This list includes a necessity: to use it, it could be necessary to have a long term experience on minerals in order to compare its vision on your "mental database", without it the points 2,3 and 4 of the John's list could be not useful for you because you have not the necessary information to proceed.

You still have the chance to use the points 1 and 5. The point 5 is pretty simple, to answer the question about if the locality is still producing you can use internet-books-magazines easily. So, it remains the point 1, you can afford it but the question is, how?. Do you have clues to rate specimens between 1 and 10 using basic knowledge and experience? well, it exist, or at least I think so. You can use the same clues that people use when they visit an Art Museum:
- this paint have a good colors balance?
- the size and shape of the different elements of the whole paint is equilibrated?
- it looks nice to me or ugly?
- I love it? (not I like it, I love it!)
- is something on this paint telling me that it is perfect on the sense that it feed my esthetic concepts?.
I'm going to a complicated territory because I'm suggesting that you can consider the quality of a mineral specimen following similar parameters to an human work (art) and minerals are not human, but the best that I can do considering the circumstances is to give you the tools that I used when being very young I visited Folch's collection. Then, without a real knowledge about minerals and mineralogy, I needed to use something to follow his powerful and well trained mind to be accepted as a disciple of him. I used the tools mentioned above and for some reason it seems that them worked.

Of course on a long term you would need a different vision, not so simple, but I think that as a starting it could work.

Jordi
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Tracy




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PostPosted: Mar 21, 2008 12:44    Post subject: Re: What defines a mineral's 'quality?' - (13)  

What fortuitous timing Jordi - I was just going to this thread to put up some new thoughts, and your comments fit in perfectly!

I've been meaning to resurrect this discussion for a few weeks, but only now have the time to do so...

I did not attend the Tuscon show, but a friend was kind enough to send me brochures and flyers to see all that I missed. One morning I came across the following while reading Richard (Rickk) Trapp's words of welcome to the "Minerals of the USA" exhibit:

"This is an exposition of the finest minerals from hundreds of sources...This event has been two years in the making. Mineral collectors have shouted and argued and pleaded and begged over what specimens should be included in the displays and the accompanying publication. Grown men and women, some of them quite used to getting their own way, have finally been forced to come to grips with that thorny question: who has the best minerals? Not just from a single location or of a single species, but who has the best minerals from the 50 best localities in the USA? Who has the bragging rights?"

Oh, to have been a fly on the wall and able to listen in on these discussions!

Somewhere along the way there was consensus that the minerals featured in the exhibit were in fact "the best of the USA." As I follow this thread along with the "2008 prices" debate, and now with Jordi's comments added and Mr. Trapp's writings, I get the sense that (with aopologies for distilling everyone's thoughts into a few sentences) judging quality is almost entirely a subjective process, and also that the only common denominators have to do with esthetics (itself a subjective thing). Which surprises me, because I would have expected that objective criteria (e.g., size, color, crystal habit, "rarity" - a nebulous term if ever there was one because minerals can be rare and/or unique in a whole host of ways - condition, and so forth) would have had a bigger say in deciding what is truly a quality specimen and what isn't. Then there is the added feature of having tastes evolve over time and with increased knowledge. So how did the highly expert members who selected the pieces for this great exhibit make their choices? Are there no truly objective criteria? (even condition is a fuzzy parameter, because the degree to which one cares about a ding is highly variable)

I could go on, but I have a flight to catch...
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PostPosted: Mar 21, 2008 12:45    Post subject: Re: What defines a mineral's 'quality?' - (13)  

- that should have said Rick Trapp, I typed without proofreading.
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PostPosted: Mar 21, 2008 14:29    Post subject: Re: What defines a mineral's 'quality?' - (13)  

I'd wanted to make some comments earlier regarding this thread, and Jordi's and others' remarks made me think back to this. Looking at John's criteria that Jordi repeated, and hearkening back to some of the earlier posts about what determines quality and value,

1. How would you rate this specimen on a scale of 1 to 10?
2. Have you seen better ones?
3. If so, how many?
4. How rare is this mineral?
5. Is the locality still producing?

I wanted to make the comments, that some properties or characteristics of certain minerals and specimens are always going to make them more prized and valuable (dollar-wise as well as aesthetically) than others; such as, for example,

hard vs. soft
inert vs. water-soluble
sturdy vs. delicate and fragile
transparent vs. opaque
colored vs. black or white

So that for these reasons, in addition to the obvious qualities of crystal size, crystal perfection, rarity, etc., minerals like tourmaline, beryl, corundum, topaz (i.e., most of the gem minerals) are usually going to be more valuable than minerals like calcite, the borates, the zeolites, etc. And I think, delicate minerals like wulfenite for these reasons, are always going to be slightly less valuable than they otherwise would be.

Being "delicate" is a mixed blessing of course, as it contibutes to aesthetics, but necessitates very careful handling and storage to keep the specimen intact and undamaged. And, I'll admit, that a mineral like rhodochrosite is very highly regarded, in spite of being soft and fragile (dropping it would result in a multiplication in number of specimens!). But imagine if rhodochrosite had a hardness of 9 and no cleavage; then the large specimens from the Sweet Home mine would truly be worth "a king's ransom"!

Pete Modreski
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