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Jordi Fabre
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PostPosted: May 02, 2007 11:07    Post subject: Right labels  

The topic "Labels and history" was started by TAK some time ago pointing the historic labels and its importance. Casually at same time in the Spanish Forum some topic related with labels started, but there the focus was related not with historic labels, but the kind of details that should be applied in the specimen's labels, the different kind of details supplied for different dealers and the importance to get accurate details on the labels.
This topic in the Spanish Forum is very active and I supposed that it could be something interesting to discuss also here, in this Forum.
For people reading or understanding Spanish language the link to read the messages related with this topic in the Spanish Forum is:

http://www.fabreminerals.com/forum/Foro-Mensajes/viewtopic.php?t=97

the digest of the topic is (more or less) the fact that many times labels are wrong or incorrect, the reasons why it happens, the importance to get proper details and what to do to complete or correct wrong or incomplete labels in order to have together with the specimens their right localities.

As I commented before this topic in the Spanish Forum get a lot of traffic, that's why I propose here again the label's topic, but with a different vision.

Jordi
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PostPosted: May 03, 2007 16:12    Post subject: mineral labels  

Hi Jordi.
What a lot of English REAL collectors do is keep a card index which matches the label and the specimen. The specimen has a number affixed which in turn is on the card index. Not all the information can be put on a label so it is transferred to the card, and when the specimen is sold, the card should go with it supplying to the buyer all the relevant information. If the card needs to be kept for any reason, then a copy is made.
This enhances the specimen's provenance and should take away any doubts about it.
But it is always buyer beware, some collectors are strangers to the truth.

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PostPosted: May 04, 2007 01:25    Post subject: Mineral labels  

In all this history of labels I think there is a big mistake. Some people think the label must contain all items known about the related sample, so some collectors have the label as the only documentation.
It is not enough. The label used to be (must be?) merely orientative, a primary document to adjoin to the specimen, and to provide information just about essential items. Formerly it is too small to register all information. Notebook (for searchers and prospectors), collection cards and database are better systems to support a considerable amount of notices about a concrete mineral on a collection.
Of course, the information relative to a specific sample frequently depends on the care of every collector and, at the same time, it depends on the original source. If samples are from a dealer, the information, better or worse, depends on the dealer. But, must the dealer be the exclusive source of information? Collectors have a wide range of consulting possibilities: libraries, museums, other collectors, mineral societies, internet, books, and magazines... We must be indulgent with the information registered on a label from a private collection (or, why not, a Museum collection). Commercial labels are a different case. They use to note ALL the information THE DEALER KNOWS about the specimen (he is not an encyclopedia), then we must be very grateful if he is very exhaustive and truthful!
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Jordi Fabre
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PostPosted: May 04, 2007 07:07    Post subject: Re: Mineral labels  

As Carles points out, considering the size and characteristics of the common labels, they can't be the source of all information related to the specimen. So, at this point the main question is what is indispensable to have on the labels. Accepting that the name of the mineral and the locality where the specimen was mined are totally necessary, then we can discuss about each one individually.

About the name of the mineral species and related minerals, what is the best do? To use only names of species recognized by the IMA? To use also popular names as for example Wolframite, although they be discredited by the IMA? Variety names? Also, how about other minerals on the specimen. Should they be listed on the label? All of them? only one? Several? Only the ones for which we have room on the label?

Concerning the localities, in the Spanish Forum, the discussion arrived at an agreement in which the main thing would be to have not a lot of names, but overcoat the right first step. It means that if we know the exact mine, or the geographic place where the specimen really was found, then it will be easier go up the stairs finding next steps like mining area, village, county, state, et cetera. The question then would be to be sure that this first step is truthful, otherwise the rest of the stairway will fall down as the first step, the main one, is corrupted.

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PostPosted: May 04, 2007 08:14    Post subject: Re: Mineral labels  

Along with Jordi's questions, I would I would like to (re)contribute one I asked last September as part of the first labels thread, which was not commented on:

1) Is it worthwhile to record the purchase price of a specimen? On one hand, it allows you to keep track of how minerals from various localities and findings rise and fall in value (and it lets you track your spending!). On the other hand, I'm not sure that the amount paid to a seller contributes anything to the historical chain, especially if discounts or other special arrangements were applied to the purchase or when the piece was acquired at auction.

A parallel question, if the specimen was purchased, would be whether it is useful, when creating one's own label or catalog entry, to record the name of the dealer/collection from which it was acquired.


Jordi Fabre wrote:
______________________________________________________________________

> As Carles point out, considering the size and characteristics of the common
> labels, they can't be the source of all info related with the specimens.
> So, at this point the main question is what is indispensable to have on
> the labels. Accepting that the name of the mineral and the locality where
> the specimen was mined are totally necessary, then we can discuss about
> each one individually.
>
> About the name of the mineral species and related minerals, what is the
> best do? to use only names of species recognized by the IMA? to use also
> popular names as for example Wolframite, although they be discredited by
> the IMA? variety's names?. Also, how many related minerals should be on the
> label? all of them? only one? several? only the ones for which we have room
> in the label?
>
> Concerning the localities, in the Spanish Forum's the discussion arrived
> at an agreement where the main thing would be to have not a lot of names,
> but overcoat the right first step. It means that if we know the exact
> mine, or the geographic place where the specimen really was found, then it
> will be easier go up the stairs finding next steps like mining area,
> village, county, state, etcetera. The question then would be to be sure
> that this first step is truthful, otherwise the rest of the stairway will
> fall down as the first step, the main one, is corrupted.
>
> Jordi
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Jordi Fabre
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PostPosted: May 05, 2007 01:36    Post subject: Re: Mineral labels  

It is my opinion that all details related to the specimens are important, so I think that the best thing to do is save all of them: if it was acquired in auction, on line, found, trade, dealer's name, price, discount, et cetera.
But as people commented before, the best place to save all these kind of minor details is not on the specimen's label but another place (catalog, database, collection's book...) where you have decided to save the complementary specimen's information.

Jordi
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PostPosted: May 05, 2007 03:29    Post subject: mineral labels  

Most significative collectors use to register the price they pay for their samples, but I think it is an item useful only for self-control and a curious record for little histories.
Commercial prices involve a lot of hazards. How much times a piece changes of hands before it arrives to the collector? Then, how much times its price changed? At what moment of this chain the collector purchased the mineral? How many similar specimens were for sale at the same time? What degree of the market knowledge the dealer applies to the business? (Prices use to be different if the dealer is merely local or if he works worldwide).
I think the real (may be the only real price is the amount that someone pays at a concrete moment) value is continuously changing and only a good control of those changes assures, more or less, the real value of the piece and of the whole collection.
If you pay a price of fantasy (even a “normal” or “correct” price) for and small Diamond that didn’t assure it is the price. Generally, if you consider a possibility of re-sell, in a very short time, the same Diamond at the same price, sure you will be negatively surprised. Prices, if you sell are very different that if you buy and if you collect minerals are merely collecting, not investing (business is just for dealers, it is natural. Or not?)
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PostPosted: May 05, 2007 20:39    Post subject: Labels  

Okay, Jordi has suggested that I might consider writing something about specimen labels, so how can I resist? As I see it, there are at least two different issues that merit discussion. The first relates to the importance of recording historical details associated with specimens in one's collection. In this regard I do not believe that there is any room for disagreement. All details relating to a specimen should be recorded. How this is done may differ from one collector to another, but the information should be recorded in some form or another. I am surprised that an archaic system such as cards is still suggested, but if one does not own a computer then cards it is. Most collectors today have computers and this opens the door to creating a spreadsheet with everything in it that one feels is worth recording. There is no practical limit to the amount of stuff that can be entered, the potential far exceeds what even the most anal person may feel is worthy of recording. And it is simple. All one has to keep in mind is that computers sometimes crash, so this data has to be saved in some fashion, even if it means printing it out on paper from time to time. Virtually everyone will agree that these details should be recorded in a catalog, details which include the cost of each and every specimen, if it wasn't personally collected (note that I avoided writing "self-collected" because that phrase is now actively being challenged, and probably for very reasonable reasons).

Now, the second part of this issue is the dissemination of the history of each and every specimen. Lately, it has become fashionable in certain publications, both journals and in the now greatly proliferating vanity books, to detail the former ownership of the trophy specimens illustrated therein. To me, this is something that should be condemned. One has to explore the probable motives among those who are dong this. Obviously, the primary one is self-congratulatory, "look at me, I have this great specimen that once belonged to so and so and before that to so and so and before that to so and so, ergo I am a great (and wealthy) collector." I find this beyond objectionable. I do not care who owned the specimen in the photo before the current owner, it is none of my business. There is one author of a vanity book in which most of the information in the book is a listing of the former ownership of the specimens. There are at least a couple of reasons why, in this case, this was a very bad idea. In some instances, his history was inaccurate, details were wrong, the history was not as presented. In other instances he revealed what should have been proprietary information, details about who a dealer got the piece from and who he sold it to. I know of dealers who do not want the whole world to know either who they acquired specimens from and who they sold them to. Did the author of this book ask the dealers involved if it is okay for them to include this information? Absolutely not. This is wrong.

I was seriously taken aback when a very dear friend of mine, a mineralogist, suggested that museums should put this sort of information on the labels for the specimens they display. After I started breathing again, and I got back up on my seat after having fallen on the floor, I attempted to explain that (1.) the average visitor to the museum could not care less about the ownership history of the specimens on display and (2.) museums are already in a quandary as to how much really important information should be presented on labels (chemistry, for example). Never in my entire life have I been witness to such an extraordinary proposal from someone whose opinions usually have at least some merit.

To get back to earlier posts on this subject, I believe that recording the cost of a specimen, if it has significant market value, is quite worthwhile. If for no other reason than because some day the collector's family may be responsible for disposing of the collection and this information will help them in deciding if the amounts being offered for the specimens are within reason. Furthermore, when collectors exchange specimens they may like to know that they are getting something approximating equal value for what they are giving up. Besides, entering the cost on a spread sheet requires very little effort. Also, some day the tax man may want to know the market value of the collection and the spreadsheet provides at least a starting point in coming up with that number.

An early columnist with the Mineralogical Record, Neal Yedlin, was an outspoken advocate of labeling, and I am one too. Just as important, also, is keeping a detailed catalog of one's collection and for some reason this is something that does not always occur often enough.

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PostPosted: May 07, 2007 02:28    Post subject: Re: labels  

Buffff! Too much to comment (a lot of substance). Then, I’ll comment on only some aspects about the spectacular (and, I think, very, very interesting) note from John.

A label explains a lot about the collector and I’m in agreement it is the best immediate couple of every specimen. By other, it can’t physically register the whole data (or even suggestions or ideas) concerning the sample, as description, chemical composition, crystallography, size, weight, history, picture... Then, the card is also necessary, but, when I talk about “cards” I’m not referring, of course, to manual (cartoon or paper) cards, even thinking they still exist (independent on the database), at least in a lot of European collections. My idea of “card” is a complete individual register for every specimen, proceeding or not from a database.

Another point to comment is about personal vanity and self-congratulatory intentions. The commentary of John is true, it is a reality. But vanity, that seems inherent to some level (social level?) of collections, is everywhere, not only in the world of collections (and concretely, if you prefer, mineral collections). A particular collection is, for the moment, a free and personal activity, then, it gives the opportunity to every collector to design its own policies, activity and comments. Is our paper, as professionals, to criticize intentions and facts of particulars (collectors or dealers)? I don’t think so. Surely it is better to friendly comment with them (if they and us want) the different aspects we are or not agree. If we, as professionals of mineralogy, consider ourselves as “gods of the mineralogy” and, in some sense, better than collectors and dealers, we are also self-congratulating. Or not?
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PostPosted: Mar 26, 2008 15:33    Post subject: Re: Right labels  

I cannot agree with John White’s vehement criticism of recording and displaying the provenance of mineral specimens. I take his point that in many cases this habit is driven by a misplaced pride in the association with the fame (or infamy) of previous owners – possibly thereby attempting to gain spurious or vicarious support for one’s own good taste (or depth of pocket) – but I am minded to see specimens in the same way that art historians see works of art: without provenance they are diminished. It intrigues me to see the passage of specimens from hand to hand, though I must admit that my motives for this are not entirely pure. In some cases I take a cynical delight in knowing just how short a time they may have remained in a certain “collection” or to see the current owner’s desperate desire to bolster his taste, discernment and commitment. But in a purer state of mind, I think I am concerned to see specimens – especially the finest examples – as cultural icons or symbols as much as objects of sheer beauty or scientific worth, and as such their associations with past owners are vitally important. For example I have two specimens of wulfenite (a species of which I am inordinately fond), neither of which is significant as wulfenite, but one of them is a type locality piece that once belonged to the famous British mineral dealer Bryce Wright who sold it to the Ecole des Mines in Paris on Oct. 11 1868 (my birthday! – the day of the month, not the year) and the other bears the label of one John S. White. I value them both – and paid over the odds – simply for their associations.
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PostPosted: Mar 26, 2008 16:36    Post subject: Re: Right labels  

I agree with John about the lack of value in keeping detailed records of all previous owners of a specimen. I frequently get specimens with two, three or (rarely) even four previous owners' labels. My inclination is usually to keep the oldest one, since it may carry some indication of the era the specimen was collected in and the probable accuracy of the locality attribution. Later labels are of no value (except in rare cases when later owners have added new analytical information) and I throw them away.
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PostPosted: Mar 26, 2008 19:56    Post subject: Re: Right labels  

My god, please read the earlier posts with more care. I never ever suggested that the earlier ownership of specimens is not worth preserving. What I wrote, and firmly believe, is that this history has no place on a display label . There can be no justification for putting this on a label beyond boasting, which is a motive that I cannot look upon with anything other than mild disgust or, at least, disdain. Sure, keep all information relating to a specimen's history, including old labels, but put it in your catalog, not on the label.

I keep old labels with specimens in my collection that have an interesting history. This is not only sound, but it could also be lucrative, as more and more collectors are becoming enamored with this sort of history and are willing to pay a premium for specimens once owned by somebody relatively famous within the hobby or science.. As mineral specimen collecting more closely mimics the collecting of other longer established passions, provenance is becoming more important. Just think what a calcite cleavage once fondled by Rene Just Hauy would be worth today, if one could reasonably prove that he actually was a former owner.

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PostPosted: Mar 26, 2008 21:57    Post subject: Re: Right labels  

I am a fiend for recording information on a specimen. In fact, the cataloging software I wrote reflects that bias, in that it has separate 64000 character searchable fields for locality comments, specimen comments and provenance. Some people seem mystified why I ask all kinds of questions about a specimen I am buying--such as the name of the person who actually collected it and the precise date collected (of known). I generally will pay a bit more for old labels because I find the pathway a specimen takes from the ground to me interesting.

I also like to see the evolution of the specimen's pricing. Some dealers cut this information off, or mark through it with pen and white-out (such as the Wein collection pieces). Unless the specimen is quite good, this sort of defacing I find to be a negative when purchasing. I think some dealers think someone will question why a circa 1950s era Tiger piece was priced at $3.50 initially, but is now selling for $300. They are missing an opportunity to explain the price appreciation potential of specimens.

Its important to keep in mind that: (1) these are specimens of Natural History, and we must not neglect the historical aspect; and (2) we are stewards of these minerals and thus should be careful in preserving both them and any information we can gather about them. At some point, these may be the only surviving examples of a particular type of mineralization, and knowing when the specimen was raised may be important to future researchers.



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PostPosted: Mar 27, 2008 11:34    Post subject: Re: Right labels  

John, thanks for the clarification! Lamentably, hardly any of my specimens have famous names like Hauy's on the label, and so I doubt they do anything to increase the value of the specimen. I fail to see the value of keeping record of a chain of ownerships, unless an intermediary was a person of some special interest. I suppose one could argue that a living intermediate owner might become famous for something or other some day, but right now they just add clutter to my already dismally overcluttered collection.
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PostPosted: Mar 27, 2008 11:45    Post subject: Re: Right labels  

I keep all labels, and I don't display them with my specimens. I do, however, keep them all filed neatly in a drawer in a numerical order as to the specimen itself. I would no sooner throw away a label than I would the specimen.
But, perhaps it is my sentimental ways or the fact that our mineral group has a tendency to appreciate all labels and we have learned from them that keeps me motivated to hold on to the labels that come with the piece. I figure if someone before me felt it was worth holding on to, then it is also my job to keep that tradition going.

I feel a pang of concern when I hear others throw labels away. But then again, this is what would prompt me to either buy or not buy from someone too. If I knew they threw labels away, I would probably not buy minerals from them.

No need to justify the practice, this is simply my philosophy as a consumer. I have read all arguments, simply throwing my personal buying philosophy into the mix here.
Best regards,
Gail

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PostPosted: Mar 27, 2008 12:26    Post subject: Re: Right labels  

Gail, There's no accounting for collecting tastes, so I can't criticize someone for wanting to collect labels, but in my own case I consider myself just a mineral collector, and the label is merely a medium for conveying some of the information I need to know, like locality (most essential), geological environment and original associations (unfortunately often not present on the label), who dug it up and when (not essential, but nice to know). I need the information, not the label as such. When a specimen has multiple labels from different owners, the information I really want and need is on the oldest label, which I usually keep (unless it's crumbling to dust); the rest are just copies and convey nothing to me other than the name of the later owners of the piece, which is as unimportant to me as knowing the names of the people who run the intermediate servers that forward my e-mails to me. As long as I know the name of the e-mail's author, I'm happy. Same with my minerals.
Cheers,
Alfredo
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PostPosted: Mar 27, 2008 13:23    Post subject: Right labels  

As a museum professional, I find it almost a duty to record the history of specimens. There is so much more to knowing that a particular piece belonged to a particular person than just the fact that he/she owned the specimen.

With the proper database, much metadata about a collection is retrievable. A case in point, Joe Nagel and I were browsing through the UBC collection during the early days of developing our first Windows based database, and by looking at summary lists of sources we discovered that we could actually trace the travels through South America of one of the people who had given his collection. Not possible if that had not been recorded.

Often the style of the label (mine has certainly changed over the last 20 years) it is possible to date a specimen, or knowing about a collector's whereabouts at the time, get a sense of what was available where and from whom.

I cannot think of the number of times I have had inquiries from other collectors or museum professionals, historians that are trying to rebuild the history of collections, localities, or people.

Yes, there seems to be a fad (and I agree with John regarding the exhibit labeling of such) of discussing the bouncing around of specimens. But over all, maintaining ALL information regarding a specimen should not be a choice (it does, however, remain as such, given free will and all) but an obligation as a collector.

Alfredo, you may not care about the history of the pieces in your collection, but the people or institutions that obtain your collection long after you are done with it might (and probably will, ...they might even care that you owned it :-)...).
By throwing away labels, you are doing future collectors and curators a disservice.

Some labels may in today's market add commercial value...great, but they certainly add research value....maybe not always mineralogical, but the hobby is about people and places too.

My two bits...

Cheers,
Mark
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PostPosted: Mar 27, 2008 15:38    Post subject: Re: Right labels  

OK, I'm greatly outnumbered on this topic, so this is the point where any sensible soldier who wants to live to fight another battle throws up his arms in surrender. I surrender! ...although I can't believe anyone will want to keep my own labels after I'm gone.

Luckily, fewer than half of my specimens were bought at shows or traded from other collectors. More than half were dug up by myself or purchased from third-world miners who never write a label, so the one and only label is the one I write myself. In those cases where I acquire a recycled specimen, even if I don't appreciate the newer labels myself, I suppose I should save them for those who will after I'm gone.

Now a question for those of you who appreciate labels: What are your feelings about adding new info on old labels? As a fan of rare species and fanatic for analyses, I often find misidentifications on old specimens. It was my custom to cross out the old name on a label and write in my own comments on its ID. Now I wonder whether that is also taboo for label collectors? Should I write on a separate piece of paper and staple it onto the old label?

Cheers,
Alfredo
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GneissWare




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PostPosted: Mar 27, 2008 15:50    Post subject: Re: Right labels  

Hi Alfredo,

I for one really like your labels! And have kept them with specimens I purchased from you.

Once I receive a specimen, I generally research the locality in great detail. I also refine the mineralogy if necessary. I put the new info into my catalog software, and make a note in the comments about whatever the original label states about locality or species that my research has refined. I then print out a new label reflecting my research. If I was to sell the specimen, I would give the new owner a printout from the catalog which would provide the new owner with the results of the research.

Having your collection in a database makes it easy to keep track of all one's curatorial work, and makes it simple to pass the info along to the next custodian of the specimen.

Bob
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Jordi Fabre
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PostPosted: Mar 27, 2008 18:04    Post subject: Re: Right labels  

Alfredo,

Two years ago I bought from you (or traded, I can't remember) and for my personal collection, a Stolzite from La Tala, Salamanca, Spain. I said to you then (although probably you don't believed) that this Stolzite was just OK and that I already had one better. This other one is a better specimen, no doubt about it, but on my heart I prefer much more your Stolzite, due basically to their labels and especially your label.

Do you remember that I requested to you to write on the back side of your label some note? This Stolzite represents for me a special value, and not for it's rarity or beauty, but mostly for your label and your handwritten notes there.

I like a lot minerals but I'm human and I like the human part of my relationship with minerals. For me, the mineral's labels have this warm part that complete the not human side of the "rocks".

Jordi
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