Mineral collecting is a exciting and increasingly popular hobby. This brochure presents an overview of mineral collecting and provides additional information and references useful to the beginning and experienced collector. Mineral collecting is a relatively inexpensive hobby that can be enjoyed by the whole family. It offers the opportunity to enjoy the outdoors, get some exercise and learn about nature. Collecting trips can also be exciting, especially when there is the chance of finding minerals and gemstones of value.
HOW TO GET STARTED
The beginning mineral collector needs two pieces of somewhat specialized equipment - a geologist's hammer and a hand lens. The hammer is used to dislodge rock or mineral specimens and trim them to display size. It can be purchased through hardware stores, scientific supply houses, and rock shops. A hand lens, also called a pocket magnifier, is useful to identify small mineral grains and crystals. A hand lens can be purchased at a jewelry store, hobby shop, or scientific supply house. Other useful pieces of equipment are: a knapsack to carry specimens, equipment, and food; paper sacks and wrapping paper (newspaper) to wrap individual specimens; a notebook for keeping field notes; and a pocket knife. It is a good idea to mark your locality on a topographic map as accurately as possible so that you can return on future field trips or direct others to the site. Permission must always be obtained to collect on private property. The following safety equipment is strongly recommended and is required for collecting in a mine or quarry area: hard hats, steel-toed boots, and safety glasses.
WHERE TO GET HELP
Mineral collecting can be much more enjoy able if you have a basic knowledge of geology and mineralogy. Ways of obtaining information on minerals and geology are listed below:
l. Visit your state geological survey, which in Virginia is the Division of Mineral Resources located in Charlottesville. The Division has a sales office where reports and maps on geology and minerals and topographic maps can be purchased as well as a research library, which is open to the public. Staff geologists are available to answer questions and to identify mineral specimens. Interested citizens can be placed on the mailing list to receive "Virginia Minerals". This publication contains articles on current geologic topics as well as reports the occurrence of rare or unusual minerals and gemstones. A current list of the Division's publications and maps can be ordered or picked up free of charge.
2. The United States Geological Survey (USGS) located in Reston, Virginia, is also a good source of geologic information. For information, one should contact the Office of Earth Science Information, MS 509, U.S. Geological Survey, National Center, Reston,Virginia 22092, (telephone 7O3-648-5963).
3. Books on rocks and minerals are available in most book stores. Public and university libraries are also good sources of reading material. A good reference to the geology of the Commonwealth is "Geology and Virginia" (Dietrich, 1990a) and the most comprehensive references to minerals of Virginia are Dietrich (1990b, 1993). The books by Dietrich are available only in the Division's sales office.
4. Take a basic course in geology or mineralogy at a university or community college. A general knowledge of geology and mineralogy will make one's hobby more enjoyable and meaningful. Also, universities may have displays of local rocks, fossils, and minerals, which are open to the public.
5. Join a mineral club if there is one in your area. These clubs offer educational programs and organized collecting trips. Many clubs have their own liability insurance, which makes it possible for club members to obtain permission to visit quarries, whereas an individual collector could not. Clubs may put on shows and swap meets that are educational and offer the opportunity to upgrade a mineral collection.
WHERE TO LOOK FOR MINERALS
Minerals can be collected at commercial collecting areas. In addition to the commercial collecting areas good places to look for mineral specimens are active and abandoned mines and quarries, mine dumps, highway cuts, excavations for construction sites, and stream beds and banks. In addition specimens have been found in recently plowed fields, especially after a rain.
It is suggested that the beginning collector might accompany an experienced collector on a first collecting trip, as it may be difficult to know what one is looking for without guidance. Always obtain permission of the landowner before entering a property to collect minerals. Entering private property without permission is punishable under trespass law.
Each state has many famous and unique mineral occurrences. The Commonwealth contains a great variety of minerals with over 425 individual species being reported. Over the years Virginia localities have produced fine specimens of allanite, andalusite, apophyllite, beryl, calcite, cassiterite, kyanite, microcline (variety amazonite), prehnite, pyrite, spessartine, staurolite, topaz, turquoise, and vivianite. With diligence and a little luck, rare and unusual minerals can still be found in Virginia.
WHAT DO I HAVE?
Identification of minerals can best be determined by noting the physical characteristics. A hardness scale in which a mineral of greater hardness (higher number) can scratch a mineral of the lower hardness but not be scratched by it. The scale is 1-talc; 2-gypsum; 3-calcite; 4-fluofite; 5-apatite; 6-orthoclase; 7-quartz; 8-topaz; 9-corundum; 10-diamond. This is known as the Mohs scale of hardness. When on a collecting trip, remember that a fingenail has a hardness of 2.5; a penny, 3; a knife blade, 5.5; and a steel file, 6.5. Use these examples to scratch a sample to get an approximate hardness. Other tests for identifying minerals include: specific gravity (weight of mineral compared to the weight of an equal volume of water), optical properties, crystal form, color, and luster. Minerals differ in other properties such as cleavage, fracture, parting planes, and the distinctive streak on a piece of unglazed porcelain. Some minerals are magnetic, some have electrical properties, some glow under ultraviolet or black light, some are radioactive, and some fuse under a low flame while others are unaffected. Chemical or X-ray analyses generally can identify a mineral. Many tests too complicated for the beginner or require special equipment are also available.
A novice collector should read about minerals, look at photographs and samples, and talk with experienced mineral collectors in order to gain experience in identifying minerals. Also, geologists trained in mineralogy and petrology, are available to assist mineral collectors in identifying minerals and rocks.