Although this collectors guide uses the example of fossil collecting, you may find hints and tips for other collections – or start a new passion? Welcome in…
To get straight to our study guide to cataloging, page down further, or stay with us for a chat first if you’re not in too much of a rush.
By the way, if you haven’t realised it yet, fossils are a great way to keep fit and have fun as a family – maybe even a way to get things for free! We’ve posted other collectors guide blogs. Try fossil collecting or fun activities for younger collectors.
One of the issues that have given fossils a bad name is the amount of dust they can collect – and it may not be the collector who has the dust allergy! But it really doesn’t have to be this way…
Any collection reflects the interests of the collector. All collections have value because of the story behind them. This may be a personal or sentimental value and not shared by the loved ones who share your living space! Sounds familiar? In our experience, all that’s needed is a little perspective. For instance, we file some of our rocks in the garden, where they make happy bed-fellows with our plants– wild and cultivated alike! Happy days, original features for the garden, talking points for BBQs and thanks to frequent washing by Mother Nature, no dust in site.
Too valuable? Too frivolous? A way of upping your game indoors and increasing your collection’s value, you need to think about presentation, documentation and information.
Collectors Guide: Presentation
Once you’ve snuck your rocks into the house, the rest is up to you. Generally fossils and minerals are very stable so no special care is needed. Try our blog on fossil décor for some ideas on how and where to show your treasures. Your negotiation and creative skills will get a work out heh heh. A good balance to devising storage systems …
Collectors Guide: Storing a Collection
If you want to keep your collection together, inside the house, a glass cabinet with lighting can be a great option.
If you really want to get systematic and massage your inner nerd, you can keep each specimen in an archival box with a label. Store these in labelled drawers organised by fossil or mineral type (see our 2 part blog on the history of geology!) Fossils and minerals with pyrite require special attention. Specimens with Pyrite can suffer from ‘Pyrite decay’. At around 60% relative humidity Pyrite reacts with Oxygen in the air to form Iron Sulphate and Sulphuric Acid. In other words, your ‘metallic’ specimens will crumble away if you don’t protect them.
The Sulphuric acid destroys the paper boxes and it is this that causes the specimen to eventually crumble apart. To best preserve your specimens containing Pyrite, store in a dry environment (around 35% relative humidity), minimise exposure to water and oxygen, avoid extremes in temperature and humidity and store in isolated containers.
Warning! Most of the fossil collectors we know (and we know more than a few!) tend to file their finds on the floor. That way leads the single life and extra-marital affairs – not yours, so take heed!
Collectors Guide: How Should I Organise My Collection?
It’s your collection, you can organise however you wish. That said, some kind of format makes it easy to follow so that other people to look at, understand and admire your collection. Happy days. It makes sense to split your collection into fossils and minerals (if you’re collecting both). Within that you can organise by type of organism e.g. Ammonite, Belemnite, Brachiopod and by mineral species so you keep all your malachite specimens together, for example. Your minerals can also be grouped by basic chemistry, e.g. silicates, carbonates, sulphides.
Collectors Guide: Provenance
Without documentation any collection loses both scientific and commercial value. A museum will rarely take a collection unless it has good documentation and at auctions, collections without documentation sell for much less than those with it. Don’t be put off. Sounds scary and ominous but it doesn’t require much.
Some of the best ways of getting people to share your passion are your tales of death-defying adventures of rock –collecting. Or how you were just about to give up for the day when… Keep a check on the eyes of your listeners – when they start to take on a glassy appearance, its time to shut up! You may tell each person only once so give it your best shot. Write it down and keep it with your rock. Remember, Provenance is: What it is, Where it was found, When, Who found it, maybe Why it was formed in that location and How you found it. An ‘H‘ bench with four ‘W‘ bums on it – draw it, you’ll see what we mean ;).
A fascinating way of extending your fossil passion indoors on those dark and dreary days is to find out more about the rocks you have collected. How else are you going to know if it’s a gem or a rockery candidate – apart from how much you like it and the story behind it, of course. Google is often a good place to start with most things these days and you’ll find plenty of info and pictures online to start you off. Libraries and museums are an obvious port of call (lets face it – as fossil nerds we’re into old stuff). Local to where you found your fossil, there should be plenty of info and even a museum curator who can tell you all about it and show you similar specimens.
You may find it useful to label each specimen with identification (as best you can), a number and locality and date of collection. For more prized finds, detailed description of where you found it is essential. A map grid reference is even better (also on Youtube if you prefer) so someone can go to the exact spot where you collected it – is that half an Ichthyosaur you have in your garden ma’am? For this reason it’s a bonus to have a GPS with you when you go collecting.
|ID Number||Name||Found||Grid ref.||Date|
|A1.2||Hildoceras||Illminster, Somerset||ST 35976 14990||September1993|
Locality is the most important bit of information to record at the time of finding, since it can be impossible to find out later on. Your specimen can be identified at a later date but once the locality is lost it cannot be retrieved. If, like us, you buy some of your fossils, be sure to press the seller for their best information about provenance – what and where – we will always provide it to our customers.
Collectors Guide: Filing
‘Oh no’, we hear your friends and family groan. Well, Fossil Geek, what better use of your laptop whilst a romantic movie plays on the TV of a winter evening, and no index cards or filing cabinets in sight? Marriage guidance our speciality!
Once you have completed some basic documentation it’s a smart move to computerise it (don’t forget to back it up, your hard work is your best asset where collecting is concerned). A simple Excel spreadsheet can work well. You can assign numbers to your specimens too so you can easily locate them and tell which is which. Label your specimen with white acrylic paint, correction fluid (e.g. Tipp-Ex) or gluing paper to the specimen. Something that can easily be hidden for display purposes of cleaned off later.
Pick a simple numbering system you can be consistent with. Consistency is absolutely crucial. For example for fossils your ID number could start with F. You could decide to place all Ammonites under 1, Trilobites under 2 etc. So the first Ammonite in your collection would be F:1:1, the second would be F:1:2 and so on. Remember of course to keep a code sheet so other people will know that the 1 corresponds to Ammonites. This can also be stored in your Excel sheet.
Documentation allows you either professional or amateur to make an important contribution to either palaeontology (or mineralogy, eg crystals) or both! You may have wondered where the world’s museums have come to hold such large collections sometimes with millions of specimens. The answer is simple. Many museum collections are built upon the donated private collections of amateurs like yourself. The Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield, Massachusetts where one of our geologists used to work, has a mineral collection with over 4000 specimens. Approximately half of those are due to the avid collecting of Daniel Clark, a late 19th century farmer who collected regularly in nearby Tyringham, Massachusetts. And whilst he isn’t a relation (as far as we know!) – here is the very organised and professional filing system of another fossil buff: David Clark. Our thanks to him for permission to show his excellent example!
We hope we’ve given you some ideas about getting your rocks off the porch floor when you can’t get in the front door any longer. We hope you’ll enjoy sharing our passion for prizing the earth’s geological treasures and be encouraged to think creatively about how you share them with others. We also hope that we have given you the info you need if you want to start cataloguing your collection and storing it in a more formal way. Do use the comment button to share your ideas with other readers and to ask us any questions about this, or any other fossil or crystal related topic. We have a facebook page too and we’d love to see your photos and hear what you’ve been up to.
Now go and preserve those wonderful collections – then get back out there and look for more! Happy fossiling!
Ps Like the look but too busy – let us take the strain and sort out a great fossil look for your home!! And in case you want to start or add to an existing collection – we have plenty to choose from in our online FossilandCrystalShop