An Introduction to the Safe Handling of Mineral Specimens

Write By: tmmadmin Published In: Your Collection Created Date: 2015-12-23 Hits: 2591 Comment: 0

Mineral collectors love to look at fine mineral specimens! It is very exciting to inspect and handle a good piece, because it gives you the opportunity to look at it very closely and notice "up close and personal" such details as crystal structure, sharpness of crystallization, intensity of color, clarity of gemmy crystals, luster, contrast, and so on. But in doing so you surely do not want to damage the specimen, so learning how to pick up, hold and handle, and put down a specimen without causing harm is essential to maintaining a quality mineral collection and to remaining on good terms with dealers and other collectors who let you look at their collection. The fact is that certain minerals and stones are very fragile, very soft, or highly sensitive to pressure or changes in temperature, any of which can result in damage. Yet many collectors, especially those who are new to collecting, do not know how to properly handle specimens.

Although we think of "rocks" as durable things, some minerals are incredibly fragile and many are also very soft or otherwise surprisingly vulnerable. I have seen a lot of specimens damaged by careless handling, which is why I have prepared this introductory guide - to ease your worries and teach you proper etiquette.


Here are some do's and don'ts:

  • Before you start, wash your hands if possible.
  • Always ask permission first. At shows, ask the dealer if you can pick up a specimen before you touch it. If viewing a private collection, ask the owner which pieces (if any) you can touch.
  • If the specimen is in a box, pick up the box with the specimen by the box, rather than picking up the specimen. If glued onto a Plexiglas square, pick it up by the edges and do not touch the specimen.
  • Lift a specimen by the outside edges, then place it in the middle of the open palm of the other hand.
  • Never touch the crystals with your fingers, because even microscopic dirt on your skin can damage specimens. And, skin moisture and oils can affect porous materials such as lapis lazuli, jadeite, and turquoise, which are highly reactive to these substances, and can lose their luster or become discolored or corroded. For example, if you leave a fingerprint on orpiment or pyrite, it can be permanently etched into the surface of the crystal.
  • Consider wearing nitrile gloves when handling sensitive minerals. Some minerals are so sensitive to heat that the lights in a display case or even from your hand can damage them. Cerussite and sulfur are examples of this.
  • If it is not too heavy, hold the specimen with the display side up on top of your outstretched hand, palm up. Never put the crystals or display face facing down.
  • Heavy specimens require extra caution. Do not attempt to lift something that is too heavy to pick up in one hand.
  • Soft minerals require extra care. Use a soft lint free cloth to prevent damage.
  • Anything with a hardness of 4 or below can be easily scratched or lose its natural polish. Fluorite (4 on the Mohs scale of hardness), calcite (3), selenite/gypsum (2), and talc (1) are examples of soft minerals. Talc is easily flaked with a fingernail and selenite can be scratched with a fingernail.
  • Fragile specimens require extra caution, especially those with thin, delicate crystals like crocoite and mesolite.
  • Wash your hands after handling the specimen as well. Some minerals may leave an unpleasant residue, and others are outright toxic.
  • Whatever you do, do not drop a specimen!

Seeing a mineral and crystal collection in person is a highly rewarding experience for any collector. But be aware of the above suggestions so specimens look the same as you found them after you have enjoyed handling them.

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