Cataloguing Your Collection


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How to Catalogue Your Collection - article from Rocks & Minerals March/April 1989
Some Comments on Cataloguing a Mineral Collection - by Tony Steed - Walker Club  
Mineral Cleaning by John Betts of John Betts - Fine Minerals  This informative article by NYMC member John Betts won a first prize in its category in the Eastern Federation of Mineral and Lapidary Societies bulletin competition.

How to Catalogue Your Collection

From Rocks & Minerals (March/April 1989( article by A. Kampf, via The Chippings, London, Ontario, June/89)

All mineral books advise beginning collectors to keep some kind of list or catalogue of their growing collections. What often holds collectors back is not knowing exactly what information they should record. With the recent advent of powerful home computers you can now create useful permanent lists of your minerals. What follows is is a summary of an article from Rocks & Minerals (March/April 1989) by A. Kampf who is computerizing an L.A. museum collection. If you follow this model using sheets of ordinary 3-ring paper, you will have a useful informative paper catalogue. If you wish, you can readily transfer this information to a computer database programme.

An Example of a Data Collection Sheet:

1. 532 10. Butterfly 1. Catalogue Number (CATNO) 10. Descriptor
2. M 11. 40x20x40 2. Type of Specimen 11. Dimension
3. P 12. 3. Acquisition Code 12. Weight
4. 300887 13. 1 4. Date Acquired 13. Quantity
5. Tyson's 14. BC 5. Source 14. State
6. 15.00 15. 6. Value 15. County
7. Calcite 16. McBride 7. Species 16. Town
8.  17. 8. Variety 17. Mine
9. Twin 18. FR 9. Keyword 18. Container
  19. An unusual, undamaged, butterfly-twinned matrixless specimen. Surfaces have silvery sheen and are slightly pock-marked.   19. Comment
  1. Catalogue Number (CATNO). Write or type a number on a label on the box or ideally on the specimen itself. On larger specimens I would recommend printing the locality information right on the mineral matrix. White-out and india ink is one way of doing this. For this reserve 5 spaces.
  2. Show type of specimen (T). Is it a rock, mineral or a gem? Use a single letter code for this line: R, M or G.
  3. Use a code to show how you got the specimen. This is called the acquisition code (AQ). The following should cover all the possibilities: Purchase - P, Donation - D, Exchange - E, Field Collecting - F
  4. When did you acquire the specimen? In the metric system of day/month/year or DD/MM/YY you have to allot 6 spaces for this line. Thus March 2, 1988 translates into  020388. In computer terms to facilitate sorting, consider putting the date as YY/MM/DD. That way your data base can sort your collection based on date of acquisition.
  5. From where or whom did you acquire the specimen (SOURCE)? Give 12 spaces to sources such as Christianson, Hawthorneden or Alward.
  6. How much did you pay for the specimen (Value)? What was its value when you acquired it? If you won it as a door prize the specimen still has a value and you should estimate it. In case you find a world class specimen, leave 6 spaces (0000.00).
  7. How much space should you leave for the mineral's name (SPECIES)? 12 is enough to identify it. You may want to make it longer.
  8. Leave 12 spaces for variety (VARIETY) names such as amazonite, the green variety of microcline feldspar.
  9. In most cases you will leave this field (KEYWORD) empty. But it is useful to have space to describe a specimen with words such as twin or pseudomorph or inclusion. You can also use faceted, cabochon or carving as your keyword. If no keyword is necessary, use the space for in, on or with. These words will join the next line. Give this line 7 spaces.
  10. Include what you consider the most important associated species. This might be the second best or largest crystal or an unusual association. If there are 5 species on one specimen you will have to decide on one. If you used a special keyword in the previous line (9), give the name of the pseudomorphed species or the twin law here. This is called the "descriptor" (DESCRIPTOR) field and you leave 12 characters for your entry. For gems, use this field for the shape of the stone.
  11. For the dimension (DIM) in millimeters you need to leave 11 characters, (***x***x***). I usually measure the size of the main crystal, not the size of the entire specimen. 
  12. WEIGHT (7) Use this area for gems in carats.
  13. QTY (2) Number of pieces.
  14. STATE (ST) (3) For countries other than Canada and the USA use the abbreviation for the country. There are three-letter abbreviations for the countries of the world as used in the Olympics. For USA and Canada, use the two-letter post office abbreviations for states and provinces in this field.
  15. COUNTY (16) Write in county, district, or department.
  16. TOWN (16) Give the next specific locality.
  17. MINE (16) Mine, deposit name or very specific locality.
  18. I added this line since it only takes two characters and is useful. I like to know what kind of container (C) the specimen is in. Therefore I use the following abbreviations in this field: Thumbnail - TN, Micromount - MM, Cabinet - C, Free - FR
  19. I also have a common area in the data collection sheet. These additional and often lengthy comments will not be put into the computer.

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Some Comments on Cataloguing a Mineral Collection
by Tony Steede, Walker Mineralogical Club © 2003

When I first started collecting minerals I thought that I would be able to remember all of the information that I needed about the minerals in my collection. I realized that this was not going to work when my collection grew and one day I could not remember the location of a particular mineral. It probably wasn’t terribly important because it was just a calcite, but I knew then that I had to record some of the pertinent information about my specimens.

The first decision that I had to make was the best way to record the details of each specimen. I started with a simple card file, and for many collectors this will be quite adequate. Starting with the name and location, I added other details that I thought I might want to know about each specimen in the future, things like its chemical formula, how it was obtained, and a brief description. In most cases it isn’t good enough to record the pertinent information of each mineral in the collection; there must also be a way of linking this information to the respective specimen. Again, when the collection is small, this may not be a problem. A simple card can be kept with the mineral. However, this is not very desirable because cards can easily be separated from the minerals to which they belong. I have seen many collections, which have been stored away, probably by someone other than the collector, and the cards are no longer with their respective specimens. Frequently, the cards cannot even be found. Hence, most serious collectors add a reference number (or combination of letters and numbers) to their specimens, which is then included on the card to identify the mineral. There are many ways in which this can be done.

In the old days, a strip of white paint was put on the mineral, on which the reference was printed in indelible ink, after which it was shellacked. I am not aware of any collectors who go to that bother today. A similar and simpler process involves painting a strip with white nail polish, which can be printed upon with indelible ink. (Staedtler and others make fine indelible ink pens.) This provides an almost permanent record on the specimen, which can be washed if it requires cleaning. If the record has to be changed the ink can be cleaned off with alcohol, while the white strip can be removed with acetone. Simpler methods can be devised. One such is to use standard pieces of paper, perhaps something like those created with a hole punch, and attaching them with either a bit of “stickem” or glue. Of course, this would not be waterproof, so cleaning would have to be done carefully. Avoid tapes; all, with only one exception to my knowledge, dry out and fall off, often leaving a mess on the specimen. The exception is a cloth tape that does not lend itself to being written upon cleanly, but can be used to good advantage for recording information on the specimen until proper cataloguing can be performed.

What should the reference number include? For many years the standard was the Dana system. Hence, you might see something like “” on a nondescript (probably white) chunk of rock. A quick check of the Dana system would inform you that this is scheelite. The nice thing about this system is that it is consistent. I would not have to know anything about the collector to know the identity of his specimen. However, there are some drawbacks. For one thing, the Dana system did not include numbers for the silicates until recently. With the publication of the New Dana System, this is no longer a problem. But, what if you have more than one scheelite in your collection? The Dana number provides no information with regard to the specific mineral or its place in the collection. Another system is to simply record on the specimen a chronological number representing the order in which it was added to the collection. This number could then be used to reference the card or computer record that contains the pertinent information about the specimen.

Collectors can develop their own reference system.  When I realized that I had to catalogue my collection I sat down and thought about what I wanted the reference number to accomplish. I wanted each one to be unique, but I also wanted it to tell me something about the mineral without having to check the catalogue. I settled on what might appear to be a cumbersome alphanumeric – starting with a letter, being the first letter of the mineral name in case my memory needed jogging (thank goodness for the foresight), followed by a number representing the broad Dana class (native elements, sulphides, sulpho-salts, etc.), and additional numbers to provide a unique number for each specimen. This was devised over thirty years ago and I only made three mistakes; I never thought that I would have more than a hundred specimens of the same mineral or more than ten different species in the same Dana class with the same first initial. Also, I thought that I would be using the same classification system for extra minerals that I would trade, so I included a numeral for quality. The first two problems were easily solved by using ascending letters where necessary. The number for quality never got used; either the specimen is good enough for the collection or it doesn’t get catalogued. This simple reference system has worked well for me.

But the card catalogue that I started with did not. I quickly discovered that it was too limited for the number of uses that I wanted to make of it. The primary problem with a card catalogue is that it must be organized along one subject line, most usually alphabetically by the name of the mineral. This can be made more flexible by using coloured cards or with tabs for other important information about the mineral such as location or mineral class, but its maintenance gets cumbersome and its functionality remains very limited.

I graduated to electronic data storage, (using a “database” in computer jargon) fairly early on because I wanted to gather information about the minerals in my collection that would be tedious to both record and recover from a card catalogue. For example, before a collecting trip to Colorado , I might want to find out what minerals I already had from locations there. I could always go through a card catalogue and list those from Colorado , but as the collection grows this becomes very time consuming: the computer can do this for me in a flash and then print out the list. When considering a computerized database one must again think about the information that they want to have recorded. There is almost no limit to the amount of information that can be included - I know of individuals who link photographs of the minerals to the catalogued information - but one must decide how the information is likely to be used.

In computerized data bases a card is equivalent to a “record” and the separate pieces of information that would have been recorded on the card, such as reference number or name of the mineral, are called “fields”. Generally, you would want a different field for each item upon which you might want to perform a search. Fields are defined by the user to include numerals, letters, or both, and the size (in characters) of each field is determined at the time that the database is created, although in most cases these can be changed at a later date. So, one would select a string of perhaps eight characters for the reference number, twenty characters for the name, sixty or so for the location, and so on until all of the fields that you want to include for your specimens have been defined.

The location information is probably the most likely to be searched. Creating this part of the database warrants special consideration. In years past, many databases required users to search with full strings. What I mean by this is that if you wanted to know what minerals you had from Colorado , you would not get a response if the field you were searching had more information in it than the name of each state (or equivalent). If I had a mineral from the National Belle Mine, Red Mountain , Ouray County , Colorado , with all of that in one field, a search for just “ Colorado ” would be unsuccessful. A search would have required a separate field for each part of the location. Hence, a separate field would have been required for each of “mine”, “municipality”, “county”, “township”, “province” and “country”. Then, of course, all the minerals from Colorado could be found easily by doing a search in the “province” field, the closest equivalent to “state”. However, locations are described differently in other countries and one would have to develop very defined rules in order to keep the records useful. Even then, where would I put “ Red Mountain ” in the above example? Fortunately, I think that all databases now accept what I call sub field searches. I use just one field for the location, in which I can put as much locality information as I possess. Then, if I want to search for Colorado , I select the field and instruct the program to search for the string of desired letters (“ Colorado ”) within the wider string of the complete location description. Sometimes this feature is not obvious, but it is worth finding in the database that you are considering using (in Microsoft Access it is the operator “contains”). I suggest that one should make certain that this feature is available in any database program considered for use.

Databases have come a long way in other regards as well. Most spreadsheets are semi-database programs and simple database functions, such as sorting, can be performed on them. More importantly, many common database programs can read the information stored in spreadsheet format. The columns of the spreadsheet can be treated as fields in a database. I refer to my collection as being in a database but in fact, it is on a big spreadsheet. This really simplifies its maintenance with additions, deletions, and corrections all being performed on the spreadsheet. When I want to do a search I move over to MS Access (or MS Query), which draws the required information directly from the spreadsheet.


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