Where are the Youth?
There is an abundance of new mineral specimens coming out of Asia, Africa, and Russia these days. The quality of this new material reaching the market is remarkable. This higher quality stems from a new awareness among collectors, especially from lesser developed countries, to be cognizant in preserving the material they are collecting. This includes proper methods of mining and extraction, matrix preservation, preparation, and protection until it arrives at a dealer. The result is an abundance of many new fine minerals from new localities, or from places that were previously not big specimen producers.
On the flip-side, quality minerals from classic localities are increasingly difficult to get a hold of. In developed regions of the world, like the United States and Western Europe, many classic localities are off-limits or have been exhausted. Quality specimens from such locations can be difficult to come by, since they are only available on the market from recycled collections. When they do become available, their prices tend to be very high.
The upper class of collectors generally focuses only on the finest quality minerals. The market for these types of specimens seems to be increasingly strong, especially with an influx of wealthy collectors overseas who are interested less in the science of minerals and more in the aesthetics or collectible worth of minerals. I was recently witness to a $30,000 mineral transaction by a wealthy collector at the Tucson show.
There is also a lower tier of mineral specimens, which I often call the “tourist stones.” This group includes small Quartz points, “Peacock Ore”, polished Hematite, sliced geodes, and the like. The sales of these are also brisk, because the general population without much mineral interest will still purchase these affordable minerals at tourist locations, “rock shops,” or from stock dealers.
Serious collectors want only serious minerals. However, non-hobbyists, amateur collectors, and holistic collectors generally go after cheap, common material. The minerals that live in the middle of this equation are in a difficult position when it comes to selling. This includes reference material that may not be the prettiest, or good minerals that don’t present the best quality for a species or location. This middle gap is unfortunately growing wider, as there are fewer collectors interested in this middle-tier material.
During my teenage years, my collection was within this middle tier. The higher-class material was out of my reach (with the exception of the hidden “sleepers” that I sometimes came across), and the lower-class material didn’t have much interest to me. However, I appreciated a varied collection of obtainable material by maintaining a great reference collection that was still highly aesthetic and representative, yet affordable.
I am noticing that there are fewer children and adolescents with a serious interest in the hobby. Almost all the experts on minerals these days seem middle-aged or older, with few young and serious collectors who don’t need only the finest. It seems to me that most of the youth at shows today are just looking for “pretty rocks,” or their dads with an interest in science and nature are schlepping them along to the show. I rarely encounter knowledgeable children or adolescents who have a serious interest in collecting for the sake of owning a comprehensive yet affordable collection.
I am not a dealer, but I sometimes sell at shows to move some of the excess material that tends to accumulate in my collection. I notice the serious collectors looking for the rare and unusual items that I offer at a fair price. Less knowledgeable collectors, kids, and general hobbyists are always buying the cheap material I have, such as mica plates and carnelian rough for cabbing. But the “nice but not super quality” material in the middle tier, and much of the reference material that isn’t particular striking, rarely moves along.
I think it’s time to work on getting more youth interested in this hobby. They are the ones who are interested in a serious yet affordable collection, and they will be the ones who develop into the future enthusiasts and professional collectors. If the future of mineral collecting lies with our youth, we need to focus our efforts on educating children and young adults, giving them more interest and guidance in this field.