Size Matters! Collecting Miniature Mineral Specimens

Jun 9, 2016
Some special crystal formations are uniquely formed in small sizes, like this hematite. Joe Budd Photo

Some special crystal formations are uniquely formed in small sizes, like this hematite. Joe Budd Photo

Even those who are new to collecting have seen it – the house of a rockhound whose collection has taken over. From sprawling boulders in the front yard, to a basement crowded with boxes of crystals, their collection has consumed every inch of free space – often leaving the collector with no room to display their collection!

If you’re interested in avoiding this common collector’s affliction, specialization is the way to go! And, what better way to maintain a collection of reasonable size, than collecting thumbnail or miniature mineral specimens?

For those with limited space for display, collecting small mineral specimens just makes sense. By limiting the size of your specimens, you can easily store and display hundreds of rocks, minerals, and crystals, adding interest and variety to your collection. To add perspective, approximately 500 thumbnails could fit into the same display space as 25 hand-sized specimens – meaning even a collection of modest size can hold great impact!

If you’re interested in collecting small mineral specimens, there are a few things you should keep in mind. Think miniature is as small as it gets? Try again! There are several specific size categories to specialize in collecting little treasures. We’ve categorized them, here:

Crystallized gold from Brazil

This thumbnail specimen of gold from Brazil shows remarkable formation that is nearly impossible in larger specimens.

Micromount Specimens (M/M). Regardless of the size of the matrix, any specimen which requires magnification for viewing is technically classified as a micromount – though we use the phrase here to refer to very small specimens, intended for viewing under a microscope. Because micromount specimens are diminutive in size, it is easier to obtain high-quality crystals with excellent color, shape, and form – and, under magnification, these specimens can be quite stunning.

Thumbnail Specimens (T/N). Thumbnail specimens are usually no larger than one inch square, and will generally fit into a 1.25” plastic perky box.

Toenail Specimens. An informal reference, a toenail specimen is one which is slightly too large to fit into the thumbnail category, but is not quite large enough to be categorized as a miniature. Think of these as your “in-between” specimens!

Miniature Specimens (M/N). Miniature specimens (also sometimes abbreviated as “min” or “mini’s”) are generally close to 2” in size, and will usually fit into a 2.5” cube.

One of the greatest bonuses of collecting miniature mineral specimens is the difference in quality. As most rockhounds know, size matters – and a bigger specimen is very rarely a better one! Because of the limited size of miniatures, they are less prone to inclusions, distortions, or other issues which affect the clarity, color, and quality of their formation, making them ideal for viewing and display. And, they are far less likely to experience the damage often associated with extraction of larger specimens – which makes locating and obtaining beautiful, high-quality specimens far more achievable.

Assembling little treasures of fine minerals can be a cost-effective and rewarding pursuit.

Assembling little treasures of fine minerals can be a cost-effective and rewarding pursuit.

Collecting miniature mineral specimens may also be easier on your wallet! Because fine mineral specimens of significant size are often difficult to locate and obtain, they are highly valued – and often command a steep price – whereas a very fine miniature of the same material may be obtained at a much more reasonable cost. While the higher quality of some miniature specimens will definitely factor into the asking price, their availability can make them a far more affordable option for those who are building their collection on a budget.

Want to learn more? Dr. James (Jim) Houran gave a lecture at the 2014 Dallas Mineral Collecting Symposium discussing his passion for collecting small minerals. The lecture is available to watch On Demand on Vimeo.

For those who wish to showcase their collections in trade shows or exhibitions, a collection of miniature specimens is ideal for inclusion in a traveling display. Because of their smaller size, they are far easier to transport, and the creation of a mobile display case or similar can help highlight your collection’s unique beauty.

If you’re interested in collecting miniature mineral specimens, check out our current catalog of little treasures, here – or explore the Wisdom Pocket blog, to read more about building an amazing rock and mineral collection!