Monday, March 21, 2011

The evils that beset mineral collections: 5. Vibration and flexure

Vibrations are waves of movement of the environment around a mineral. These include sound and shaking (from footsteps to earthquakes).
Flexure, or flexing, is bending. Take a pliable material, like a paperclip, and bend it back and forth. Eventually it undergoes metal fatigue and snaps.
  • Delicate mineral specimens can fall apart due to repeated exposure to slight vibrations; know which of yours are susceptible to this, and keep them isolated from shocks. (Look for inexplicable dust around the specimen when it is on display as an indication it is susceptible to vibration damage.)
  • All powdery specimens are susceptible to vibrational damage; keep in closed containers.

  • The vast majority of mineral specimens will be damaged if the case they are in is overturned by an earthquake or comparable large shock. If you live in an area where earthquakes are a concern, consider storing your minerals in individual boxes lined with an archival foam material, like Volara.
  • A heavy cabinet or safe by itself will not protect your specimens from earthquake damage, unless it is securely anchored to bedrock or deep foundations. (Without appropriate securing, the cabinet can become a large heavy projectile.)
  • Raised edges on open shelving, "museum wax," Velcro, and other stabilizing materials can limit the movement of individual items in small or moderate earthquakes.
  • Many websites deal with preparing for earthquakes. In general, large heavy items should be kept on low shelves, and certainly not over one's head.
Flexing and bending can damage metals and elongated crystals.
  • Thin mica sheets can withstand some flexing.
  • Silver, copper, and gold occur as wires and sheets that are sometimes bent into more aesthetic shapes. [This is debatably a treatment that should be disclosed.] Over-bending a specimen can cause it to break.
  • Some fibers are more elastic than others. Most fibrous specimens will be damaged by "patting" them; such as the black velvet surface of some psilomelanes. Others, like pectolite, can damage the person patting them! Okenite balls are sometimes shown to children as minerals one can pet, but the fibers are much less durable than plush animals.
  • Itacolumnite, or flexible sandstone, can lose sand grains when flexed.
  • Fibrous minerals can also be damaged by being dusted. (Millerite geodes are a common example of this.) Do not let inexperienced people dust, hold, or even touch your mineral specimens without supervision.

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