Monday, May 9, 2011

The evils that beset mineral collections: 11. Children and Other People

Here I am distinguishing "children and other people" from fellow collectors. This blog entry is about mineral-naive people who may interact with your collection. (The classic apocryphal example is the maid who carefully dusts your millerite geode to get rid of those hairs in it.)

Some mineral specimens should not be touched; others should not be picked up. Etiquette for guests is to ask permission first, and to hold the specimen close above a soft surface (such as your free hand) while you examine it. Heavy minerals (including galena and gold nuggets) are easily dropped. Some crystal tips can cleave off, like apophyllite or even topaz.

Attractive specimens sometimes disappear when visitors are allowed free access to a collection. If you like to give samples to encourage children (which is a very good thing to do), do not let them confuse ones to which they are welcome with ones you would rather keep.

Mineral specimens can hurt people also. Okenite specimens are sometimes demonstrated as "pattable" furry minerals; but related species such as pectolite will leave slivers in one's fingers. (And other velvety mineral specimens, such as manganese oxides, are easily crushed by patting them.) It's wise to wash your hands after handling minerals, especially ones you don't know, or ones you do know to be poisonous.

A mineral collector should not expose naive or easily frightened guests to radioactive minerals, asbestos-habit amphiboles, or arsenic ores.

Monday, May 2, 2011

The evils that beset mineral collections: 10. Insects and Other Pests

Most mineral specimens are not edible, but things associated with them are: labels, glue, wool batting, etc. Boxes make cozy homes for rodents, who may add their own specimens of scat and crystalline urine. Humid conditions promote mold growth (see Evil #4); humid conditions with sunlight promote plant growth. An untended collection may become an ecosystem. 
  • Insects: The common pests depend on your region. Silverfish nibble on paper, termites eat cellulose-rich material, dermistids (carpet beetles) and moth larvae eat wool. Cockroaches like people food but spread grease where they go.
  • Rodents are more likely to be disruptive than to eat minerals or labels. They can nest in storage boxes, re-arranging their contents. Rats leave grease tracks and pee as they travel. Sometimes rodents bring their own collections into their homes; you may find stashes of food interspersed with your minerals.
  • Birds can nest in rafters over your storage area and leave droppings; they can also carry fleas and ticks.
  • Medium-sized mammals investigating a garage or basement collection include raccoons, skunks, feral cats, etc.Watch out for scratching posts, bad odors, nursery sites, bathroom sites, and rabid behavior. (Not that your minerals will catch rabies, grow fangs, and start foaming at the mouth; but your curator might!)
  • Plants are usually benign, but can grow roots or tendrils into a space where they are not welcome. Your collection does not need a burst sewer pipe in its vicinity. I have a wisteria that attempts to become a house planet every summer, prying open windows and growing meter-long indoor tendrils. Plants (trees) can also fall over onto collection spaces.