My rock and mineral collection started as just an accumulation of cool samples I had found on various field trips and vacations. It wasn’t long before I wanted to expand my collection and buy some more display-worthy specimens, but I didn’t know where to start. I decided to put together this guide to give novice collectors a place to start when wondering where to purchase rocks and minerals.
The best places to buy rocks and minerals are reputable local rock shops and mineral shows. This allows you to view the specimen in person and talk with the dealer. You can also buy from trusted dealers on eBay, websites that specialize in rock and mineral auctions, and dealer websites.
Where and how you buy your rocks and minerals will vary depending on what you’re looking to buy and how much you’re anticipating spending. Each of the means I listed above has its pros and cons. You’ll want to make sure you pick the right avenue for you to make sure you get the specimen you’re looking for while avoiding getting ripped off.
Where to Buy Rocks and Minerals
Local Rock Shop
Without a doubt, a local rock shop is going to be the best place to start for anyone wanting to buy rock or mineral samples. The biggest benefit in buying this way is that you can actually see and hold the specimens that you’ll potentially be buying. You can view all the well-lit pictures and videos you want of samples online, but nothing beats being able to see them with your own eyes.
It’s also really nice to be able to talk with the dealer you’re buying from. Every specimen has a history behind it and hopefully the person you’re buying from will be able to relay some of that information to you.
Samples are worth more when their history is well understood – where and when they were found, the rarity, quality, etc. all help paint a more complete picture of what you’re buying. A quality dealer should be able to tell you quite a bit about anything they’re selling.
The monetary value of the sample isn’t the only reason to want to know all of this information. Chances are you are buying these items for your own personal enjoyment or as a gift, not to re-sell it. Knowing something about the history of the pieces in your collection makes you feel more attached to them and makes them more fun to show off to your friends and family.
If you plan to be buying several pieces to add to your collection over time it’s a good idea to establish some sort of relationship with your local rock shop. You don’t have to be on a first-name basis, but it’s nice to develop a trusted source for your collecting needs. Being able to talk to someone who is knowledgeable about the market and their specimens makes the buying process more comfortable and enjoyable.
With all the benefits of the local rock shop comes a significant drawback – a potential lack of selection. While many shops have a wide variety of collector’s grade specimens for sale, they simply can’t carry the amount of inventory you’ll find online or at large mineral shows. If you’re looking for something specific there is a good chance they won’t have what you’re looking for.
One of the best places any collector can go to find almost any rock or mineral they’re looking for is a mineral show. There are dozens of shows throughout the U.S. every year and there is sure to be one near you at some point.
The size of mineral shows range from small local gatherings to the massive annual Tuscon Gem and Mineral Show. Dealers from all over the country and the world come to these shows in order to show off their collections, sell their pieces and network with other collectors. Many of these shows have themes that focus on a particular group of minerals or locality, but all sorts of items are available.
Mineral shows have a lot of the same benefits of rock shops. You can view the specimens in person before buying them, and speak with the dealer about anything you’re interested in. And since there are many dealers all in one location you can compare similar samples and their prices before making your decision.
The biggest downside compared to a rock shop is that you probably won’t develop a long term working relationship with a dealer at a mineral show. There is a good chance that the dealer you’re buying from won’t even be from your state, so the chances of repeat business are pretty low.
If you aren’t able to find what you’re looking for at a rock shop or mineral show it’s time to look at only auction sites. The most well-known auction site is eBay, and that holds true for rock and mineral specimens as well. There are a lot of advantages to buying online but it definitely has its pitfalls as well.
The biggest benefit of buying on eBay is the sheer volume and variety of items available. Almost anything you could think to buy is for auction, and the market sets the price. You can usually buy with the confidence that you aren’t drastically overpaying for an item.
Buying on eBay isn’t all sunshine and roses, however. Unfortunately, there are some sellers that sell fakes, which could easily result in you wasting your money. Some of these fakes are very well done but are fakes nonetheless. Some items may be actual minerals but misrepresented as being rarer or from a more desirable locality than they really are.
It’s important to do some research about the item you’re buying as well as the seller you’re buying from. If the seller advertises the specimen as being from a specific locality, look up other examples of what that rock or mineral looks like from that place. Perhaps more importantly, check the seller’s ratings on eBay and make sure that they have a lengthy history of being a trusted and reputable supplier of what they are selling.
Specialty Auction Websites
If you are leery of buying on eBay you may want to check out some online auction sites that specialize in rocks and minerals. These tend to be much more trustworthy because the reputation of both the site and the dealer depends on the quality and legitimacy of their specimens.
Most of these sites run weekly auctions. The quality, quantity, and average value of the samples will vary depending on the site and the week. You might need to watch each site you’re interested in for several weeks to find what you’re looking for at a price you’re willing to pay. One disadvantage of buying this way is that you’re competing with collectors all over the world.
Even why buying from specialized online dealers I would caution you not to spend too much money on any one item with them. It is possible that once you receive the item it’s not exactly what you wanted since you weren’t able to see it in person before buying.
Some of the more well known online rock and mineral auction sites to check out are:
Dealer websites are sort of a hybrid between a rock shop and online auction sites. They have some of the advantages and disadvantages of each, but they might be the option for you.
There is an abundance of dealer websites from which you can buy. Which one you choose to deal with will depend on what you’re looking to buy and how much you’re willing to spend. Some dealers specialize in smaller and more affordable specimens, while others are tailored towards higher end items.
The biggest advantage that dealer websites have over auction sites is the ability to communicate with the dealer and establish a bit of a relationship. You can browse the items they have for sale and ask questions about them. You interact with a real person who will hopefully be knowledgeable about the item you intend to buy.
One of the great things about having an online dealer you trust is that even if they don’t have what you’re looking for in stock at the time they can keep an eye out for it while they add inventory. It’s also possible that they will know of someone else who has a specimen that meets your requirements.
In general, if I’m going to be making a purchase that could be a couple hundred dollars or more I like to know the person I’m dealing with. Going to an online dealer gives you more options to choose from than a local rock shop with almost the same level of familiarity and trust.
Where to Buy Depends on How Much You’re Spending
The best place to buy your rocks and minerals is going to depend in large part on how much you plan on spending. If you’re just looking for a relatively common thumbnail or miniature specimen then you will have a lot more options than if you want something more rare or specialized.
You can feel pretty comfortable buying any size or rarity of specimens from a local rock shop or mineral show. Regardless of the price of the item, a shop or show dealer would not be able to survive if they were known for peddling fakes or price gouging.
If you’re spending around $50 or less for a specimen then you can feel pretty confident buying from eBay or a specialized auction site. At that level of spending the risk is still pretty low to you and there isn’t a whole lot to be gained for the dealer selling fakes.
Once you get into the $100 to $200 range then I would probably rule out eBay. Specialized auction sites are still going to be a pretty safe bet and you’ll have a good chance of finding what you’re looking for.
If you’re really looking to spend some serious money on samples then I would definitely go to an online dealer (if you can’t find what you’re looking for locally). At this price level you’ll want to be really sure that what you’re buying is quality and that you aren’t settling for something that isn’t exactly what you want.
Know What You’re Looking For
When browsing for the perfect addition to your collection be sure to have a clear picture in your mind of what you’re looking for. It doesn’t have to be exact, but you should have a pretty good idea of the criteria the item needs to meet to satisfy you.
People often ask if they should buy quantity or quality. The answer to this will depend on the individual collector but I definitely lean towards buying quality pieces over many inferior ones, and most of the collectors I know agree. You’ll get a lot more satisfaction out of one gorgeous addition than you will several lower quality ones.
It can be tempting to buy a specimen just because it’s there and available, but my advice would be to wait until you find something that really resonates with you. Part of the enjoyment of this hobby is the hunt, and you don’t want to settle for something that doesn’t make you really happy.
That being said, don’t let perfect be the enemy of good. You don’t want to spend years putting off buying a piece just because you can find small flaws in every specimen you look at. No rock or mineral specimen is objectively flawless. The peculiarities and flaws are part of what makes each specimen unique and special, so once you find something you like then I say go for it!
Watch For Fakes
I mentioned this earlier, but when shopping for rocks and minerals you will want to keep an eye out for fakes. Unfortunately there are some people will are just looking to make a quick buck by scamming buyers. They will often grow minerals or lookalikes in a lab and try to pass them off as genuine.
Some specimens are actual natural rocks & minerals but are not from the locality the seller claims they are from. These are often even harder to spot, but you can help avoid falling into this trap by looking up examples of specimens from the advertised location and comparing it to what they are selling.
The fact of the matter is that in this hobby and industry there is a relatively high percentage of people who can’t easily identify fakes. Some of the fakes are so good that even highly qualified individuals will have a hard time determining if they are genuine or not. The best thing you can do to safeguard against this is to make sure you’re dealing with an established and reputable dealer who has too much to lose by being caught selling fake specimens.
Know the Value of Rocks & Minerals
When buying a rock or mineral specimen it helps to have a decent understanding of how they are valued. This is, unfortunately, a skill that can really only be developed with time and experience. It is one of the reasons that I suggest that collectors start fairly small with affordable pieces and then build their collection from there.
While experience will be your best friend here, there are some general guidelines to know when it comes to specimen valuation.
- Aesthetics – This is, quite simply, how a specimen looks. Everyone will have their own opinion about each item but there are some specimens that are unquestionably more attractive than others. This is probably the most important factor for valuation in most cases.
- Rarity – How rare a specimen is can have a huge impact on how valuable it is. A rare combination of minerals, locality, or specific species can all be factors in how rare a specimen is. Some of these factors can be easily faked for the monetary gain of the seller, so buyer beware.
- Quality – The luster, clarity, and absence of imperfections can have a big impact on how valuable a specimen is. The color of the mineral species and size of the crystals are often big drivers in how much a piece will sell for.