Steve Dobos Internet links and hints

This information was presented at the 34th Joint Mineralogical Societies Seminar held in Melbourne, June 2011, as apart of a lecture given by Steve Dobos

Mineralogical Society of Queensland
sdobos@bigpond.net.au

MALACHITE, CERUSSITE & PYROMORPHITE - Brown's Prospect Northern Territory
Museum Victoria, Melbourne, Victoria (25cm)
(photography T. Forsyth)


Websites and other resources for mineralogy – to accompany presentation by Steve Dobos at Joint Seminar of the Mineralogical Societies of Australasia, Melbourne, 2011  

The three treasure tools on the web …………..

http://www.google.com.au/         
Probably the best search engine on the web

http://www.amazon.com/           
The best site for books, new, used, antique and collectible; look here first before hitting antique book dealers’ websites!

http://www.ebay.com.au/           
No question, the best web auction site. There was a written blurb about using eBay for buying minerals, and just about everything else, prepared for MinSocQ in 2009. A slightly updated version is appended to the end of this document.

Mineral sites on the web . . . . .

http://www.mindat.org/              
Jolyon Ralph’s Mindat homepage; full screen is best – this is the granddaddy of them all, and keeps getting better. (Java applets may be quirky, but that’s common to most sites, and is probably related to your internet browser, like Internet Explorer 8; Google Chrome, or others, may be better).

http://www.mindat.org/mindat_books.php            
This is where the freely downloadable goodies are, including the previous version of Minerals Issue 1 – Newspaper for collectors

http://www.mindat.org/article.php/1216/Minerals+Newspaper+-+Issue+2   
this is the current Issue 2, with Rogerly fluorites to drool over!

http://manual.mindat.org/index.php/Main_Page      
Mindat on-line user manual

http://manual.mindat.org/index.php/History_of_Mindat      
History of Mindat

http://webmineral.com/  
Dave Barthelmy’s Mineralogy Database

http://webmineral.com/crystall.shtml                    
Crystallography tutorial, and much else

http://webmineral.com/jpowd/index.php   
Mineral structure models – a ripper resource if you’re deeply into minerals

http://www.mineralatlas.com/General%20introduction/Introduction.htm      
*** an Aussie site: Theo Kloprogge’s mineral data and photo site; well researched mineral data, excellent dealer images, waiting to be updated and rejuvenated – a flash interface is not the prime focus; mineral data are!

http://www.handbookofmineralogy.org/   
Download any of the pages of the Handbook of Mineralogy (Anthony et al) in pdf format

http://www.minsocam.org/MSA/AmMin/TOC/     
Download any article in the American Mineralogist up to 1999

http://www.ima-mineralogy.org/ 
International Mineralogical Association (IMA) home page

http://rruff.info/ima/       
IMA mineral list with formulae (up-to-date?) in .csv format for download (easy convert to Excel) - just use export data button without inputting a mineral into the search box

http://pubsites.uws.edu.au/ima-cnmnc/imalist.htm     Nickel & Nichols 2009 mineral listing (from MDI), in pdf, with some limited mineral data

http://rruff.info/             
RRUFF homepage – also for mineral spectroscopy

http://www.quartzpage.de/          
Amir Akhavans’s testimonial to quartz, not for any other mineral; it not yet ‘flash’ ‘cause it’s a work in progress, but a hell of a site for quartz, including some superb images … in fact the best site dedicated to quartz

http://www.mineral.org.au/         
*** another Aussie site -Tony Forsyth’s Australian Mineral Collector - go here to find out what’s going on,  Newsletter archives, Australian dealer contacts; and much else - it’s also The Queensland Site, and one site for the Australian Journal of Mineralogy

http://www.crocoite.com/realindex.html   
***  Steve Sorrell’s baby, not an Australian Mindat, but pretty bloody good images in an elegant layout, as well as much else, including listings of mineral publications, including his own Australian and New Zealand Mineral Collector

http://www.gastonrenard.com.au/            
*** Gaston Renard’s Fine Rare Books, here in Melbourne, not exactly cheap, but the quality is usually there

http://www.hesperianpress.com/  
*** Peter Bridge publishes facsimile copies of out-of-print and desirable Australian Geologia – produced entirely in Australia

http://www.mineralogy.be/          
The Belgian site for the Virtual Museum of the History of Mineralogy – superb layout, ain’t another quite like it; many links to other great sites, and the site itself contains many treasures

http://www.musoptin.com/mikro1.html       
If you’re into antiques microscopes, then this is the site

http://www.minerslamps.net/                  
great American site for miner’s lamps
 

http://miners-lamp-collection.wifeo.com/  
French site for miner’s lamps, with sound! – very encyclopaedic, especially for continental models

EBAY (formally eBay)  AND  BUYING  MINERALS  OFF  THE  INTERNET (‘WEB’)

To do this, you should have a reasonably fast broadband connection, otherwise image downloads will be far too slow, and you will die of boredom.

The most popular site, for the widest variety, is eBay Australia [http://www.ebay.com.au/ ] – of course eBay is just an internet auction and sale site, and there are many eBay sites, in many countries. Accessing eBay US or UK or Singapore or Germany [http://www.ebay.com/    http://www.ebay.co.uk/     http://www.ebay.com.sg/    http://www.ebay.de/] will yield a wider range of items, but in many cases, the vendors on these sites will not ship to Australia. This is not an issue on eBay Australia.

eBay auctions and sells just about anything, and provides many opportunities and equally, many pitfalls. For minerals in particular, eBay provides no real protection against mislabelling or misleading specimen identification or indeed various degrees of fraud. eBay forbids the use of Herkimer diamonds as a token gesture for the poor wood ducks who think that a Herkimer diamond is a diamond *that is, compressed carbon). But eBay provides no real protection for either unintentional mistakes, or (intentional) fraud, such as advertising Rare Chinese Chrysoberyl, whilst actually selling barite, or Super Rare Platinum Nugget from Siberia, whilst actually selling a cut and partly tumbled piece of cheap iron meteorite.  As always, buyer beware!  This is the chance you take – you can often get great bargains, and rare minerals, but if you are not careful, you can find yourself buying a dud, a fake, or a specimen whose photos or images on eBay were ‘enhanced’. 

To bid or buy off eBay, you need to register, and pick a username, by which you will be identified to the vendor, eBay and PayPal. These days, for pricier items, no one but eBay knows who is bidding, and your username is identified only if you are successful in a bid. 

If you want to see how it works, at no risk to you, you can log on to eBay Australia as a visitor, and see how it works; you can track an auction, and see for how much an item eventually sells. Note that care needs to be taken with prices, in that Australian currency fluctuates with respect to the most common pricing unit, the US dollar. Also, before bidding, examine the cost of shipping and insurance, as these are almost always in addition to the bid price.

Payment for auction items won, as well as Buy it Now items, is preferred via PayPal (which is a subsidiary of eBay); I have found this to be secure, and payment is instantaneous. You have to set up a PayPal account, whereby PayPal debits your credit card for the required amount, including international currency conversions, and a small fee for the transaction. Some protection against non-arrival of item or damaged item is given (if a number of purchase conditions are fulfilled), but do not hold your breath. Always take care and do your homework before you bid or buy!

As with all things relating to money on the internet, there is a lot of phishing whereby fraudsters try to obtain your account or other financial details, by sending out fake warnings, or requests to update your account particulars, just like they do with fake bank and credit card emails. eBay and PayPal do have a good response to such emails -  merely forward suspicious emails to them and they will confirm whether the email is or is not an authentic eBay or PayPal email.  Incidentally, PayPal is also a means of payment for many vendors and other auction sites on the internet; it is not restricted to eBay purchases. I have found it quite convenient.

Now some tips . . . . .

Normally, each mineral specimen is accompanied by a photo, or with better vendors, a number of photos. The photos or images will determine whether or not you are going to be interested in acquiring a specimen, even though some written item descriptions are usually supplied. There is a whole gamut of things that need to be considered.

  1. Firstly, beware of a single photo, which shows only the best aspect of the specimen, and does not show the back end, or potentially damaged side of a specimen.

  2. Beware of a single photo of either small size, or low resolution, which will mask the fact that the specimen is much worse in the hand than in the photo – lustre and damaged surfaces, ugly coatings and damaged crystal edges and points will not be revealed in small or low-res images.

  3. Be aware that for coloured specimens, it is easy to change or enhance the colour and/or contrast in the image – the item itself may be much more insipid, and much less attractive than the image would seem to indicate.

  4. Beware the sale of specimens that are out of focus – this can be unintentional, or intentional, to hide negative aspects of a specimen.

  5. Many vendors do not use the correct colour balance on their digital cameras, and so images may have a strong yellow to orange colour cast (incandescent illumination but image taken at a daylight setting), or a strong bluish colour cast (more normal or ‘cooler’ white light used, but camera set to incandescent lighting). This is usually unintentional, and reflects the poor photographic techniques of the vendor; at other times, it may be quite intentional, for instance, to lessen the visual impact of a specimen coated with ugly brown iron oxyhydroxides. 

    Good experienced vendors will have a number of large and reasonably high resolution photos of each specimen, taken from all sides; usually, damage or ‘dings’ to a crystal are also spelled out in the text; the colour balance is usually quite close, to mimic natural sunlight.

    It need not be all bad! The above considerations can sometimes work to your advantage – you may take a punt on a specimen that is badly imaged, or with poor colour balance, or even just needing a proper clean or removal of iron-staining, which will yield a great specimen at a good price!

  6. There are cases where the item description simply does not match the photo; the specimen may be listed as fluorite, but the photo is obviously of quartz. This is usually an honest mistake. You may ask the seller a question, or several, via eBay, to resolve this, before the auction closes. Reputable dealers will usually respond rapidly, but be aware that the east coast of the US is some 15 hours behind Brisbane, and the west coast is some 18 hours behind, depending on daylight savings in the Sates; Europe is some 8 to 10 hours behind Brisbane.

    Then, and in addition, there are the intentional tricks ...... 

  7. Specimens with poor lustre can be wetted with water or glycerine to enhance colour, contrast and lustre, prior to photography – a favoured trick of several unscrupulous Asian vendors !!!!

  8. Specimens can be oiled prior to photography to enhance contrast and hide cracks (and some of these appear at gem and mineral shows as well !!!!).

  9. Lighting can be adjusted to leave unattractive or damaged portions of the whole specimen ‘in the shade’, making them appear less pronounced.

  10. The image is taken, or cropped, to show only the nicest (enlarged) portion of the specimen, whilst masking the fact that only a small area of the specimen is aesthetically pleasing; you may then buy a specimen of say 10cm size, of which only 2cm are desirable – the rest is dead weight.

  11. A variant of the above is a specimen that carries one or more smaller crystals; the specimen size is given, but not the size of the crystal(s), which can be much much smaller than the specimen. A reputable vendor will describe tourmaline on matrix like this: elbaite on matrix, specimen size 9cm, largest crystal 1.8cm

  12. Another trick is to provide a single photo, in which the entire specimen fills only 10% of the photo field of view, and 90% is of the table the specimen is photographed on – such photos are worthless, as they lack detail, and effectively ‘hide’ any deleterious aspects of the specimen 

  13. Take care with specimens that are quite cheap, of reasonable quality, with acceptable images on eBay, but for which the shipping and insurance is unreasonably high. This is a favoured trick of at least one Asian, and several US vendors: a specimen of golf ball size, superbly wrapped, but shipped in a box large enough to fit a football, with shipping and insurance charges to match!

    Then there is feedback  . . . 
    Once a transaction or auction is completed, and the item received, the buyer is asked to leave feedback, and then usually the seller will leave feedback on the buyer. As a potential buyer, you can examine the seller’s feedback comments, positive, negative and neutral, before bidding or buying. The vendor’s feedback score appears with each item listed, and a seller with better than 99.8% positive feedback is likely to be reputable, but read the feedback! A seller with positive feedback of say less than 99.5% should be ‘checked out’ by reading his or her neutral and negative feedback comments. I will not usually buy or bid for any item whose vendor has a positive feedback score less than 99.5%. Buyer beware!

  14. A trick that is used by less reputable vendors, who have scored too much negative feedback, is to change their user name, and start again, till they amass sufficient negative feedback to change their user name again ... and again .... and again.... eBay will usually permit you to examine their previous user names, and so, beware of vendors that change their user name annually, or more frequently – there has to be a reason! There is at least one Australian vendor who seems to be using this little ploy. 

    In eBay, viewing a desired item, drill down like this: near top right, under Seller Information, click sellers name, then on the latest feedback bar, click on see all, then under Member Quick Links, click on View ID history.

    More tips ....... 

  15. Marketing hype: if you like the look of a specimen, click to see all the other specimens that the vendor currently has on sale or on auction. If the listing is full of specimen descriptions like Super Rare Hydrowhoopyite ... Museum Grade Quartz ... Extremely Rare Beryl ... Rare Location Fluorite ... Ultra Rare Paravauxite ... Stunning Zeolite ... Strong Coloured Perfect Topaz ... Super Terminated Quartz ... Unbelievable Calcite .... and so on, you are right to be at least somewhat suspicious! For a start, look at the seller feedback score, then go read the seller feedback comments, and then see how long the vendor has been trading with the current user name. 

  16. Many dealers will advertise a crystal as doubly terminated or beautifully terminated, but the image, or images, may show that that is nothing more than wishful thinking at best. At times, only the best angle for terminations is used for the image or images, hiding the fact that the ‘other’ (non-imaged) side is dinged or broken, or that the termination is not complete, or is covered in unsightly ‘crud’

  17. Misidentification of a specimen can be an honest mistake. It can also be quite intentional, or out -and-out fraud. If the specimen is sufficiently pictured, but on delivery you determine that it is not what it was sold as, the unscrupulous vendor will reply that he/she sold what was pictured, and will not refund your money; eBay/PayPal will not usually help you. Note that with many vendors, shipping charges to you, as well as your costs to ship it back, are not refundable. As always, check the returns/refund policy on the item; take some care with ‘sold-as-is’ or ‘non-returnable’ or ‘sale-is-final’ items. Misidentification is not restricted to internet transactions, and some dealers at shows will have such items on display (usually unintentionally). 

  18. Misidentification of a specimen’s locality or provenance is also possible, and may be honest, or fraudulent – Buyer Beware! Again, this need not be restricted to internet transactions; it happened recently in Torrington!

  19. Repaired specimens – you have very little chance of detecting this with most internet images, and if you buy a repaired specimen, you will probably be stuck with it. Reputable dealers will refund your money, some will also refund your shipping charges. Reputable dealers will point out if a specimen has been repaired, as long as they know that fact before listing – even reputable dealers can make honest mistakes. 

  20. Treated specimens - a case in point is the likelihood that Vietnamese heliodor, or heliodor from Tadjikistan, has been irradiated to produce the golden yellow colour, probably from pale or colourless Chinese or Pakistani beryl. Some vendors will state ‘unheat’ or ‘untreat’ (unheated or untreated – the former is probably correct, as irradiated beryl is not heat-treated beryl, but this is a fine point). Many coloured specimens from disreputable dealers will have been treated to give or enhance the colour to otherwise boring specimens. Look on the Mindat site to see comments regarding common fakes and frauds, recent and not-so-recent. 

  21. Spelling: some vendors have very poor spelling skills, and can misspell specimen names, and item descriptions – this can be annoying, but many vendors are not native English speakers, so they are forgiven. However, this fact can prevent you from seeing the specimen you are looking for, as the eBay search engine spell checker is not attuned to exotic mineral names. As an example with a twist, I was looking to buy some pezzottaite, but those listed were overpriced, so I searched on pezzotaite and found a number of samples that were more reasonably priced, resulting in a winning bid for a good specimen at a reasonable price. It is not all bad news.

More tips  . . .

eBay (and other internet sites) depend on descriptions and one or more images to convey an item’s merits to you, in the hope that you will be interested enough to bid or buy. This internet ‘sale-at-a-distance’ is not as straightforward as examining a specimen offered by a dealer or tailgater at the various gem and mineral shows, nor as a purchase from a friend or acquaintance. For internet purchases, there is a reliance on dealer integrity and an absolute reliance on the specimen description and photos, and so there is potentially much greater risk. 

This is not to say that direct purchases from a dealer or tailgater are totally risk free, but the opportunities for examining a specimen purchase are right there, and so the level of risk is much lower. By way of an example, some time ago, I examined a bixbite specimen (red beryl from Utah) that BK minerals had, in good faith, brought back from Tucson, to try to separate me from my cash. I must say, I was impressed with the specimen .... until I took out my trusted hand lens, and found it to be glued in place. Bill took one look and withdrew it from sale (he did use my hand lens, but I did not charge a user fee). No harm done, though BK was a little grumpy with the guy he acquired the bixbite from. 

Another dealer, at the same show, was tempting me with an ‘attractive’ Chinese emerald in quartz matrix, but on examination, I concluded that the beryl prism fragments had been glued together and back onto the matrix. We argued about the glue job, and I walked away; whether I was right or wrong, it was my prerogative to not succumb to dealer blandishment. I mentioned that a certain dealer was reported as selling quartz crystals said to have come from Kingsgate. One local collector and one MinSocQ member subsequently informed me that they were definitely not from Kingsgate, but probably from Brazil. I trust these collectors, and can but hope that were I to have been there, I too would have exercised my option to walk away, and not pay the higher asking price because of the supposed specimen provenance. These opportunities for on-the-spot decisions are not available for internet dealings, and if buying from a less than totally reputable dealer, options for redress are limited to non-existent. 

In light of all this, why buy off the internet at all? The principal reason why I have become an eBay and internet junkie is that there is a much wider range of species, and many more samples, than are available at Australian shows. (There is also a huge amount of rubbish, but these can be ignored). In particular, the opportunities to obtain rare species, and specimens from older collections, are as good as you will get, short of going to Tucson, Denver, Munich or Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines (and a whole lot cheaper but a lot less fun). Buying off eBay has many risks for the unwary and uninitiated, but with a little care, it can be both fun and rewarding. There is of course the risk that you will become an eBay ‘junkie’ - that too can be rewarding in its own right, providing an excuse to not cut the grass or clean out the garage. 

From personal experience, I would have great reservations in considering any purchase from brotherhoodinc_rockshop (formerly brotherhoodinc, and under another guise, sinodino, sd520,  etc). There are other Chinese vendors that I would be wary of, but as in all things, I have had nothing but honest dealings with several other Chinese dealers. Clearly, there is a NSW eBay vendor for whom I have lost all respect – and he is not the dealer at Torrington! On a positive note, scepterguy and amethystlady are excellent US dealers, and my opinion of these particular vendors is shared by others. 

Now there is a whole lot more than just eBay ....................

There are many more higher-end mineral dealers that have their own web sites for sales, and these are listed in Mindat, which also provides internet links. Some of these also sell slower-moving or less expensive specimens on eBay, and my experiences have all been positive. They include:  mineralclassics   mineralman999   affordableminerals   and   sherl111. There is a tightly-run web site that centralizes minerals offered by collectors with established reputations, and runs several mineral auctions per week; there are none of the jiggery-pokery issues here: http://mineral-auctions.com

There are of course a number of Australian mineral dealers offering specimens on the web or internet, and details and hyperlinks are provided on The Australian Mineral Collector site maintained by Tony Forsyth at  http://www.mineral.org.au  .................  Happy hunting!

Steve Dobos, MinSocQ
sdobos@bigpond.net.au
11/06/2011

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