Rock Hounding in the 21st Century
By Rick Mauer

We in the northwest are blessed with the ability to rock hound in the traditional way, i.e. personal or organized field trips to gather the rocks, fossils, minerals & crystals we prize from Mother Nature herself. Though these opportunities still exist, it is becoming more and more difficult to fill out a collection or acquire the fine lapidary materials of days gone by.

There are still limited supplies of these materials available from shows, dealers, auctions, swaps, estate sales etc. but there is one special source that I would like to talk a little about. I am referring to the large legacy of materials in the hands of our veteran rock hounds, and some aspects of acquiring them.

I know this is a pretty heavy topic for a rock club website, but I have not seen it in print elsewhere and feel it needs some attention. This is a difficult subject to discuss because unlike taking a rock hammer to a mountain, it requires gentleness, tact, diplomacy and caring.

Unlike the mountain, you are dealing with real people and entering into, if only briefly, their lives. These rocks, fossils, minerals & crystals in some ways represent their passions, loves, adventures, discoveries and accomplishments. They contain memories, fond and sometimes bittersweet, and are often intermingled with memories of friends and loved ones who may or may not still be with them. These rocks often have special meaning which may be entrusted to you like a keepsake. Some items will be given or sold to you to steward till you no longer have a place for them in your life at which time you are expected to find another steward.

These opportunities arise because as we all go through life, circumstances change. This sometimes means downsizing and in the case of rock hounds this may include rocks. If you are lucky enough to be involved in one of these downsizings I would like to offer a few observations and suggestions.

  1. Remember, you are dealing with people, the rocks are secondary. Take the time to visit. There's no rush. Enjoy their company. Listen carefully to their stories, anecdotes and insights. You will be amazed at what you will hear and will come away wiser and richer for it. It takes a special class of people to love a rock or rock person and this is a wonderful opportunity to observe how this mind set has weathered the course of time.
  2. Be patient and understanding. This is their collection and it is up to them as to how and when if at all, to dispose of it.
  3. Be discreet. Oftentimes you will become privy to personal facts and details. If those who have divulged them to you want them to be common knowledge let them take care of it.
  4. Be trustworthy. If you come upon a collection with certain conditions attached and you are unwilling to see to it that these conditions are met, decline the offer and find some club or individual who will.
  5. Because of the special nature or circumstance of some material you may have to prove your worthiness. This is sometimes the overriding issue, even eclipsing money. Answer all questions honestly. The owner may be looking for special handling or appreciation or some unique aspect of the collection and has every right to feel his or her wishes will be met.
  6. If a financial sum is involved and you cannot, even through partnering afford the price, be honest and pass on the offer. It is cruel to talk down or discount the value of a collection of some-ones prized possessions. If they wish to lower the price, let them initiate changes if any.
  7. If all goes well and an agreement is arrived at, don't be greedy. Often some prizes are kept by the owner. Let them go gracefully and with your good wishes.
  8. If after you have obtained the material you find some items don't interest you, recycle them back into the hobby through trades & swaps, sales or outright gifts to friends, club members or the club itself.

In closing I would like to thank-you for reading this article. I wish to apologize if I have sounded preachy or dogmatic. My only intent is to add a little perspective to one very special form of rock-hounding and possibly start some dialog on this subject.

Rick Mauer