Displaying Your Mineral Collection
IT'S WORTH SAYING in bold letters.
The focus of mineral displays should be the minerals.
You don't want the display itself to distract from your proud collected works. We've seen displays entered into competitive shows and, likely without realizing it, the owners went to a lot of trouble to make the display ineffective. Here are some suggestions to help you.
Supporting the minerals
A simple stand, if the piece won't stand up by itself, is much preferred over an elaborate decorative support, which causes the eye to compete for attention with the mineral.
For protection and storage, plastic perkey boxes work well. They snap open and closed for easy viewing, even under a microscope.
If you choose to glue the mineral into a styrofoam-lined plastic box, use a white school glue that can be soaked off. Putty for holding pictures on the wall will also work. Don't use a glue that will permantly attach to your mineral. You can press a depression into the styrofoam to make the specimen sit upright, and sometimes it takes a touch of adhesive to stay put.
Lead your eye to the minerals
Contrast your light-colored minerals against a dark background when you can. And vice versa. Clear quartz is beautiful against the dark jewel colors: deep blue, purple and burgundy, but washed out when displayed on a white or neutral gray background. If you keep your specimens in open cardboard trays, you can spray paint the individual boxes. If you are storing them in perky boxes, the styrofoam inserts can be painted using floral spray paint. Be careful with colors though, as if a background is not tastefully chosen, it will detract from, rather than enhance the viewing of the mineral.
If you have a larger display with shelves, mirrors behind your specimens are nice, but therein lies a danger. Besides the minerals and your admiring faces, what else will the mirror reflect? If you have an enormous stack of weathered cardboard flats across the room, do you really want to double the appearance of them? Next time you are at one of the museums, look at how they have their collection displayed. What parts of it look best to you and how could you use their display tactics in your own collection?
Lighting makes the difference
If your display is tastefully done, but in the dark, you have a problem. To fully appreciate what you're showing off, lighting is the difference between an okay display and one that is a prize winner. If your collection is on a shelf in your room, or in a bookcase, under-the-cabinet fluorescent lights may be a very good choice for you. If you have a place you can mount a swing arm lamp or two, being able to move the light around might be an alternate choice.
A memorable display
What makes a display effective? Not the size, for these things apply to all manners of displays, home as well as museum.
1. Attractive, clean specimens.
2. Well-trimmed pieces reveal a great deal of care going into the collection.
3. Thoughtful arrangement and sorting of pieces, showing understanding of the minerals and their associations.
4. Unobtrusive stands that enhance the viewing of the specimens, when necessary.
5. Accurate display labels that give enough, but not too much information.
6. Colors and contrast well suited to the specimens, if appropriate.
7. An attractive case that matches with the surroundings, and if possible lets the minerals be seen from different angles.
8. Good lighting.
9. Restraint in the number of pieces, reducing crowding of specimens.
One of the most memorable displays I ever saw was a simple hand-held case of thumbnail minerals. Several things made it a professional display. The case was a small wooden tray, about the size of a shoebox lid. It was constructed to perfectly hold the plastic boxes housing the minerals. The boxes and minerals were a uniform size. The minerals were brilliantly colored, and arranged by types and locations. The lid of the case held the labels, just like a Whitman Sampler cholocate candy box. The minerals were simply outstanding - showy representatives of their type. You could hold it in the light, and take out a box to see under a microscope if you wished to. It was like having a museum in your hands. Nothing from the way the case was designed detracted from the minerals. I should add that it was the result of a lifetime collection by an enthusiast, who collected, bought, sold and traded specimens.
The kind, size and number of pieces to exhibit will determine how you set up your display. You will need some kind of container - shelf, box, drawer, cabinet or bookcase. A dedicated showcase lets the viewer know these are the important items you want to display. It will keep them organized, and if covered in glass or plastic, will keep them clean.
Not everyone can afford custom cabinetry or furniture for their home display, so consider smaller alternates. Over the years Mike has graduated from one display set up to another. All have involved getting pieces of furniture that fit our spaces and showcase the minerals well. Over the years he has purchased some antique wooden cabinets with narrow drawers, some more glass cases, and some curio cabinets with lights from a furniture store. For a while, the hunt turned from bringing home rocks to finding ways to showcase them. Since you enjoy hunting and collecting, keep your eye out for cases. Sometimes other collectors can be a good source in your buying, selling and swapping. You can continue to upgrade your display as you get opportunities. If someone asks what you want for your birthday, here's a chance to ask.
What I'm saying is that a cabinet or piece of furniture might be the thing that makes your mineral collection stand out, but also shadow boxes or a collector's table might be the thing for you.
If you go to rock shows, you will need a more portable case, and that's a different story. Lighting as well as security become issues at shows. When you are at a show, look at the setups dealers have. See what is attractive, and if you would like to have something similar to it. See what the judges award prizes to, and the reasons they did so. Determine what would be best for your situation, and set your mind to achieving it.