Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Micromounts and the Future of Collecting

According to some mineral collectors, among whom I include myself,  micromounting has more to offer the  mineral hobbyist and collector than any other niche of mineralogy. Conversely, I've heard seasoned and serious collectors say that the hobby is dying out. "I've checked out their symposia," one notable collector once told me," and there wasn't anyone there under 60." Perhaps he was correct, but things could change.

The relative dearth of young people interested in mineralogy extends beyond  micromounting. Mineral enthusiasts of all stripes lament how their ranks are aging. Possible reasons could be competition wrought by technology, former localities succumbing to sprawl, and increasingly restricted access to quarries, mines, and construction sites. Ever skyrocketing prices for hand and cabinet specimens present another obstacle. Micromounts have the potential to become a big part of the answer.

A partial inspiration for this post was a presentation at the recent Rochester Mineralogical Symposium by Quintin Wight,  probably the world's premier micromounting authority, entitled "The Pleasures of Micromounting," Every year, Quintin travels the globe to attend major micromounting events. He then contributes a major article chronicling  his travels entitled "Through the Scope: The Year in Micromounting" to Rocks and Minerals. Quintin also authored the the beautifully illustrated 273 page hardcover publication The Complete Book of Micromounting, which Mineralogical Record published in 1993.

While Quintin covered much of what this post seeks to communicate, it's important to recognize that he, as well as most of the important players in the world of micromounts define their hobby in terms of "micromounting" and refer to themselves as "micromounters."  Putting together a mount can be time consuming. Quintin has a procedure that takes three days.  Furthermore, for those with poor finger dexterity, mounting a micromineral can be unpleasantly challenging as well as  lead to the destruction of beautiful and sometimes valuable material. Somewhat overlooked in Quintin's presentation was that  one need not be a  a micromounter to collect and love micromounts.

The enjoyment of micromounts requires no more than a binocular microscope and effective lighting. For one interested in photographing micromounts, a trinocular scope is preferable. The pleasures to be enjoyed thereafter are as follows:
  • The variety of species to be collected, whether self-collected in the field, purchased, or traded is greater by multiples.  For that matter, many---arguably a majority--- of the most beautiful of the approximately 4700 known mineral species (not to mention varieties of any given species)  require magnification to be appreciated. Many require magnification even to be visible. 
  • The quality of crystals as determined by beauty, level of development, and freedom from damage is always going to be the smaller the better.
  • More features of a mineral are visible  under the scope.  Included among these features are habits and  associated minerals. 
  • Species suitable for micromounting are far more likely to be self-collectible. To collect larger specimens, one has to be able to see them. To collected microscopic minerals, one needs only to know where and how to look for them. 
  • Micromounts take up less space than cabinet specimens. Half a cubic foot can hold 500 mounts. 
  • Micromounts are far less expensive than cabinet specimens and are affordable to anyone. Quality material for micromounting, including many rare species, can be obtained free from  give-away tables at micromount symposia. 
We note these points as an expression of the potential role of micromounts not just for the future of mineral collecting, but for the present as well.