The Hardness of Minerals and Rocks

The Hardness of Minerals and Rocks is one of their more readily tested physical characteristics by amateurs, and a principle aid in specimen identification. This article by Dr. Bill Cordua, a mineralogy and geology professor at the University of Wisconsin, introduces the Mohs' scale and explains mineral hardness. This article presents methods on how to go about determining an unknown specimen hardness with common objects like a penny, a shard of glass, a nail, your fingernails and known specimens of common minerals like calcite, fluorite, orthoclase and corundum (emery).

Streaking Rocks - Streak Testing is another article by Dr. Cordua which explains another simple test commonly employed by rockhounds as an aid to specimen identification.

The Cantina

If you're a rockhound with a little Captain Kirk or Luke Skywalker in you, then you may be interested in collecting some meteorites. May the Force be with you, as large meteorites are very rare and difficult to find. However, micrometeorites may be as close as the roof over your head! The Jet Propulsion Laboratory has published Collecting Micrometeorites, an article describing a low tech approach to adding some little space rocks to your collection. Hey, it's our tax dollars at work!

The Sting
Identifying True Amber

Ever since Jurassic Park, amber has been a hot commodity, especially buggy amber. Unfortunately, some unscrupulous dealers and suppliers are cashing in on an unaware and uninformed public by representing copal as amber, and sometimes outright fakes and quackery. Gary Platt, an enthusiastic amber "bug", presents a number of simple tests in Identifying True Amber which ordinary rockhounds can employ to keep from becoming another sap.
Priceless Amber Specimen from Bob's Collection

Some Surefire Signs You're a Rockhound

Many mineral collectors use the term "rockhound" to describe themselves and those who share their interests. Others seem to be more comfortable labeling themselves as "casual collectors", reserving the term "rockhound" for those exhibiting extreme and obsessive levels of interest and involvement with rocks and collecting. If you're uncertain as to which camp you're really in, here's some surefire signs your level of interest in rocks has exceeded "casual" or "rockpup" levels and you've finally graduated to full-blown "rockhound".

You're probably a practicing rockhound if three or more of these signs apply to you...
If ten or more apply you are advised to seek professional help immediately!

  • The sign on the side of the road says "Falling Rock" and you pull over to wait.
  • You accessorize your black & white cat with a collar that you made from the most FABULOUS snowflake obsidian for "dressy" days... then there's the turquoise for "casual" walks, carnelian and leoprdskin jasper for "outdoorsy" fun... and don't forget the rose quartz, chrysoprase and blue lace agate for picture day!
  • The severe sunburn acquired on your last vacation was a one inch wide strip of skin at the gap between the tail of your shirt and the top of your pants.
  • Watching the movie Armageddon while New York is being destroyed, all you can think about is all the great specimens there would be if that really happened.
  • Your kids bring you a "pretty stone" they've found, and you contrive to steal it. And you know you've done it. Don't lie.
  • You are convinced that buried deep in some secret government archive is a document that will conclusively prove that the entire US Apollo space program was conceived and developed for the sole purpose of getting a moon rock for a certain Presidential rock collection... The truth is out there!
  • You care more about what happened to the diamond in the move "Titanic" than the people.
  • You sob uncontrollably watching "How the West was Won" at the part where the farmers are clearing rocks and casting them off.
  • You bring a catchers mitt and a hand lens to a rock fight.
  • Your son hits his hand with your rock hammer, your wife screams it broken, and you reply it's a fracture, it has good cleavage, and has produced some unusual streaks in your son's underwear.
  • You've been found guilty of trespassing on BLM land. The judge sentences you to 10 years' hard labor breaking rocks. You fall to your knees and beg him, "Please, your honor, let it be in Franklin, New Jersey!"
  • Your spouse asks how the soup tastes and you reply, "variable color, greasy surface, low specific gravity, texture smooth with bits of ductile material."
  • When you lick a dirty rock to show off the wonderful colors, without stopping to realize that you are the only rockhound in the group.
  • Someone talks about cleavage and you don't think about women.
  • The USGS calls to tell you they've discovered a gravitational anomaly centered on your house and to ask if you might know the reason why.
  • Your family puts the birthday candles on a slab of amethyst instead of cake.
  • A truck throws a rock into your windshield and you examine the rock first.
  • Considering the purchase of a spectacular specimen at a mineral show, you wonder if all three of your kids really need to attend college.
  • You can pronounce the word "molybdenite" correctly on the first try.
  • You think the primary function of road cuts is tourist attractions.
  • You own more pieces of quartz than underwear.
  • You associate the word "hard" with a value on the Mhos scale instead of "work".
  • The rockpile in your garage is taller than you are.
  • You have a strong opinion as to whether pieces of concrete are properly called "rocks".
  • The local university's geology department requests permission to hold field trips in your back yard.
  • You associate the name "Franklin" with New Jersey instead of "Ben".
  • There's amethyst in your aquarium.
  • Your wife has ever had to ask you to move flats of rocks out of the tub so she could take a bath.
  • Your spelling checker has a vocabulary that includes the words "polymorph" and "pseudomorph".
  • Your children are named Rocky, Jewel, and Beryl.
  • You were the only member of the group who spent their time looking at cathedral walls through a pocket magnifier during your trip to Europe.
  • They won't give you time off from work to attend the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show and you go anyway.
  • You begin fussing because the light strips you installed on your bookshelves aren't full spectrum.
  • You've ever purchased an individual, unfaceted rock, regardless of the price.
  • You've ever spent more than ten dollars for a book about rocks.
  • You shouted "Obsidian!" to a theater full of movie-goers while watching "The Shawshank Redemption".
  • The polished slab on your bola tie is six inches in diameter.
  • You find yourself compelled to examine individual rocks in driveway gravel.
  • The USGS identifies your collection as a major contributing factor to isostasy in your state.
  • You know the location of every rock shop within a 100 mile radius of your home.
  • When they haven't seen you for a week, the shop owners send you get well cards.
  • You're retired and still thinking of adding another room to your house.
  • Your idea of a "quiet, romantic evening at home" involves blue mineral tack and thumbnail boxes.
  • You're planning on using a pick and shovel while you're on vacation.
  • You can point out where Tsumeb is on a world globe.
  • You think Franklin, New Jersey might be a cool place to go on a vacation.
  • You associate the word "saw" with diamonds instead of "wood".
  • You begin wondering what a complete set of the Mineralogical Record is worth.
  • When you find out, you actually consider paying it.
  • You've fabricated a backpack for your dog.
  • You've installed more than one mineralogical database program on your computer.
  • The baggage handlers at the airport know you by name and refuse to help with your luggage.
  • You receive a letter from the county informing you a landfill permit is required to put anymore rocks on your property.
  • Your Internet home page has pictures of your rocks.
  • There's a copy of Dana's Manual next to your toilet.
  • You still think pet rocks are a pretty neat idea.
  • You get excited when you discover a hardware store that stocks 16 pound sledge hammers and 5 foot long pry bars.
  • You debate for months on the Internet concerning the relative advantages and drawbacks of vibratory verses drum tumblers.
  • Your employer has asked you not to bring any more rocks to the office until they have time to reinforce the floor.
  • You decide not to get married because you'd rather keep the rock.

Thanks to rockhounds Mel Albright, Neil Auty, Richard Busch, Jenny Calloway, Paul Gilmore, John Hammack, Gene Hartstein, Max Hunt, Dan Imel, Tom Isenberg, Mariam Khaljani, Paul Kline, David Kraut, Martin Malahy, Daniel Russell, Mark Sexton, Cliff Vermont, Kelly Watkins, and Dave Watts for their contributions to this list!

Collecting Rock Stamps

If you're running out of rocks to collect, you may want to try your hand at prospecting for mineral specimen, fossil, mining, cave, geological formation and other topical stamps with a lot of rockhound appeal. Here's a selection of rock stamps from the Shop's collection to view, and the information needed to get you started on a collection of your own, including contact information for a complimentary copy of Philagems International, the newsletter of the Gems, Minerals and Jewelry Study Unit of the American Topical Association.

Gem and Mineral Phone Cards

One of the latest fads in collectibles is thematic or topical phonecards. Phonecards are prepaid, credit card sized tokens with face values that are used as telephone service debit cards. They are popular with travelers as they eliminate the need for change. Phonecards have been popular and in use in many other countries throughout the world.
Phonecards are just now coming into popular use in the United States, and have already proven popular with collectors here. Among the various themes that have been issued so far are phone cards depicting Marilyn Monroe, Tony Dorset, Harvey Martin, Fragile Earth, Cyberspace, Day of Atonement, Banditos, Pittsburg, Linda Sobek, Women of the World, Fine Art, and of course, Gems and Minerals.

The gem and mineral phonecards depict specimens of Dr. Joel E. Arem, a noted photographer, speaker, consultant, gemstone dealer and world traveler, as well as a collector and connoisseur of gems and fine crystal specimens. The images of Dr. Arem's specimens were recently issued on phone cards for the Tucson 1995 Gem & Mineral Show, for both phonecard and gem and mineral collectors to view.

You can learn more about phonecards and view the set of gem and mineral phonecards on one of HyperMedia Technologies' Phonecard Pages.

Outer Limits
The Mysterious Powers of Crystals and Gemstones

Many rockhounds are acquainted with the mysterious powers of crystals and gemstones. How many of you have ever experienced a kind of mind-numbing, attractive force emanating from a gem quality stone? Many rockhounds have reported feeling a kind of hypnotic influence when in the presence of crystals. Other rockhounds have reported experiencing a phenomena where decreases in the mass of their wallets have been correlated with the presence of crystals!

Good Vibrations
If you've been getting strange vibes from one of the specimens in your collection lately, it might be a good idea to consult Debra Floyd's Gemstones & Vibrational Healing. Or then again, maybe you've known all along that your fluorite was associated in some way with the planet Neptune, that it opened you to the influence of your other stones, and acted as a ground for your excess energy.

It's probably prudent to get an independent second opinion regarding these matters. You might also wish to consult with Sun Angel Innovations concerning esoteric Gemstone Meanings (complete with thumbnail images) before entering into any really radical therapy...

You might also be interested to know that some rockhounds believe the mysterious powers of minerals and gemstones can also therapeutically affect their computers as well! If your PC hasn't been acting quite up to snuff lately, maybe you should try changing the rocks you've got sitting on top of it. If none of yours seem to help it, you can always shell out twenty bucks for one of these Magical Vortex Energy Charged Crystals, which are also reputed to ward off computer viruses.

Now why didn't I think of that?

Table of Contents

Bob Keller