Waco Gem and Mineral Club, Waco, Tx

5.3 Storing a Collection


5.3: Storing a Collection

Just as there are many individual ways to catalog a collection depending upon the nature of the collection and the preferences of the collector, so there are different sorts of storage methods and containers. The methods and containers tend to evolve with a collection, progressing from cardboard boxes to fine cabinetry with shallow trays and drawers.

As young children, many of us began with simple egg cartons, which are actually perfect for holding and sorting small specimens. Individual cups separate each mineral or fossil. And that‘s the main thing in choosing a storage method: keeping individual specimens separate from one another so that labels don‘t get mixed up. Actually, this isn‘t a problem if you‘ve affixed a number to each specimen and have kept a record of that number in a catalog, but you still want to make sure minerals or fossils don‘t rub against one another, causing unwanted scratches or chips. So you want a system like an egg carton with its individual cups. A similar, sturdier option is the plastic box with hinged lid and square compartments sold in crafts stores or with fishing tackle.

Lapidary supply houses and dealers at some shows sell fold-up cardboard boxes in a variety of sizes. You should also collect small cardboard containers whenever you can. For instance, the cardboard boxes that hold greeting cards, match boxes, or even the cut-off bottoms of milk cartons make great specimen containers. You might also store specimens in small plastic baggies. Your boxes or baggies with individual specimens and their labels can then be organized and stored in cardboard soda flats to hold a whole collection. Get soda flats of two slightly different sizes so that one can serve as a top to protect a collection from dust and so that you can stack a collection as you fill more and more boxes. Shoeboxes and cigar boxes also work well for holding various specimens. Also, boxes that hold reams of typing paper can make great flats by trimming the bottom down to match the top to create a perfect storage box with lid.

A nice container for both storing and displaying a collection is a Riker mount. This consists of a sturdy cardboard bottom filled with cotton. Specimens are arranged in the cotton. Then a top with glass is fitted over and held in place with pins.

The most sophisticated and permanent way of storing a collection is in a unit of wooden shelves or trays kept in a cabinet. I‘ve built several of my own and found it to be a lot easier than I initially imagined. Or, if you can afford it, you can buy shallow shelves meant for storing maps or art supplies or wooden or metal shelves built for mineral and fossil collections from scientific supply houses, like Ward‘s. But such professionally produced units can easily run into the thousands of dollars—not an option for the budget of 99.9 percent of the kids I‘ve ever worked with!

As an activity, bring in a variety of shoeboxes, cigar boxes, cardboard flats with lids, plastic fishing tackle and crafts boxes, and small boxes and baggies to talk about organizing a collection with hands-on examples. Follow this up at your next meeting by having kids bring in examples of how they‘ve decided to store their collections.