By Peter Rosewarne


Having built-up a mineral collection the question arises, at some stage, as to what to do with it looking to the future. Options include do nothing (and continue to get enjoyment out of looking at and handling the specimens) and let someone else worry about it when you’re gone (i.e. throw it away), give it away, donate it to an institution (probably unwise in SA or anywhere probably), or sell it. This article looks at some aspects of the pricing and selling process based on recent experience of selling parts of a world-wide collection, from South Africa. It also introduces a couple of terms I hadn’t heard of before researching the buying and selling of mineral specimens and which might be new to you too.

Options include selling on Open Day at the Mineral Club (often little buying interest in less well-known species even at knock-down prices), listing on e-Bay or Amazon, starting your own internet site, auctioning on e-Rocks or approaching established dealers. The advantage of the latter is that the specimens get posted on an established site and are exposed to that dealer’s clientele. The downside is that the dealer is going to want a hefty cut of any sales to cover his time and efforts in compiling professional-standard photographs and posting them and descriptions on his site. You also have to get the dealer interested. Most of the internet sites where you can buy specimens state that they buy collections/specimens for cash but when you enquire the response I’ve often got is that they’ve just bought a collection(s) and aren’t interested at the moment. 

There are two main ways (I think…) of doing a deal with a professional dealer,  i) a direct sale where money is paid upfront by the dealer for a few specimens, part of or all of a collection or ii) by ‘consignment’ which involves the sending of batches of specimens to list on his website, with trust being involved because money only materialises after a sale, and once a batch has been sent to e.g. the USA, who is going to pay for repatriation of unsold specimens?

There are no catalogues listing the prices of mineral specimens. I remember buying a relatively expensive piece from Maurice (Magic Minerals) at the Club Open Day a few years ago and he said to me, probably embarrassed at what he was asking for the specimen, “What is a specimen worth?” and I replied, “As much as someone is prepared to pay for it”, which was apparently the correct answer, although he didn’t give me a discount. The following discussion is based on the re-sale of previously purchased specimens of world-wide origin to the original dealers.

The main components contributing to pricing of such specimens are original price paid, exchange rate then and now, courier cost to get the specimen to the dealer, your profit (if any), the dealer’s profit, and possible PayPal charges. All of this while still keeping the price at a competitive level, which varies considerably from dealer to dealer. I made the mistake of looking at a dealer’s site after selling him some specimens for cash a couple of years ago and being shocked at the high prices being asked for some of them compared to the price I had asked. Here we come to Rule No. 1 of selling a mineral collection: if you do direct sales with a dealer, don’t check later on his site what price he is asking for your prized pieces as you’ll likely feel shafted! Also, you can do all the pricing calculations you want but if you sell direct to a dealer for cash up front, don’t expect to get more than 50% of what you and he thinks the specimen is worth! One dealer told me quite bluntly that he can buy at the Tucson Gem and Minerals Show and make a 50-60% mark-up so why buy from me at a 30% mark-up.

If you bought specimens for US dollars over the past 10 years the Rand/Dollar exchange rate went from about 7 to 14, and higher in between. A specimen that cost say US$500 in 2007 would only need to be sold for US$250 at the January 2019 exchange rate to recoup the initial rand outlay, excluding lost interest, postage and any taxes paid. For postage to a dealer in the US, or Europe, you can’t rely on the SA Post Office these days so you need to factor in expensive courier costs. 

In terms of split of the profit, one arrangement could be setting a minimum price, basically what you paid for a specimen converted to current exchange rate, plus an add-on for when you believe a specimen is worth much more than you paid for it (a usually rare “sleeper”, a high quality but low price specimen that you chanced upon). Then you and the dealer share anything 50/50 above the base price, i.e. the price he thinks he can get in today’s market. If a specimen only sells for the minimum price he takes a percentage for his troubles, inter alia setting up a page on his website and doing professional-standard photos. Then there are finance charges for say PayPal.

It’s quite a job to sort out specimens, make up lists, take photographs (how do they produce those very seductive ones that can suck you into buying on internet sites and look nothing like what you eventually unwrap?) where necessary, work out prices and pack securely and consign. There are also reality checks as in when I offered about 30+ specimens back to an interested dealer and he replied that he was only bidding on 6 as he had moved on to higher-end specimens. Well thanks! He was also interested in my wulfenite collection but declined to make an offer for any on receiving the photographs. I didn’t realise they were that poor, including some bought from him! It is certainly far easier being a “silver pick collector” (someone who buys specimen rather than self-collects them) than being an aspirant dealer. Which brings me I think to Rule No. 2: Don’t expect to make a profit from your past mineral purchases, just enjoy the visual and intellectual pleasure along the way. On that note I‘m off to fondle a wulfenite!