The Golden Age of Collecting & Investing in Fine Minerals
By Dr. Robert Lavinsky
Fine minerals are specimens of naturally crystallized beauty that mesmerize those of us who collect them. They are regarded for every reason that a fine Rodin sculpture might be: provenance, condition, context and rarity. These are beyond mere ‘scientific objects’ to be put on a shelf. And, they are millions of years old. The shocking reality is that they exist at all, to enjoy, given the rigors of survival.
Tracing the History of Mineral Value
In the days of the European Royalty’s ‘Grand Tours’ around the Continent, fine mineral specimens were gifted as a matter of course, between educated members of the royal class. Cabinets of ‘natural curiosities’ were in many palaces of the times, and some even survive to the present. The Archduke Stephan von Habsburg-Lothringen (1817-1867) was one of the greatest collectors of all time. In the early 1900s, the action in the mineral collecting world shifted to the USA, following the energy and dynamism of technology and new wealth. Notables such as Thomas Edison, Andrew Carnegie, and J.P. Morgan (the gemstone ‘Morganite’ was named in his honor!) were among the top collectors of the early 1900s, spending millions in inflation-adjusted dollars. J.P. Morgan’s collection still forms the core of the American Museum of Natural History in NYC to this day. After his donation, the era of fine minerals, and the appreciation of these treasures of Nature, withered.
Today, we live in a ‘Golden Age’ for this hobby-turned-asset class. Fine minerals are being seen as an Art class by top collectors of other forms of beauty, exhibited as masterpieces in homes and museums (such as the Smithsonian, Houston Museum, Dallas’ new Perot Museum), and sought after with increasing zeal by top collectors who are building another round of world-class collections as did the industrial royalty of the early 1900s.
Case in Point #1:
The Jerome Shaw Collection
Jerome Shaw founded and sold a major insurance company and then pursued a second career as a gallery owner (101Exhibit in L.A.) and art investor: A lifetime collector of decorative and fine arts, his collections were exhibited at several major museums. He went to the Tucson Gem & Mineral Show with his collections curator Nathan Reiskin to learn more about his new hobby. Cautiously, he went to higher levels of collecting in the field (I met him halfway there). Jerome told me he treats minerals just like any other field of art he has collected over the years: He buys what he likes, what gives him pleasure to look at. He still treats it as an investment and intends to make a profit in the long run, by following the strategy of spending 80 percent of the money on 20 percent of the specimens to help him keep focus on value over time. He has the space to add the “fun pieces,” but the money is in the specimens that other major collectors would want.
Case in Point #2:
The Barry Kitt Collection
Barry Kitt came into my office like an excited kid in 2010, entranced by having seen his first tourmaline cluster in the Smithsonian and the realization that ‘YES, you can actually own such things!’ He realized that he had the immediate opportunity to gain entry into minerals at the top end of the field. He then made the hard-nosed decision that as an investor in other things, he should buy minerals the same way: ONLY the best. He also considered the trend toward investors looking for investable hard asset categories and he realized that these natural mineral treasures, as an asset class, were virtually unknown by the mainstream investor community. He has actually taught me a lot about applying these logical principles to build his small but focused collection that is constantly being upgraded as any opportunity might arise. He buys pieces that correspond to a uniform size range and meet his own individual assessment for incredible beauty. To his credit, even after only 5 years in the field, he has managed to buy, or trade, an incredible number of famous old pieces while also chasing down some of the new “Van Goghs” that come to our market. He exhibited for the first time at the Tucson Mineral Show, the largest mineral show in the world, in Feb. 2015, and won the top prize for a mineral collection on exhibit at the show.
The role of the Internet has been pivotal in educating savvy tangible investment collectors. Market giant Heritage Auctions noticed this asset class and added it as an art class to the auction world. In only 20 years, my rather opaque hobby has turned into a worldwide sport and an emergent asset class.
For more information about mineral collecting, visit www.irocks.com.