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Buying rock collections

All, It has come to my attention lately that we are in the midst of an
era in which many of the diehard old rockhounds with huge collections
are passing on and their heirs are disposing of their collections.
This can be a source of copious amounts of gem materials that will
fast become unavailable in the future. The problem is that there are
sharks out there who prey upon these people and high-grade their
collections. This practice is rife locally and works this way: almost
all collections will have most of their value in a small percentage
of the total. Example: a widow inherits a garage full of boxes
containing the fruits of sixty years of buying and collecting. Most
of it is leaverite ( junk) , but some of it is really good
stuff…things like natural Turquoise, gem silica chrysocolla, old
Wyoming Jade, etc. etc. The high grader cons the widow out of some
"samples" and proceeds to remove a shoe box filled with fifteen
pounds of choice high value gems. Thereafter, the high grader is
never seen again or he tells the widow that the "samples’ were no
good. The poor widow is stuck with the low grade. I have been burned
with a variation of the foregoing when, after successfully bidding on
an estate, the highgrader appears while you are making arrangements
to truck off the collection and , under the guise of "just looking"
at the collection, highgrades it using deep pockets and fast hands.I
had this happen to me recently and it cost me a bundle ! Ron at Mills
Gem, Los Osos, CA.


Highgrading of estate rough rock can be a real problem, but more
often I’m running into people who expect to be paid close to retail
for estate rock. Recently we were offered 2 tons of baby Brazilian
agates for $5/lb. I had to tell the seller that we didn’t want baby
Brazilian at any price. She said she could get $5/lb at garage sales,
so I wished her well and left.


All, I have been a buyer of rock collections for the past 20 years.
The scam Ron mentioned is only one of many. The most insidious rock
buyers are the ones that prey around retirement communities with
active lapidary clubs. Arizona is filled with these communities and
the rock scammers regularly scan the obituaries looking for victims.
You can see the results of their labors at most of the outdoor rock

Myself I try to buy the whole collection and to buy it before the
owner dies. I want to buy the collection before the owner allows all
the their buddies to high grade or a rock scammer gets access. I
tell the owner that I want it all or none.

A word of advice to all rock collectors. Educate your spouse on the
value and extent of your collection. Inventory the collection and
assign values to the individual items and a value for the whole lot.

I do not usually buy from widowers. When I do buy from them, I
explain to them all the ramifications of selling the collection.
Very few collections I have viewed have extensive amounts of choice
gem material that has a high resale value. Therefore, the seller
must know what they are talking about. Sellers need to remember that
the rough and cut cabochon gem market is founded on the “Den of
Thief’s” mentality. Know what you are talking about and believe only
payment at time of sale.

Gerry Galarneau

Suzy and all

It has been my experience, more often than not, that estate sales, or
ANY “sales” of rocks, is becoming more of an attempted rip toward the
buyer, than it is for sellers.

Sellers want to get FULL, Beverly Hills + retail prices, for rocks
that were collected free on public lands, or purchased at low cost
years ago.

I find that most sellers are not naive at all, when evaluating their
rock collections, though they my act as if they are oblivious…

In fact, many sellers OVERVALUE the collection. They only slightly
reduce the price after they cajole and manipulate negotiations,
similar to a skilled used car salesperson. Sellers do this in all age
groups, from 18 to 90+.

A few weeks ago, a 92 year old rockhound was trying to play me like a
fiddle and sell me his old stock of “prime” slabs for $18 per pound.
The slabs were actually worth about $7 per pound, MAX !. He refused
to lower his cost… I then simply joked around with him and his
grandsons for a few minutes, politely said good bye and good luck.

Unfortunately, I’m sure he’ll eventually sell all those slabs to some
unsuspecting, inexperienced rockhound and for the $18 lb and he’ll
convince them they got a great deal…

Sellers, more often than not, have spent a tremendous amount time
researching and evaluating their rocks, through friends, neighbors,
old rockhounds, the Internet, etc etc, prior to their big "estate"
and or ANY rock collection “SALE”.

Sellers predominately price their rock collections, according to what
they IMAGINE their estate and or, garage sale market will bear. They
also may tack on an extra 20% to 30%, for sentimental value reasons.

If the collection is very large, I have experienced sellers who will
stealthily high-grade out rocks, after the sale has been made and
keep / steal from the very buyer they just sold the collection to.
This is usually done after the exchange of cash has been made and
occurs during the loading process or during any absence or watchful
eye of the buyer.

I would not be surprised if Ron, from Mills Gems, in Los Osos, would
discover that his recent experience of the stealthy bystander, who
stole rocks from his recently purchased collection, was actually a
friend of the SELLER, in collusion, so to speak… a bit of a stretch,
but you never know these days !

In short, I have found that good deals are few and far between and
that rock sales are now treated like the “antique road show,” whereby
sellers are looking for high prices on LOW value items and they
attempt to get those high prices, through the guise of implementing,
a multitude of used car salesman tactics.

More often than not, it is a BUYERS BEWARE world today.


Once in awhile I’ll come across an ad in the classifieds offering
jewelry making equipment and lapidary “rocks” for sale. It’s not only
about getting a bargain, but also about finding hard to get material
that interests me. When I get to the garage sale, I am usually greeted
by a good ole boy rockhound and we will have a great time exchanging
stories and appreciating his special pieces. Sometimes I go home with
great material at a good price and more often, not. Only once did I
buy from a widow of a prominent rockhound. She set the prices and was
selling the “collection” by the pound. I bought the lot. 25% was
excellent material, 25% was O.K., and the rest was either unusable or
carving grade (fountain rocks). This was a we win situation.

Buying from a widow is not intrinsically unethical. However, taking
advantage of any person in distress by haggling the price lower, or
discrediting the goods to get a better price is considered unethical
among professionals.

Ron’s situation is different. If I read his post correctly, he
implied that he already made an agreement with the widow to purchase
the lot and she subsequently sold higraded pieces to another buyer. I
think this may be illegal on the widow’s part, and surely unethical on
the highgrader’s part if he knew the collection was already sold. In
this case it is deep pockets and greed v.s. Ron’s good faith.

I am having a little difficulty with the use of the terms
"collection" and “highgrading” in this thread. Some collections are
sold as a lot or suite and its value is determined by its
completeness. Highgrading the suite would be robbing the seller.

Highgrading a collection that is sold by the piece or some unit of
weight is just smart buying. I doubt that either Ron or Gerry would
buy bad material from anyone if the material was sold by weight or by
the piece. But then the term “highgrading” wouldn’t apply here, or
does it? I am open to discussion. As far as appraisers are concerned,
it is a very good idea for the widow to get at least a ball park value
for the collection. But she should watch out for appraisers that take
their payment in specimens…oh, now I get it, that would be
higrading. Will E.

   In short, I have found that good deals are few and far between
and that rock sales are now treated like the "antique road show,"
whereby sellers are looking for high prices on LOW value items and
they attempt to get those high prices, through the guise of
implementing, a multitude of used car salesman tactics. More often
than not, it is a BUYERS BEWARE world today. 

Hey, folks, welcome to the free market. I watched for years as
smooth-talking sharpsters who were up-to-date on gem market values
ripped off old rockhounds and their widows on extremely valuable old
collections. I’ve had great fun with a few of these guys personally,
listening to their devious pitches. When real estate values took a
huge inflationary jump in the 1980s I saw the same thing happen with
houses. It’s been a buyers (and sellers) BEWARE market for

RnL’s post gives the impression it’s somehow wrong for sellers of
collections to inflate their asking prices. I’d respond that anyone
who plays in that particular ballpark has the individual
responsibility of knowing what they’re doing. If you think prices
are too high, walk away. If someone else buys at the asking price,
too bad. They didn’t do their homework. It’s not society’s role to
protect fools, either buyers or sellers. I’d ask RnL to think about
how he/she sets their own pricing. Do you add in a certain
"bargaining" percentage? Do you like to get the highest price
possible for your product? Or do you think you ought to sell your
stuff for a very low profit out of a feeling of “social

Prices (values) are arrived at between knowledgeable buyers and
sellers. There are lots of “unknowledgeable” ones too, if that’s a
word. All in all I’d say that the sellers of old collections have
"wised up" to the demand for their product, and since there appears
to be more demand than supply, maybe new price levels are being set.
That’s how the free market works.


Dear Will, Gerry et al,

This thread has been kinda" fun…and, it has only scratched the
surface. I can certainly identify with the dilemna of the uninitiated
widow who hasn’t the foggiest about values. Brazilian agate is a good
example, especially the “babies” This is the stuff that is dredged up
from the delta of the Rio Plata in Buenos Aires and is used as
ballast on ships or as aggregate in concrete. It can be gorgeous
material, but, there is just too damned much of it and, the result is
that its’ ultimate value is whatever it costs to get it to
market…plus the profit of the seller.

Melee diamonds are another good example when it comes to
supply/demand ratios. In reality they have gone down drastically in
value in the past twenty five years inasmuch as they are not only
selling for less per carat now than twenty years ago, but the dollar
value has not been adjusted for inflation. This is one of the reasons
that jewelry featuring melee has had such a good run on the market.
When you take $250 per carat goods and combine them with cheap labor
and then sell the junk by “total carat weight” you have the makings
of the classical “sucker market”

Getting back, however, to the widow’s dilemna…not only does she
have to get rid of gobs of multi-decade accumulated baubles, she has
to do it in a hurry because she is moving to a condo or mobile home
park. I conducted an estate sale this weekend and had to dispose of a
three car garage full of chingaderos and white elephants…some of
it pretty neat stuff. We were fortunate to have good weather and
excellent response to advertising and got rid of everything…enough
to cover her moving expenses and much more. What I am trying to point
out here is the the realistic widow will recognize the logistical and
commercial realities of the situation and will let the stuff go at a
fraction of new replacement in order to get the ordeal over with and
meet her time deadlines.

Ron at Mills Gem, Los Osos,