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Suggestions on selling rough stone collection

My father’s hobby for the past 35+ years has been lapidary. He’s got
a huge collection of fairly large chunks of some pretty nice lapidary
rough stones of all kinds, mostly squared off on at least one face,
but not slabbed. There’s everything from agate to obsidian, old
picture jasper, malachite, and even a few jars of uncut opals. He
still cuts some cabs occasionally, but he’s never going to use up all
those rocks in his lifetime; he will turn 89 this year. He’s thinking
of selling off some of it, but all the rock shops in this area (where
he bought the rough originally) are gone.

I, being the child with internet access, have been assigned the task
of finding the best way to sell these. The only options I can think
of are ebay or newspaper ads. Are there other, maybe better, ways of
finding interested buyers? And how do I go about setting reasonable
prices for this stuff? I haven’t a clue where to start–heck, I’m not
even sure what some of it is! We’re in suburban Detroit, MI.
Feel free to e-mail privately if your answer might not be of general
interest. Thanks!

–Kathy Johnson
Feathered Gems Pet Motif Jewelry

Dear Cathy, You do ,indeed, have a big problem ! Old collections of
rough rockhound materials tend to be dirty and heavy. Knowing what
you have is the key to analyzing its worth. Most importantly, don’t
let people pick through it…this is called “cherry picking” A
knowledgable person can go through a collection and extract 90% of
its value while removing only a few percent of its bulk.

It behooves you to look up any remaining dealers in your region and
study what they have and what they sell it for. Rough rock , quite
frankly, is usually not very valuable unless it is something rare or
in very short supply. I just came from a swap meet this morning
where someone was doing exactly what you might be doing…getting
rid of a relative’s slabs and rough. It had all the usual rockhound
stuff ; picture jasper, obsidian, Brazilian agate, a bit of
tigereye, lots of non-descript agate, etc. etc. There was very
little that would be of any great value. I bought a little parcel of
picture jasper slabs for one dollar.

You have got to remember that during the heyday of rockhounding that
hobbiests spend vast amounts time using their diamond saws thus
creating vast collections of slabs that were mediocre and
essentially umappealing. The next step of laboriously creating
cabochons was seldom worth the effort. When I buy rough it is always
in the form of slabs, always “good stuff” and I never cut cabs
myself. I send it overseas and get what I want for little effort and
modest expenditure.

Realistically, if, after you have determined what you have and have
gotten some idea of its worth, you should make an effort to find
someone who will take the whole thing away. Get a copy of the
Lapidary Journal and determine the location of the nearest rock
club. The annual buyers guide is the issue you need and it was just
published. In it you will also be able to find the location of the
dealers nearest to you. You should go to one of the rock club
meetings and tell people what you have and see if there is some
honest person who will advise you as to the collections worth.

Quite frankly, you are going to find that the stuff that we
rockhounds used to prize and pay dearly for is not nearly as
valuable today. Brazilian agate, for example, sells for about the
same today as it did thirty years ago. If you adjust for inflation
you will see that it is actually selling for far less than it did
orginally. On the other hand, choice large pieces of Lake Superior
agates can fetch a very high price. It all boils down to the fact
that you must inform yourself.

Another facet of the problem is that you must be realistic about the
whole scenario. The person who collected these rocks saw them as
treasures and probably still does. On the other hand, rough rocks
are similar to a truckload of wheat; it isn’t worth much until you
make something out of it. Ron MIlls @ Mills Gem, Los Osos, Ca.

Hi Kathy,

Are there other, maybe better, ways of finding interested buyers? 

Rockhounds may be your best bet. See the following link for a
listing of rock clubs in Michigan. One is even in your neighborhood
– Bloomfield Hills.

Most such clubs have newsletters and accept free or paid (minimal
cost) announcements. It might be worthwhile to have a garage sale
and advertise in these newsletters or just run a general announcement
with contact info. Good luck!