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Recommendations regarding the handling and sale of your collection.

Every year we hear horror stories of fine mineral collections mishandled, thrown away or sold for pennies by heirs. Unless a collector sells his collection himself before dying, it will someday pass on to another person who will be required to deal with its disposition, even though he or she may know little or nothing about minerals. Here's how to prepare instructions for an executor:


Needless to say, our lives will end someday and our mineral specimens will pass to others to enjoy. As is often said, we are merely their temporary custodians. If the ultimate liquidation of your mineral collection is to be carried out in closest accord with your wishes and with the greatest price realized, there is truly no substitute for doing the job yourself before you the or become incapacitated. We can try to cover every contingency (at least logically) in a document such as the one proposed here, but you never know exactly what will happen when your collection passes into an executor's hands. Trying to abide by your instructions could be a nightmare for an inexperienced executor, and also a tremendous amount of work. Therefore, our primary recommendation here is that you liquidate your collection yourself, while you are still able, rather than leave it to an executor.

That said, if you elect not to sell, distribute or donate your collection yourself, there are two important things that must be done in preparation for the day when your collection will pass to your executor, and you are no longer around to advise. It is every collector's responsibility, to his family, to his heirs and to future generations of collectors, that he take these two duties seriously.

The first requirement is fairly obvious: to record and keep up-to-date a catalog--or at least a list--of all the specimens in the collection, keying the catalog entries unambiguously to the actual specimens. The key can be a painted-on catalog number, or it might be a digital snapshot, a paper label, or some combination of these. The most important information to retain is the locality; additional information of various kinds (purchase price, source, previous owners, exact size, etc.) is also nice to have, but the locality is of paramount importance. This work can be tedious for collectors who are not detail-oriented, but it is critical if the specimens are to retain their full value. If your collection is large and you don't have the time to catalog it properly, it might be wise to hire a temporary curator (e.g. a college student who is a mineral collector) to prepare a catalog/inventory.

The second requirement (unless the collection is to be donated to an institution) is the preparation of a document that will help guide your executor in handling and selling your collection. This is a much easier task than the cataloging of a large collection, and there is little excuse for not taking care of it. In fact, you could complete the job today, right now. To make it easy, we have prepared a template for such a document (shown below), which can be modified to fit your particular collection and wishes. It covers all of the significant information that your executor will need.

Aside from details about the collection itself, your executor will want to know who to turn to in the dealer community. You can discuss (in the document) which dealers you have done business with over the years and found to be trustworthy. You might also mention other dealers who are known to purchase collections like yours (even though you may not have done business with them personally), and who might be invited to make an offer.

Even if you are bequeathing all or part of your collection to a museum, your executor will need some critical information from this document, including the seemingly obvious, such as where you actually keep your collection. Is it in a safe deposit box? In a cabinet in the basement? Is some of it on loan somewhere? And where do you keep your catalog? In a drawer or cabinet? As a computer file? How can the file be accessed in your computer? You might even specify how large your collection is, so your executor can be sure he has successfully rounded it all up from its various hiding places.

If you plan to bequeath all or some of your specimens to a museum, it would be wise to first consult with the curator to make sure that the museum needs and wants the specimens. Or you could sell off the best things in the collection, which will usually account for the vast majority of the collection's value and which will be the easiest to dispose of, and then donate the remainder to a school for teaching purposes. Bear in mind that tax advantages may apply if you donate specimens to a non-profit institution before you die, rather than leaving them for your executor to handle.

If you wish the collection to be sold at auction, you should select the auction house yourself and contact them in advance. They will explain their fee structure to you, and the timetable for the auction. Instruct your executor to provide them with the appraisal you obtained.

You may recommend that the collection be offered to a dealer to be sold "on consignment," with payments made as the pieces are sold. The "consignment fee" will be such that you will receive a price somewhere between retail and wholesale, but not until the specimens have sold ... and some may take a long time to sell. It might be possible for you to negotiate terms in advance with a dealer of your choice.

Whatever your wishes are, this document should be updated periodically, and copies kept in several obvious, sure-to-be-found places (with your spouse, your attorney, your will, your future executors, in a safety deposit box, in a drawer in your mineral cabinet, etc.).

Wendell E. Wilson

The Mineralogical Record, 4631 Paseo Tubutama

Tucson, Arizona 85750, Email:

Don Newsome

UV SYSTEMS, Inc., 16605 127th Avenue SE

Renton, Washington 98058, Email:
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Author:Wilson, Wendell E.; Newsome, Don
Publication:The Mineralogical Record
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 1, 2010
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