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First you need some specimens

Getting some mineral specimens to work with is not nearly as difficult as you might think.

  • A good place to start is your local science museum. Their gift shop probably sells inexpensive mineral specimens. If possible, avoid specimens that have been tumbled and polished. It is much easier to perform the tests on specimens that have natural surfaces. While you are there, ask if they have a mineral exhibit, a great place to see examples of quality specimens. Their Education Department may even offer classes on minerals.
  • Check with your local library to see if there is a rock and mineral club in your town. These groups are always delighted to talk with students, and they usually have group field trips to mineral collecting sites. If you tell them that you want to practice identifying minerals, they will probably help you get a selection of good specimens that will be easy to identify.
  • Rock shops are a marvelous place to find minerals, and they usually have inexpensive specimens of common minerals. They often have good examples of any minerals that occur in your area. Some rock shops also have places where you can dig your own minerals. Ask if the site has been enriched. "Enriched" means that they have purchased inexpensive minerals, and added them to the site. It can be fun finding them, but you often wind up paying more than if you had just purchased the specimens.
  • Depending on where you live, you may be able to find your own minerals. From local rock outcrops to the gravel from streams or roads, there are probably mineral specimens all around you. At first, it may be a challenge to tell the difference between a mineral and a rock. Rocks are often made up of more than one type of mineral, so unless the individual mineral bits are large enough to test individually, trying these tests on a piece of rock may give you strange results. For example, if you test the hardness of a piece of granite, you will find that some bits are very hard, and others very soft, depending on which point on the rock you test.
  • You can also purchase mineral specimens online. Quality mineral specimens can be quite expensive, but many educational companies sell starter kits of minerals. You should be able to find a nice beginners collection of minerals for less than $15. Some good examples are:

    Mineral Kit with 15 Specimens, Magnifier and Strike Plate

    Mineral Science Kit

    My Rockin' Collection Mineral Kit Junior

To start with, you want inexpensive specimens of common minerals. Be careful of cheap mineral sets, as they often have very small specimens glued to a card. You want specimens at least as large as your thumb, and they should be loose, not glued in place. For a good, starter set, look for specimens from this list:

  • quartz (crystal, milky, rose, amethyst, citrine)
  • calcite
  • gypsum
  • pyrite
  • galena
  • hematite
  • mica (muscovite, biotite)
  • feldspar (plagioclase, orthoclase)
  • fluorite
  • corundum