Book Review:
Field Collecting Gemstones and Minerals (John Sinkankas)

Reviewed by Stephen J. Bespalko

Lithosphere (June 1993); Fallbrook Gem and Mineral Society, Inc.; Fallbrook, CA

Most books that amateur mineral collectors encounter have the common limitation of simply listing sites where minerals can be obtained. Although useful, these books do little to illuminate how or why a mineral came to be located where it is. As a result, the collector learns little about how to find other sites. Field Collecting Gemstones and Minerals, Second Edition by John Sinkankas is quite different in that regard. It does a superb job of introducing the collector to the science of identifying areas for collecting and hunting for good sites. Although the book is clearly oriented towards field collecting, there is sufficient information on mineral identification, preparation, and display to be valuable to hobbyists who have no intention of ever venturing out to the wilds in pursuit of new specimens. Thus, if there is one book that every mineral collector should not only own, but have read thoroughly, this is the book.

This venerable volume is a concise and clear treatment of the hobby. The text is very readable, and the many illustrations are clear and interesting. The book is organized into nine chapters, five appendices, and an index. The early chapters cover the fundamental aspects of mineral collecting: how to plan for collecting trips, map reading (including the most lucid discussion of topographic maps the reviewer has ever seen), and tools and how to use them. The middle chapters cover the geology of mineral formation and application of geology to field technique. The later chapters round out the subject matter with information on identification, preparation, and display of minerals. There is also a section on marketing minerals.

The pedagogic nature of this book makes it an excellent resource for young collectors contemplating a career in science (given the concerns expressed below). The book does a good job of introducing the geological basis for how mineral deposits form, then does an equally fine job of demonstrating how to apply this theory to locating mineral deposits. This concrete and practical application of a scientific discipline should captivate any aspiring young scientist. The book also stresses the value of research and preparation in pursuing the hobby. There are many lists of where to find additional information including maps, books, and libraries. Finally, the direct link between the ability to observe and draw conclusions (with the obvious benefits for those astute enough to draw the right conclusion) will promote skills valuable in any branch of science.

There are two subjects covered in the book that are included for completeness but are clearly not for most amateur mineral collectors, particularly young collectors. The section on the safe use of explosives (an oxymoron in the reviewer's opinion) is beguilingly short, to the point of trivializing the dangers associated with mining explosives. Although these substances are not easily obtained, the way the topic is covered may make the idea appealing to daring individuals. One of the analytical tests for identifying minerals, which is covered at some length, is the acid solubility test. Although dissolving minerals in various noxious (and dangerous) acids may be beyond the interest of most amateurs, this again is covered in a very straightforward and technical manner. Sinkankas understates the danger to someone who doesn't possess the laboratory technique to safely handle corrosive materials.

Beyond being an excellent book that is well worth the money, this is a book that should hold special interest to members of the Fallbrook Gem and Mineral Society since many of the pictures and examples are from San Diego County. In particular, there is a geological description of the Pala Pegmatite District, including the Himalaya Mine in Mesa Grande, California.

Field Collecting Gemstones and Minerals, Second Edition by John Sinkankas; 397 pages; Geoscience Press.

Copyright © 1993 by Fallbrook Gem and Mineral Society, Inc.

The preceding article was originally published in the June 1993 issue of Lithosphere, the official bulletin of the Fallbrook [California] Gem and Mineral Society, Inc; Richard Busch (Editor).

Permission to reproduce and distribute this material, in whole or in part, for non-commercial purposes, is hereby granted provided the sense or meaning of the material is not changed and the author's notice of copyright is retained.

Last updated: 18 September 2002