Philatelic Mineralogy
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)


Over the years, we have received numerous questions that have been provoked by the Philatelic Mineralogy website. Below, we present the most frequently asked questions with answers. Please click on the question to be taken to the specific answer or simply scroll down to read them all.

PHILATELIC MINERALOGY WEBSITE CONTENT

  1. How many stamps feature minerals, gems, or rocks as a topic?
  2. How do you choose which stamps to put on the Philatelic Mineralogy website?
  3. Why are there no stamps from my favorite country on the Philatelic Mineralogy website?
  4. Here is a scan of a mineral stamp. Can you add it to the Philatelic Mineralogy website?
  5. You don't have all of the mineral stamps from my favorite country on the Philatelic Mineralogy website. Why not?
  6. Can I use any stamp images from the Philatelic Mineralogy website on my own website?
  7. I am a stamp collector with a website. Would you add a link to my website from Philatelic Mineralogy?
  8. I am a stamp dealer with a website. Would you add a link to my website from Philatelic Mineralogy?

PHILATELIC MINERALOGY WEBSITE TECHNICAL ISSUES

  1. What HTML editor do you use to create the Philatelic Mineralogy web pages?
  2. What scanner do you use to create the stamp images on Philatelic Mineralogy? What scanner settings?
  3. What image editing software do you use to edit the stamp images for Philatelic Mineralogy?
  4. Why do you use JPEG format for the stamp images instead of GIF?
  5. How has the Philatelic Mineralogy website evolved over time?
  6. What enhancements do you have planned for the Philatelic Mineralogy website?
  7. The Philatelic Mineralogy website uses frames. Frames suck. Why don't you get rid of frames?
  8. Why do you use a black background for the Philatelic Mineralogy web pages?
  9. Does the Philatelic Mineralogy website use cookies?

PHILATELIC MINERALOGY WEBMASTER

  1. Who are you and where do you live? How long have you been collecting mineral stamps?
  2. Why did you create the Philatelic Mineralogy website?
  3. Do you collect real minerals, too?
  4. Are you a geologist or a mineralogist?
  5. Do you sell stamps, or would you like to trade stamps?
  6. What are your favorite and least favorite mineral stamps?
  7. Are you looking for any hard-to-find mineral stamps?
  8. Are there any clubs or societies that are devoted to collecting mineral stamps?

MINERALOGY

  1. What is a mineral?
  2. How many different minerals exist?
  3. How are minerals named?
  4. What is the difference between a mineral and a rock?
  5. What is the difference between a mineral and a gem?
  6. What is the most common mineral?
  7. Is diamond the rarest gem?
  8. What is the difference between a precious gem and a semi-precious gem?
  9. Is ice really a mineral?

Philatelic Mineralogy Website Content

1. How many stamps feature minerals, gems, or rocks as a topic?

There are literally hundreds of different stamps from all over the world that feature minerals, gems, or rocks as a topic. If you include stamps that illustrate mines and miners, the number of stamps are well over a thousand. New stamps that show minerals are issued almost every month. The Philatelic Mineralogy website displays only a small fraction of all the mineral stamps available throughout the world.

2. How do you choose which stamps to put on the Philatelic Mineralogy website?

I have several criteria for selecting which stamps get put on the website. First, I only include stamps that I own personally. Second, I try to include stamps from a reasonably wide selection of countries. Third, I try to include stamps from a reasonably wide assortment of mineral species. Lastly, I give preference to attractive or historically interesting stamps. This, of course, means there is a certain amount of arbitrariness in the stamps that are included on the Philatelic Mineralogy website. Given the large variety of countries, minerals, and stamps from which to choose, this arbitrariness is somewhat unavoidable.

3. Why are there no stamps from my favorite country on the Philatelic Mineralogy website?

The lack of a mineral stamp from your favorite country does not necessarily mean that I do not have an appropriate stamp in my personal collection; nor does it mean that I do not like the stamp. The limited amount of time and file space that I can devote to the website means that I can display only a small portion of the mineral stamps that are available. I apologize if I neglected a country of importance to you. Someday, after I retire and am able to spend more time on Philatelic Mineralogy, I hope to include as many countries as possible.

4. Here is a scan of a mineral stamp. Can you add it to the Philatelic Mineralogy website?

Thank you, but I would prefer not to do that. One of my self-imposed constraints for the website is that it only includes stamps that are in my personal collection.

5. You don't have all of the mineral stamps from my favorite country on the Philatelic Mineralogy website. Why not?

In some rare cases, I may not own all of the mineral stamps that a particular country has issued. More likely, the absence of one or more mineral stamps from a particular country is a reflection of my attempt to present a wide variety of stamps from different countries and stamps that illustrate a wide variety of mineral species.

6. Can I use any stamp images from the Philatelic Mineralogy website on my own website?

If you are going to use a limited number (ten or fewer) stamp images from the Philatelic Mineralogy website on a non-commercial website—that is, if you are going to use the images for educational purposes only—you have my permission to copy and use them. Credit to Philatelic Mineralogy on your website would be nice as would be shooting me a quick email, but that is not essential.

If you would like to copy a substantial portion of the Philatelic Mineralogy website or if you want to use any of my stamp images on a commercial website, then you do not have my permission to do so. Instead of copying my material, please link to the Philatelic Mineralogy website instead. Alternatively, you may obtain the stamp or stamps from some other source (a stamp dealer perhaps), scan them yourself, and use your scans as you wish.

7. I am a stamp collector with a website. Would you add a link to my website from Philatelic Mineralogy?

I would be happy to do that if the topic of your website is non-commercial and is somehow related to stamps that feature minerals, rocks, gem, fossils, or earth science topics. I would prefer not to include links to sites unrelated to earth science topics.

8. I am a stamp dealer with a website. Would you add a link to my website from Philatelic Mineralogy?

I regard the inclusion of a link to a dealer's website as an endorsement of the dealer. Accordingly, if your website contains listings for mineral, rock, gem, fossil, or other earth science stamps and if I have actually purchased some stamps from you, then I would be pleased to link to your website from Philatelic Mineralogy.

Philatelic Mineralogy Website Technical Issues

1. What HTML editor do you use to create the Philatelic Mineralogy web pages?

Most of the HTML files on Philatelic Mineralogy were created using a plain text editor that had no HTML awareness. Some people regard this as the hard way to create HTML. Perhaps so; however, I find that by writing the HTML directly myself, I have complete control of the generated HTML so that the web pages display properly regardless of the browser used. I have tried various HTML editors, but have always met with mixed results. Experiments with Microsoft Front Page, for example, yielded HTML that looked good when viewed with the Microsoft Internet Explorer browser. Unfortunately, attempts to display Front Page HTML on non-Microsoft browsers tended to produce a mess. The control provided by directly coding HTML allows me to produce HTML for the lowest common denominator of web browser features, thereby producing a consistent display. Occasionally, I will use the HomeSite HTML editor for its syntax checking features. Proper use of HomeSite will produce HTML that displays correctly and predictably on a variety of browsers.

2. What scanner do you use to create the stamp images on Philatelic Mineralogy? What scanner settings?

I use both an older Hewlett-Packard 4C scanner and a newer Epson Perfection 4490 Photo Color scanner in order to create stamp images for the Philatelic Mineralogy website. I place the stamp face down on the scanner glass, put a small weight (such as a tiny glass bottle) on the back of the stamp to keep it flat and to keep it from moving, then run several test scans in order to position the stamp so the edges are exactly parallel to the edges of the scanner glass. Although it is, of course, possible to scan the stamp in an arbitrary orientation and rotate it into vertical position with a graphics editor, I have found that doing so significantly reduces the quality of the final stamp image. To avoid the image degradation that electronic rotation produces, I carefully position and reposition the stamp by hand on the scanner glass and scan and rescan it until it is exactly vertical. Once this is done, I select the area to scan, and scan the stamp.

For the HP scanner settings, I choose "sharp, millions of colors" at "screen resolution" which is the scanner software's non-obvious way of specifying 24-bit color depth, no smoothing, and a resolution of 75 pixels per inch. For the Epson scanner, the settings are more obvious: 24-bit color, unsharp mask filter on, and 75 pixels per inch resolution. I scan each stamp twice, once at 150% scale for the website and again at 600% scale for my personal archive. I scan the stamp with the cover of the scanner open and the room lights dimmed. This provides a natural black background border around the stamp (I had tried using black cardboard, but this moved the stamp when placed upon it and also was not black enough). I save the scans as PCX (for the HP scanner) and TIF (for the Epson scanner) files in order to preserve the 24-bit color depth in a non-lossy format, then edit them later to create JPEG files for the website.

3. What image editing software do you use to edit the stamp images for Philatelic Mineralogy?

I experimented with several image editors including, but not limited to, Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Photoshop Elements, Microsoft Photo Editor, Microsoft Picture It! Photo, Graphic Workshop Professional, Paint Shop Pro, and others, before settling on PhotoFinish to edit the stamp images for Philatelic Mineralogy. All of the graphics editors provided the simple tools that were needed to remove dust specks, properly crop the image scans, and perform PCX/TIF to JPEG conversion; however, the JPEG compression algorithm provided in PhotoFinish consistently produced the smallest file size—sometimes by a factor of two—for the same image quality setting compared to all of the other graphics editors that I tried. Since smaller image file sizes allow for faster image downloads while browsing, that was the deciding factor on choice of graphics editor. Alas, PhotoFinish (Softkey) appears to have been discontinued, although it may be possible to search the web for an aftermarket seller of the product.

4. Why do you use JPEG format for the stamp images instead of GIF?

Web browsers typically support two different graphics formats: GIF and JPEG. GIF is a lossless format that is capable of displaying graphics with a maximum of 256 different colors. The term "lossless" means that the displayed graphic is exactly identical to the original. JPEG is a lossy format that is capable of displaying graphics with literally millions of different colors. The term "lossy" means that when a JPEG image is displayed, it does not exactly match the original graphic due to the loss of information introduced during file compression.

Some introspection on GIF leads one to seriously question the claim of losslessness. Although GIF reproduces graphic patterns with complete fidelity, it is actually an incredibly lossy format when an attempt is made to display color photographs or scanned color artwork (such as postage stamps). When GIF is used, the potential millions of colors in a scanned image are reduced to a maximum of 256 colors, thereby resulting in a significant loss of color fidelity. This loss of color fidelity can produce unwanted halos and other undesirable effects when GIF graphics are displayed. JPEG, on the other hand, can produce some small errors in displayed patterns, but retains the gradations and nuances of color in the scanned image. By selecting a sufficiently high image quality setting during JPEG compression, the pattern errors can be rendered nearly imperceptible.

Thus, the choice of GIF vs JPEG for the stamp images on Philatelic Mineralogy boiled down to a tradeoff of exactness of pattern (GIF) versus maximum color fidelity (JPEG). Since I deemed color accuracy more important than an occasional pixel placement error, and since JPEG compression reduces file size and download time, high-quality JPEG images were used for the stamp images on Philatelic Mineralogy. For a practical demonstration of the difference between GIF and JPEG graphics, carefully compare the following Australian opal stamp presented in both formats:

 
  Australia Scott 1429 Australia Scott 1429  
  GIF
File size = 18,657 bytes
JPEG
File size = 16,644 bytes
 
 

5. How has the Philatelic Mineralogy website evolved over time?

The Philatelic Mineralogy website started life in 1996 as a website with the cumbersome title "Gem, Rock, and Mineral Postage Stamps from Around the World." Due to the rather primitive nature of web browsers in 1996, the site's pages were constructed from very simple HTML. Since an attempt was made to permit viewing the site with any commonly available browser and since some of those browsers lacked support for tables and frames, the site was constructed without them. The lack of tables resulted in irregular layout of the content, which made the pages hard to read. The lack of frames made interpage navigation difficult. Initially, only a small number of stamps were presented. Adding to the problems of the website was a choice of an Internet Service Provider (ISP) that not only provided a very limited amount of space for the site's files but provided extraordinarily poor service, reliability, and customer support.

Several years later, uncommon web browsers disappeared and the remaining browser technology improved to the point where the website was recoded to achieve better layout via tables and improved navigation (without backtracking) using frames. In 2000, the service of the old ISP became totally unbearable and a search was initiated to find a replacement. After some evaluation, the site was moved to the AT&T WorldNet ISP, which not only provided more reliable service to the site's users, but also increased the amount of disk space available to store the site's files. Around that time, the site was renamed "Philatelic Mineralogy" and a significantly greater number of stamp images were added.

6. What enhancements do you have planned for the Philatelic Mineralogy website?

In addition to the neverending plan to add more stamps, minerals, and countries to Philatelic Mineralogy, several other enhancements are being considered. The first enhancement, which is currently under way, is to improve the formatting, placement, and alignment of the descriptive information on the stamp pages. This is being done through more extensive use of HTML tables. Future enhancements under consideration include placing a small map of each country's location on the country pages and a photograph of a real, corresponding mineral specimen (from my own collection) on each of the mineral pages. Don't hold your breath on this though. It will take a while—possibly years—to accomplish.

7. The Philatelic Mineralogy website uses frames. Frames suck. Why don't you get rid of frames?

HTML frames are a presentation tool and, like any tool, frames can be misused. The use of frames on the Philatelic Mineralogy website allows separately scrollable lists of country and mineral names to be displayed along with the pages that feature the stamps. This facilitates navigation from one page of stamps to the next without backtracking. As such, this represents a reasonable and legitimate use of frames. If, despite the preceding explanation, you are still rabidly opposed to frames, any of the pages on the Philatelic Mineralogy website can be displayed individually, without frames, without loss of information. It will just be harder to navigate the website.

8. Why do you use a black background for the Philatelic Mineralogy web pages?

Many website designers feel that a black background is one of the poorest choices for a website. So why did I use a black background for the stamp pages on the Philatelic Mineralogy website? The choice was made on the basis of my wanting a background that would not interfere with or detract from the stamp images. I experimented with various colors and patterns, but black seemed to provide the best contrast to allow the viewer to focus their eyes on the stamp images. Also factored into the decision was the fact that many stamp publications present stamp images on a black background. I extend my apologies to those who feel the black background is a poor choice; however, it is the color that seems to best show off the stamps.

9. Does the Philatelic Mineralogy website use cookies?

No, we do not use cookies nor do we use any type of tracking software.

Philatelic Mineralogy Webmaster

1. Who are you and where do you live? How long have you been collecting mineral stamps?

My name is Richard Busch and I live in southern California. I started collecting mineral stamps in 1996.

2. Why did you create the Philatelic Mineralogy website?

There are two primary reasons that I created the Philatelic Mineralogy website. First, I have had a nearly lifelong interest in mineralogy. In 1996, I started collecting postage stamps that feature minerals as their subject. I felt that it would be fun and educational to share that interest with others. The second reason for creating Philatelic Mineralogy is that I wanted to learn about creating and managing a non-trivial website. At one time I considered having websites for some of my other philatelic interests—geology, mining, fossils, and prehistoric animals—however it became readily apparent that the Philatelic Mineralogy website by itself would consume just about all the time I could find to devote to maintaining websites.

3. Do you collect real minerals, too?

Yes, I have collected mineral specimens far longer than I have collected mineral stamps. Most of my mineral collection has been purchased over the years; however, I collect in the field, too. I also collect books about mineralogy, geology, and mining with an emphasis on areas in southern California, the southwestern United States, and the Washington, DC area.

4. Are you a geologist or a mineralogist?

I have a degree in geology from the University of Arizona, where I specialized in mineralogy and crystallography. Now retired, I worked professionally as a software engineer for several companies, including one that I co-founded, in southern California. Thus, I have a degree in my hobby. Over the years, I have belonged to a number of amateur gem and mineral (rockhound) clubs. I have participated in these clubs in various ways ranging from a regular member to bulletin editor to an officer.

5. Do you sell stamps, or would you like to trade stamps?

I am not a stamp dealer nor do I sell stamps informally. Generally, I do not trade stamps either. This is not because I am anti-social; but rather because I have very little in the way of duplicate material for trading.

6. What are your favorite and least favorite mineral stamps?

My favorite mineral stamps are those that not only provide a reasonably accurate depiction of a mineral, but include the name of the mineral and a chemical formula as well. Notable are two mineral stamps from Macedonia that feature the minerals stibnite and lorandite. Other sets of mineral stamps that quality as favorites are those from Canada and Namibia, which also provide the mineral name and chemical formulas.

 
  Macedonia Scott 106 Macedonia Scott 107  
  Macedonia
Scott 106
Macedonia
Scott 107
 
 

 
  Canada Scott 1436 Canada Scott 1437  
  Canada
Scott 1436
Canada
Scott 1437
 
 
Canada Scott 1438 Canada Scott 1439 Canada Scott 1440
Canada
Scott 1438
Canada
Scott 1439
Canada
Scott 1440
 

My least favorite mineral stamps are those that provide no identifying information for the minerals depicted and which provide an ambiguous drawing of the mineral, which makes visual identification nearly impossible. Regrettably, many of these mineral stamps abound. Especially irritating are three sets of mineral stamps from Switzerland that provide no indication of mineral species whatsoever. Although some of these Swiss stamps show minerals that can be easily identified visually, the most vexing of the stamps has to be Switzerland Scott B273, which illustrates a yellow, cubic mineral that, depending upon which stamp catalog you examine, is identified as either fluorite or pyrite. After some fairly exhaustive research, the mineral has been positively identified as fluorite—but not without a fair amount of aggravation.

 
  Switzerland Scott B273  
  Switzerland
Scott B273
 
 

7. Are you looking for any hard-to-find mineral stamps?

Yes, there are a few mineral stamps for which I have been searching for a long time. These include mint copies only of (Scott numbers follow):

8. Are there any clubs or societies that are devoted to collecting mineral stamps?

Yes, the Gems, Minerals, and Jewelry Study Unit of the American Topical Association (http://www.geocities.com/gmjsu) specializes in the collecting and study of stamps that feature minerals as a topic. Annual dues are $10.00 USD ($15.00 overseas). Philagems International, the bulletin of the GMJSU is published four times per year. Please note that Philatelic Mineralogy is not associated with the GMJSU, although I am a member of the organization.

Mineralogy

1. What is a mineral?

A mineral is a natural chemical compound, almost always solid and frequently crystalline, of inorganic origin and composition. Having said that, it is important to note that whenever human beings attempt to classify and organize things, minerals included, exceptions to the rules are bound to occur. A small number of liquid minerals exist, native mercury for example. There are some minerals that are not known to form crystals, such as psilomelane; and some that form crystals only rarely, turquoise for example.

The prohibition against organic origin or composition is sometimes violated or stretched. Struvite, which is of organic composition due to its ammonium content, is nevertheless regarded as a mineral. Vivianite is a mineral despite being formed from phosphate derived from bones or shells. In some cases, the organic association is tenuous. Chalcanthite (copper sulfate) is sometimes found replacing the wooden timbers in old mines, but is still regarded as a mineral, as are the various types of petrified wood.

In general, but not always, a mineral has a precise chemical formula. The mineral halite (table salt) is NaCl (sodium chloride), for example; but some manganese minerals contain traces of various elemental impurities.

2. How many different minerals exist?

There are between 2,500 and 3,000 known mineral species. New minerals continue to be discovered at a slow rate, and some existent minerals are periodically discredited—typically they are found to be identical to a previously described mineral. The vast majority of minerals are very rare and are of little more than scientific interest. An average amateur mineral collector might encounter no more than 200 distinct mineral species in their lifetime. A serious amateur mineralogist might be able to amass a collection of about 600 mineral species. The interest of many amateur mineral collectors involves collecting specimens from different geographic localities or minerals possessing various "habits" or forms.

3. How are minerals named?

Many of the common minerals have names that are based upon their ancient Greek or Latin names. For many of these minerals, the names are derived from some physical property of the mineral or the location from where it was first found. This naming practice continued well into the 20th century with minerals being named after a distinguishing physical characteristic (azurite), a location where found (muscovite), a chemical formula (nahcolite), a joke (the minerals adamite and eveite are chemically similar, for example), or most recently, the name of the discoverer or person who first analyzed the mineral. Currently, the Commission on New Minerals and Mineral Names (CNMMN) of the International Mineralogical Association (IMA) is the deciding and defining authority for new mineral names. Current rules require the name of any new mineral to end with "-ite."

4. What is the difference between a mineral and a rock?

A mineral is a chemical compound with a specific chemical formula and a very precise internal structure. Rocks are the natural "hard parts" of the earth, and are composed of one or more minerals or mineral grains. Quartz, feldspar, mica, and hornblende taken individually are minerals. Grains of quartz, feldspar, mica, and hornblende mixed together form granite, which is a rock. Although most rocks are formed from several different minerals, some rocks exist that are composed of a single mineral. An example of this is the rock quartzite, which is composed entirely of the mineral quartz.

5. What is the difference between a mineral and a gem?

Some minerals are gems and some gems are minerals, but not all minerals are gems nor are all gems minerals. To be a gem, an object must display an inherent attractiveness (color, sparkle, or other optical property) and must be able to withstand the physical abuse that frequently accompanies treatment as a gem or piece of jewelry. Some of the popular "precious" gems such as diamond, ruby, emerald, and sapphire are minerals, too, because they are inorganic and naturally formed. Some other gems such as amber, pearl, and coral are not minerals due to their organic origin.

Many minerals are not gems because they lack the esthetic appeal that a gem requires. Most minerals are, in fact, fairly plain from the standpoint of visual attractiveness. Other minerals do not have the stability or ruggedness to remain intact very long in jewelry. This has not stopped some attractive but fragile minerals from being fashioned into cut gems as a novelty.

6. What is the most common mineral?

A bit of research will reveal some controversy in the answer to this question. Many people consider quartz to be the most common mineral on the surface of the earth. Quartz is found almost everywhere as a visible constituent in granite, for example, or beach sand or just about any rock that you pick up. Other people regard feldspar to be the most common mineral. In fact, the name "feldspar" refers to a group of related mineral species among which include orthoclase, plagioclase, oligoclase, microcline, and many others. Strictly speaking, if one refers to distinct mineral species instead of mineral groups, then quartz would seem to be the most common. If one is inclined to regard all feldspars as the same "mineral," then the answer is probably a toss-up between quartz and feldspar.

7. Is diamond the rarest gem?

No. Although some diamonds are gems, they are not very rare. Consider the fact that nearly all married women, and many unmarried women (at least in the United States), wear at least one diamond. That's not rare at all. The illusion of diamond's rarity is more due to market manipulation and advertising by the big diamond companies than true scarcity. In reality, there are many gems much rarer than diamonds. Emeralds and rubies come to mind, for example. There are other gems even rarer than emeralds and rubies.

8. What is the difference between a precious gem and a semi-precious gem?

Many years ago the terms "precious" and "semi-precious" were used to describe gemstones. Emeralds, rubies, diamonds, and sapphires were precious by definition and everything else, regardless of relative value, was semi-precious. Use of the two terms has now largely fallen into disfavor because of the imprecise and generally meaningless distinction between them. The U.S. government periodically threatens to outlaw use of the terms since they do not properly convey any true indication of value. The trend today is to label any high-quality gemstone as "precious" and to drop use of the term "semi-precious" entirely.

9. Is ice really a mineral?

Yes, mineralogists consider ice to be a mineral. Snowflakes, for example, are crystalline chemical compounds that are formed naturally, without any organic intervention. This meets the definition of a mineral. Just because ice forms at lower than "normal" temperature does not matter. Ice is a mineral. Really.


Send e-mail to: rbusch@rbnet.net
Last updated: 9 October 2016
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