'Agate Man' coming to Douglas County Library on Oct. 1
Sauk Rapids resident Lyndon Johnson will share some of what he has learned over the course of 28 years of collecting agates.
ALEXANDRIA — He's called the Agate Man, and he's coming to Douglas County Library to show off some of his finds, and perhaps inspire others to go rock-hunting themselves.
Sauk Rapids resident Lyndon Johnson will be at the library at 10 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 1, to share some of what he has learned over the course of 28 years of collecting agates — ornamental stones, typically banded in appearance.
"I talk about different things that can be found in Minnesota as far as different agates, different gemstones, different fossils, artifacts and whatever questions people have about their own finds," Johnson said. "I bring roughly around 300 pounds of different fossils and artifacts, different types of agates, so people can learn the different looks. I'll talk about how I got started and how I found what I have found. I do have one of the largest personal found agate collections."
He has even written a book on the subject, "Lake Superior Agates: What to Look For."
Johnson's interest in agates came about when his two daughters became old enough to go for walks. At the time, Johnson lived near a gravel pit, and that's where his interest — and his family's — ignited.
"They enjoyed doing it, and it became a family passion," Johnson said. "(After) 28 years of studying, it's amazing what I've found throughout the years."
All told, Johnson's collection consists of more than 1,500 pounds of items, from a 103-pound agate, to fossils that are 100 million years old, to the only labradorite, described as a mystical gemstone, ever found in Minnesota.
"I've found stuff everywhere — anywhere there's rocks," Johnson said.
It might be easy to believe that with so many pieces in his collection, it's impossible for Johnson to single out a favorite.
"I couldn't pick just one," he said. "I could pick certain ones in certain categories."
The acquisition of new items for the collection can be addicting, Johnson said.
"The search is kind of like gold fever," Johnson said. "Once you find a nice specimen, you get that adrenaline rush. You can't beat that. Buying the stuff, you just don't get that adrenaline rush. If you find it, there's a whole different meaning to it."
Johnson's advice for those interested in agate hunting is simple.
"When in doubt, dig it out," he said. "Bring it home and study it. Every once in a while you get a pleasant surprise, and that's how you learn. Trust me, I've got a lot of junk under my deck.
"If you're not sure (about a stone), bring it home. You can always throw it away later," he said.
One thing Johnson would recommend people not do with agates they find is to polish them.
"They're actually more valuable if you can leave them natural," he said. "Never break them. Never hit them with a hammer. You could have a $2,000 stone, and if you break it, it's not worth much."
Instead, wash them using ordinary dish soap. On his larger museum-style pieces, Johnson will use Armorall and a toothbrush, which he said keeps them clean and brings out their color.
In addition to his presentation, Johnson also will look at any examples of agates attendees bring.
"I've seen some interesting stuff," he said. "As far as Lake Superior agates, green is the rarest color, so you don't see a lot of green. One guy showed me one that was about a pound and a half.
"A lot of times I get shown a lot of stuff where it isn't much and I have to break their heart," he said.
Johnson's interest in agates has been passed on to his grandchildren, as well.
"(My oldest grandson's) very first word was rock, I kid you not," Johnson said. "Because everywhere in papa's house was rocks, so everywhere you point was 'rock.'"
If there's one thing Johnson recommends in terms of collecting, it's to keep at it.
"I get asked a lot, 'Where did you find all these?'" he said. "I have a lot of museum pieces. It doesn't come easy. I've looked a lot of miles. The more miles you put in walking, the more chances you have of stumbling onto something."