Created at the start of the 19th Century, the minerals collection is among the oldest and most remarkable in the world. Those on display to museum visitors were selected on the grounds of their rarity, quality and beauty and also their importance in earth sciences and industrial and artistic applications.
The minerals collection is the heritage left by the Chair of mineralogy at the Sorbonne, created by imperial decree in 1809. The holder of the Chair, François Sulpice Beudant, began collecting minerals in 1822 for teaching purposes. Until the exceptional rise in the price of minerals in the 1980s, the collection was primarily developed through private gifts, sizeable donations, exchanges with museums and field collections. It received its most significant contribution in 1954 with the legacy of Louis Vésignié. Originally for teaching and research, the collection gradually started to open to the public. In 1970, the first permanent exhibition opened at Jussieu. Since then, it has continued to expand to become what it is today.
The collection comprises 13,000 samples, 1,500 of which are on display. The minerals are displayed in 24 panoramic cases classified by chemical composition and structure (for the silicates). The presentation was inspired by the Crown Jewels of Iran display. Numerous specimens merit particular attention such as the cumengeite crystals with their singular star shape and intense blue colouring, an exceptional series of kunzite crystals that change colour with the angle of view and the largest known tetrahedrite crystal.
An iconography collection of the collection has been compiled. A portion of it is on the CD-Rom, which presents 450 specimens. The collection regularly has temporary exhibitions and participates in events such as the Fête de la science and the Nuit des musées.