First of all, exchanging-it is the cheapest way to build up your collection. However you must have a good stock of shells ready and you have to be a patient person that can wait for a good shell offer for many months. Have your shells marked with good clear labels.
Another way is that you can collect sea shells yourself walking on the beach, but some dead shells are not in a good condition if even they look very attractive when you first view them.
And these sea shells will cost nothing or almost nothing at the shell market, because all beach ones are always damaged with sea waves, sunlight, wind and other natural factors. Sometimes you can find nice fresh dead shells after a sea storm or a hurricane, but these ones are not anyway top quality specimens.
Of course, the best way to collect live shells is during low tide, in shallow water, and if you also have some good skills in scuba diving or snorkeling. But many collectors are unable to hunt themselves for live shells for different reasons, and a lot of shell species are creatures which could not be found by a scuba diver even, or you cannot visit that area where these shell species range. Anyway you may purchase these ones from sea shell dealers and it is easy enough. In case, if you also want to own some rare shell species you may buy them from shell dealers or from old collections or at special shell auctions.
Internet has almost come to every home in the last ten years. And now each collector has got a chance to purchase any shells from his/her own home. Most dealers sell their specimen shells via their website’s stores or at online auctions.And most of them offer a satisfactory service.
However you have to be careful if you want to purchase any shell from any dealer via the Internet or at an online auction.
1. Never buy shells from an unknown dealer, if you are unable to check his/her business reputation. Try to get as much information about a dealer as you can. Conduct research on how long a dealer has been in this business. Ask other collectors to recommend a dealer you are interested in. Of course, it is impossible that all collectors will give you positive answers. Sure, you will sometimes receive negative answers about some honest dealers too. But you should hear both sides and then you may decide, if you will deal with that dealer or not.
2. Always read the standard dealer’s rules as follows: a shell grading, a payment method, and what time period you can return shells to a dealer and get your money back, in case you do not like those shells. Generally shell dealers give you 2-4 weeks to return shells you do not like, but remember, no one dealer will give you your money back for shipping the shells. So be attentive when you choose a shell from a dealer’s list, to save your own money and your time.
3. Remember, almost every dealer has a personal shell grading scale.
However, I think any dealer’s shell grading is a subjective thing. I always try to buy specimen shells in Gem condition or nearly Gem. But actually, some shell species could not be in Gem condition if even they were taken alive.
4. Never purchase any specimen shell without its photo. In other words, you have to see a photo of the specimen which you are going to buy. I know some famous shell dealers which say that they do not take photos of their specimen shells because they have got an excellent reputation among collectors, and any photo is unable to show you the real quality of the shell. Well, maybe they are right. Anyway, my experience as a customer tells me another view, and I follow this rule, and always ask for photos of every specimen that I would like to buy from a seller via the Internet.
5. Do not make a large shell order from a dealer at the first time. Try to get a second opinion about grade and value as soon as you receive your shells. Ask other shell collectors what they think about your new purchase.
6. If you are going to purchase a whole old collection or just a few specimens, you will need to check every shell from that collection. Check if the collection has been kept properly. Remember, sunlight, dust, air and high water content are the main foes for shell collections. Also, never buy shells which been kept in wooden boxes, because some woods are very dangerous for shells. For example, oak is a bad wood for any shells. Avoid buying shells that have been stored in soft cotton. The best way to keep each specimen of your collection is in separate plastic boxes or using zip plastic bags.
7. Always try to read a lot about your hobby, buying shell books, shell magazines, by joining in online collecting forums, and looking for shell collectors in your home town.
I do not know why you collect shells, but I am sure, this is one of the nicest hobbies. And as for me, I will be collecting seashells all my life, I hope.