An Article In Meteorite-Times Magazine
This feature is devoted each month to one of the personalities within the meteorite community. This month we are delighted to share an interview with, Darryl Pitt.
Darryl Pitt is the curator of the celebrated Macovich Collection—the largest collection of aesthetic iron meteorites in the world.
Pitt's biggest contribution to meteorite lore is perhaps best expressed by
legendary meteorite hunter Robert Haag: “Darryl opened a whole other market to
sell the ‘beauties,’ and this just never existed before.” Added Haag, “No one
has done more to popularize meteorites than Darryl...except ME!”
Indeed, when Pitt made several choice specimens available in the first natural history auction at Phillips in New York City in 1995, he indirectly became the single biggest catalyst to the most recent surge in the popularity of meteorites.
The initial natural history auctions were a novelty and, as a result, were typically attended by a dozen print journalists (many of whom were syndicated), and a half dozen television crews. The extensive international media coverage—along with reports of the high prices realized—spiked the public’s interest in meteorites to previously unheard of proportions.
Said Henry Galiano, of New York City’s Maxilla & Mandible, the premiere natural history store in the U.S., "News of the high prices meteorites attained at auction in the mid-nineties made its way across the ocean and motivated legions of new meteorite hunters, primarily from Germany and France, to explore the Sahara Desert in search of more material.”
Pitt marketed the sculptural specimens as “Natural Works of Art from Outer Space,” and his background as a professional photographer proved useful (he had been published in Time, Newsweek, Rolling Stone and The New York Times). For the first time, meteorites were photographed as objects of art, and each image was accompanied in auction catalogs by a highly detailed description concerning the aesthetic qualities and unique histories of every specimen offered.
For the first time iron meteorites were also distinguished—and valued—by the quality of their patinas and crenellations. Select specimens possessed a syncopated asymmetry or were deemed zoomorphic while others were said to evoke Chinese scholar’s rocks or the work of sculptors Boccioni, Hepworth, Giacometti or Moore. Choice iron meteorites were now desired not only for the allure of their otherworldly origins, but also for their aesthetic appeal.
Luminaries such as Steven Spielberg, Yo-Yo Ma, Nicholas Cage and James Taylor acquired choice specimens from the Macovich Collection. “Art & Auction” selected a meteorite from the Macovich Collection as one of its “100 Top Treasures of the Year.” Matchless specimens now carried estimated values in excess of $100,000 and, at times, realized such lofty sums.
“I had to give up some of
the most visually compelling meteorites if I was going to inspire others to jump
on this train,” Pitt said. “I thought of it as a necessary sacrifice. Sure, I
made money, but I really miss a few of these meteorites. And the value of
the best of the specimens will continue to escalate far more quickly than the
rest of the meteorite market as the appeal of such specimens is to a broader
In 1997, Pitt created the first interplanetary collectible, the limited edition Mars Cube: 1/10 carat of the Zagami Martian meteorite, sealed in a sterile vial, embedded in a 2.5-inch Lucite Cube. The Mars Cube (and accompanying 20-page Mars Owner’s Manual) was launched on QVC to great fanfare and thousands of units have been sold.
When the films “Deep Impact” and “Armageddon” were released in 1998, the public’s interest in meteorites peaked, and the natural history auctions timed with these releases provided the high-profile outlet for this growing appetite. Producer Jerry Bruckheimer and Bruce Willis acquired Macovich meteorites. And one gram of a Martian meteorite with a Macovich provenance meteorite went for $16,000—a transaction which the Guinness Book of World Records heralded as the most expensive chunk of Mars ever sold.
While Pitt still travels the continents in pursuit of singularly shaped rocks from outer space, such examples now show up only once in a blue moon.
Darryl Pitt resides in New York City.
Our Interview with Darryl:
What or who got you interested in meteorites and how
old were you when you got your first meteorite?
It was a trip to Meteor Crater when I was thirteen that first piqued my interest. I remember being flabbergasted and in awe when I was informed that a meteorite was the responsible culprit.
What was your first meteorite?
Canyon Diablo. I bought it from Al Lang at a Springfield show. I was working nearby and some friends asked if I wanted to go to a rock show. I simply couldn’t believe that meteorites were available in the private sector, but there was something about Al that inspired confidence that convinced me it was real.
While speaking of folks who got me started, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the P.T. Barnum of meteorites, Bob Haag. I experienced Bob’s inspiration so potently, it was as if I became infected with a virus that resulted in an insatiable appetite for any and all meteorites. And with a somewhat different perspective (ha!), the late Dr. Marty Prinz of the American Museum of Natural History was a great friend and patient teacher. I would not have been deeply involved in meteorites if it weren’t for each of these men—two remarkable men with remarkable legacies. Their combined effect on me was greater than the sum of their parts.
Do you still have your first meteorite?
I do. While I subscribe to the notion of having something for a time and then letting it go into the world for others to enjoy—and I’ve let go of some singular meteorites—I haven’t been able to bring myself to even consider parting with numero uno.
Do you have special areas of interest that you focus on in regards to meteorites (thin sections, photography, chemistry, age dating, etc)?
Photography, certainly. But what I have is just a passion for these objects and trying to find ways to share my enthusiasm.
Does your Family share in your interest in
Do you have any special approaches to collecting?
(Type collection, only stones, only irons, only by aesthetics, etc. or any and
all that you like.)
Aesthetics were always primary in the mix. When I began collecting, I could pick-up aesthetic irons for the same price as the dogs. Gibeons could be had for as little as $8.50/kg in 1990-91. When African dealers noticed the peculiar-looking specimens I was cherry-picking, they wanted to charge me more for such meteorites and agreed to keep the same low price only if I bought some of the other stuff. I agreed and that’s how I first became a dealer: flipping the meteorites I never wanted in the first place.
I did give up on large irons after two back surgeries—one of which was meteorite induced—but I've somehow drifted back towards these behemoths.
Do you mind saying how many locations your collection represents?
Several hundred locations are represented. I've largely stayed away from the unnamed Saharan material.
Is your collection displayed or kept in a dry box or both?
Most of the collection is in storage, but I’ll display a few select specimens and rotate them over time. I do use a dessicator, but I've finally learned the best way for me to deal with meteorites that are fragile in our environment is to let others collect them.
In what ways do you use your computer for meteorites?
MetBase. Cataloging. Imaging.
Do you ever hunt for meteorites?
Not as nearly as often as I would like. My day job keeps me tethered to city-life. But it was my day job which took me around the around the world and allowed me the opportunity to acquire more meteorites in exchanges. When I was involved in governmentally funded events, invariably I would be asked “Is there anything we can do for you?” to which I always responded, “Yes, I would like to meet the curator of your meteorite collection.” Talk about eliciting strange looks!
What is the favorite meteorite in your collection?
I truly don’t have a favorite as what I find appealing about different meteorites are characteristics which are for me incomparable.
What meteorites are currently on your wish list?
If I were to tell you, I’d have to kill you!
What methods have been most successful in building your collection?
Exchanges with institutions, by far, but the halcyon days are over.
"Macovich Collection photography by Darryl Pitt, Dick Goodbody and Jose Yssaguire"