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 we had with Allan Lang, owner of R.A. Langheinrich Meteorites and Lang's Fossils.
What or who got you interested in
meteorites and how old were you when you got your first meteorite?
I was buying a fossil collection in the early 1970s, and there were two stone meteorites mixed in with that collection. One of them had a painted tag on it that read "Stone Meteorite," and they both had collection numbers. They both turned out to be Nininger Plainviews, and that got me intrigued. I didn't know at that point that you could even own a meteorite. At that time there were very few collectors. Nininger wasn't really in business anymore, although Glenn Huss still was. I bought many pieces from Glenn Huss, and then later on I bought the Nininger estate collection in 1987, which consisted of both meteorites and books. I also had the pleasure of meeting and working with Mr. Dupont. He had a world class meteorite collection and he was a great inspiration to me.
I first went to the Tucson show in 1978 or 79, and have been doing the show ever since. It was just a couple of hotels on Speedway Boulevard, back in the seventies. I was selling fossils, and trying to collect meteorites. In those days, if you had 25 meteorites in your collection, that was a big collection. It was very difficult to get any meteorites at all. You were lucky to get a couple a year. There wasn't much happening. Besides myself there was David New, Bob Haag, and a few others that would periodically come up with something.
Do you have special areas of interest that you focus on in
regards to meteorites?
Historical pieces. I collect the classics - observed witnessed falls, historical finds. Or anything with historical significance, like the Tucson Ring, or a meteorite that was found by Indians. It has to have a story behind it; some history. I prefer complete stones. Bigger is better!
Does your Family share in your interest in meteorites?
Of course. I have a very supportive wife, Iris. She's been coming to shows and helping run the business for as long as I've known her.
Do you have any special approaches to collecting?
Any and all that I like! Anything attractive, whether it's an iron or a stone. I like complete stones, and anything with historical significance.
Do you mind saying how many locations your collection
Is that counting all the Dar al Gani specimens? [laughs] What's a realistic number? If I included all the Northwest Africa stones, it would be a thousand easily. Not counting NWAs, I'm not really sure, I never counted them [laughs]. Probably about 500. It's hard to say, because for some localities like Canyon Diablo, Gibeon, Juancheng, Gao and so on, I have so many multiples. You can see a lot of the collection on my website (www.nyrockman.com)
Is your collection displayed or kept in a dry box or both?
My collection is displayed in an environmentally controlled room. Some specimens are in drawers, some are behind glass. I have large floor-to-ceiling display cabinets that I got from a jewelry store that went out of business. And lots of them! I also have some old cabinets that were de-acquisitioned from museums. The environmentally controlled room is the critical factor. You need to have a room where you can control the humidity. If it gets up too high we turn on the dehumidifier.
In what ways do you use your computer for meteorites?
It's not by choice, I am not a fan of computers. I believe computers were devised by Satan to drive us even crazier.
Do you ever hunt for meteorites?
Whatever chance I get. I've found meteorites at Gold Basin, Holbrook, and Park Forest. I've looked for meteorites in numerous other places too, Texas, and New Concord, Ohio, and I went to Africa this year. We have done a lot of public awareness programs, such as flyer campaigns, but we got nowhere with that.
If you could go anywhere to hunt meteorites, where would
Where would I go? I never even thought of that. Why, do people dream about ultimate places for meteorite hunting? I'd say Antarctica. Going there is something I've always wanted to do. The adventure! The danger! Remember . . . the more danger, the more adventure.
What is your favorite meteorite in your collection?
Peekskill of course! It's special to me because I own the Portable Impact Crater (the Peekskill Meteorite Car). The first year we had the car, which was February of 1993 - that was just a few months after the fall - we took it to the Tucson show. After that the car went to Switzerland. It took a trip to Germany to the Munich show. It's been to France - the national museum in Paris, and the French space agency had it for a while. It's been to Japan, then back to Germany, and back to France again. I gave it to the American Museum of Natural History for a while as a loan/donation. They never paid their towing bill [laughs]
What is your favorite overall if it is not the one above?
My witnessed falls are the focal point of my collection. I have some rare European witnessed falls that I've acquired through exchanges with institutions.
What meteorites are currently on your wish list?
Whatever witnessed fall I don't have [laughs]. There are two that fell on my birthday that I'd like to get.
Do you also collect related materials like impact glasses,
breccias, melts, tektites, shocked fossils, native iron rocks etc?
I have a well represented tektite collection. I have some other impact-related materials like breccias. Of course, I collect fossils as well as meteorites. Years ago, in my spare time I used to collect fossil shark teeth, just for something to do. We used to go down to south Jersey and collect Cretaceous teeth. When the movie "Jaws" came out, it seemed people couldn't get enough of those teeth! That's what got me started in the fossil business. The sudden demand for fossil shark teeth drove me in a new direction. After that, I was collecting for more that just personal interest.
Do you prepare any of your own specimens? (cut, polish, etch, etc.)
Before I went into the fossil business, I was a master tool and die maker. My experience with tool operation allowed Langheinrich Meteorites to make special tooling, such as jigs to hold specimens with. We learned about different types of cutting methods. It was all related to the kind of work I used to do. I now have different kinds of saws which we use depending on what kind of material we're cutting: how rare it is, how big it is. We need to have a saw for every occasion. I've cut big irons, one of them more than 400 pounds. I cut up the giant Rio LiMay stone, which weighed almost 300 kilos. Those are some of the largest stone meteorite slices in the world. I cut the big Portales Valley, the Guffey for the American Museum of Natural History; the main mass of Carbo for Harvard University. A lot of high-end cutting and preparation for museums and institutions. Then there are all the new Lunar rocks: from the biggest to the smallest, we've cut a lot of them.
My workshop is in upstate New York, and this is also the headquarters of our fossil company, LangsFossils.com. At the beginning I came up here specifically for the Eurypterid fossils (an extinct aquatic arthropod) that are found on the property. I came up here first in 1978. We have a large working fossil quarry on the property, and we provide Eurypterid fossils to museums and collectors all over the world. It's one of the top localities in the world for this type of fossil. We are working on the educational aspect of fossils and meteorites too. The type of Eurypterid fossil that we find here is the state fossil of New York, and we want to make it possible for students to learn about these fossils. We've made major donations to the Natural History Museum (London), the American Museum of Natural History, the Royal Ontario Museum, and the New York Teachers' Association.
In the early 1980s I was working with some people in the fossil business, in
Morocco. I kept asking them to keep on the lookout for meteorites while they
were collecting fossils. Finally, in about 1986, a colleague of mine found what
was described as a "moonstone" by the locals, during a trilobite buying trip in
Africa. It turned out to be a meteorite and that was the Zagora silicated iron.
More and more things started showing up in Northwest Africa after that. One of
the ones that we discovered was NWA 032 (Lunar). One of the guys I was working
with in Africa brought me a lot of stones, and this one happened to be in it.
There was obviously something different about that stone. We also identified Zag
(b) the primitive achondrite, and some other rare material.
Have you had to take any special measures to protect them from the environment?
Sure. I stay away from problem meteorites. Or, if there are going to be problems with rusting on certain meteorites, I keep them as whole specimens, I don't cut them.
Could you tell us about your work overseas?
I've been to Russia, China, Japan, Africa, England, Scotland, France, Germany,
and Australia. I was the foreign representative for the Tokyo National Mineral
Association for twelve years. We used to do the Tokyo show, the Munich show,
Sainte-Marie, Gifhorn and Ensisheim when they first started. We were doing
seventeen shows a year for many years. I've cut back now because it wasn't fun
anymore. I only do the Tucson and Denver shows now.
Is there a highlight in your collecting life that you'd like to share with us?
That would definitely be taking the Kyushu meteorite back to Japan (L6 witnessed fall, 1886). The American Museum had a large specimen on exhibit, and we'd been after a piece of it for years. Finally, when Peekskill fell, we were able to acquire some Kyushu from the AMNH by trading Peekskill for it. We had a larger piece of the meteorite than the Japanese did, I think it was 3.7 kilos. It is now in the museum in the city of Kyushu, where it fell. It was an honor to be able to take it back home.
Finding a good home for your specimens is one of the most important things you can do as a collector. I used to have a famous Nininger Plainview called the "Hershey Kiss." I had that piece in my collection for years. It's a Texas meteorite, of course, and that piece went back to Texas where it is now on display in the Odessa museum. It was one of my personal favorites, and I found a good home for it. There's nothing I enjoy more than to "institutionalize" my specimens, where they can be safe from the fiends who like to cut them up, in order to maximize profit. I wanted to preserve the integrity of that stone, so that somebody wouldn't cut it up after I was gone. It's safe now.