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 Meteorite Dealer Rob Elliott of Fernlea Meteorites.

What or who got you interested in meteorites and how old were you when you got your first meteorite?

I was fascinated by comets, meteors and meteorites from an early age of around 8 or 9 years old (I'm 42 now). The Apollo missions were in full swing at the time, but it was to be many more years until I realised that meteorites could actually be owned privately. I bought my first meteorite from a curiosity shop in England in my mid 20's, although I was never totally convinced that it was genuine.

What was your first meteorite?

Not including the strange and highly dubious rock from that old curiosity shop, my first genuine meteorite was a 40g slice of etched Gibeon, purchased from Robert Haag. I was a complete novice and it took me ages to decide which meteorite I should buy, and how much I should spend. Just 5 days after placing my order, a beautifully etched Gibeon part slice arrived in my mail which took my breath away.

Do you still have it?

No, sadly. Some time ago, one of my customers was looking for a 40g slice of etched Gibeon and…….well……

Do you have special areas of interest that you focus on in regards to meteorites (thin sections, photography, chemistry, age dating.. etc)?

Not really, I just collect meteorites in general, for my own fascination and enjoyment. The only way I can break it down a bit further is my preference for the so-called historical falls and finds which come with some kind of a story or history, even if it's as simple as a set of find co-ordinates. I guess that's a diplomatic way of saying that hot desert meteorites don't hold as much appeal for me.

Lake Murray (IIAB) - 4kg part slice

Does your Family share in your interest in meteorites?

My two daughters show only a general curiosity in meteorites, but my 16-year-old son Jamie shows more interest. Jamie has been to two earlier Tucson shows, and has joined me on at least two Holbrook strewnfield hunting trips. He found a small fusion crusted fragment on his first visit to the strewnfield, which made his day.

My wife Irene has joined me full-time in the meteorite business and has her own particular favourites which are all based on "eye-appeal" rather than type, rarity or anything scientific. I guess that I'm the only one in my family with a true passion for meteorites.

Millbillillie (Eucrite) - 810g individual

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.)

No, I collect all meteorites, but prefer collecting by "names" instead of "numbers".

Do you mind saying how many locations your collection represents?

I'm not really sure. Maybe a couple of thousand specimens in total, but perhaps around 450 - 500 locations are represented in my collection.

Is your collection displayed or kept in a dry box or both?

I used to store "difficult" meteorites in ziplock bags with desiccant, airtight boxes with desiccant, or just bagged-up as best I could with desiccant……I think I had the market monopoly on desiccant for a while!!

About 4 years ago, I built a temperature and humidity controlled showroom for displaying my whole collection. Meteorites weighing up to a few kg's each are displayed in several 6 foot high glass cabinets, while heavier specimens are displayed on tables and pedestals around the room. Lighting is always difficult, but after a bit of trial and error, I found that two fluorescent striplights and a dozen halogen spotlights show-off the meteorites nicely. The low humidity inside the showroom means that rusting meteorites are now a thing of the past, with only two exceptions……….my Mont Dieu and Toluca irons show small rust spots occasionally, but nothing serious.

 In what ways do you use your computer for meteorites?

Our computers are used for just about everything connected with meteorite collecting and meteorite dealing!

We have 4 business computers here. The meteorite cutting room and my office are in a separate building at the end of my garden,  about 75 yards from my house, and that's where most of the business computers are kept. There's one for email and website maintenance, one for invoicing & accounting, and another that does a bit of both. The fourth computer is in the house, and that one's used for our ebay auctions, emailing and web browsing. As it worked out, it's been the type of printer connected to each machine which dictated how each was used - e.g. some of our accounts "paperwork" require carbon triplicate forms which need a daisy wheel type printer.

Do you ever hunt for meteorites?

Yes, whenever possible, although it's hard work in the UK and the odds against finding a recognisable meteorite are stacked against us. Our damp climate means that stony meteorites cannot last more than about 200 years before disintegrating into mud, so anything found by chance is likely to be small, badly weathered and probably just oxide. Irons May fare better, assuming that a good, thick oxide layer might slow the weathering process internally, but I doubt if a British iron meteorite would win any beauty contests after a few decades open to the elements. The UK is about due for another fall, and I'll be there shortly after it happens!

I've visited the Holbrook strewnfield 5 or 6 times in recent years, usually spending 3 - 5 days hunting there on each visit, along with hunting buddies Gregory Wilson from Los Angeles, and Holbrook's own, Dave Andrews. We've found many fragments and small individuals of the 1912 Holbrook fall…..nothing big enough to cause me any excess baggage problems when I fly home, but it's always great fun. And of course, "urban meteorite hunting" in Park Forest last April was a novel experience!

Noe Garza and I - a ~2.4kg Park Forest meteorite crashed through Noe's roof

 What is your favourite meteorite in your collection?

 That's a tough question.

I have a 7kg slice of Estherville that rates highly, but I also get a big kick out of my Barwell, Springwater, Orgueil and Aubres specimens. Ask me the same question next week, and I'll probably list four completely different meteorites.

 Springwater (Pallasite) - 783g part slice

What is your favourite overall if it is not the one above?

If I had to choose just one meteorite that I'd have the greatest difficulty parting with, I'd probably have to say Leighlinbridge - a 1999 fall of L6 meteorites in Southern Ireland. I bought all 4 of the small stones shortly after the fall, but I've kept only the first recovered individual, which went on to be sampled for classification. It's so fresh and beautiful inside……absolutely pristine, and the sort of jet-black, fusion crusted meteorite that makes yer teeth itch!

What makes these of special interest?

The Estherville slice is pretty big, and that's a great way of looking at a mesosiderite. Internally, it's very "busy", with so many different clasts of eucritic & diogenetic inclusions, nickel-iron blebs, gas pockets, and other oddities in the mixture. I can see something new hiding in the matrix every time I look at it.

Estherville (Mesosiderite) - 7kg slice

What meteorites are currently on your wish list?

All of those that I don't have!

Seriously, there are too many to name. I don't crave any one particular meteorite, but more of the historical falls and finds would be nearest to the top of my wish list. I already have all of the Irish falls in my collection, and most of the English falls, but I'd like to add Wales and more of the Scottish falls sometime, so making my British Isles collection complete.

L'Aigle (L6) - 67g half individual

What methods have been most successful in building your collection? (Buying at shows, from dealers by mail, auctions on the web, trading... etc.)

I buy & exchange with known collectors & dealers, and trade with museums mainly. I'm always open to trade offers, so long as I have enough of a particular meteorite to spare in an exchange.

Hardly a day goes by without my receiving an offer of a "meteorite" from a member of the public who insists that he/she has a new and authentic meteorite for sale. The seller almost always believes that I'm going to buy it on the spot, just because they think  it's a meteorite, and then act surprised when I ask for proof or a sample. But, I guess we have to be prepared to sort through all of the dross in the hope of finding the next new meteorite. At the current time, I have samples of two new meteorites in the pipe which will hopefully come through eventually. Sadly, many finders think they're going to become instant millionaires with the sale of their meteorite, making negotiations very tough these days.

Do you also collect related materials like impact glasses, breccias, melts, tektites, shocked fossils, native iron rocks etc.?

 I have a few fossils, tektites, minerals and breccias, but it's meteorites that take my main interest.

 Cumberland Falls (Aubrite) - 90g end piece

Do you prepare any of your own specimens? (cut, polish, etch, etc.)

Yes, I have saws, grinders & polishers for preparation, etching facilities in the workshop, and access to a massive, size-of-a-large-room horizontal bandsaw for cutting large slices of iron meteorites.

British Meteorite Display - at the NHM, London