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 Norm Lehrman.
Bio: Norm Lehrman, 57, founder of the Tektite Source, (http://tektitesource.com) is an exploration geologist with 39 years in the field (and counting) He has worked in North, Central, and South America; Central, Eastern and Southeastern Asia; Europe, and Australia. Currently he is posted in Reno, NV, and is primarily involved in Great Basin gold exploration. Climber, diver, caver. Obsessive collector. Specialist in gold, uranium, volcanoes, and tektites.
Breaking news: while this interview was in review, Norm received word that he and his wife, Cookie, are being transferred to Tanzania for 2 or 3 years (probably by the end of July). Since most of the Tektite Source inventory will be in storage and inaccessible, he plans to post a running pictorial travelog to the site. Check in periodically to follow the adventure! Any new items for sale acquired while in Africa may appear as well---
Meteorite-Times (MT) What or who got you interested in meteorites and how old were you when you got your first meteorite?
Norm Lehrman (NL) It actually started, appropriately enough, with tektites. As an all-around natural history buff since earliest childhood, I have always collected minerals, rocks, fossils, shells, insects, skulls, antlers, feathers, artifacts and such---a very, very long list. I bought my first tektite in 1976 (that would be about age 27) at the California Academy of Sciences as just another natural history curio.
(NL) The real obsessive behavior didn’t begin until my work as an exploration geologist took me to the Kalgoorlie region of West Australia about 10 years later. I was working with a team evaluating a new project and was kept busy from 8 AM till late into the night seven days a week. It was driving me nuts to be in such a unique place and not be able to get out into the bush, so I would get up two hours before daylight, drive as far out as I could, hike for an hour or so, then streak back to town to meet my team-mates for breakfast. On one of these trips I found a nice big Australite core, and later, 2 partly flanged buttons. I was hooked.
“My first Australite find, a fine big glossy 19.4 gram
ablation core, Lake Yindarlgooda, West Australia”
(MT) What was your first meteorite?
(NL) After more than 30 years exploring full-time all over the world, I was frustrated that I’d never found a meteorite. I had learned enough to know that having covered this much ground, I had to have walked past some meteorites. It was clear that I had to calibrate my eye, so on my first trip to Tucson (buying tektites!) I ran into Eric Olson (whom I had met through emails) and asked him to sell me a good typical stony for reference. It was a gorgeous little 32.5 gm Gao-Guenie individual.
“The Gao I bought from Eric”
(NL) I also bought a handful of NWAs from the Moroccans. A few months later, I found my first stony meteorite. The human eye is a great meteorite detector, but it has to be tuned!
(MT) Do you still have it?
(NL) I have the first purchased tektite, the first self-collected Australite, the purchased Gao and, of course, my first meteorite find!
“Cold find number one! A sweet little
6.5 gm nosecone from central Nevada”
My kids or grandkids will have to figure out what to do with them, insofar as I won’t be willingly parting with them in this life---
(MT) Do you have special areas of interest that you focus on in regards to meteorites (thin sections, photography, chemistry, age dating.. etc)?
(NL) I love things with a great story. World-class conversation pieces. We live in a museum.
Tektites, in particular, the Australasians, remain the biggest little mystery in geology. How can anything undergo so much scrutiny by so many good people for so long without giving up their secrets?
As for meteorites, my sense of wonderment is not sharply focused. Rarity and value are minor issues compared with the background story and classic characteristics. I am perfectly happy with a fine, unclassified, NWA complete individual. The glory is where it originated, not where it fell.
(MT) Does your Family share in your interest in meteorites?
(NL) Yes and no. My kids all suffered through the mixed blessing of bringing dad to school for show and tell. My wife Cookie, being the wise person she is, never asked me to choose between her and my rocks! She loves to hunt for tektites, and can appreciate the story behind a good meteorite. Year after year, she finds the prize for us at Tucson.
(MT) 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.)
(NL) Nope. It’s a pretty generalized neurosis. I look for aesthetics and a good story. I’ll still buy wooly mammoth hair or a nice warthog skull, so I guess you could call our approach to collecting “eclectic eccentric”.
(MT) Do you mind saying how many locations your collection represents?
(NL) With tektites, we have all of the recognized types, and in several cases, the biggest or best known examples of their class. We have a few dozen meteorite localities. So far I’ve resisted the temptation to want one of everything known (but that is a current swirling just beneath the surface---).
(MT) Is your collection displayed or kept in a dry box or both?
(NL) We’re lucky. Nevada IS a dry box! Most of our material is on display in curio cabinets with no problems.
(MT) In what ways do you use your computer for meteorites?
(NL) Essentially all of our business is conducted through our website (TektiteSource.com). We dabble on Ebay a bit, both buying and selling, and we absolutely depend on the internet to keep in touch with suppliers, and clients. Meteorites, and even more so, tektites, involve such a specialized niche-group that no single city on earth could truly support a storefront business. With the internet, virtually all of us nutcases can communicate without regard to geographic location.
(MT) Do you ever hunt for meteorites?
(NL) Anytime we can find the time. My best single day has been 58 specimens! (it was 60, but on closer inspection, 2 turned out to be interloping wannabes). I have hunted pointedly in Nevada, Chile, and Australia (in addition to most every step I have taken all over the world. I am always looking---). There are few moments in life to compare with that first no-doubt-about-it shore ‘nuff that’s a winner find!
(MT) What is your favorite meteorite in your collection?
(NL) That’s a tough question! Like “which of your kids do you love the most?” (I have four daughters and 9 grandchildren). As a tektite guy, I have to mention our fine Besednice moldavite, our flanged button Australites (I traded my youngest daughter's hand in marriage for one of these! Nice find, Derek!),
“Lehrman family bride price!”
and probably the finest Georgiaite known!
“Superb 18.0 gm Georgiaite teardrop,
featured in two textbooks”
For meteorites, I am absolutely infatuated with my birthday (not the year, just the date) meteorite, Tatahouine! South pole crater, asteroid 4 Vesta. How cool can you get? But then I also think of Cookie’s oriented Christmas tree Sikhote Alin, my first Nevada cold find, the monster Campo I lugged back from Argentina in my carry-on----
(MT) What is your favorite overall if it is not the one above?
(NL) As tektite people, you’ll have to indulge us with our favorite tektite AND our favorite meteorite. And the winner is---drum roll--- our (very first) Besednice moldavite. In the meteorite category, it has to be Cookie’s Sikhote Alin Christmas tree! Cookie and I agree on these two (which is a bit scary. That may be a first---).
“Amazing 15.2 gm Besednice moldavite”
(MT) What makes these of special interest?
(NL) I first saw the Besednice in a Natural Wonders shop when we were just getting into tektites. I knew only enough to know it was superb, but wasn’t willing to pay the asking price. I called my family over to see it, and told them that it was probably the finest moldavite they would ever see. As we walked out of the shop, I remarked to my wife “I know that’s going to haunt me---“. It did. Every moldavite I saw after that was consciously or subconsciously compared with my memory of that glorious stone. One year later, I was back in the same shop and it was still there. I remarked to the shop owner that I could not believe that she had not sold it. She responded that it was her belief that the true owner had not yet come into the store, and that the stone had made itself invisible to everyone else. I pointed out that she was mistaken. The true owner had come in one year ago, and was back to claim it!
We bought it. Having sorted through and sold many hundreds of Besednices since then, we have never seen its equal. If offered ten times the buying price, I wouldn’t even be tempted.
The Sikhote picture speaks for itself. For its size, it is hard to conceive of a more marvelous piece! We had sorted through---(I’m guessing)---more than a ton of specimens. Cookie showed this to me, and I numbly mumbled something like “yeah, that’s nice—“ She said “no, LOOK at it, I think it’s oriented!”. I looked, the light-bulb blinked on, and I finally began appropriate salivation. Where do you go from here? This is an absolutely classic Sikhote, and a stunning meteorite in general!
(MT) What meteorites are currently on your wish list?
(NL) More bigger and better Tatahouines!
(MT) What methods have been most successful in building your collection? (Buying at shows, from dealers by mail, auctions on the web, trading... etc)
(NL) It’s been a mix. Our big buying spree is always the Tucson show, but we get contacts constantly from sellers who google us with tektite searches. We watch Ebay, and buy when things are cheaper than wholesale or are under-appreciated rarities. We’ve been in business sufficiently long that we have a good network of suppliers in place all over the world. Our loyal clients often tell us of opportunities.
“As far as we know, this is the biggest well-formed Lei Gong Mo dumbbell
in the world. It was reserved for us by one of our principal suppliers
who knew we would want it. Flawless, 411.7 gms.”
(MT) Do you also collect related materials like impact glasses, breccias, melts, tektites, shocked fossils, native iron rocks etc?
(NL) It will be clear to all discerning readers (and all who know us) that we are mostly about such related materials. Isn’t it ironic that the meteorite underworld (tektites) still harbors some of the biggest mysteries?
(MT) Do you prepare any of your own specimens? (cut, polish, etch, etc.)
(NL) We do cut a few meteorites and give most of our tektites the best cleaning they have had in 700 or 800 thousand years (some even experience a once-in-37 million year bath!).
(MT) Have you had to take any special measures to protect them from the environment?
(NL) Living in Nevada, we’re blessed by a relatively dry climate. We seem to get by just fine with everything out in the open. I have not noticed any significant deterioration with any of our specimens.