A May 1831 Witnessed Fall: Vouillé, France
What a difference a zero can make.
-From a Buck a gram to a Bucket a gram-
This wonderful hand sample of the L6 veined chondrite named Vouillé, France landed in a vineyard as part of a single 20kg stone on May 13, 1831 at 11 at night, or May 14 at two in the morning.
In the Journals
I love French wines so a meteorite that fell in a French vineyard should be reason enough to enter a sample in my collection. From what I’ve read, there are five meteorites that fell in French vineyards with one being Vouillé. The other four are Salles (1798,) Apt (1803), Chassigny (1815), and Saint-Christophe-la-Chartreuse (1841). Interestingly, the dates of the all the French meteorites with the word "vineyard" in their fall description occurred within a 43 year period beginning over 200 years ago.
Although the vineyard connection seemed a good enough reason to acquire a piece of Vouillé, as I explored this trait, I discovered that not only was Vouillé in good company as a vineyard fall, but my collection already held a piece of Apt. Oh well, I’ll get Vouillé for no particular reason and hope for the best.
As the Vouillé fall story goes:
“In the night from the 13 to May 14, 1831, a bright bolide appeared in the sky near Poitiers. It was heading from the south to the north. Three explosions occurred. The next day, a farmer of the village of Vouillé discovered the meteorite in his vineyard.”
A fabulous chunk of L6 real estate. Two large cut faces offer the classic topography of type six chondrules in a sea of beige.
King of the Hill.
The distribution of Vouillé is rather lopsided. Of the 20kg recovered in the form of a single stone, over 14kg resides in the Natural History Museum in Paris. The second largest piece barely topping 1/28th of the size of the Paris specimen , or half a kilogram, is in the Field Museum in Chicago. The third largest is a 338g piece in the Arizona State University collection, and the Vatican rounds out 4th place with 240g. The list goes downhill fast from there with 209g in the Smithsonian collection, 153g in New York, 116g in Prague, and every other entry across the world including the Natural History Museum in London reports less than 100 grams. Some much less such as the 9g in the Max Planck Institute collection.
The more you look, the more you see.
With a limited range of contrast, large circles of less texture appear like the buildings of a city as the view changes when an airplane begins its decent toward landing.
A Brief History:
Near the end of the last century, a half-kilo fragment was traded out of the Paris Museum at an exchange value, I’m told, of something in the neighborhood of $10,000. Over time the specimen of Vouillé was reduced in size by its dealer/owner to a piece just over 300g.
The removed material entered many other collections including that of the famous Peter Marmet collection in Switzerland. There is no doubt that the ~200g of Vouillé removed from the original mass that entered the collection market reordered the distribution ranking, but the biggest collection numbers were the ones I was concerned with.
The specimen of Vouillé highlighted here resides in my collection. Its mass of 306g ranks it fourth largest in the world. Of course the Paris Museum could chop their 14+kg piece into 40 specimens of 350g each knocking my specimen into 44th place, but I doubt they would be so heartless. To the stone, I mean.
Not much metal is visible. However, there are ample brown spots of staining as the aggressive, moisture-rich atmosphere of earth attacks this peace-loving former resident of space.
The French Connection:
The circumstances of the fall of Vouillé go beyond the vineyard connection. They go beyond the French connection (pun intended). And they go beyond the reasonably low TKW connection. Vouillé fell in 1831. That’s 178 years ago! Only 32 short years from the coveted 1700’s from which all meteorites are revered.
The classification? Now that’s another story. If Vouillé were not listed as a veined chondrite, it would be the absolutely most common type of meteorite to fall; the humble L6.
Two fall dates and times are listed for Vouillé depending upon your source. But those to dates, May 13 and May 14 differ by only three hours; a degree of precision hardly of consequence almost 200 years ago.
While many pieces that come from museums carry authentic specimen labels, often it is only photocopies of the labels that accompany dissectioned pieces into the future. This fragment of Vouillé carried with it an original passport from its homeland(ing); the original specimen label from the Museum National d'Histoire Naturelle in Paris.
A royal treat. Original specimen labels from major institutions are are rarity now because many institutions refuse to provide them as event the specimen card is valuable to collectors, and can affect the exchange value of the transaction as well as provide another avenue for the unscrupulous.
Thrill of the Hunt.
As with much of my collection, when the Vouillé arrived, I enjoyed it form, its crust and its polished face for a while, then buried it my safe with many of its French brethren. Since the distribution of Vouillé is rather restricted, it rarely appears in multi-gram sizes on the sale list from dealers. But earlier this year, a specimen of Vouillé for sale did surface. To my surprise, the per-gram price was over a full magnitude more than I paid not too long ago.
I was used to price increases that double, triple and even quadruple through the years, but more than a 10-fold increase makes me pause. Now this kind of price jumping is not about micromounts (or nanomounts as the milligram-sized specimens should be named), it was with pieces in the 10's of grams.
Zagami made a brief but similar magnitude jump, but fell back to a single digit multiplier in price compared to mid 1990’s prices. Some NWA meteorites make magnitude jumps from dimes to dollars a gram, but the jump I’m talking about here is not from a buck a gram to ten, but instead ~$10/g to over ~$100/g.
|Playing with a meteorite in a size range more common to NWAs than historic European specimens, I am still surprised at this fellow's heft ever time I carefully remove it from is fireproof home.|
Sure, larger pieces often sell for less per gram than small pieces, and microscopic crumbs command psychotic prices when converted to a per-gram scale. In this example, however, there is not a corresponding magnitude change in specimen size. For example, the different between a 7g and a 70g is a magnitude, but one would not expect the 7g to cost more than 10 times as much per gram. The issue arises, of course, that if there is parity between size and price, every specimen would cost the same regardless of size: 7g at $100/g or 70g at $10/g. Either way you will have to spend $700.
As I arrive at this point in my article, it occurs to me that this case may not be so rare these days. In fact, another specimen comes to mind. One I purchased back a few years, I see pieces now offered for well over a magnitude, somewhere in the neighborhood of fifteen times the price I paid per gram. If playing the stock market, an eight percent return would take about nine years to double in value. What I’m working with here is a 15-fold increase in selling price in four years.
But, of course, in order to complete this analogy, one would have to sell the specimen, which I have no plans to do. So I guess in the end, the specimen is worthless as an monetary investment, but priceless as a focal point of meteorite collecting enjoyment.
Until next month…