by Martin Horejsi of Martin Horejsi's Meteorite and Tektite Books
An Article In Meteorite-Times Magazine
Historical Presence: The Joy of Micromounts
If one has several copies of a rare book, but one of the copies was missing some pages, and its condition was not as good as the other books, would it be appropriate to separate that book into its individual pages, and distribute those pages to collectors?
Yes it would, according to Russ Kempton of the New England Metetoritical Service, the world’s largest supplier of micromount meteorite specimens, as long as certain conditions are met. When this reasoning is applied to meteorites, the main condition to be met is that every effort must be made during the preparation of the specimen to keep the meteorite authenticatable. That means that when under laboratory scrutiny the specimen holds enough of its original character to be identified as an actual sample of the specific meteorite locality.
The life of a meteorite today is vastly different from that of even a generation ago. No longer do most pieces sold into collection bondage rival a floppy disk in size. Nor a coin in size for that matter. Today, the life expectancy of a reasonably sized meteorite specimen is much shorter when compared to pre-ebay days.
A 10-gram meteorite used to be an common target for many collectors. One paid only mild attention to the tenths position in the gram weight of the specimen. But then the one-gram meteorite became fashionable and knowing the tenths position was critical. And then the days of the leading zero arrived as sub-gram specimens entered the marketplace with a vengeance. Now specimens measured in hundredths and even thousandths of a gram litter the collecting countryside. And I place the blame squarely on ebay… and myself, of course.
Ebay offers a global advertising venue for anyone interested in selling meteorites. The title ‘meteorite dealer’ is no longer reserved for those thick-skinned, poker-faced individuals who can drop $10,000 or $20,000 on a new specimen knowing that the world of collectors will gobble up the slices in a profitable amount of time. Now, the meteorite dealers includes anyone with a few bucks and the gall to bust up a slice into tiny hybrid slice/fragments to be sold for price often less than the cost of shipping the specimen to the buyer.
The prospects for a meteorite in today’s collecting world are grim at best. Many of the latest generation of meteorite enthusiasts cut their collecting teeth on tiny fragments of both the rare stuff and common alike. Nowadays, a meteorite of reasonable size might sit on ebay for a week of undignified public scrutiny, patiently waiting for the jaws of the buyer-shark to slam shut. If lucky, the specimen will be swallowed whole. But fate might have it chewed into ever-smaller pieces, only to be sprinkled into ever-smaller aquariums upon which ever-smaller fish will feed.
But there is an upside to all these petite specimens as well. However, I suggest that the positive light be reserved for those specimens that can pass the test of history. Although recent meteorite discoveries do have their origins in the ancient solar system, their contact with human beings is a recent phenomenon. We collect meteorites for a myriad of reasons, but undoubtedly one of the main motivations is found with the meteorite’s connection to a vastly distant and old cosmic heritage that dwarfs most other elements of human existence. Now, compound that allure creating a synergy when the meteorite’s fall intersects the lives of people who lived centuries ago. Now you have the test of history.
In a collector’s reality, a micromount meteorite specimen offers little more than an authentic entry in a collection. Many micromounts lack sufficient detail to be a quality ambassador representing their home locality. In fact, they May not hold any visual appeal at all unless assisted by sophisticated optics. But aside from their diminutive size, a micromount’s existence, even as a somewhat symbolic member of a collection, May actually contain more significance than their scientific standing.
While the term "micromount" is somewhat non-specific when applied to meteorites, those who collect micromounted earthly specimens do hold rather precise expectations. If one were to acquire a terrestrial sample prepared as a micromount, the expected sample would be a properly labeled one-inch cubical plastic box containing a small mineral specimen permanently attached to a pedestal. Preparation of a micromount, in particular the mounting of the stone and the detail of the labeling, are considered an art by many who collect them.
Not long ago, I purchased many rare and historic micromounts from two collections. All in all, the 100 or so specimens were expensive, and if calculated in price per gram, most would easily exceed $100 with more eclectic members topping the $1000 per gram threshold, even if for only a crustless L6 fragment. But of course as micromounts, all the specimens fell short of a gram in mass, with most falling far short of that arbitrary quantity.
These specimens are not the usual run-of-the-mill ebay fodder simply broken off larger masses to make smaller specimens. Instead, one set of micromounts is from a former research collection from the former Soviet Union. And, many members of the other collection were lovingly prepared by Russ Kempton of the New England Meteoritical Service (www.meteorlab.com) who makes the deliberate effort to produce the highest quality micromounts through excellent preparation, and by having each micromount retain as much of the primary character of the particular meteorite locality as possible. Many of the specimens have polished faces, crust, and a large amount of surface area, especially given their negligible weight.
It is with these small specimens that I am able to gaze upon the actual material from whose dissection our current meteorite science is based. It is not with the North African specimens that we discovered the ages of meteorites, nor that most thunderstones began their journey to earth from the asteroid belt. We did not first learn from the Antarctic specimens that there were distinct differences between meteorites allowing us to group them according to their chemistry thus creating our classification schemes. However, it is with these now-historic specimens that the first meteoriticists probed using the most advanced technology of their day; ever so slowly deciphering the cosmic code buried within the meteorite’s geologic DNA to give us the foundations of the field known as meteoritics.
Beyond their cosmic origin, these meteorites are small time capsules spanning the past three centuries of human behavior. They come from countries all over the globe. War-torn cities, major metropolitan areas, unpronounceable geographies long erased from political maps. The specimen cards read like the pages of a comically outdated world history book. In addition to the three dimensions of space marking the physical point where the meteorite first met humanity, the fourth dimension of time was also recorded, not just in years, but also months, days and for some the hours and minutes.
Most of these precious stones are
from meteorite falls witnessed by people who died over a century before my
grandparents were born. The nameless witnesses saved these thunderstones, though
they knew little or nothing of their origin. Now I am holding the stones
wondering where they will be centuries into the future.
As meteorites are pulled from the
Sahara by the jeep-load, filling our collections with the rarest of the rare
types, it still holds true that no amount of new material can change the past.
These micromounts stare up at me like the eyes of distant generations. No longer
are they just mere combinations of mineral-forming atoms, but rather gifts from
the past. The historic meteorites declare that people were here, and they saw,
and they May have been scared, and they were excited, and most of all they
cared. The enshrined meteorites were saved to pass on to future generations.
Some came with stories, some with nothing more than a date and a place, and some
including Ensisheim and Weston stimulated notable quotes.
Now it is my turn to curate these
precious stones. When I am gone, they will land somewhere else on this planet as
they continue on their never-ending journey through space and time that all
started 4.6 billion years ago.