An Article In Meteorite-Times Magazine
We could not think of a better person to have as this month's Meteorite Person of the Month
and from your emails neither could you so we are re-running our July 2002 interview with Joel Schiff.
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 Joel Schiff of METEORITE Magazine.
How did a good ol’ California boy like you end up in New Zealand?
Well, I had spent 8 years at UCLA (7 studying, 1 teaching), and just felt it was time for a change. So when I read an advertisement for a job at the University of Auckland, I gave it a shot and the next thing I knew, I was being interviewed at LA airport for the position. That was 30 years ago, and New Zealand turned out to be a rather nice place, so I ended up staying.
Tell us how you started up Meteorite magazine?
It was 1994 and I had just finished 5 years working on a book in a rather arcane field of mathematics. Suddenly I had all this free time on my hands, evenings, weekends, holidays which I hadn’t experienced for years. Since I was interested in meteorites at the time, I thought why not start up a magazine on the subject. I had visions of me lying in bed reading all these interesting meteorite articles and my family taking care of all the rest!
To get it off the ground, I sent out about 300 letters to meteorite authors, scientists, museum curators, and dealers. There was enough response to get us going with people like O. Richard Norton, Roy Gallant, Russ Kempton, and Phil Bagnall being especially supportive with written material. In fact, Phil had a former meteorite publication, Impact!, and we were able to use his mailing list to help us get subscribers. Many of those people are still with us.
Richard Norton’s book, Rocks From Space, had just been published, and I wrote a very favourable review of it in our first issue (February 1995). We have become close friends ever since. Richard did me the honor of letting me play a small role in his latest opus, The Cambridge Encyclopaedia of Meteorites, and of course he now writes our Centerpiece feature in each issue and is our contributing editor.
Has the magazine changed much over the years?
Indeed it has! Every year we seemed to publish more and more articles so that it is now up to 44 pages per issue, which is our maximum postal weight limit. We’ve also added color due to a donation from Darryl Pitt of the Macovich Collection. Because we are publishing 10 -12 articles each time, we try to have something to cater for a diverse spread of interests and levels of knowledge. And that vision of me lying in bed at night just reading articles was shattered long ago! Sometimes I will correspond with an author a dozen times before their article is ready for publication. And now we have on the staff a permanent translator (Sally Sutton) who reads French, German and Italian, of course Richard, as well as two scientific advisors, Alan Rubin of UCLA and Kathy Campbell of Auckland University.
Who mainly are your subscribers?
For the most part they are meteorite enthusiasts like myself, from the USA, Europe, Japan, Russia, and even places like Tierra del Fuego and Iceland. We also have various other subscribers who are scientists from NASA, the Smithsonian, or even the Vatican, so we try to take special care to make sure everything is as correct as possible. But we do keep the level accessible to the typical amateur who form the majority of our subscribers.
What was your first meteorite?
My first meteorite was a little two square cm slab of Estacado (H6). It had a very dark matrix with lots of metal flakes. When I first saw it, it was love at first sight. Naturally, the rest of my family were not so excited about this little black blob of stone as I was.
Do you still have it?
Of course I still have it in my collection. In fact, I never trade meteorites. There have been several visitors who have found their way down to New Zealand (turn left at Hawaii), and when I show them my meteorites they want to get their hands on my Millbillillie or some others. But all these meteorites are my friends. I’ve lived with them for years and we’re growing old together. Years ago they lived in the asteroid belt, but now they live in Auckland, New Zealand.
Do you have special areas of interest that you focus on in regards to meteorites (thin sections, photography, chemistry, age dating. etc)?
I like every aspect of meteorite
science, but what I really want to get is a suitable microscope so that I can
study thin sections more properly. I have a few thin sections already but I have
to take them to the university to view them properly. I hope on my next trip to
Tucson to have a serious look at microscopes.
Does your family share in your interest in meteorites?
My family has been very supportive ever since I started up Meteorite 8 years ago. They all know a little bit about the subject because the whole house is oozing with meteorite books, photos, back issues of our magazine, meteorites and meteorite visitors. My son also does the layout of each issue since he has a very artistic talent for this, my wife does the financial side which is highly convoluted and beyond my comprehension, and my daughter handles the distribution side of things. So probably, “Lumbered with my interest in meteorites” is a more appropriate expression.
Do you have any special approaches to collecting?
Yes. If I can afford it and I don’t already have it, buy it. But sadly, I’m restrained by mortgages – and the other usual constraints. However, one of my greatest pleasures when I first started collecting was looking through one of Bob Haag’s color catalogues. I must have sat in bed and read it through at least 50 times. Every meteorite was so stunning and I could dream, if only... But none were for sale – this was just his private collection – so I did not really feel so bad that I could not afford any.
Do you mind saying how many locations your collection represents?
I have only Maybe 40 locations. It is not such a big collection, but it makes me happy.