by Martin Horejsi of  Martin Horejsi's Meteorite and Tektite Books
An Article In Meteorite-Times Magazine

 

Leaving A Paper Trail:

According to John Burkesí book Cosmic Debris, Ernst Chladni started the first systematic meteorite collection in the early 1800s. This date does not just mark when people began to isolate meteorites from other things and placed them in positions of prominence, that has gone on for thousands of years, but rather when they were formally entered into the world of institutionalized, organized collectables along side art, minerals, fossils, memorabilia, and so on.
 

Today, as in the past, private estates often held possession of meteorites long before they landed in museums. Evidenced by the Ensisheim meteorite, documentation shows countless specimens were protected from the elements by caring hands. Even with the questionable origin of these stones, the humansí desired to be near these cosmic rocks caused families to pass them through centuries of generations of offspring.

In the early 1800s, there was no organized network of meteorite dealers and collectors (as if such exists today). Price, laws, competition and the ethics of personal ownership all played a role in the distribution of meteorites throughout collections around the world. The act of collecting brought with it two unwritten rules that still hold true today. First, there is the responsibility to maintain an identification system allowing any meteorite specimen to be identified as to what fall or find it is from. The second responsibility is to share that information as meteorites are passed from collection to collection. Although most collectors abide by these two unwritten rules, the manner and detail of the information about any given meteorite involved in an exchange ranges from slightly more than none to extensive.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



Many large meteorite collections have at one time or another published a catalog of their collection's inventory. These catalogs mark a moment in time for the collection as well as documenting the creation or progression of the collection. In most cases, the specimens in the collection are somehow numbered marking their exact position in the world of meteorites. When a larger collection consumes a smaller one, there is usually a note in future collection catalogs (or even a published updated catalog altogether) identifying the prior collection from where the meteorites came. Unfortunately, the passing of information rarely contains more than naming the collection immediately preceding adoption into its current family.

As systematic meteorite collecting enters its third century, it seems more important then ever to document as much as possible about the exchange of each specimen as it trades hands. This might sound like a daunting task to the dealers who buy, sell, exchange, donate, and discover meteorites as part of their daily activities, but the burden of responsibility should be shared between the dealer and collector. Understandably, many meteorite exchanges are rather secret affairs, sometimes rivaling the cloak-and-dagger spy games of the cold war. But even extreme secrecy is no excuse for not providing some documentation of the meteoriteís human history in addition to its type.



 

 

The humble specimen card:

The single most important element of a specimen card is of course, the name of the specimen. From that point on, all general information about the specimen can be found in catalogues or databases. But it is nice to see more on the card including the location (city, state, district, country, etc.), the classification with as much detail as possible including shock stage and weathering grade, the total known weight of the specimen, and the size and makeup of the specimen for which the card was written. Finally, the card should identify the source from which the specimen came from along with the date of transaction, and price or trade details. It is final bit of information that would allow a systematic inquiry into the specimenís travels around the globe as it moves from collection to collection.


 


 

Without surprise, historic specimen cards, especially from prestigious collections or research centers, increase a meteorite specimenís collection value. Cards from the 1800s are extremely rare as are those from the early 20th century. Cards from the American Meteorite Museum, American Meteorite Laboratory are valuable as well. Other cards from noted institutions May not increase the collection value of a specimen to an appreciable degree, but do add documentation of the specimenís authenticity as well as build the all-important paper trail for the future enthusiasts. Some specimen cards from large private collections have alone made the meteorite specimen a coveted one. The Ward Collection, the Monnig Collection, the Jim Dupont Collection, the Robert Haag Collection, and the Jim Schwade Collection come to mind.
 


 

Papers About Specific Meteorites:

When the Peekskill meteorite fell. It was an exciting time for meteorite enthusiasts because the focus of our extraterrestrial love affair was in the national news. For a while, newspapers carried reports about the fall and television played video of its atmospheric passage. But that was a decade ago and now seems like ancient history. Alan Lang was offering copies of the local newspaperís report on the fall with the specimens of Peekskill he was selling. Many of us got the newspapers, which at the time felt like an oversized piece of documentation. But as the Peekskill newspaper yellows with time, its importance as a piece of history becomes ever more clear.

There have been hundreds, if not thousands of articles written about specific meteorites. While many of these articles are in low-circulation journals or magazines, they serve as the original source of information about the fall, recovery, or analysis of a particular meteorite. Over the years, I have found dozens of historic articles in the discard piles at libraries, stacked on the shelves of used book stores, and hiding among more loftier titles in faculty offices at universities, most likely destined for the landfill when the instructor retires.
 


 


 


I believe it is now our responsibility as collectors to preserve these documents, but not in isolation, rather with representatives of the specimens they describe. Imagine having a meteorite specimen with collection cards and the original article describing its discovery on earth. One of the goals of meteorite collecting should to assemble those three elements in the same place at the same time. And also to pass all three elements along together for future generations to protect for a while, then on again.
 


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