by Martin Horejsi of Martin Horejsi's Meteorite and Tektite Books
An Article In Meteorite-Times Magazine
The Gentlemanly Art of Meteorite Collecting
Acquiring meteorites is easy. Collecting meteorites is an art.
In many ways, I consider my leap into the world of meteorite collecting to have occurred rather late in both my life and in the big picture overall. It was through somewhat ordinary channels that meteorites began to grace my shelves. Fossils, rocks, and space trinkets all set the collecting stage for what would arguably become an obsession. However, my early collecting of various natural history objects taught me the lessons of respect, patience, and appreciation for the materials and people with whom I encounter through my collecting activities.
A little over a decade ago my first meteorite, an etched end section of Mundrabillia, arrived in the mail from David New. I had purchased it for use in my classroom since I was teaching high school earth and space science, and it seemed a most appropriate way to offer a hands-on example for the planetary geology aspects of the course. While I certainly underestimated the magnitude of the ironís impact on my life when first inspecting the space rock, I did feel a certain excitement about it that had been absent in my fossil and mineral collecting.
At that time, there were only a few full-time meteorite dealers. They could be counted using just the fingers on one hand, or if counting dealers who specialize in minerals and fossils but carry a few meteorites as well, one hand plus a few more fingers on the other. Looking back at those days, collecting seemed such a peaceful experience. A meteorite listing would arrive in the mail. A phone call would be made. The new specimens would arrive a week later, all carefully packaged, and each meteorite paired with a nicely presented specimen card. Simple as that.
The phone calls to dealers were pleasant conversations mixing life and meteorites punctuated with pauses as the dealer dug out more specimens to put on the auditory table. Descriptions were thorough, and rarely was an advertised specimen unavailable. Patience was expected by both the dealer and the collector, and in fact, often deliberately taught by some of the dealers through various means.
It is my feeling that meteorite collecting should be a pleasant experience. One where regrets are few, and each new specimen is greeted with extensive inspection and appreciation. There should be time to research localities and collection distributions before buying a specimen. Trades would take place over time, and trust and respect would be built over years. In those days, many of the dealers were honest to a fault. If a specimen was ugly, or less than representative, that information was shared. Sometimes, when a specimenís price exceeded oneís expendable income, payment options could be worked out, or the choices could be narrowed following the trusted wisdom of the dealer.
I miss those days. Not so much for myself, but for those people new to the collecting arena. I have watched as meteorites are bought and sold in a state of panic. Those new to meteorite collecting will drop hundreds of dollars for a slice, only later, when the dust of business has settled, do they wonder what the 3 means in its classification. Iíve seen people new to meteorites struggle about what to collect given the phenomenal number of specimens available just a few keystrokes away. And I have watched as some long-time collectors succumb in frustration and throw in the collecting towel. For many reasons they walk away from years of meteorite collecting, but none having to do with the actual meteorites themselves.
Every other month or so, I get an email from someone unknown to me, no doubt my address plucked from the dozens of places it resides on the Internet, who wants advice about buying or selling a particular meteorite. Usually they are in a hurry and want my opinion immediately. Most of the time I ignore the request since the email does not directly address me, and contains a distant writing style hinting that the same email message was sent to many people at the same time. I wonder if the person inquiring about the meteorite really likes meteorites, or just the collecting of them?
My crystal ball does not show the future, only the translucence of silicon dioxide crystals. But if I had to venture a guess as to the future of meteorite collecting, Iíd say that we are headed for a renaissance of sorts. Some great things are happening for those with the perseverance to collect, but there is still more to come. As the reasons to collect meteorites become as diverse at those who collect them, and the pressures and confusion surrounding the collection of meteorites continues to overwhelm many who merely dip their toe into the meteorite waters, I predict a return to days past when it was a gentlemanís hobby. An elegant hobby where specimens were shared and collected for the sheer joy of their intellectual existence. I predict we will welcome new additions to otherís collections with less envy, and find collecting comfort even though we can never collect them all. Finally, I predict that the turmoil of meteorite pricing will settle down under the shear weight of principle. And a world will emerge where prices are secondary to the quality, and rarely would one wish to turn back the clock in search of a better deal.
As the events of the world grow ever more violent, and our impact on the planet ever more permanent, those of us who find solstice in our meteorite collections will need to slow down even more and take the time to stop and smell the Murchison.