With smoke and the sound of a loud buzz saw, the
Andover, Maine meteorite fell 107 years ago in 1898
narrowly missing a person by less than eight meters!
A witness, Mr. Lincoln Dressern of Andover, Maine, described the fall:
"It was in intense heat when it struck a stone in the wall, grazing the stone. In its fall it passed down through the branches of an elm tree, cutting many of them off as clearly as if done by a sharp knife.
I supposed at the time it was a gaseous ball of fire, and thought it exploded, but after examination I found where it imbedded itself in the earth to the depth of 2 1/2 feet. "
As the most common stone meteorite type there is, an L6 chondrite, Andover could have easily flown under the radar of those collectors with an eye for more exotic classes. But for those like myself who search specifically for rare historic falls, and especially meteorites that have hit things. Even if only colliding with a tree and stone wall, the extemely low distribution of this stone, along with its 3.18kg total known weight made this crusted slice an especially welcome addition to my collection.
The Fine Print
Meteorites are a curiosity to all, and a passion for many. But beyond the fundamental drive to collect, what really keeps the enthusiast excited about collecting meteorites year after year? For most experienced collectors it may be one of psychology. Applying self-imposed boundaries to one's collecting practices provides continuity and direction as the physical, financial, and time constraints authenticate the unreality of attempting to amass one-of-everything. However, for those not yet at the point in their collecting where personal parameters seem necessary, the time will come just as it must for those who surround themselves with coins, art, cars, or fossils.
This installment of the Accretion Desk is an account of what changed with my collecting over the past few years. I think this is a worthy topic as many seasoned meteorite collectors I talk with express specific, often very specific, areas of concentration upon which they now focus their collecting, usually at the exclusion of everything else in the universe. Others, however, still wander the cosmic wilderness dressing their collection in the latest fashions of the marketplace. But if one can define and enforce their own collecting constraints, excitement and a rare pleasant stress result as organic codes deeply buried in the fragile bonds of DNA spring to life. The personal parameters of a collection keep the collector staring ahead in the single-minded quest for the next specimen even before the one just purchased arrives in the mail.
What's not rare about this one? Bialystok, Poland fell
on October 5th, 1827, a mere decade or so before science
even accepted meteorites as stones from the stars.
Bialystok is a howardite achondrite, one of the rarest
classes, and only 4kg of material was ever recovered. Of
the 11 witnessed falls of howardites, Bialystok is the
If you look closely at the above picture, you will notice a wonderful ridgeline of once-liquid fusion crust running roughly north to south across the dark continent.
A wonderful written documetary of this fall can be found in the May 1995 issue of Meteorite! Magazine. So little material of Bialystok is preserved in collections today, that this richly crusted fragment weighs more than the combine total of all the pieces in Poland!
The specimen label numbered 1032/3 is from the Natural History Museum at Humboldt University in Berlin. I am told that this very piece is referenced in the "Gesamtkatalog der in der Deutschen Demokratischen Republik vorhandenen Meteorite" by Günter Hoppe, issued in Wissenschaftliche Zeitschrift der Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Math.-Nat. R. XXIV (1975) 4, 521pp.
As a further disclaimer to this textual train you are about to board, I do believe that the collecting arena today is vastly different than that of even five years ago, and to avoid meteorite burnout one must react accordingly. Although meteorite collecting as a leisure activity has a history spanning 20 decades, it is the events of the most recent decade that have engulfed the collector in a world rich with meteoric opportunities never before imagined, and thus never before dealt with. The main changes that powered a literal soul-searching by the collector are obvious to any meteorite enthusiast who rode this train of thunderstones into the new millennium. The forces include the Internet, eBay, the hot deserts, and of course the synergistic effect the previously mentioned three influences have had on meteorite dealership.
The Good Old Days Are Gone
Many of us like to reminisce about the “good old days” where a monthly mailing from one of a small handful of dealers was the main portal through which our collections grew. We also collected through a time devoid of hot desert specimens, and the few rare achondrites for sale were often the same usual suspects. As the hot desert stones began their march out of Africa in astonishing numbers, we watched in horror or glee (depending upon the content of your collection) as some prices spiraled out of control through the stratosphere while others nose-dived to pennies a gram. Individual specimen weights for stones went from easy to mail, to requiring FOB shipping. Larger irons, once limited to a few select locations, were now joined by strewnfields of colossal proportions completely overwhelming any sense of the scope or magnitude of what is or will be available.
At 8:00 in the morning on September 5th in the year
1854, a single stone of 1.8kg fell from the sky onto
Linum, Germany. Although an ordinary L6, the location,
date of fall, low TKW, and crusted part slice make this
an important contribution to any collection.
Such a stunning German slice is made even more special since it once resided in the collection of the famous German meteorite collector Walter Zeitschel. For more information on Mr. Zeitschel, when you finish the article about Bialystok, you can also read about Zeitschel in the same May 1995 issue of Meteorite! Magazine.
Happiness Is Not A Warm Chondrite
For some, their collecting activities were driven into submission if not extinction by the pressures of a collecting environment filled with an ever-growing number of unknowns. Still others, after joining online meteorite communities swore off the sport when the darker side of humanity seeped into both verbal and material exchanges. And more than a few, myself included, succumbed to the overwhelmingly complicated maintenance of managing a collection of tentatively named, tentatively paired, tentatively known weights, tentatively acquired, and tentatively classified material flooding the market.
I have spoke to many collectors who dove headfirst into hot desert meteorites only to find their collecting resources expired long before there was any sign of a supply shortage. Of course there is nothing about an NWA specimen that makes it any less valuable as a meteorite, but to a collection without defined boundaries, NWA stones are a drug to which one can become addicted. Then, like many addictions, depression and confusion follow especially when the influx of cheaper, bigger, and better looking material arrives by the bucket load and poured onto the sale tables even before the credit card bill comes due for recently purchased “hot deals”. More than a few collectors who had dreams of someday reaping the financial rewards by selling once-rare NWA meteorites were rudely awaken by a world with a completely contrary economic appreciation of hot desert meteorites. And thus the soul-searching.
More than half a century ago, less than 5kg of Monte das
Fortes, an L5 chondrite fell in Beja, Portugal. While
not as historic as other stones featured in this
article, it does carry plenty of collection importance
due to his status as a witnessed fall, the first of
Portugal's two indentified chondrites, and a TKW of only
Adding one more element of collection importance to this
crusted slice of Monte das Fortes is that one corner
carries a specimen number from the famous Jim DuPont
To be a happy meteorite collector, one must find personal enjoyment in both the pursuit of new material and the appreciation of the specimens already in the cabinet. Assorted stories circulate in meteorite collecting history often centering on the unfortunate demise of a collector. As the story goes, when a postmortem examination was made of the collection, it was found to be in such disarray that more than a few once-identified specimens became and remain unknown meteorites. Further still, it was not unusual to find unopened packages containing meteorites, both of past and recent purchases. It would appear in those cases that the collector was far more interested in the hunt than the kill.
So how does one choose and employ personal collecting boundaries designed to provide purpose and stability to meteorite collecting, and of course enjoyment for the collector? Well, that is for you to decide. But for me, it was a journey I needed to take.
Like most collectors of decades past, I could comfortably collect one-of-everything. At that time it was not hard because, first of all, there were not all that many meteorites available for purchase, and second, “everything” was a much smaller concept. When the Labenne's started offering the first mainstream hot desert stones, I was at the front of the line to buy and trade for this paradigm shift in meteorite ownership. The packages arrived almost monthly from France containing big stones, rare classes, stunning breccias, and “main masses.” All of this was possible because of the internet and email.
Pictures and descriptions flew in and out of my email box and
the specimens began to pile up. I should have learned my lesson
early when there appeared to be no bottom to the well from which
the Labenne's were pulling up specimens. But I didn't. I should
have learned my lesson when there seemed to be an unlimited
supply of the amazing and almost incomprehensibly rare EH3. But
I didn't. I should have learned my lesson when “main masses”
were sold for grams per dollar rather than the other way around.
But I didn't. I should have learned my lesson when battles over
pairings, TKWs, and discovery coordinates erupted online. But I
didn't. And I should have learned my lesson when the pieces just
kept getting bigger and cheaper. But I didn't.
Mern, Denmark is not a name collectors come across
often. Less than 5kg of Mern fell in 1878 making it
highly desirable on my collecting radar.
Further, this specimen, as evidenced with the specimen
card pictured below, is from not only the J. M. Dupont
Meteorite Collection, but DuPont credits is acquitision
from someone named Bally and the source as BMS with
number 8242/2 exchanged completeld on October 29,
1981--over 100 years after the fall of Mern. I suspect
that BMS is the British Museum (London), but the history
of this specimen's past needs more detective work. Any
ideas out there?
What caused the change my collecting habits? At first it was
a simple thing: with many new specimens, I had no idea what
to enter into my once-detailed collection catalog. I began
to hesitate on the purchase of a meteorite if it did not
have a name or class that could be used to organize the
piece into my collection listing. I had plenty of
hand-specimens for teaching, plenty of large individuals
sitting on shelves, and even piles of small individual
stones and irons offering a dizzying array of shapes and
features. So what was the purpose of adding more to my
collection, especially if the piece had no name or
classification? I quickly realized that for me there was no
purpose. To me, it seemed pointless to add more unclassified
material to my collection even given my liberal collecting
Like sliding down an icy mountain slope, I quickly gained speed stretching the yardstick of “purpose” over all past and future meteorite dealings. I immediately drew the line on most NWA pieces essentially blocking them from my collecting radar. Slowly I added more meteorites to my blacklist until collecting again was more of a hunt than a slaughter. I felt back in the game.
In 1939, a scant 1.59kg of H5 chondrite fell on Java, Indonesia. The meteorite named Selakopi could possibly be paired to another Indonesian fall on the same day and named Glanggang. But even if Selakopi and Glangang are from the same meteorite fall, the TKW of Glanggang at 1.3kg would still keep the combined TKW of this event well under 3kg!
The piece of Selakopi I was able to enter into my
collection catalog is completely and thickly crusted
on one entire cornered side, and the other side,
pictured below, shows the highly contrasting
For the briefest of moments, I thought my draconian boundaries, would force my collecting to the point where adding a new locality would be a rare event worthy of celebration. I was wrong. It felt like meteorites that met my restrictive standards were everywhere. It was just that their effective cosmic camouflage, no doubt a key to their survival throughout recent centuries, was found in their smaller size, obscure names, common classifications, and of course high prices. There was plenty of fine material to be had even when applying my rigorous self-imposed regulations that often excluded all but 100+ year old witnessed falls, sub-10kg total known weights, museum numbers and documentation, or meteorites that have hit things. Even when I lowered my desired TKW limit to 5kg, then to 1kg, I was still able to acquire specimens for my collection.
Historic falls from the United States are much harder to
come by today then even 10 years ago. So highly desired
by collectors that when a rare treat such as this slice
of Blackwell, Oklahoma came along, I quickly captured
the slice for my collection, and only then sat back and
savored the experience.
Blackwell fell in 1906, and only a single 2.38kg stone was recovered. Blackwell, in classic meteorite stereotyping served as a doorstop for more than quarter century before being elevated to its proper stature.
Further adding to the US history of this slice is fact it passed through the famous J. M. DuPont Meteorite Collection on its way to me. Even more, I belive the painted specimen number gracing the thumbprinted edge of crust on this slice is from the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. I did not see Blackwell referenced in the AMNH meteorite collection catalog, but the one I was reading was the C. A. Reed 1935 edition. Then I realized that at the time of publication, the Blackwell meteorite was still back in Oklahoma holding open a door.
The Great Purge
I often played a game asking myself what would I keep if I had to reduce my collection to the top 100 pieces, or even the top 10 pieces. First I realized that the number of specimens was not the issue, but instead whether the specimen had an exceptional value or important place in my collection. Sure, I could list a handful of significant pieces, but instead I want all my meteorites to be important. Quickly I discovered that the collection would guide its own development if I would just listen to the specimens.
So with a wave of my hand in what I can only describe as “The Great Purge,” I exorcized my collection of some 500 meteorites including almost all non-falls, almost all sub-gram specimens, and almost all recent discoveries whether falls or finds. What I quickly learned is what most people already knew who have disposed of a substantial numbers of specimens in a short time, namely that the desirable pieces fly out the door, but well distributed meteorites and hot desert stones just gather dust. Luckily I was able to exchange many of the remaining pieces for something I could either sell, trade, or insert into my collection. Finally I was free of three-fourths of my entire collection! It was a liberating experience, but one hard to describe to collectors who measure collection stature by sheer volume because my collection was now at about 200 locations and falling.
Diogenite falls are extremely hard to add to a
collection. Not only are there only 10 witnessed
diogenite falls, but of those 10, only two yielded more
than 5kg of material. And almost a third provided less
than 1000 grams, usually much less.
The Ibbenburen, Germany diogenite, pictured above, has a
2kg total known weight. Its 1870 fall date makes
Ibbenburen the third known witnessed fall of a
diogenite. Further, crust on any diogenite is always a
I Can See Trees In The Forest
As the repurposing of my collection was progressing nicely, I stumbled into a gold mine. No, rather I found myself in a gold minefield! Between the selling of several major meteorite collections, and my growing reputation for purchasing and trading for rare, expensive stones, there was still way more material than I could ever afford. As I pondered what material I wanted to add to my collection, I began to measure it against what I already owned. Then I started pulling out some desirable pieces from my collection in order to exchange them somehow for even better, even more desirable pieces. Very quickly I purged my collection of almost all dead weight. Except for a very few pieces that hold special personal significance, every piece in my collection is an important contributor being a witnessed fall, a historic meteorite, a rare class, a type-specimen, a very low TKW, a "hammer" (as Michael Blood likes to call them), or in many cases, all of the above. I do still have some finds in my collection, but at last count, the number was less than 10.
Collecting has never been so much fun for me! Each piece in my collection has a story, a collection history, and both an intrinsic and extrinsic value. But still, there are a surprising number of meteorites out there in the marketplace that fit my extremely narrow collecting parameters. Which, of course leads me to the next level of meteorite collecting: the terminal specimen.
End Of Days?
Back in 2002, shortly after The Meteorite Times started, I wrote a column about the Eagles Nest brachinite of which I owned a complete slice of this painfully rare oriented achondrite. Few collections even held a sample of Eagles Nest let alone a complete slice taken from right through the middle of the single stone. At that time, I contemplated what would constitute a “Terminal Specimen.” By "terminal" I was asking what meteorite would effectively end the process of collecting given that it alone was so great that its mere ownership eclipsed the desire to collect any further. There is no terminal specimen yet in my collection, but the thought seems closer to home than ever before. I have also reconsidered the concept of “Terminal” to mean more of a collection-defining piece rather than the end-all specimen. So should a terminal specimen enter my collection, it will not stop my acquisition of new material, merely provide me more free time since I would not have to keep up a vigilant search for rare meteorites anymore. I could just wait for the wonderful specimens to find me.
In 1942, almost exactly half a century before the famous
fall of Mbale, an L6 chondrite fell in Maziba, Uganda.
But in contrast to the hundreds of Mbale individuals
totaling over 100kg, only a single 4.975kg stone of
This thick corner slice of Maziba is well covered with fresh crust, and its bright interior offers shiny metal inclusions. This specimen shows no signs of weathering as it was curated with love in the meteorite collection of Texas Christian University prior to passing through other hands before reaching me earlier this year.
Today my collection represents about 250 locations of which over 96% are falls. Not a large number by many standards, but one I am comfortable with. Providing much of the pleasure of meteorite collecting for me right now is that my small collection has a historical depth running deeper than I ever dreamed. Once again, I feel satisfied with my collection and my collecting choices. But this contentment did not arrive without a price, and for me, the price was paid in the currency of years of unfocused collecting.
How rare is rare? While not a large piece, this crusted corner fragment of Karewar cannot get a whole lot bigger since only 180 grams of it fell as a single stone in 1949. The ground must have been soft because reports of the fall described the stone as penetrating the ground to a depth of one meter.
This wonderful piece of Nigerian meteorite history is complete with a large chondrule visible in the cut face, and a painted collection number likely from the Kaduna Museum from where it originally came from.
Nigeria is home to many famous meteorites including Uwet, Mayo Belwa, Gujba and Zagami. Four of the 14 known meteorites from Nigeria are sub-kilogram witnessed falls, and Karewar holds the Nigerian record for the smallest TKW of any of its peers!
A Piece Of Peace.
I have always said that collecting meteorites is not for the faint-of-heart. The science is overwhelming, the classification system is confusing, the prices can be astronomical, and the supply is questionable at best. But once able to surmount the challenges of collecting meteorites, one is embraced by a rare moment where the myths, magic and mechanics of the solar system unite in one instant of space-time; an instant you can hold in your hand.