Geoff Notkin Star of the hit television series “Meteorite Men” is once again working with Heritage Auctions Nature and Science Department on the Geoff Notkin Collection Auction Part Two. Geoff has traveled far and wide on Earth in search of space rocks. Geoff has amassed a fantastic collection of meteorites and related items. Many of these wondrous natural treasures are being offered in an upcoming sequel to last year’s auction.
The Geoff Notkin Collection Part 2 Nature & Science Signature® Auction #8116 is open for bids now. The actual live auction will take place 12:00 PM Central Time, Saturday, July 22, 2023. (Proxy bidding ends ten minutes prior to the session start time. Live Proxy bidding on Heritage Live starts 7 days before the live session begins and continues through the session.)
To view the entire Notkin collection please use this link ha.com/notkin
Use this direct link to the entire auction catalog, which is now available both as a flip book and a downloadable PDF https://bit.ly/notkincatalog23
Meteorite photographs imaged by Heritage Auctions
Interview With Geoff Notkin
By James Tobin
My Interview with Geoff Notkin was the last fun thing that happened on a recent trip I took around the Midwest. I had my digital voice recorder with me to make transcribing the interview easier. As we began the interview Geoff had pages of a piece he had written there on hand. We discussed him reading that piece or just getting into an interview. As it turned out, we just began to chat. Me mostly enjoying the time listening to Geoff speak about the what and why of the second Notkin Meteorite Collection auction.
Geoff: It is just a piece I wrote about my motivation for doing the second auction and my interest in living a more planet-friendly life, so maybe we can ease into that. We don’t have to use it. I was just trying to articulate the core of it.
Jim: Well, let’s just talk about some of that. I know you wanna make some more donations with proceeds from this auction. Where are you at right now? It seems like this is kind of an in-between time for you.
Geoff: Yes, well, geographically, I’m in a small town in New Mexico, and career-wise and emotionally, I feel like I’ve arrived at a happy crossroads in my life. It reminds me of the time many years ago when I left New York and moved to Tucson. Occasionally we get these opportunities in our lives where we can execute something of a reset. We have either time or perhaps a little extra income, an opportunity to move, and a certain freeing up of responsibilities. That’s where I am. When I left Tucson to move to New Mexico, it was intended to be temporary. I’ve had a long relationship with New Mexico. I first visited the state when I was 10 years old on an adventure holiday with my parents. The same trip that I first visited Arizona. I have a lot of friends in the state. I really enjoy the art scene in Santa Fe, the culture, and the landscape in New Mexico. So I decided to live in a smaller town for a while to see what it was like. And part of doing that necessitated simplifying my life. I’ve been a collector since I was a little boy. I’ve obviously collected meteorites but also rocks, and fossils, and books, and records, and film, movie and television memorabilia. I really had the collector bug, and my parents did not. Neither of my parents had the collector gene. My brother does not have the collector gene. I don’t know where it came from, but it manifested itself very prominently in me. And I have relished this life of searching for unusual things, not just meteorites but the other things that interest me, including rare books and historic and military memorabilia. But in recent years, not only have I stopped collecting the way I used to, but I have made a conscious decision to let go of a lot of the material objects that I had. That included well over half of my library that I had been building since I was very young. I have always been an avid reader, although when I was a young boy, I was typically reading things like field guides to prospecting and the Collins Guide to Fossils in Color, spelled C-O-L-O-U-R because it was an English book. And my parents, especially my mother, always seemed to be concerned that I was reading technical books, handbooks on mining and mineral identification in the field, or comics. Not what we would today call young adult literature. No disrespect, but I just wasn’t interested in that. It was either technical science books or comics, and it seemed like there was nothing in between.
Related to that, I’ve also let go of my comic collection. That was sold at auction last year in addition to the first part of my meteorite collection. And I’m really deeply surprised when I look back at the experience. I feel quite good about it. I don’t look back in anguish much and go, “Oh, I can’t believe I let go of that meteorite or that comic book.” Because let’s face it, if you’re a lifelong collector and you have multiple collections, most of the things that you have you don’t see on a regular basis. Comic books are in their mylar bags and their long white boxes on their shelves above ground in case there’s a flood, And we display meteorites and fossils as best we can. Jim, you noticed when you came in here into my little house in New Mexico that I have quite a few ammonites out, most of which I found, on shelves. I’m not worried if a little dust gets on an ammonite, but I am worried if dust gets on a delicate meteorite slice that’s been carefully prepared in the lab. So there comes this question. What happens to the collection? Is it OK to leave it sealed up in boxes? In some cases, perhaps with some people in a safe or in a vault, or in a climate-controlled storage area. I didn’t want to do that anymore.
I’ve had the experience, and perhaps you have too, where you go to a small museum or a reference collection and you wanna see a particular piece. First of all, you discover it is not on display. Then in a couple of cases, I’ve had the experience where they didn’t actually know where it was. “Well, we know we have it because we have a reference card for it.” But this is my greatest fear with a collection that is of great personal value to me and some scientific and historic value as well. That it would get lost, and I don’t mean lost like a ship in the North Atlantic without any power. I mean, it would end up in a basement somewhere at a university or larger museum. They were truly grateful to have it but don’t have the room to display it properly and perhaps not even the resources to curate properly. And I just couldn’t bear to think of that happening to the collection.
So I reached this point in my life where I just want to leave a lighter footprint on the Earth. And I mean that all across the board, from carbon emissions to social media. I personally have seen a really large part of our planet, and I’ve seen it on foot, by canoe, on horseback, camel, mountain bike, dirt bike, ATV, 4 wheel drive truck. You name it! Even amphibious vehicles in ‘Meteorite Men’; trains, helicopters, and every kind of airplane you can think of.
And the wild places that I’ve been to have welcomed me and a couple of times tried to kill me, but I don’t think that was personal. Over the decades of adventuring, I have noticed an undeniable change in the wilderness places that I visit. A cute little desert outpost that I once knew is now full of tourists and fancy hotels. When I first visited Chile with Steve Arnold in the 1990s, we wanted to hunt the Atacama desert. The only place that we could rent an off-road vehicle was in Santiago in Southern Chile. Meaning we had to make the excruciatingly long drive from there to Antofagasta in the north, where we refueled and got some supplies. Then we went on to hunting sites like La Pampa and Imilac.
Today Antofagasta in the north is a modern town with modern hotels and modern car rental places and everything that comes with that. It was a shocking change for me. It’s a lovely town. I don’t dislike the town, but I really noticed the change. It didn’t seem like a sleepy little authentic place anymore. It was a place that had been discovered by tourism and commerce. Now I have to be honest and say I’m a tech guy myself and a world traveler, and I’ve benefited from the Internet and Blu-ray discs and digital photography and mapping software and all the rest of it. I don’t necessarily bemoan progress, but I do believe that it comes at a significant cost. I’ve seen with my own eyes how the wild places that I love are eroding away, and lands that used to be rich in wildlife have now been replaced by miles and miles of gated communities. I believe this happens because there are too many people on Earth, and many of them don’t care about the impacts that they make. I’m guilty of this, too I’ve been part of it. I’ve taken jet airliners all over the world, and I’ve burned gasoline and used tractors to excavate meteorites. But I also tried to make good afterward. You’ve heard me talk about this before, Jim, I’m sure. When I’m in the field searching for meteorites or looking for fossils, or even just hiking, not only do I pack out my own trash, but I pack out other people’s trash. I have a need to leave the place better than I found it. And I have numerous times been to the Burning Man festival in Nevada and one of their mottos is “leave no trace.” I really felt that way already, I had that instinct, but the Burning Man philosophy distilled it for me.
But I also feel it’s not enough to just tidy up after yourself. We’ve tipped the scale really far, we humans, and just cleaning up your own impact on the environment is not enough. I feel we have to undo some of the damage that has been done, and that may involve using less, consuming less, burning less gas, eating more responsibly, and showing more care for the other creatures that live on the Earth with us and the Earth itself. So those ideas are part of my life now, and selling my collection and donating some of the proceeds to charities and nonprofits and doing tangible things like planting trees, creating micro-environments that are homes for birds, and trying to live a more sustainable life are as important to me as meteorite hunting. If we were to cover all the empty places of the Earth with tarmac, then there would not be anywhere left to hunt for meteorites. I realized that a lot of the things that are most beneficial in life don’t cost anything: spending time with friends, spending time with family, reading a good book, and planting a tree. It doesn’t cost anything to collect mesquite pods or desert willow pods and germinate them, care for them, and plant them in your garden or in the wild. What would it be like if everybody in America planted one tree or if everybody planted 10 trees? It would be an astonishing change in the environment. So these positive steps are very much within our reach, and I feel that the idea of reducing my footprint on the Earth, selling my collection, and becoming more involved in caring for wildlife and the environment all go hand in hand. It’s a happy change because these meteorites are gonna go to people who are happy. They’re gonna be happy to receive them in the same way I was happy to receive them or happy to find them. So in a small way, joy is being transmitted to other collectors. But for me, the bigger picture is my material impact on the Earth is smaller, and hopefully, the beneficial impact is larger.
Related to that, in the auction we did last year, I donated to two charities that I really care deeply about, Beads of Courage and Texas Through Time. This year it’s six charities, so we’re keeping the same two, but we also added four more. Those are Earthlings Hub which is a group that rescues orphans from Ukraine displaced by the war and treats and cares for kids who have PTSD and who’ve had terrifying experiences in the war zone. And Keepers of Wildlife which is an American nonprofit based in Arizona that rescues and cares for exotic animals that have been, in some cases, illegally owned or mistreated and then abandoned. So the people who have kept tigers and lions and bears as pets and realize you’re not supposed to do that. They sometimes abandon these animals and leave them in terrible condition, so Keepers of Wildlife rescues these animals, treats them, rehabilitates them, and gives them a happy life in safe and spacious environments. Then there is the Association of Applied Paleontological Sciences or AAPS, as we fondly refer to it. And I know Jim that you’re well aware of this organization. I’ve been a professional member for 25 years. This is an organization that’s very near and dear to my heart. They are experienced professional and, in large part, commercial paleontologists who work to foster good relations between academia and commercial and private collectors. It’s so important, so terribly important, that we do this. We’ve seen what happens when certain parties exercise, in my opinion, too much elitist power, which results in the banning, for example, of collecting vertebrate fossils on public and government lands in the United States. That’s just a mistake.
Many of the greatest discoveries in paleontology and meteoritics and astronomy and many other fields have been made by devoted enthusiastic, caring amateurs. To shut that down and say,”No fossil collecting or meteorite collecting! It is only the purview of a tiny sliver of academia,” is a really bad mistake. It’s elitist, it’s close-minded, but it’s also impractical because academia doesn’t have the funds to do all of the collecting and finding that can be done. When responsible amateurs or commercial interests are allowed to go out and search for things, they make great discoveries, and when they behave ethically, part of those discoveries are turned over to academia anyway, so everybody benefits. I’m a very passionate supporter of this concept, and we don’t want what’s happened in paleontology to happen in meteorite collecting, where an element moves in and says “We’re going to regulate this collecting because ordinary people shouldn’t be able to have the pleasure of going out and looking for things.” That’s just wrong.
Jim: The idea to do that has been around for a long time. Science oftentimes would only have the materials to work on because amateurs went out and did the on-the-ground leg work to obtain the specimens. Scientists often can’t leave their classrooms and their laboratories to go out to find any of these materials. Hunting and recovering the materials requires a skill set very different from that of a laboratory.
Geoff: I definitely agree with you, but I just wanna say this very clearly: I am not talking about anybody in meteorite science. We have the best possible relationships with many or virtually all of the prominent meteorite scientists. We’ve at least had the pleasure of meeting them, and in many cases, since we work very closely with them, these people are friends and colleagues. They appreciate the importance of what we do. We appreciate the expertise and unique knowledge, and capabilities that they have. So the meteorite field is a tremendous example of how private and commercial interests work together with academia. We go out and look for meteorites. When we find something that’s important, of course, we donate part of it to one of our colleagues. We want it to be classified, we want it to go into the literature, and we want them to be able to do their research work so everybody benefits. It’s so clearly a no-brainer that it isn’t even really a topic for argument, and we’re very fortunate to be in a field where our research and academic colleagues not only get that but enthusiastically support it.
Jim: It really does work very well with meteorites. It would be nice to see that kind of cooperation in some of the other areas.
Geoff: We actually set a good example. And I fully appreciate that there are certain very important sites, the Burgess Shale in Canada, for example, that do need to be regulated and protected, and I fully and enthusiastically support the Australian Park Service for turning the Henbury craters into a preserve. We don’t want people going and digging into the side of the craters with shovels. You need to respect these wonderful sites, but there’s also a way to do it, and that way is not a blanket ban on collecting.
So that’s one of the reasons I’m such a passionate supporter of the AAPS and also because they fund paleontology scholarships for students. So it’s not just about policy. It’s about helping the next generation of paleontologists get on the road and hopefully get on the right road, so if we are supporting these young paleontology students early on in their career and they see our viewpoints, we hopefully will build even more friends going forward and in the long term. Also, it’s just the right thing to do. Who wouldn’t want to support science scholarships? It’s a great thing. Very similar to that, but perhaps in a less structured way, the last of the six charities, by no means the least, is Taking Up Space. And that was founded by my friend Czarina Salido who is a very devoted space flight advocate. She takes underprivileged young girls, largely from Native American communities in the southwest, to Space Camp and introduces them to astronauts and introduces them to, in some cases, life-changing space flight-related activities where they get to dress up in astronaut-style jumpsuits and participate in these fantastic interactive experiences that Space Camp provides. That is tangibly making a difference in the lives of people who otherwise would never be able to have an experience like that. So those are the six groups that I selected this time around. In every case, I have some form of personal connection to them, in addition to believing very strongly that they’re making the world a better place.
I want to say a few things about Heritage Auctions. One of the main reasons I felt comfortable taking this giant step and doing the Noktin Collection of Meteorites Auction Part Two is because Heritage Auctions in Dallas have just been so fantastic to work with, and the director of the Nature & Science Department Craig Kissick and his assistant director Jenny Milani they’re our people. They are genuine enthusiasts and very knowledgeable about meteorites and fossils and minerals, and related items. When I work with them, I don’t feel like I’m working with a big business. I feel like I’m working with friends and colleagues who get me and get the collecting world. Particularly because Craig is a past president of the Association of Applied Paleontological Sciences, of which I am such a fan and enthusiastic member, and, as mentioned, is one of the beneficiaries of part of the proceeds. I’ve worked with almost every major auction company on the planet, and there’s something special and unique about Heritage. And it’s their degree of caring about the field. This isn’t just another person who’s coming in and consigning some rocks. This is a meteorite hunter and collector; they know personally they care about me, they care about the charities that I’m working with, and they put a lot of themselves into the project. I know this from empirical observation because I’ll get emails late at night or very early in the morning on the weekend, and they’re working on the catalog or working on the photography. They take a very special pride in making this project the best that it can be. It’s extremely rare to find that kind of dedication in the modern world. So often, we rush from one thing to another and put a quick photo on social media. We ignore the contemplative aspect of the work, which for me, is so key to meteorite hunting and to paleontology in the sense that you have to invest time and research, and effort at a site to have any chance of finding a meteorite. You have to make the same kind of investments in cleaning, and preparing, curating a fossil and other natural history specimens. So the type of attention to detail and passion that I put into my work, that being the finding and collecting and acquisition of these specimens, is the same kind of caring that my colleagues at Heritage put into their part of the job. That’s a fantastic synergy to have, and I really extend my thanks to everyone on the team for making such a tremendous personal effort to do the best for me and for, the collection and for the charities that we selected.
Jim: Well, I was at the previous auction, and they did a fantastic job. Everything was top flight. Things were beautiful, the display cases and such. The book was beautiful that they produced. The catalog was certainly a collectible on its own.
Geoff: Oh, thank you.
Jim: I was very impressed with the auctioneers at the actual auction and how well everything went.
Geoff: I’m so pleased to hear that. Well, you know me, after the better part of 30 years, I’m not a guy who’s uniformly happy with the way things are. So for me to go back and do it again, it had to be really good.
Jim: Yeah, it was really good. It was certainly worth going personally. I interviewed you, and I got excited about the auction and the process and wanted to go and see it. I’ve been to small auctions. But I had never been to a big auction. I was very impressed. Everything was just wonderful. I enjoyed the day.