An Interview with Geoffrey Notkin by James Tobin
Jim: We are always informal but I have some questions that may be talking points to get started with. Maybe start with some how, when, and where type questions.
Geoff: Sure whatever you like. Are we rolling now?
Jim: Yes we are rolling. I have the voice recorder on and I am going to try and get this so I can use a voice-to-text program to transcribe it later.
Geoff: Great. If I may I would like to start this interview with congratulations to you and Paul Harris on the 20th anniversary of “Meteorite Times.” I know that you are modest gentlemen, but I would like to talk about you both for a minute. Over the twenty-plus years that we have been friends you have appeared as giants in the field. Other collectors, dealers, and hunters have come and gone but you and Paul have continued to publish “Meteorite Times” for twenty years. That’s an enormous contribution. You have given the field a reliable and enjoyable source of meteorite-related information. And you have given many fine authors, Martin Horejsi being an excellent example and one of my favorite science writers, a platform to write about their field. And you have also founded a successful meteorite business with Meteorites-for-Sale.com. Maybe most importantly, you get along with everybody. You provide a friendly forum in a community that can be very competitive … to put it diplomatically. It is an enormous accomplishment to keep something like that going for so long. And I know that you and Paul work on this together, with you doing the writing and the research side, and Paul on the design and publishing side. It is a great team and business partnership that you have.
Jim: It is the perfect team we enjoy being around each other and we share other hobbies and interests too. I do the lapidary work which I love and Paul, even though it can be too much at times, likes the challenge of working with the software to customize the coding of the sales site and making it look the way it does. So it is the ideal partnership. Well, thank you for the kind words.
Geoff: You are very welcome.
Jim: Amazingly, it has been twenty years. We have published graduate papers and scientific papers. So it has been pretty interesting. Other publications have gone away and individuals have turned to us as the place they wanted to publish. That’s been cool. Paul and I were musing at lunch that we used to do the magazine monthly.
Geoff: I remember!
Jim: How we ever did that … We were both working at the time. How did we ever do the magazine every month? It is now enough of a challenge to do it every two months.
Geoff: Well what it is, is that we were all younger and had more energy. It was similar when I was working 6 or 6 ½ days a week those years I was making the “Meteorite Men” television show. You and I have both had a long career in publishing and I absolutely know what it entails. That compliment is not just intended only for you and Paul, although very much for you. But if you would like to include it in the article that was my idea for the opening of the interview. With our long friendship, I thought all your readers should know.
Jim: I will talk to Paul and see what he thinks that is a bit of a stretch for us we don’t usually put ourselves out there like that. I appreciate the kind words. I think we can put it in the article somehow.
Geoff: So I derailed your question. So let us start with the Where.
Jim: Yea let’s start with the where
Geoff: The Geoff Notkin Meteorite Collection will be auctioned by Heritage Auctions of Dallas, Texas on June 22nd this year, 2022. This is going to be an authentic live auction, but it will also exist in every possible form to make it easy for bidders to participate. So we will have the live auction with a very energetic, enthusiastic and excellent auctioneer at Heritage Auctions headquarters in Dallas and everyone who would like to attend in person is invited. It will be an exciting day. Heritage is right next to DFW airport, so they jokingly call it the extra hanger. There will be seating in the auction hall and it is free, of course. And there will also be telephone bidding and online bidding. They call this a signature auction meaning it is a featured auction and not part of something else. It is just my collection. That is the entire focus. There will be an elegant printed catalog and I encourage anyone who is not already on Heritage’s mailing list to reach out to me or Aerolite Meteorites if they would like a catalog because it is going to be beautiful. The photography is spectacular and even people who are not bidding but just enjoy meteorites should ask for a copy. It will be a beautiful artifact, and something that I hope any meteorite enthusiast will enjoy having. The catalogs are free and the Nature & Science Director, Craig Kissick, actually said to me, “I will get a catalog to anyone in the world who wants one.”
Jim: I had seen on the site at Heritage Auctions that there was going to be a catalog and wanted to get one.
Geoff: Great we will make sure you are on the list. I should clarify that online bidding will begin on or around June 1st of this year. The lots will be on the Heritage website for about three weeks for people to look at and enjoy, and then on June 20th and 21st, we are planning an in-person reception and a highlights preview in the gallery space at Heritage headquarters — the same building where the auction will take place. I will be there with the meteorite collection and I will be walking around putting moon rocks and other space rocks in people’s hands so they can have the experience, the joy, and wonder of holding a meteorite.
Jim: I think that sounds great.
Geoff: I am all about the experience, and I think you know this about me. While I love museums and exhibits and have spent a large portion of my life working in museums — I even designed and curated multiple meteorite exhibits myself — I really want people to have the physical sense of touch. When specimens are only behind glass you do not get the full experience. For me, nothing beats the wonder of holding a meteorite that’s traveled approximately 250 million miles to get here. So I want others to have that, people who come to the preview of the auction, I want them to have that encounter with a rock from space. I want them to be able to say, “I went to look at Geoff’s auction and I got to hold a piece of the moon,” Or, “I got to hold this piece of iron meteorite that used to be part of an asteroid.” People should go away from the event with experiences they will always remember. That type of encounter is what made me into a meteorite specialist.
Jim: Were those options part of why you chose Heritage? There are many other auction houses. What were the reasons that you specifically picked Heritage?
Geoff: I’ve worked with, I believe, just about every major auction house in the world. Some of them multiple times. The reason I picked Heritage is entirely because of Craig Kissick. He has been the Director of Nature & Science there for a good number of years, and he is also the president of the AAPS — the Association of Applied Paleontological Sciences — which is a wonderful organization. It is to fossils what the International Meteorite Collector’s Association is to meteorites. AAPS is an association of professional, commercial collectors of fossils. So, Craig and I have been friends and colleagues for many years and he is a very impressive person. He is one of us. He is a genuine enthusiast. He’s a collector of, and authority on, minerals, fossils, meteorites, and artifacts. He comes to the gem shows every year and I have a very high degree of confidence in him and his team. I know they appreciate the importance of this collection, that to them it is not just another auction. I have done a lot of work with Heritage over the years and we have a good history, but it was because I knew I could count on Craig to give this collection the care and attention that it deserves. That’s why I went to Heritage. I knew I would be treated well and I knew the opportunity to participate in this unique meteorite collection auction would be properly shared with the world.
Jim: Good. So that answered several of my questions. Craig then is the coordinator for what the auction house is doing with the auction of the collection?
Geoff: Yes. Craig and his colleague, Jenny Milani, are the Director and Assistant Director of the Heritage Auctions Nature & Science Department. They oversee everything involved with this major event. We work together to decide on the lots, they oversee the photography and the catalog descriptions, they work with their media department to place advertising in relevant periodicals. There is a lot of management and high-level brainpower involved in something like this, and that might not be obvious to someone unless they were involved in the process. Questions like: “When do we hold the auction? What day of the week? What is the order of the lots? Are we going to do print advertising or online advertising or both? How do we get these beautifully-printed catalogs into the hands of people who will enjoy them?” It’s quite similar to making a feature film or recording an album, as it is a very long-term project with many, many moving parts, all of which have to run smoothly for it to be successful. And I myself am hundreds of hours into this project.
I did the initial selection of meteorites. I took basic reference photographs of all of them and wrote bullet point notes for Craig, as he composes the final catalog descriptions. Then I had to pack and ship everything to Texas. Then I spent a week in Dallas working with Heritage. We did some filming, shot an intro film about the auction, and many short videos about some of the key pieces. I like Heritage. They are a good company, we have a good relationship, but it is the exceptional abilities of Craig and his team, and Craig’s extensive knowledge of meteorites that made it a no-brainer for me which auction house I would choose.
Jim: That was interesting to me I follow auctions, not always but often. And sometimes the descriptions are obviously not written by someone that knows very much about meteorites. They are so hyped that it puts me off. And they often do not tell me much about the particular stone being offered. You have said that Craig is very knowledgeable will you get to see the descriptions before the auction and give them an editorial review.
Geoff: I certainly will. We work very closely together; it is a joint effort. One of the reasons working with Craig is delight is that I don’t have to explain to him the difference between a Sikhote-Alin and a Gibeon. He knows what these meteorites are. He is familiar with their history and can identify them. What I bring is the background and the specialized knowledge about each piece. For example, I will know that this piece has two Monnig numbers painted on it, or this piece has four Russian Academy of Sciences labels, or this piece has an impact pit. Someone with a good knowledge of meteorites could likely identify some or all of those things but I need to be sure. And some of these pieces do have very unique back stories that nobody else is aware of.
For example, some of the historic pieces have been acquired from old collections and I am the only person who knows the chain of custody. I have written down those notes in a very straightforward and factual way so they can be incorporated into the catalog descriptions. When we get to the “Meteorite Men” pieces — and this is a big part of the auction — it really is up to me to make sure the whole story is told. There are meteorites that we found while filming the show, some of metal detectors, my strewnfield maps, a director’s slate, and a large number of very, very unique pieces from my personal archive that have a history unlike any other auction lot. I want to make sure the uniqueness is clearly explained so bidders appreciate the significance of those lots.
Jim: I should let the readers know that at the time of this interview I had looked at the auction site a few days ago and there were 35 items. But many more items are being added all the time. So this is very interesting for me. We are talking about items like the metal detectors which are not up yet, just a couple of costumes were there for me to see. Many have no description yet even of the 35 items I saw. I am guessing they are working hard to get more presented. It is very interesting for me to know what is coming in future days.
Geoff: Well, yes and there are about 100 more coming. It was interesting for me too, as someone who has worked extensively with meteorite photography and developed techniques for lighting, because photographing meteorites is very tricky as you well know.
Jim: Yes, tough. Deep hollows and depth of field issues
Geoff: A black rock on a dark black background! So it was fascinating for me to be there for a week and to interact with their expert photographer and image retoucher, watch the process, and look at color proofs. I had the opportunity to okay the images. The photographer, Michael Napier, has done a stupendous job along with Randle Hudson, the imaging specialist. They are wonderfully talented and I really want to compliment them, but this is where specialized knowledge of meteorites comes in. One of the pieces Michael was photographing was a historic Nininger Plainview. He took a beautiful photograph of it, but you couldn’t see the Nininger number, the hand-painted Nininger number. That was the only piece I asked to be re-photographed. If you are not a meteorite specialist you couldn’t be expected to know that a hand-painted number brings considerable additional value and interest to such a piece.
Jim: The photographs I have seen so far are beautiful. I will continue to look as the days go by and as I wait for the pictures you are providing for this article.
Let’s move forward a bit to talk about the reasons that you are doing this auction. And I am personally interested in how much of your collection is going in the auction. And maybe tell us something about your motivation for picking the pieces that you chose for the auction. I don’t know if I made that clear. Is this fundraising, changing up to collect different kinds of material? Like one of our mutual friends who sold all of his finds to devote his collection to only falls. What are some of the reasons these pieces are leaving the collection? If you want to go there. If you are okay talking about that. That may be the most personal question I am going to ask.
Geoff: It is fine to ask and it is important. The answer is complicated. So I will answer the first part: If I were to sell every piece in my collection the auction would take all day. There are some pieces I found that I am keeping. It is not possible to put every meteorite in the auction, so the auction is all of the best pieces! I have been doing this for nearly thirty years. This collection represents thirty years of finding meteorites, buying and selling and trading meteorites. And whenever I would be at the gem show … well, let’s use pallasites for an example. I bought some beautiful Seymchan slices many years ago from our Russian friends and one of them was obviously the best. I put that one aside and said “I need to keep this one for myself!” I have done that hundreds of times and then there are the pieces I have found, or traded with other enthusiasts. I was always a collector and my company Aerolite Meteorites, which has grown to be one of the leaders in the field, started as a small business to help raise funds for expeditions so I could go and find more meteorites. That was the original aim, but Aerolite has grown and is now a corporation with offices in the UK and the States. So a small thing can grow into a big thing if you feed it properly!
Every item in the auction has something special about it. It’s an exceptionally beautiful piece, it’s an important historic piece, or it’s something that just moved me. Out of all the slices of Glorieta Mountain pallasite why did I get that particular 59-gram one from the finder, Mike Miller? It just spoke to me, it was unusually beautiful. It wasn’t the biggest one, but it was the one I thought the loveliest.
That’s the origin of my collection, and these meteorites came to me in every conceivable way: finding, buying, trading, even bidding at other auctions. So, this is a very large offering, representing what are to me — someone who has devoted most of his professional life to meteorites — the very best pieces that came my way. They are highlights of everything that I handled, acquired, or I don’t know if “envied” is the right word … perhaps “looked upon with great enthusiasm.” I would visit a fellow meteorite dealer and say, “Oh my gosh look at that Sikhote-Alin! I have to have that one, and that one only.” Those are the pieces that are in the collection. The pieces that made a thirty-year collector go, “Wow! I must have it.”
And now we get on to the difficult question: Why am I selling this collection? A collection that I have traveled way over a million miles to build and which includes pieces from six of our seven continents — and the only reason there are no Antarctic meteorites is because they typically don’t make it to market and, in most cases, we would not be allowed to buy, sell, or trade Antarctic meteorites. So why now? It is not a lack of interest. I have not reached a point in my life where I am no longer interested in meteorites; that is not what this is about. The meteorite field has been tremendously good to me and I am a fortunate person who was able to fulfill his childhood dream. When I was a little boy standing in the Geological Museum in London gazing at meteorites in the 1960s, I swore to myself that someday I would have one of my own. And in 1967 or ‘68 whenever it was that I first went, there was no established meteorite business or community like there is today. It wasn’t possible for a little boy in London to get a piece of meteorite at that time in the world. But, ultimately, my dream was fulfilled so many times over. If someone had told that little boy, not only will you have a meteorite but you will find them, many of them — from tiny to giant — on six continents, make a popular television show, write books, speak at places like Kennedy Space Center and the Royal Ontario Museum, meet some of the true giants in the field and get the chance to work with them, I would have thought this person was telling me a science fiction story. But that dream did come true multiple times over.
The result is a large and unique collection that has brought me an enormous amount of joy. And now I am ready to part with it. And here are the reasons:
There are a number of musical artists, celebrated artists like Neil Young, Bob Dylan, and Blondie who have recently sold part or all of their back catalogs. By and large they have been tight-lipped about why they are doing this. I am sure they have been well compensated, but my interpretation of why they’ve sold their older work is this: When you’re an artist, or creator, or inventor, or you are doing something that you love and enjoy a certain degree of success in your field, your experience within that field then changes. When I started hunting for meteorites almost thirty years ago it was just me out there the wilds. I would just go off on my own and hunt for meteorites, and then I met Steve Arnold then there were two of us. And then in later years, for a variety of reasons, the number of people who were out hunting grew enormously. I know that there were other excellent hunters at that time but this was pre-internet. The number of people hunting meteorites was small and we weren’t connected yet. Later, after the success of the “Meteorite Men” television show which was one of the elements that popularized meteorite hunting and collecting — not the only element but one of them — we saw enormous numbers of people in the field. And there were many times when I was filming the show and we had a large crew with us. I like the solitary aspect of meteorite hunting. I like being out with my detector on my own in the silence of the wilderness. It is an uplifting, almost magical experience. Filming was not a magical experience. It was a thrilling experience, but it was very hard work for the better part of four straight years. If I have a whim to go up over the next ridge with my detector I can do that on my own, but I cannot necessarily do that with a film crew.
I liken this experience to that of, say, a musician who has done well and now runs a business. He or she has become successful enough that they they are no longer primarily singers or songwriters; they are now employees of their own creation. My point is, when you do something that you love and it becomes successful, it is extremely difficult not to fall into the role of administrator. In my meteorite work, a lot of what I do now is management. It’s organizing speaking tours, and gem show appearances, making sure my books are in print, guesting on other people’s shows or podcasts, answering questions or advising colleagues about meteorites via email or social media. It’s fantastic and I am deeply appreciative of all the interest in my work, but management is not what I was born to do. So I want to get back to my roots and rediscover my simple enjoyment of rockhounding, adventure, travel, and the arts — the things that really speak to my heart. And I want to do that with a smaller footprint. I want to go without an entourage.
I loved it, I loved filming with the big crew, the extraordinary opportunities we had to hunt at protected sites like Henbury, Whitecourt, and Morasko, and the excitement. But now I want to go back to the way it was in the beginning. A more solitary, a more . . . a simpler, but somehow more challenging journey. I feel that in order to do that I need to remove the ballast from the balloon so it can fly. I must lessen the weight. I don’t mean for a moment to suggest that meteorites should be thought of as ballast [laughs] but they are very heavy. And I don’t feel that my meteorites are fulfilling a happy destiny by being locked away in a safe while I am exploring or traveling. They should be seen!
Jim: I certainly understand that I am sitting here with a collection with far less prestigious pieces but almost an unmanageable number. (I told Geoff the actual number but won’t print that here) They are everywhere.
Geoff: That is amazing!
Jim: It’s monstrous. I just went through it all and got it into plastic drawer units. I now have too many meteorites. I go to the gem show and do business and buy very few meteorites for the collection. Do I need to buy more meteorites? No, I need to do more hunting. I totally understand the desire to return to the fun. I enjoy the hunt, I enjoy the solitude, heading out in the morning with snack bars and plenty of water and not returning to the car until afternoon. So I understand a lot of what you are saying. But go ahead.
Geoff: And there is another part to the answer. I had major surgery a while back. I am okay but I had a lot of time to reflect upon this matter. If something happened to me, I would worry about my collection, that it might not go where it should. So, while I am still healthy and vigorous, I will help with that. These are important pieces that have meant everything to me. This is not just about lightening the load, it’s about ensuring that the care and the admiration for these meteorites continues. By properly curating them with collection cards, and descriptions, and putting them in a catalog with attention to detail, and auctioning them through a reputable auction house, I can watch them go out into the world to begin new lives in new collections, and in the right way. That is a strange thing to say, because I have been a fanatical collector my whole life. I have always been about collecting. So to reach a point in my experience where I say, “I can let go of these pieces, I want them to go to new homes and collections,” is very surprising to me. I feel good about it, because I know they will find homes with people who care about them and they won’t get lost in a crate in the basement of a museum somewhere.
And, in addition, I want to give something to organizations that I believe in. And so some of the proceeds of this auction are going to nonprofits and charities. I have selected two so far. Would you like for me to tell you what they are?
Jim: Sure, Certainly lets do whatever you want to do.
Geoff: The first is Beads of Courage. You may be familiar with them.
Jim: I have sent them handmade beads on a few occasions, carried beads on hunting trips, and sent photos and stories along with the beads I carried.
Geoff: Really? I did not know that! So you are aware this is a wonderful international charity founded in Tucson. I have a long relationship with them. I have done many events with Beads of Courage. They support children who are battling long-term and life-threatening illnesses. Young children. I was asked, some years ago, if I would attend a Beads of Courage event at a children’s hospital because there was a young girl there who was a fan of “Meteorite Men.” And so I went. I was not prepared at all for I saw, which was a seven-year old girl with leukemia who had lost all her hair and was towing her own IV around on a wheeled cart. With a huge smile on her face because she got to meet one of the “Meteorite Men.” And that really changed my life. That. . . that moment. . . because we all think that we have problems, but when you see something like that you realize most of our little problems are nothing compared to what some others have to face. And so I became very involved with Beads of Courage. As part of Team Beads of Courage, I carry beautiful handmade beads with me on my adventures and expeditions: across the Sahara, filming my show “Stem Journals” at the ASU Robotics Lab, or down to the floor of Meteor Crater, and many other places, and then took photographs of the beads there. Children in treatment can then request a specific bead from me or other Team BOC members. They get a signed photo and it can be very meaningful to the children. They receive a bead every time they complete a successful course of surgery or chemotherapy or whatever it is. I’ve met kids with hundreds of beads that form a sobering map or record of their long journey of treatment.
Jim: I relate to that I have carried beads and they are an organization close to my heart, as well. My little expeditions are subdued compared to yours but I have made handmade beads and send batches about every couple of years. You made up beads of glass with lunar dust in them as I remember.
Geoff: Yes! Yes you are so right. This is an organization that is hands-on. I know the founder Jean Gribbon, she is a nurse. She founded this organization in Tucson but it is now international. And they are affiliated with hospitals in Texas. And since we are holding the auction in Texas, and there are a number of Texas meteorites in the auction, I want to bring something beneficial back to Texas as well. We hope to do some local events there and involve Beads of Courage in Texas directly.
The next organization is an educational nonprofit called Texas Through Time. This is based in Hillsboro, Texas. It is a science and paleontology museum that is run by my friends Andre and Carrie Lujan. This is another group that impresses me with their hands-on interaction with society, but in a very different way. Hillsboro is a small town, south of Dallas. And their place is a fantastic museum. They have a working paleontology lab and they have school groups come from as far as sixty miles away. Rural kids from small towns in big states like Texas often don’t have access to facilities like Texas Through Time, and families with limited means may not be able to afford to take their kids to museums that charge admission fees. I have spoken at that museum, and met with their people, and it is a wonderful place. I like to see direct action, measurable action. So I see kids going into that museum, being drawn in by dinosaurs, and learning about the past and the present, that’s direct action. That’s making a difference in the world. I want to help with that.
And the last part of this big question, a small part, is that I have other interests in life as you know. I was born an artist, and I am an artist who fell in love with science. Art is really how I got into the science world, deeply into the science world, by photographing specimens, building websites, and publishing museum catalogs. I was welcomed into the scientific world initially as an artist — a graphic designer, a writer, a photographer. I went to art school in New York in my twenties and now, decades later, I am ready to reconnect with my artistic roots. I have been to over sixty countries on six continents but I have not been to India; I have not been to New Zealand; I have not seen the Panama Canal. These are things I would like to see and photograph, or write about. I suppose you could say it is a sort of rebirth or, perhaps, I am just starting again. I achieved all my dreams in meteorites and then some. When I started out in this field I didn’t imagine that I would be lucky enough to host, with my friend Steve Arnold, a show that would become hugely popular and be seen by tens of millions of people on all seven continents. Yes, “Meteorite Men” actually aired in Antarctica! Who imagined what could grow out of swinging a metal detector? I am so fulfilled by my experiences in the world of meteorites that I suppose I am saying “thank you.” My favorite pieces will go out into the world, and I will begin again and reconnect with my passion for adventure and the arts. And see where the winds of the world take me.
Jim: I relate to that as we have talked about it several times, how I survived on my painting and jewelry work, and am talking about that in my article for the 20th-anniversary issue of the magazine. I am reconnecting to my artistic roots as well in retirement. I always had two darkrooms at the printing businesses. One for the photography connected to the printing and another for the developing and printing of my photography. I loved and still do love ultra close-up photography.
Geoff: I absolutely love meteorite photography. I have spent years experimenting with lighting and light tables, cameras and backgrounds, and bouncing light. I still have all these resources and I recently bought a camera that I think will be particularly good for meteorite photography. I would like to do that just for fun, so that I am not necessarily photographing specimens to put on the Aerolite Meteorites website, but doing it for the wonder. We often talk about how meteorites have traveled here from the asteroid belt, and you will relate to this as we are both artists. I have always been enamored by surface features, by the color, the patina, by regmaglypts, by flow lines, and fusion crust. These features, these physical visible features that are unique to meteorites, that are not seen in Earth rocks, are a whole other level of wonder. Not only have they come so far … these alien rocks, extraterrestrial rocks, but they show us features that cannot be seen anywhere else. I so enjoy photographing those things. That is one of the things I would like to get back to, and intend to get back to. Exploring again the way I used to, at the beginning in my early meteorite photography. The beauty of the minute features on the surfaces of meteorites. Impact pits … incredible! A meteorite has been hit by another meteorite while it was in flight. Where else would you see that?
This is probably a good point to say that Aerolite Meteorites absolutely will continue. The auction is the Notkin Collection, not the Aerolite Meteorites collection, and my longtime colleague Beth Carrillo is president of Aerolite. She is doing a fantastic job of running it and the company will remain active and vigorous, as it has for many years. I just wanted your readers and our customers to know that. What we are seeing in the auction are all my favorites. My pieces, the ones I put aside. And when you are a collector and a dealer you have to be very clear about what’s what. We both know a couple of people who are dealer/collectors, they are good people who are so far on the collector side that they don’t really want to sell anything [laughs]. I say that affectionately, as I understand. But I wanted to have a successful business and I also wanted to be a collector, so it was always clearly delineated that this is Geoff’s and this is Aerolite stock.
Jim: I am close to the same place I have had a lot of time to think about what will happen when I pass. I like to use the word stewardship. I am a temporary custodian of the meteorites. I have given thought to how to consign my collection for sale. The meteorites are fantastically old and they will survive many owners after me. But I need to have my ID cards and the past cards from previous owners in order. I don’t have pieces, . . well I probably have some pieces that would deserve to go into an auction but to be consigned and sold to go to new caretakers is the appropriate way for me to handle the disposition of my collection. I believe this line of thinking should be in anyone’s mind who has a collection of meteorites. These objects are just passing through our hands they are ancient beyond belief and should I think of it as ownership or just that I am enjoying them for the time I have them. And you are going to do great good with some of the proceeds and then hopefully enjoy the rest of the proceeds as you reinvent yourself?
Geoff: Yes, that’s very well said. That’s a great observation and I think this should be on the record. This idea of us being caretakers and custodians of our meteorites collection is very close to me. When I was new to the business decades ago — it was actually the first time I ever went to Tucson — I met Blaine Reed and Marlin Cilz and we had dinner. I was really fascinated by these brilliant guys. Blaine, a real expert on meteorite types, history, and values, and Marlin a great preparator, one of the few in the world at the time. I was quite stressed because I had this slice that was oxidizing and I asked Marlin what you do with this. I was so concerned about this piece that was rusting a bit. Marlin says, “Geoff don’t worry about it. We’re traveling through our lives with these pieces and they will be here long after we are gone. So they just need the proper care and it’ll be fine.” And now I’ve made this big decision that I want to take care of business now, while my mind is clear. I want to pass “my”| meteorites on to the next generation of custodians. I need to know it has been done properly. And I also don’t want to leave it for someone else to deal with. Nobody else can manage this the way I can, because I know the history of every piece. I know where it came from, how I acquired it, why it has this label, or this number — all that information, that marvelous arcane information, needs to be passed along with each piece for the next person to appreciate.
This makes me think of … I had an epiphany while we were filming “Meteorite Men,” which I would like to share. It was in Season Two and we were in Chile in the mountains in their winter. We were at Imilac. It is such a wide and empty desert out there. I have seen deserts, I love deserts. I have lived in the desert for nearly twenty years. But there is no desert like that. There is nothing there at all. There are no insects, or snakes, or cactus … there’s nothing, just the orange rolling hills. And meteorites if you can find them. Not surprisingly, it is very difficult to get firewood. We collected some on the way up and, at night, we found an old ruined miner’s hut at the edge of the strewnfield. We made a big fire at night and it was brutally cold, 9 degrees Fahrenheit and windy. We had a crew of … I think there were 14 people on that expedition, most of whom had come from the States with us. We were cold, very cold, and in this most harsh desert, all of us huddled around one fire. We could see light reflected in the eyes of wild foxes out in the desert watching us. And we would rotate and put our backs to the fire to warm up, then turn around and warm up our fronts. We were standing as close to the flames as anyone possibly could without catching on fire. Without telling anyone, I walked away for a few minutes and looked back at this group. Everybody is laughing and telling stories they are excited about the next day’s hunt. And I had this epiphany, this moment … “All of this, all these people here, all of this experience, all this effort. This all happened because of a dream I had as a child. I was standing in the Geological Museum and I wanted to be an adventurer and I wanted to go and find a meteorite and it lead directly to here, to this incredible moment in the extreme wilderness, freezing, at night, in the desert of meteorites.”
I am not trying to take credit for the show. There would have been no “Meteorite Men” without Steve Arnold, or Eric Schotz and Ruth Rivin our executive producers, and Sonya Bourn, our field producer, but I could see and feel that direct, clear line from being a kid wishing for it to happen, to bringing all these capable and accomplished professionals to one of the most barren places on Earth in the middle of winter. I’ve gone back there in my mind many times. I have wanted to always remember that moment. It shows that you can make a thing happen by thinking about it. And I don’t even mean that in an existential way. I mean it a mechanical way, in an empirical way. I wanted meteorites, I wanted to be an adventurer, I wanted to go on expeditions. And, well it took what, over thirty years from being the kid in the museum to being on this fantastic adventure in the Atacama, but it still happened. So what else could happen? The collection goes to new homes, we give some support to charities, I have some dollars left over. I then have not just the freedom, but also the opportunity to begin a new adventure. What other great experiences await when your mind is open and your heart is open?
Jim: Sounds like a great way to go forward into the future. I think that is fantastic. Perhaps we should talk a little bit about the mechanics of the auction. I watch auctions and I see things that I would expect to go for high prices and they go for very low prices. I see things that I think are not going to go for much that just sold for outrageously high prices. You’re putting these items in there how have you determined expectations? Are you going to sell them with a reserve? Let’s talk a little about those kinds of things. I had an incredible moment when I looked at a recent auction where there was a small NWA 869 sphere it went for. . . I don’t know what it went for but it had a bid of $1500 and it was just 2.33 inches in diameter. Paul and I had bought those things from the South African dealer behind the Days Inn in Tucson for around $20–$40 over the years a few years back. What is it about spheres and cubes and such that has been getting them such high prices? Where some beautiful natural meteorites that are truly rare beauties will go for very low prices or even not get a bid? So let’s talk a little about what your expectations were for the value of some of the pieces. And how the mechanics of that may go as far as reserves and such.
Geoff: With pleasure. In this auction, there is something for everyone that is interested in meteorites. I follow the auction world myself, as you do. It is very interesting. And typically, in most cases when we see meteorite auctions from the big houses, they feature expensive, high-end pieces mostly. I wanted everybody to have an opportunity, so yes there are some genuinely world-class pieces like the 223-lb Admire pallasite that we found on the Season 2 Episode 1 of “Meteorite Men,” That’s in this auction. For many museums around the world an important meteorite like that would be the centerpiece of their collection. I don’t know of a museum that has a pallasite, found on television, that weighs 223 lbs. So that’s a world-class piece, truly.
There are also many smaller and affordable pieces that I think are wonderful for whatever reason. So every level of collecting is represented in this auction. Someone might buy their first-ever meteorite for a modest sum, come June 22. The serious collector or institution could acquire a piece that might become the star attraction of their exhibit. It takes a lot of faith in the process and the market to do something like this. I could have just sold these pieces myself, one by one, through Aerolite or on my personal website, but I didn’t want to do it that way. I wanted this to be an event. I wanted to see the pieces go to their new homes all at once. I wanted it to be the beginning of a definitive new chapter. I was not willing to piecemeal the moment and I wanted it to be exciting for everybody. I hope people will be delighted with their purchases so, to that end, the vast majority of lots in the auction do not have reserves. I hope you’re sitting down for that. There are a few very large pieces that will have modest reserves, but in order to make the experience available to everyone, I wanted to do it the right way, and if you’re going to do an auction the right way you should start the pieces low so that everyone has a chance. That’s exciting. It’s as exciting as making live television, and it is supposed to be fun. So, I am going to be there myself to watch it all unfold. This wasn’t a business decision. It was a decision that was made with my heart.
Jim: Yea, yea I . . . ( I am struggling to comment for a second.)
Geoff: I will admit it was a tough decision.
Jim: That is sort of what my pause is about. That is a tough decision to make. We hold these meteorites as fantastically rare objects with the expectation that they will go up in price as we hold them during our lifetime. And then to put them in an auction with no reserve and perhaps see them go for less than what we paid twenty years ago is kind of a tough decision to make. From a financial point of view. But your motivation is not totally financial so that may mitigate some of that. It would seem like what we are doing today with this interview and advertising that Heritage is doing would be even more important with a mostly no-reserve auction. So there can be more attendees, and online and phone bidding, to get that activity of bidding which the pieces need to sell at better prices.
Geoff: You have to have confidence in the process and you have to have confidence in the auction house. There will, without any doubt, be some bargains. I had a sit-down with one of the most senior gentlemen at Heritage to talk about strategy and he said, “You have to be prepared for the fact that some pieces will go for less than they are worth. That’s just the auction business.” The auction itself is an adventure. If I was not an adventurous person, if I was doing this in a conventional way, I would just sell them. I would just put them on the website and sell them, one by one, for the next ten years. But that’s clinical. I am confident that my friends and colleagues, even those with casual interest, will be part of the fun of the auction. Because I intentionally put in some really unusual things for fun, such as my “Meteorite Men” outfit that I wore on the show, my beloved metal detector, my prized prototype Fisher F-75. I found more meteorites with that than probably every other detector put together. Let someone else get out and hunt with it! It did really, really well for me and I thought some avid hunter should be using that now. It should be finding meteorites, not sitting in a display case. Same with my guitars. It is very unusual that in this meteorite auction there are also a few guitars. As you know, I have been a musician for most of my life. I have quite a few guitars, but I don’t play in a band anymore. We thought including guitars was relevant because I was a professional rock ‘n’ roll musician for over twenty-five years and then I became a professional rock hound. And some of my friends and customers are also musicians, so I thought ditto for the guitars. If I have these guitars that I have cherished and enjoyed for many years, but they are sitting on stands or in cases and I am not playing them as often as I should, maybe they should go to new homes too. So that is what I mean by a sense of fun. Who would put guitars into a meteorite auction? [laughs]
Jim: I had seen the guitars a few days ago on the auction website and made the connection sort of but also wondered if it might not be just house cleaning too.
Geoff: I adore the guitars too, especially the Flying V bass which was the main instrument I used onstage for years, and they have been very good to me. But in keeping with this idea of a lighter footprint on the world and a simpler life, wouldn’t it be better for these guitars and metal detectors to be used by someone daily? My hope is a person will buy the F-75 or one of the others, and that detector will become their favorite detector ever and they will go out into the field and find meteorites with it! That is what it was built for. It was not built to be on display in my office. It was built to find meteorites. It is a meteorite-finding machine and it has a lot of good karma. And it still works, it is in perfect working condition, by the way. And it was a prototype too, the first of its kind. The F-75 Turbo prototype. Using that detector on “Meteorite Men” was not product placement. My friends at Fisher called me and asked if Steve and I would be interested in field-testing their super new prototype. And after nearly fainting I said, “Of course we would!” And it ended up being one of the greatest detectors I ever used.
So I come to this point in life where I ask if all of these precious items, that are among the most important things there ever were to me, are doing their best where they are? When I am traveling, exploring new avenues, they are sitting there alone in the cabinet, the meteorites, the detectors, the guitars, not being enjoyed. That is not fair. They should be adored by people. I have adored them myself for decades and now I would wish that they be adored by others. It is hard, it is one of the biggest decisions I have made in my life. But it is the right one.
Jim: Well it is certainly a moving-forward decision. Moving things along and a good decision for someone who wants to do traveling, and have new adventures. You have always been so busy. Always meetings, speaking, films, something all the time. It does not leave much time for personal travel and personal growth in other areas of your life.
Geoff: That’s where I am. I have reduced my commitments. I have been very fortunate to speak at some of the greatest museums and institutions in the world. I was extremely flattered that I was invited to speak at such venues. I love that, I love communicating to people of all ages and levels my great enthusiasm for meteorites, and I feel that I have completed that mission. I have done countless outreach events at schools, universities, museums, kids’ groups, rock and gem clubs, nonprofits, and so on. And now I would like to go on a journey of my own devising. But also of exploration and of learning. In a simpler, lower profile way. Not recording everything, not recording every event on social media, but to travel and to be more in the moment. Because when I look back, there is one moment that really stands out from everything that happened through all the adventures, all the shows, all the films and, strangely, it was also in Chile. These two very powerful experiences, both in Chile. It was when we were at Monturaqui Crater. Now Steve and I had gone to Chile in 1997 and hunted Imilac, Vaca Muerta, and La Pampa. It was the early days of GPS, there were no Apple Maps or anything like that, and we just could not find Monturaqui Crater. We tried and tried but just couldn’t find it. I was really disappointed. I wanted to see this ancient crater, a million-year-old crater. There is no gift shop there, no caretaker, no “KEEP OUT” sign. There is nothing. It is just this ancient crater in the middle of desolation. So, when we finally made it to Monturaqui in 2010 for a “Meteorite Men” episode it was such an overwhelming experience for me. We carefully drove our vehicles down to the floor of the crater, and camped there, slept on the floor of the impact site — what an amazing thing! On the second or third day of filming, I suddenly had a very strong desire to walk the entire rim of the crater on my own. When you’re filming a show like that, with a big crew, it is very expensive. There are 14 skilled people on the road, driving multiple vehicles, who need food and water, and we had a doctor with us, and a paramedic in case of emergency. It’s so expensive that the producers need to maximize your time. You never know when the weather is going to change or a vehicle is going to break down, so you are always at it. You never have a moment to breathe it in. I have spoken to my astronaut friends about this phenomenon and they know exactly what I mean, because on a space mission every minute is planned. They can’t just stop and say, “Oh look at that lovely moon!” Every moment they are doing experiments, or scheduled sleep, or scheduled exercise. Adventure television is the same. You never have downtime to sit around and soak up the experience.
Jim: I have had the same experience. I have gone to solar eclipses with three cameras, and three tripods to shoot the eclipse and become so involved in the photography that I barely looked at the sun while it was in totality.
Geoff: Yes, that is exactly what I mean. On this particular day, it was lunchtime. We were having sandwiches and typically we would all sit together. I said “Guys, I really need to walk the rim of the crater and I’ll be back before the end of lunch.” Sonya, who was in charge of safety and everything really, said, “Okay, be careful,” just like my mom would have when I was a kid looking for fossils along the cliffs of southern England. Monturaqui is not as big as Meteor Crater, but it is big when you’re out there alone. And it is a million years old. Again there is nothing out there but rock, and sand, and impactites, and a few tiny meteorite fragments. So I walked the rim of the crater and when I got to the far side I was away from the crew and I could not hear any sounds but the wind. I just stopped and stood and looked and thought, “For thirteen years I have dreamed of seeing this crater and here I am. And it is magnificent.” It was as if I took a mental or human photograph of that moment. A three-dimensional photograph. I can almost go back there, because that was the one time when I stopped and I fully experienced the uniqueness of the moment. And I would like to do more of that. It is how you absorb the full richness of the journey.
Jim: I really enjoyed that part of our chat. I have experienced in rare moments the same thing while out hunting and exploring. I have shared before the moment on a very busy day at the bottom of Meteor Crater when I sat down on one of the boulders and just closed my eyes away from the group and was consumed almost literally by the utter silence. It was almost a physical thing that was covering me. Broken in a few seconds by the cry of a hawk. But for that time the long list of all the drill holes and shaft sites and debris locations was gone from my mind. So I really get your moment at Monturaqui Crater and the importance of taking time in solitude to just enjoy the experience.
Do you have anything else we should talk about with the auction? Maybe something about the availability of the printed catalogs, when they are going to be available. Maybe anything else about the mechanics of the auction things like how people can register, and stuff like that.
Geoff: Yes thank you for remembering that. There is a special URL for this auction and it is ha.com/notkin — real simple. That is the landing page for the auction, with all the information that everybody needs and photos and the video we shot at the Monnig Gallery and other goodies. I was actually a customer of Heritage before I was a consigner, so I have myself registered and it is very easy. You can bid online starting around June 1st. On the actual day, the 22nd you can also bid by telephone, online, or in person at the venue. I warmly invite anyone who is interested to come to Dallas as it is really going to be fun. I’m going to be there on the 20th, 21st, and 22nd. There is going to be a highlights preview and a reception and it will be exciting. There will be meteorites on display of course, in the gallery. And it will be an event. I want to make it a memorable time for people who attend. It is not just about getting the piece, it is about the adventure of getting the piece. I am confident that people who have the time and interest to attend in person will be glad they did.
Jim: What is the appropriate attire for the preview and receptions?
Geoff: I would say business or business casual would be fine. People in Dallas like to dress up, as it is a very sophisticated city, but all are certainly welcome. I myself may show up in adventure gear [laughs].
Jim: That would be great.
Geoff: Everyone should feel very welcome. This is a significant event for me and I want to be a good host. And I will do my best to entertain. So that is for the people that want to go in person. I understand that we are still in the age of COVID and not everyone has the time or means to travel to Dallas and that’s why we’ve produced a large number of videos. As you know, Jim, I have enjoyed a very long and happy association with the Oscar Monnig Meteorite Gallery in Fort Worth, the neighboring city to Dallas. By very kind permission of the director and curator, Dr. Rhiannon Mayne and the TCU Media Department, we were given rather marvelous permission to film there. Craig Kissick and I went with the Heritage film crew and spent an afternoon at the Monnig. We toured the gallery we made a short film about their collection, and Oscar Monnig, and the auction and you can see that on HA.com. I spoke about why we were doing the auction and talked about some key pieces, and just the majesty of meteorites in general. There are also many shorter videos about my life in meteorites and highlighting some of the auction lots. I encourage people to go and enjoy that. We put a lot of effort and enthusiasm into those films.
You and I and your readers know meteorites, but I wanted this to be interesting to everyone. We have run up against this time after time, where we meet people who are just so surprised that they can own a meteorite! They don’t realize it’s possible. Meteorites seem like such a remote treasure that would only be the purview of museums and universities. And as readers of “Meteorite Times” well know, we collectively have tried to make it possible for just about anyone to own a meteorite. People of any means. So that carries over into the auction. This is not just an auction for wealthy collectors, this is an auction for every person who has any interest in meteorites, or space, or the cosmos, or even television or metal detecting!
Jim: This has all been fantastic and I don’t have anything else. If you do we can continue. If not I will turn off the recorder and we can chat for as long as you want.
Geoff: I would just like to close by saying “thank you” to the field. To my many friends and colleagues, to all the people who have helped along the way on expeditions with filming and to our Aerolite Meteorites customers whose patronage has made my books, and film series, and outreach and nonprofit work possible. It reminds me of the early days of the web when Paul and I would have these fairly regular phone conversations where we would swap information. Paul would say, “Oh, look! I learned this thing about web design,” and I would say, “Oh, look! I learned this thing about compressing images.” You, and Paul, and I, in particular have had a long and fantastic journey together through the world of meteorites. But also loads of other people that made all of this a reality. My friend and co-host Steve Arnold and so many others who worked on the show. And friendly strangers who just helped when we were lost on an adventure or we needed gas in a funny little town and we found somebody who sold us some out of a jerry can. For me, it was a collective journey that involved hundreds or possibly thousands of people who, all in their own way, contributed to this and I hope it shows that part of this auction is me showing my respect for the community. The community of collectors … so that we can all enjoy these meteorites.
Jim: I have certainly enjoyed our friendship. Sara, that’s my wife for those reading, is always thrilled to hear what you are up to. She remembers and speaks regularly of our times with you and of her ride in “The Mule” [the “Meteorite Men” truck], and of your stay in our home. I know that our friendship will go on and on, this is just a turn in the road and I wish you all the very best as you reinvent and journey to new and fantastic places. Thanks for spending this time with the whole of the meteorite world that reads our magazine.