Recently, I was talking with my friend Dr. Carleton Moore, and he suggested that I write an article about Oscar Monnig. I had always planned to write an article about him, but my discussion with Carleton moved up the timetable of when I was going to do it. Carleton mused that most collectors know who Ninning was, but many new collectors probably did not know who Monnig was and should. I agreed. Carleton and I, like many in the meteorite community, want to pass along our knowledge of meteorites, institutions and people, and their considerable contributions to the knowledge of meteorites. I appreciated when such stories and knowledge were passed along to me. It made collecting meteorites more enjoyable for me. I hope it does the same for you!
Oscar E. Monnig (1902-1999) was one of the most important meteorite hunters and collectors of the twentieth century. In 1960, Monnig introduced himself to a new hire in the TCU Geology department, Dr. Arthur Ehlmann and asked for Dr. Ehlmann’s help in identifying many of the “meteorwrongs” he was sent. This partnership developed into a close friendship. In the early 1970s, Monnig asked if the University would like to have his collection. Dr. Ehlmann agreed not knowing the size of the collection. In 1999 upon the death of Monnig, TCU was bequeathed a large sum of money for the education, care and maintenance of the collection. His meteorite collection was one of the largest private collections in the world rivaling many museum collections. Currently, the collection has over 1,700 different meteorites. The collection was donated to Texas Christian University over a period of eight years. On February, 1, 2003, the Oscar Monnig Meteorite Gallery was opened to the public with about five to ten percent of his meteorites in his collection on display.
The importance of the Monnig collection was not lost on the Smithsonian museum. After word spread that the Monnig collection was going to TCU, Roy Clarke, Curator of meteorites at the Smithsonian, asked Dr. Arthur Ehlmann, Curator of the Oscar E. Monnig meteorite collection, if he could visit TCU to see the collection. After viewing the extraordinary collection, Roy voiced his disappointment that the collection did not go to the Smithsonian.
In “The Oscar E. Monnig Meteorite Collection” catalog, my friend Geoff Notkin, Creative Director of the catalog, owner of Aerolite Meteorites, and “Meteorite Men” fame writes, “I doubt there is a meteorite collector in the world unfamiliar with the delicate and precise white “M” numbers which make so many otherwise unremarkable Dimmitts, Tulias, and Tolucas something to be treasured.”
Sadly, today that is not true, but I hope soon that every collector recognizes the white “M” Monnig numbers.
Geoff goes on to say, “Those numbers, meticulously painted by Margaret and Glenn Huss-daughter and son-in-law of seminal meteoriticist H.H. Nininger – distinguish the meteorites which carry them as pieces which once resided in Oscar Monnig’s personal collection. A very few older specimens carry two sets of numbers, the second set usually consisting of four large upper case characters. Those figures were painted by Oscar himself and are coded references for the names of the ranchers from whom he acquired each particular piece.”
In late 2010, Blaine Reed obtained, from a friend of Monnig’s, some Deport irons which he discovered had a flat spot grounded on them with a number one or two and a letter or letters punch stamped on them. They were similar to the numbering system Nininger used. Blaine had discovered an early Monnig numbering system which predated the painted “M” and numbers and letters. These Deport meteorites were among the earliest specimens in Monnig’s collection.
Oscar Monnig was born in 1902, in Forth Worth, Texas, where he lived his entire life. Monnig earned a law degree from the University of Texas and practiced law for a few years. He joined the family department store business in 1928. His father and uncle started the successful business and grew it to five department stores. He worked there, eventually becoming president and CEO, until it was sold in 1981. Monnig was an astute businessman, and it was speculated that he had the foresight to realize the retail world would change dramatically in the coming years, therefore, he sold the family business of department stores. The stores were out of business by the 1990s.
Early on, Monnig was interested in astronomy and founded the Texas Observers astronomy club. He was also interested in meteorites and to satisfy his curiosity about them, he traveled to the Chicago Field Museum, Amercian Museum in New York, and the Smithsonian museum to view and discuss meteorites. Monnig became irritated when the curators at these museums treated him as a “nobody” and did not even offer to show him a meteorite. This experience motivated his drive to gather his own collection. He began collecting meteorites in the early 1930s, amassing one of the most significant private collections. Monnig was so enthusiastic a collector that he had his traveling salespeople distribute self-published brochures on how to identify meteorites with an offer to purchase any of them that were found. Monnig never turned down a purchase of a meteorite for fear that word would spread and, he would miss the opportunity in the future to obtain something new or rare.
Monnig retained voluminous correspondence providing a history of his collection and a glimpse into the early times of meteoritics. Letters from farmers revealed the symbiotic relationship between them. The farmer’s letters gratefully express how Monnig’s payment for a meteorite, at one dollar per pound, was the largest check received on the farm that year.
His main competitor was Harvey Nininger, who would later become a close friend. An example of their collaboration and friendship was with the Leedey meteorite. The Leedey meteorite fell on November 25, 1943 in Oklahoma. Monnig recorded the recovery of this meteorite. With the possible exception of four stones, all of the meteorites from the Leedey fall were recovered by Nininger and Monnig. Nininger and Monnig agreed to a fifty-fifty split on all that was found. The largest stone weighing 45 pounds (20.4 kg) was cut in half by Nininger as a fair way to honor the agreement. Most of the Monnig half is in the Monnig Meteorite Gallery at Texas Christian University (TCU), and the Nininger half is in the collection at Arizona State University (ASU). The second largest fusion covered individual weighing 4.05 kg remains in the Monnig Collection.
Delays accentuated the Leedey meteorite which was recovered in 1943 a few months after the fall, but it took until the 1950s for Nininger to describe it. It was not analyzed until the 1970s. Leedey was finally published in 1997, in the Meteoritical Bulletin. Nininger and Monnig were normally in touch with each other, but due the World War II, Monnig did not know where Nininger was located. Unknown to both of them, they contacted the same man in Oklahoma, about 24 hours after the fall, to obtain details trying to confirm if a meteorite fell. It was clouded conditions when the fall occurred adding to the difficulties of confirming if a meteorite had fallen. Monnig and Ninninger paid for ads in the local newspapers to see if they could confirm that a meteorite fell. They also sent out mail surveys to witnesses mentioned in newspapers try to establish a rough path of the fireball. The original reports had centered around Clinton, Oklahoma, and had placed the loudest noises at Hammon and Leedey. Monnig mentioned, “Without accepting anything finally, the fireball investigator must take everything at face value (believe everything as hypothesis) until the conflicts dictate the rejection of weaker data, and then gradually works [sic] out the facts.” The early reactions in western Oklahoma were largely centered around airplanes. A naval training base near Clinton and the fact that airplane routes lie across the area made many – even eyewitnesses – interpret the light and the explosion as a falling plane. There were at least two cases of unaccounted planes in the region on that night resulting in search parties being deployed. Finally, confirmation that a meteorite fell near Leedey, Oklahoma, close to where an intense search was made for a plane. Monnig received a one ounce fragment with whitish gray interior and black crust from a larger stone which told him in a glance that it was a meteorite. Nininger also received nearly identical confirmation of a fall. Both headed out to obtain the Leedey meteorite. They saw each a mile from Leedey, and Nininger approached Monnig on the road. They struck their deal and recovered most of the meteorites from Leedey. Leedey assisted in furthering our understanding of ordinary Chondrities. Dr. Tim McCoy, Chair, Curator-In-Charge (Meteorites) Mineral Sciences at the U.S. National Museum (Smithsonian), Dr. Art Ehlmann, Curator of the Oscar E. Monnig meteorite collection, and Dr. Carleton Moore, Emeritus Regents Professor, Founding Director of the Center for Meteorite Studies at ASU, wrote a paper about Leedey: “The Leedey, Oklahoma, chondrite: Fall, petrology, chemistry and unusual Fe, Ni-FeS inclusion”.
Carleton was friends with Nininger and Monnig. Carleton remembers Oscar Monnig as a good businessman, and gentleman, who was always polite. Oscar would visit Carleton often at ASU. When Oscar would come to Arizona, his wife enjoyed coming too. She would go to the Goldwater shopping mall, while Chuck Lewis, ASU Meteorite Curator and researcher, would pick up Oscar and bring him to ASU. Oscar would always respect everyone’s work responsibilities. Carleton could not recall if Monnig wore a cowboy hat in the field, but said, Oscar was a loyal Texan even though he did not look the part, and he did not eat beef like a stereotypical Texan. Monnig taught Carleton that rather than promising money in the future for meteorites, the best thing was to have a fist full of cash, telling the finder “this is what I will pay for the meteorite.” This was much more effective than a promise for payment down the road.
Monnig did not have a meteorite display at his house. Carleton remembers Oscar keeping most of his meteorites in the basement of his store in random boxes. This is where Carleton first saw Oscar’s specimens.
Oscar is now gone. Thanks to his generosity, Oscar and his legacy live on through his outstanding meteorite collection for all to enjoy.
For more on Oscar Monnig, please see my friends, Dr. Arnaud Mignan and Blaine Reed’s excellent article at https://github.com/amignan/amignan.github.io/blob/master/data/2012_Mignan%26Reed_Meteorite.pdf
(You may have to copy and paste this address into your browser, and then download the pdf.)
Emails between Dr. Carleton Moore and Mitch Noda
The Oscar E. Monnig Meteorite Collection Catalog – Ehlmann
Oscar E. Monnig
https://monnigmuseum.tcu.edu › oscar-monnig
Oscar Monnig – Wikipedia
https://en.wikipedia.org › wiki › Oscar_Monnig
Meteorite Times Magazine, January 2014, Anne Black, Leedey Meteorite. Contained in Dr. Elhmann’s private records.
Bulletin of the AAS: Oscar E. Monnig (1902–1999) · Vol. 32, Issue 4
https://baas.aas.org › pub › oscar-e-monnig-1902-1999
Obituary: Oscar E. Monnig, 1902-1999 – NASA/ADS
https://adsabs.harvard.edu › full
41st Lunar and Planetary Science Conference (2010) THE OSCAR E. MONNIG METEORITE COLLECTION AND MUSEUM. R. G. Mayne1 and T. Moss1 Department of Geology, TCU Box 298830, Texas Christian University
“The Monnig Meteorite Numbers Revisited” – Co-authors: Dr. Arnaud Mignan and Blaine Reed