[meteorite-list] Dissapointed collector - postscript

From: Nick Gessler <gessler_at_meteoritecentral.com>
Date: Thu Apr 22 09:43:30 2004
Message-ID: <>

Hello Paul,

I really have trouble with the concept of a "collectible" being applied to
meteorites. To my mind "collectibles" are artifacts produced largely for
collectors. They are often manufactured to be collected. They are
marketed as "filling this space" in your collection. On the other hand,
meteorites are natural objects that came into being without any regard for
who might discover them, pick them up, characterize the, and build them
into a collection. Science is the practice of building more reliable,
robust, and comprehensive representations of the world, both natural and
artificial, and there will always be unknowns and different ways to
classify objects of scientific interest.

There are lots of dealers, curators, collectors, finders, and scientists
involved in meteoritics who work 60 and 80 hour weeks learning more and
more about meteorites. There will always be unanswered questions. There
will always be people who know more than other people and those who know
less. There will always be unwritten guidelines and rules. There will
always be a terrific amount of knowledge beyond that which is codified in
journals, articles, books, and the Internet. And there will always be more
real meteorites to characterize and classify in laboratories than there are
wo/man hours to perform the analyses.

As with any other object of interest there are forgeries and counterfeits,
sleepers unrecognized for their intrinsic value, specimens that carry the
personal endorsements of the expertise of their previous finders and
owners, and various forms of certifications. What it all boils down to is
knowing your own expertise and the expertise of the person you are dealing
with and there are many experts, not just in scientific museums and
universities, but among collectors, dealers, and finders of specimens.

Meteorites are no less meteoritic because they have not been
classified. They are what they are. The problem is in knowing what they
are, learning to recognize the different "types" and features that vary
among them. In the end we learn by building on the work and knowledge of
others. For example, a specimen is not a Eurcite because some piece of
paper or someone says it is; it's a Eucrite because we know the backstory
to that claim. We know it is because of the expertise of claimant, that
s/he has demonstrated that knowledge publicly.

Part of that public demonstration is this Meteorite-List. Other parts are
social networks, shows, conferences, and popular and professional
journals. The bottom line is that you have to learn who to trust. There
are no "quick fixes" and "easy outs."

Regarding the "hobby" aspect of meteoritics, the situation is really not
much different from "serious" collectors, or should I say "students," of
stamps, coins, or Chinese Export Porcelain. Yes, some people will try to
fill the holes in their blue cards or stamp albums, but the more dedicated
philatelists and numismatists will do research and try to learn something
new from their collections such as the emergence and diffusion of "fancy
cancellations" or the progressive debasement of silver content in Roman
coins. Why do we build collections? I would hope we do so to learn
something about what we collect.

>Its my personal opinion though I think selling these unknowns is bad for
>everyone in the long run and muddies the waters especially for unsuspecting
>buyers like me who are at the early stages of putting together a respectable
>collection of meteorites and completely relying on our suppliers to keep us

You should rely on yourself to evaluate the credentials of those you deal with!

>I cant think of any other collecting hobby that has so many "unknowns"
>"might be"
>and "probably" tags attached to the collectible itself

Any serious collecting "hobby" has many of the same pitfalls. Meteorites,
unlike many "collectibles," did not come into this world to satisfy YOUR
collecting needs. I think you have to wake up and smell the coffee...

>and am amazed that its been allowed to get this far.

"Allowed to get this far?" What do you want, an all-knowing God or CZAR of
meteoritics. That doesn't exist anywhere in the real world, especially the
one of scientific enterprise.

>Arent meteorites in a rare class of exotic collectible

No, meteorites are in the rare class of "rocks from space." It is you who
are in the class of "collectible collector" who is subjectively imposing
the term "collectible" on these objects. I don't think "collectible"
appears in any of the classificatory schemas that I have seen in meteoritics.

>that should warrant better control of such poor selling practises?

Who would you have "control" it? I would say the Meteorite-List does a
good job of practicing community control over sales, especially on eBay. I
have no problem with ignorance from collectors, sellers, finders, and
scientists as long as they keep learning from it - after all that is what
science is all about - falsifying bad ideas. I do have a problem with the
"arrogance of ignorance" expressed by people who just won't learn or
listen. Cases in point being the so-called "Frass Meteorite" and the
occasional eBay seller who is simply over his/her head and utterly
convinced that s/he saw the thing fall and picked it up hot, or that it
"wasn't there yesterday."

I have no problem with NWA specimens. I think they are the best deal
going. It's cheaper for me to buy NWA on eBay than to go out and search in
the desert for meteorites myself (and I have done so successfully). As to
your suggestion to buy only "named" meteorites? Lunar meteorites don't
fall with the required customs label "Made on the Moon." It is we who
label it and in that process there are all stages of uncertainty. "Naming"
is still not the solution. I can put up anything on eBay and call it a NWA
49837. Who is to say it is or isn't? To repeat myself again, one solution
is to know who you are dealing with. The strewn field at Primm yielded
over 200 specimens. "Primm" is the official name. It is characterized as
an H5 , Fa 18.5; shock stage, S2; weathering grade,W3. That is based on
one sample; one out of 200! Who is to say that they all are, or are not,
the same meteorite? Well that was based on me "eyeballing" the lot of them
with some other knowledgeable folks. If thin section analysis is the only
way to be sure, then we should analyze thin sections of them
all. Right? That's not a practical alternative. And where is the border
between S2 and S3 really? Or W2 and W3? There is a lot of uncertainty in
what you regard as certain.

Paul, the problems that you are concerned with will always persist. The
only bottom line solution is for all of us to keep on questioning,
challenging, and learning, and from my experience (as layman, museum
curator, university instructor) the answers come from a wide community of
interested parties. I mentioned many people working long hours on
meteorites. This includes university scientists, dealers, and many of the
rest of us. I see it as a positive sign that many dealers are now offering
thin sections, even doing their own analyses. It's one step closer to
understanding the research value of meteorites, of getting beyond the
surface appearance into the essence of things. The labs are backed up -
they can't handle all the specimens that are out there. The nomenclature
committee is backed up - they can't provide the rapid name approval. Most
all of these people don't get paid for the work they do in these regards.

Maybe you can tell us what you are looking for in your collecting?

>I'm just a novice but it just doesnt seem right to me as things are now.

Welcome to the club. Together we can try make it better...

Received on Mon 09 Jul 2001 03:22:14 PM PDT

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