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re-write of article on investment in meteorites
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- Subject: re-write of article on investment in meteorites
- From: Peter Abrahams <firstname.lastname@example.org>
- Date: Wed, 15 Jul 1998 16:00:36 -0700
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This is the article I've submitted to Voyage, a re-write of my post to the
list, including summations of other posts. Thanks to everyone for their
help. If I've made any errors, please let me know.
Meteorites are not good investments.
By Peter Abrahams, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
There has been much discussion on the meteorite e-mail list on meteorites
as investments. Like many people, I feel that this topic is the least
interesting aspect of meteorites, but it is of some importance, even for
those with noble intentions who are buying because of interest & love.
These rocks are very expensive, and while it is one thing to spend a few
hundred on something unsaleable, if spending many months of wages on a
collection, prudent planning dictates that one keep open the possibility of
recovering most of that investment. This is obviously a personal choice.
Some of the reasons that meteorites can be considered poor investments
1. There are more than a few meteorites that have declined in value, most
because of continuing supply or new sources. Some of these were available
in limited supply for a long period, later becoming widely available.
Others were expensive while new & the story of their fall or find was
current, but later became less novel & exciting. Examples include:
--Gibeon, where a steady supply of new material that has continued for years.
--Sikhote Alin, which was available at high prices for a long time, until
changes in Russia led to larger supplies.
--Allende has been available at retail with widely varying prices and no
clear direction up or down in value.
--Gao, admittedly the early specimens had fresh crust that later finds did
--Brenham, as word got out about its rust tendencies.
--El Hammammi, an example of a fantastic expedition, an interesting rock,
and a declining price.
--Broadening the definition a little, Libyan desert glass, which has been
exported in steady quantities.
2. The recent appreciation in value of meteorites has been accompanied by
an increase in the stock market, real estate, and most other investments.
An idea that these rocks are good investments has to compare them to other
investments, some of which are insured, are more liquid, more durable, and
much more in demand by the world.
3. Within some decades, rocks from the moon, Mars, and asteroids will be
imported to earth, very possibly diminishing an investment. The very high
prices for lunar meteorites mean that it is probable that lunar meteorites
will decrease in value when moon rocks are available.
4. Guessing which meteorites will appreciate has never been easy. 10
years ago, a friend was advised by experienced collectors that the best
investment was 'big irons'. That hasn't proved to be true, so far.
Another friend invested heavily in any unusual carbonaceous chondrites, and
he has done a lot better (and has a more interesting collection). The very
rare types have been a better investment, but if value depends on extreme
scarcity, any sizeable new discovery can lower values; for example, what if
a 30 pound howardite were found just after you paid top dollar for a piece
5. In my opinion, the idea that meteorites are good investments is a very
destructive influence on the field. It will cause specimens to be
overpriced, locked up, & hoarded; and will greatly tend to attract
dishonest dealers. What this means is that many scientists & collectors
will do everything they can to discourage investors & prevent this
travesty. Realistically, there is nothing we can do, but would you invest
in a home if you knew that the neighbors were against anyone using the
property as an investment?
6. When investing in meteorites, you're at the mercy of the dealers, who
can lower their prices and make it difficult for the earlier customers to
recoup their investment. There are many examples of meteorites that are
owned entirely by one dealer, who will understandably try to recoup his
investment by charging what the market will bear. Sometimes the dealer
will then lower prices to clear stock. Specific examples of this have been
noted on the e-mail list.
7..Like all merchandise, it is bought at retail prices. If a collector
desires to obtain retail prices when he sells a collection, he has to do
the same work that the dealers do, which is often considerable.
8. The typical meteorite collector becomes attached to their best
specimens, in fact they often love them. That emotional bond is the most
important aspect of the collection to them, and so it should be. These
beautiful space rocks are significant beyond words. But this is absolutely
opposite the feeling that wise investors have for their investments. You
don't sell something that you love, and you don't love something that you
9. There are very good opportunities for dishonest people in this field.
Some rare meteorites are easy to fake with other meteorites, or gravel, or
concrete, and unless sophisticated tests are run on them, some are hard to
detect. If several fake meteorites were to be widely disseminated, the
value of all could be significantly diminished.
10. The designation 'Nova' is given to meteorites whose place of origin
cannot be determined. This is more than an inconvenience, it can place
some significant impediments and at least major inconveniences, into the
process of research. This is not necessarily a result of a dealer
manipulation, although Nova 003, later known as Reid 013, was given a false
name, 'Window Butte, Utah', by a dealer.
In another example, it is a matter of public record that the main mass of
Nova 001 was held by Ron Farrell, Bethany Meteorites, after arrival in the
U.S. (Meteoritics, v.28 #1, 3/1993, p150; and v.29 #6, 11/1994, p843).
The three examples of 'Nova' meteorites are relevant because they highlight
the fragile nature of this investment. It hinges on trust in dealers &
collectors, some of whom are not deserving of this. The very nature of the
field, where very valuable things fall from the sky and someone gets it for
free, encourages less than noble behavior.
10. Many meteorites deteriorate, by rust, hydration, or handling. The
effect this can have on an investment is obvious. Most of the examples of
this occur in some, but not all, of the specimens of a meteorite. This is
because of variable composition of the rock, and especially because of
variable conditions of preparation & storage. Examples of suicidal
meteorites include the following, discussed on the e-mail list:
--Miles often breaks apart if stored in the air, and other silicated irons
are similar. The most interesting irons include those with a matrix with
sulfides and troilite, which can greatly add to storage problems.
--Brenham often rusts and crumbles. Some of this is because specimens were
cut with tap water, containing chlorine. Other problem pallasites include
Brahin, (although a oil & heat treatment used by R. Haag has helped some
problem pieces), Vermont, Krasnojarsk, and Admire (noted to be rusting away
in one collector's dessicant containing cabinet). Acid etching of
pallasites can produce a beautiful specimen, but removing the last traces
of acid from behind the olivine seems difficult at best.
--Lamont is a very self-destructive mesosiderite, and Bondoc shows some
--Gibeon slices often rust, as do a good number of other irons when sliced.
The etching process used very strong acid, that must be throughly
neutralized and removed from all cracks and surfaces.
--Toluca and some other irons rust as whole specimens. Nantan, Canyon
Diablo, Odessa, and Cape York specimens have shown rusting, along with
fewer Sikhote Alins.
--Graphite nodules from Meteor Crater are notorious for self-destructing.
--There are stone meteorites that are 'problem rusters'. Salaices is an H4
reported to be prone to rust.
--C1s are very fragile.
--Examples of very friable meteorites that can crumble from handling
include Saratov, Bjurbole (found under water), and El Hammammi is somewhat