The Fireball of August 18, 1873,
near Newark-on-Trent, England.
Etching by Henry Robinson.

    Buying Meteorites:
     A Few Things to Consider

We have been involved with collecting meteorites for many years, as a buyers, sellers, and traders.  Most individuals who deal in meteorites are honest people and you will enjoyed dealing with them. However, you will find not all of them are IMCA members. We have also seen many wild unsubstantiated claims, "shady" activities, dealer "hype," and just plain fraud. We have cataloged such activities on this page.  If you are an "old hand" at collecting you probably already know to stay away from these traps but if you are a novice (as everyone once was) you may want to take heed before you make your next meteorite purchase.  In any case remember, there is no substitute for personal research and becoming knowledgeable in this field!


Classification (visual)
Classifying a meteorite involves considerable lab work and is the heart of beginning to understand a given specimen. It requires considerable expertise and equipment.  

We dare say that no one can just simply look at meteorites (or images of meteorites) and form reliable and valid conclusions as to their classifications.  Hot desert meteorites are frequently cut by dealers who are looking for achondrites but no one can consistently classify meteorites by visual inspection alone.  While many dealers with considerable experience can somewhat reliably tell the difference between an H and an L meteorite, one simply cannot reliably tell by visual examination whether a given specimen is, for example,  an L or LL.  If classification is important to you (for some it is and for some it is not) Ask the dealer why he or she thinks the specimen is a certain class and whether or not the meteorite as been examined by a reputable lab (not someone's child's science class at school).
Sometimes you will see a seller refer to meteorite that has been sliced so "you (the buyer) can see the inside of what it looks like," or to "verify that the rock actually is a meteorite."  Okay, so far so good - no problem. However, the same seller may also state that the meteorite is unclassified, so you may have a really rare type on your hands once you buy the rock from the seller.  Who knows, it could be from the moon or from Mars!

Don't be fooled by this.  The cut face does allow you to see the inside (which is a legitimate claim) but the seller may not be entirely honest.  In actuality, the seller (or someone else) has cut a slice into the meteorite because they are looking for achondrites which, as a group, are rare and more valuable than "ordinary chondrites."  Once the seller is satisfied that they do not have an achondrite, and assuming they know what they are doing, the pitch "you may have a valuable find" is extremely unlikely.  Not impossible, just unlikely.

Again, there is nothing wrong with buying a cut meteorite and you may actually have a rare find on your hands but it is unlikely if the meteorite is being sold by a knowledgeable seller.
Disappearing Discount
Let's say a dealer sends out a list of meteorites for sale, which is soon followed by another list of meteorites for sale, some of which are the same meteorites as those on the first list.  The second list contains language which states that the meteorites are for sale at a discount from the first list, say 20%.  At first glance, this sounds like the dealer is willing to lower his asking price in order to make a sale and the potential buyer is happy to see such a discount from the first list and is considering making a purchase at the new, discounted price.  But wait, the potential buyer notices that meteorites on the second list have suddenly jumped up in price by 20%, the exact same amount as the discount!  So what happened to the discount?  It just disappeared, like our respect for that dealer.
The eBay auction site can be a place for some exceptionally great deals on exceptional meteorites.  Many of the exceptional pieces in my collection were obtained by bidding at eBay.

eBay can also be a place where average deals can be had on average meteorites.  Many of the average pieces in my collection were obtained by bidding on eBay.

eBay is also rift with rip-offs, con artists, and fraudulent claims about meteorites and meteor"wrongs."  None of these have ended up in my collection.

Here are a few, shall we say, "inaccuracies" we have seen on eBay (paraphrasing):

"This meteorite is from Halley's comet!"
          - There is no scientific evidence that any piece of
            Halley's comet has fallen as a  meteorite

"This meteorite contains emeralds!"
          - There is no scientific evidence that any meteorite contains emeralds.

"This meteorite contains the dead bodies of insects from Mars!"
          - We don't know whether to laugh or cry over this claim.

"If you buy this meteorite (or tektite) from me, peace, love joy and happiness will flow from it
and fill your body with cosmic goodness!"
          - Ditto (although curiously, Death-by-Chocolate
            ice cream has that same affect on us)

"I know absolutely nothing about meteorites but a magnet does not stick to this object,
it is very light for it's size, it's covered with green and purple sticky stuff, it's full of holes
from one side to the other and if you look closely you can see the outline of Saturn's
rings (complete with Cassini division) here.  It just HAS to be a meteorite!  My reserve is
only $50,000!
          - Where do we start...?

In short, every business caveat applies to eBay, especially "buyer beware."  As we have stated many times if you want to collect meteorites you have to become knowledgeable in the field, including being able to differentiate fact from fiction and you see a lot of fiction on ebay.

Collector Ken Newton has a really good "about me" eBay page that has some nice examples of meteor"wrongs" that have been offered on ebay.  If you are new to meteorites and you plan to bid on ebay, please check this URL before you do: Meteorites and Meteorwrongs on Ebay

A final ebay warning. A winning bidder can lose by being too trusting. Educate yourself to Ebay/Paypal's limitations. Look for the logo and purchase from IMCA members.
Imilac Meteorite
Imilac is a pallasite meteorite.  A pallasite is a mixture of olivine (a mineral) and metal (iron) in roughly equal amounts.  When properly sliced and prepared, many pallasites are quite beautiful.

Unfortunately, this is not (usually) the case with Imilac many specimens of Imilac.  You see, the olivine in many specimens of Imilac weathered away a long time ago, so what is left is the metal.  In fact most Imilac on the market consists of small fragments of twisted metal.

Now, there is nothing wrong with buying and placing in your collection a piece (or pieces) of twisted metal Imilac but you should know that in most cases, this is what you are getting.  You will see this a lot on eBay.  The seller describes pallasites and talks about how beautiful they are (particularly when backlit so the light shines through the transparent olivine) but the image is that of a piece of twisted metal; not at all like the description.  We have seen Imilac with olivine but this type is the exception.  If you are interested in buying a specimen of Imalic and the seller does not provide an image or it is not clear that he or she is selling a twisted metal variety, ask the seller which type it is.  All pallasites are not the same!
Nantan Meteorite
Nantan is an iron meteorite that is known for is ability to rust away to nothing, a fact that many sellers of this meteorite fail to mention. You can buy lots of Nantan on eBay.  You may as well be buying shale when you buy most Nantan.  Yes, you can find it cheap but Nantan is truely a meteorite to stay away from unless you are willing to accept that the overwhelming majority of specimens will fall apart over a very short period of time.  
Oriented Meteorites
An oriented meteorite is one that maintains a stable orientation during it's passage through the Earth's atmosphere such that it develops a rollover lip and certain flight markings such as flow lines.  Oriented meteorites often (but not always) have an angular protrusion and the meteorite spins about this axis.  The rollover lip forms on the trailing edge of the meteorite and the flow lines form on the leading edges(s).  

The problem with sellers selling so-called oriented meteorites is that sometimes they are not.  Orientation is a special characteristic of a meteorite which is not common.  Orientation is the exception, not the rule.  Therefore, it is my opinion that the seller should point out why he or she feels that a given specimen is oriented.  It would be like saying, "this meteorite is special" but not pointing out why the specimen is special.  If you are considering purchasing a meteorite which the seller states is oriented, but the seller doesn't state why, then ask what characteristics make that specimen oriented.  If a seller could not tell you or appears to be vague, we suggest you walk away from the deal.   
Prices can vary from seller-to-seller by as much as 500% for essentially the same material.  Back in Nininger's days, meteorites often went for $1.00/pound (454 grams).  Not anymore!

Here is the way to determine how much one buyer is willing to pay for a given specimen. WB wrote "With very few exceptions (e.g., lunar or martian material) I generally start with a mental price of $1.00/gram, then I add or subtract from that value. I take into consideration the various features of the specimen (slice vs. whole vs. fragment vs. endcut, presence vs. absence of crust, degree of rust for both irons AND stones), presence of interesting inclusions (for example, a nice big CAI in a slice of Allende or huge graphite nodule in a slice of Canyon Diablo), witnessed fall vs. find, carefulness of preparation, any particular scientific, cultural, or historical significance (yes, I like good stories associated with certain specimens (e.g., Beaver was used as a doorstop in a jail for many years)), the usual going price and other factors.  I then arrive at a final "what-is-it-worth-to-me" figure.  If the specimen is at or near that figure I just might purchase or bid on it.  If it is above, I pass and wait till next time."

The last factor mentioned "the usual going price" needs further mention.  If you are to become a knowledgeable collector, you have to become familiar with the prices of individual specimens.  Do not judge individual dealers prices in this discussion but we would think it highly unlikely that one would pay $10.00/gram for Allende.  Why not?  Because the going rate for Allende and $10.00/gram is the upper extreme.  Would you pay $10.00/gram for Allende?  Well, only you can decide that.

Now, a word about dealer tactics.  Some dealers seem to delight in informing you that a given price for a given specimen they are selling is extremely low and therefore a very good deal. Sometimes is it and sometimes the dealer just wants to make a sale.  Again, you have to do your homework and understand the pricing structure of different meteorites. There are some dealers who are fairly consistent in pricing their material above most others and there are dealers who a fairly consistent in pricing their material below the mean.  No one dealer is the absolute highest and no one dealer is the absolute lowest on all material.  You have to do your research on dealers and the material they offer. 

There might be a time when say, a slice of meteorite A is worth more than another slice of the same specimen.  For example, using the criteria above, one would value a slice of Allende which showed nice big CAIs more than one in which no CAIs were visible, all other things being equal.  Purple haylite (salt) crystals are known in a few pieces of Zag but since most pieces do not show this property, one would value a slice which shows haylite more than a piece which did not.

If you really want the specimen but you feel the price is not right, try negoitiating with the dealer.  Offer to pay directly and not through paypal so the seller avoids paypal fees.  Offer some material in trade.  What is the worse that could happen?  The dealer does not accept your offer.  If this is the case then you have lost nothing.

Is a given specimen worth what a dealer is asking for it?  Through your research, only you can decide.  
Sikhote-Alin Meteorite
The Sikhote-Alin Iron meteorite fall of 1947 produced two different kinds of iron meteorites.  One kind is called a whole or complete individual and has thumbprints (regmaglypts).  The other type consists of what looks like a twisted piece of metal with sharp edges that resembles shrapnel from an exploded metal bomb.  Indeed, this second type is called simply, "shrapnel."  In general, the thumbprinted type typically sells for more than the shrapnel type.

The problem is, sometimes the seller is actually selling a specimen of shrapnel but they don't identify it as such.  I have mostly seen this at auctions at ebay but I have sometimes seen this on dealers websites as well. Sometimes the seller describes both types of meteorites in the item description but fails to specify which type they are actually selling.

Now, there is nothing wrong with the shrapnel type.  Indeed, We have several pieces in our collections.  We think they are quite beautiful and are a testament to the enormous potential energy stored within a  large meteoroid traveling at incredible speed and the shearing forces which can break apart a meteorite.  But if you have seen pictures of  a beautifully crusted and completely thumbprinted individual and you find a "Sikhote-Alin" specimen offered for $.15 - $.20/gram, this will most likely be the shrapnel type.  Knowing this, if you are not sure what type the seller is selling you should ask before you bid or buy. 
Tektites (size)
Tektites come in many different sizes and shapes and indochinites are relatively plentiful.

The problem is, some sellers describe relatively small tektites as being "huge" or "rare in this size" (smaller). They make it appear as though a 30 gram tektite from China is in some way extra large and hence rare and hence more valuable.  Having sold countless kg of tektites from China, one seller explains, "that based solely on size, a 30 gram Chinese tektite is neither rare nor deserving an inflated price (such tektites can be had for pennies/gram)!"
"Unique" or "Very Unique" Meteorite
The word "unique" literally means one-of-a-kind, as in no other like it.  This word is often applied to the shapes or physical characteristics of a given specimen. In these cases, one may safely classify this observation as "dealer hype".

The problem is (yes, you guessed it) every meteorite is unique, depending on your level of analysis.  If you take two slices of say, Ghubara (an L5 chondrite found in Oman in 1954) the chondrule pattern will, of course, not be exactly identical but it would be misleading to describe each slice as being "unique."  Describing a meteorite as otherwise one of a kind is like implying that a given snowflake is unique and is therefore worth more than than other snowflakes. 

Be careful with the word "unique."  Take the seller to task and ask what makes a given specimen "unique." Is there some unusual property about the meteorite, such as a rare (but not necessarily unique) inclusion or is it simply because the seller liked the shape (therefore, making all meteorites unique).  Truely unique meteorites deserve a premium, but there are actually very few truely scientifically unique meteorites.
Watered Down Meteorite
Have your ever purchased a meteorite from a website or ebay and noticed that the meteorite doesn't quite match the image you saw on the computer screen.  Maybe the specimen you are holding in you hand lacks the luster or contrast that you saw when you purchased it based, in part, upon how nice the image looked.  Well, what may have happend is the seller wet the specimen before taking a picture.  Wetting a rock makes it shine very nicely, particularly the cut face of stone meteorites.  The chondrules and matrix really stand out.  If you suspect this has happened, don't hesistate to ask the buyer if the image or specimen was altered in any way

Similarly, many digital cameras have a "vivid" setting, which increase contrast and makes colors more vivid.  If a specimen looks too good on the screen or if it doesn't look right when you receive it, always contact the seller.

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