What you should know about buying meteorites at auction
During the past decade, meteorite collecting has grown considerably in popularity and several natural history auctions featuring meteorites take place each year. Some offer meteorites only, while others feature a variety of natural history collectibles. Every year, enthusiasts gather to bid on space rocks in Tucson, AZ, and Denver, CO. These events are organized by the meteorite collecting community and are attended by knowledgeable buyers and collectors. The Tucson and Denver auctions take place during gem and mineral shows and often provide real bargains for the savvy bidder. Prominent auction houses in New York, London, and California also present a few auctions each year which include some meteorite specimens. Many of the lots offered at these upmarket events are large, expensive pieces aimed at wealthy individuals who are not a regular part of the meteorite collecting community, and the prices realized are often far higher than typical retail values. The auction houses spend tens of thousands of dollars on advertising and promotion in the hope of attracting millionaire bidders who will pay top dollar for an outer space collectible.

Before spending large sums at a fancy auction, do some research, and compare prices by looking at some of the commercial websites which offer meteorites for sale. Remember that the big auction houses add a buyers' premium to all lots (typically 15%), and successful bidders are required to pay that additional fee on top of the final hammer price. That sometimes leads to an unpleasant surprise when it's time to settle up.

[pictured above] A prospective bidder examines meteorite lots

New York City, October 2007
The controversy surrounding the Willamette meteorite auction

Bonhams is a major auction house, with branches in the United States, Great Britain, Australia and Hong Kong. In October of 2007 Bonhams hosted a large auction of meteorites, including Steve Arnold's world record Brenham pallasite, which weighs 1,430 pounds, along with a slice from the famous Willamette iron. Some media outlets have incorrectly described the upcoming event as "the world's first meteorite auction." Many meteorite auctions have taken place in the past; this is the first all-meteorite auction to be staged by a major auction house. An attractive print catalog is published to accompany the auction, and can be ordered from Bonhams for a fee.

The main mass of the Willamette iron weighs over fifteen tons and is the ninth largest meteorite ever found on earth, and the largest found in the United States. It belongs to the American Museum of Natural History and is displayed at the Rose Center for Earth and Space in New York City. The Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde have publicly stated that the Willamette iron is a sacred object. At one time they attempted, through legal means, to have the giant meteorite repatriated to their tribal lands in Oregon. The Willamette was purchased in 1905 and donated to the AMNH. During the 1990s a substantial piece was removed from the mass and traded to a private meteorite collector in New York City. That piece is now being offered for sale by Bonhams, and a Washington Post article stated that the Clackamas tribe of Oregon were "deeply saddened that any individual or organization [would] traffic in the sale of a sacred and historic artifact."

Less controversial was the offering of professional meteorite hunter Steve Arnold's "World Record Pallasite," which he discovered on a Kansas farm in the fall of 2005. Steve is a long-time friend and hunting partner of Aerolite Meteorites owner Geoffrey Notkin. Together, Steve and Geoff co-own Meteorite Adventures.

Bonhams and Butterfields typically hold two or three natural history auctions each year, which usually feature a number of meteorite lots.

[pictured above] The World Record Pallasite on display, Tucson 2006

Natural history auctions

Several other major international auction houses occasionally offer high-end meteorites as part of their natural history auction programs. Check the auction houses' online catalogs for details. Attractive print catalogs with quality color photographs are prepared to promote these auctions and can be ordered online for a fee.

Tucson, AZ, February (annual)
Historic meteorites from a noted personal collection

For the past several years, during the annual Tucson Gem and Mineral Show in February, noted meteorite collector and paleontologist Allan Lang has offered premium historic specimens from his personal collection. Founded in 1971, R.A. Langheinrich Meteorites and Lang's Fossils is one of the world's oldest and most respect natural history businesses. Specializing in witnessed falls, rare and historic meteorites from vintage collection, and top quality fossils, this modestly sized, but classy auction attracts knowledgeable collectors from all over the world. The auction is typically held during the first weekend in February at the elegant Westward Look Resort, just off Ina Road in Tucson.

Starting in 2008 R.A. Langheinrich Meteorites began offering meteorite specimens at an auction managed by Stack's, in mid February, during the Tucson gem and mineral showcases.

Tucson, AZ, February (annual)
The largest ongoing meteorite auction in the world
Every February, popular San Diego, California-based meteorite dealer and collector Michael Blood hosts an exciting and well-attended auction in Tucson. Michael is a licensed auctioneer, and his yearly event attracts well over a hundred buyers and sellers. The 2008 event will be Michael's eighth consecutive annual meteorite auction. On average about 140 lots are presented, covering the entire spectrum of collecting, with hammer prices ranging from a few dollars to thousands of dollars. The event is held at the VFW Hall on Beverly Avenue in Tucson, and is a must for meteorite collectors and enthusiasts in town for the February gem and mineral show.

Denver CO, September (annual)
A fun and entertaining social event
In September each year, natural history enthusiasts convene in Colorado for the annual Denver Gem and Mineral Show. A number of well known meteorite collectors and dealers live in the greater Denver area, and collectively are known as the COMETS (Colorado Meteorite Society). Mike Jensen of Jensen Meteorites, his brother Bill, Anne Black of Impactika.com and their colleagues put together an event which is half block party and half meteorite auction. A keg of local beer is supplied as well as wine, snacks, lots of good company and conversation. Aerolite Meteorites owner Geoffrey Notkin serves as co-auctioneer with Mike Jensen. On average about 100 lots are presented, with most specimens running in the $50 to $500 range. Most lots are offered with no reserve and each year many lucky bidders take home some real bargains.

Tucson, AZ, February (suspended)
For several years, Darryl Pitt, Curator of the Macovich Collection of Meteorites in New York City hosted a stylish outdoor auction on the grass lawn of the InnSuites hotel during the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show. This popular even was widely attended, and received local TV and newspaper coverage. The auction has not taken place since 2002.

Online meteorite auctions
eBay offers a wide variety of meteorites for sale, as well as impactites, and meteorite-related collectibles, all day, every day. Typically there are about 800 live auctions at any one time. Most are smaller items, valued at $50 or less. Although a number of very respected meteorite sellers use eBay on a regular basis, buyers should exercise care and caution! Fakes, meteor-wrongs, and incorrectly described or labeled meteorites are offered on eBay daily. Do your research and buy from reputable meteorite dealers.