This is a question I get all the time, usually from people who have found or who have recently purchased a meteorite. They usually want to know what the meteorites value is, where they can get it classified, if I would like to buy their meteorite, or where they can sell it. So I figured why not write a short article on how to determine the value of a meteorite. This article is based on an industry average and information compiled from a number of online and textual resources.
I'd like to provide a quick analogy. Meteorites are like cars. Some cars are very expensive and are worth a great deal of money due to their rarity, like the Roll Royce for example. When compared to a sub compact or family sedan a Ferrari is worth much much more. Quality is the first thing you think of the governs the value, then you consider aesthetics, and finally rarity. Meteorites are valued in much the same way as any commodity really.
A meteorite’s value is based on a number of factors including:
• TYPE (ie; stone chondrite, achondrite, stony iron, or iron; Lunar and Martian meteorites are typically worth a great deal more than any other type)
• TKW (Total known Weight, Main Mass)
• RECOVERY COST (based on how much it cost the collector or person selling the meteorite to hunt, find, classify and sell)
This list is by no means fully comprehensive in scope. It’s simply some basic variables that help to give you a general idea of the value of meteorites as a whole. Meteorites are rare. Rarer in fact than Gold and diamonds, however their value is determined by numerous variables. Here are a few of the main factors.
TYPES: A meteorites type typically refers to the 3 main groups of meteorites
• STONE (Chondrites)
• STONY IRON (Pallasites & Mesosiderites)
• IRON (Nickel Iron, Octahedrite, Siderite)
STONE METEORITES: There are different types of stone meteorites such as achondrites, carbonaceous chondrites, lunars, martian meteorites, etc. but for this article we will concentrate on the main categories and not in depth definitions of types. Stone Meteorites are the most common type, referred to as Ordinary Chondrites. Chondrite meteorites come in all shapes and sizes and make up about 80% of the meteorites found on the planet. Sliced an polished ston meteorites make great display pieces. I'm rather partial to stone meteorites simply because of the great diversity of types. There are probably as many types of meteorites as ther are minerals on Earth.
STONY IRON METEORITES: In this category you’ll find Pallasite meteorites, and mesosiderites. Pallasites are iron meteorites with large numbers of olivine crystals scattered throughout a nickel iron matrix of the meteorite. Some pallasites like the Esquel Pallasite, have some gem quality olivine crystals. Mesosiderites are the other stony iron and are neat little meteorites, because they consist of about 50% iron and 50% silicate materials making up it’s rich matrix. They’re not exactly as pretty as a pallasite but they’re beautiful in their own right.
IRON METEORITES: These are some of the most rare (not as rare as pallasites) meteorites on Earth and make up only 5% of all known finds/falls. Canyon Diablo (Meteor Crater in Arizona) is an iron meteorite. Campo del Cielo, is a huge iron meteorite that was discovered in South America in 1576, some 200 years before we become a nation! Time of fall, about 4000-6000 years ago. SOURCE: Meteorite Market Iron meteorites are not always worth more than a chondrite just because they are more rare than a stone meteorite. Some, like the Campo, can be purchased for less than .50/g or lower, whereas a Franconia Chondrite meteorite is worth between $1g to $2g at the time of this writing.
CLASSIFICATION: A meteorite that has been classified is generally worth more than an unclassified meteorite. Some meteorites aren’t classified but hold a very high value because of their type. Experienced meteorite collectors and enthusiasts, including scientists buy sell and trade unclassified meteorites all the time. Most meteorites that are sold (NWAs) are not classified because of the sheer number of specimens and lack of available labs to do the proper classification work. To classify a meteorite there are a set of guidelines one must consider. The Meteoritical Society issues names or numbers to classified meteorites based on these guidelines. Lab tests must verify the specimen is in fact meteoritical,, then more tests are performed to determine the type, chemical properties, mineralogical makeup, and finally the specimen will be issued a name; or a number in the case of NWA meteorites. There is much more to meteorite classification than this, but it will give you a good idea of what it takes to get one classified.
RARITY: Rare meteorites obviously are worth considerably more than your typical stone (ordinary chondrite) meteorite. However, a stone meteorite can be a rare meteorite. For example, the Allende which fell February 8, 1969 in Chihuahua, Mexico is a rare type of stone meteorite called a carbonaceous chondrite, scientist believe this type of meteorite may be the oldest known matter in the universe. This stone meteorite has been classified CV3. Read the short article on Meteorite Market about the formation of meteorites. Ordinary chondrites on the other hand, are just that, ordinary. They’re plentiful and readily available to anyone for reasonable price. Iron meteorites are rare in that they make up about 5% of all known meteorite falls so this fact alone of course increases their value. Stony iron meteorites such as pallasites and mesosiderites are rarer than your average iron meteorite and therefore are worth more gram for gram. Lunars (meteorites from the moon) and Martian (meteorites from Mars) are worth a great deal more than any other meteorite on the planet because of their rarity alone. Not that they are made of especially wonderful minerals and house some wondrous chemical properties, but simply put, they’re worth more because they’re so rare. They do exhibit some rare minerals but they’re insignificant in abundance to really affect value to a large extent.
AESTHETICS: Another value enhancing aspect of a meteorite’s worth is aesthetics. If a meteorite is more pleasing to the eye, has a sculpted shape, or perhaps a hole, it tends to be worth more per gram than a meteorite in the same classification, and type. Say for example you own a Sikhote Alin iron meteorite with a hole through it. This piece would be worth more. Sikhote Alin meteorites are highly sought after by meteorite collectors for their aesthetic value alone. If you’ve ever heard the term, “That’s what a meteorite should look like.” Then the Sikhote iron would be the one most likely referred to. Another factor in aesthetic value is display. How the meteorite displays is only somewhat important. Does it look “cool”? Is is weirdly shaped? Does it look like anything, a boat for example, or maybe a pointy finger. I sold a small unclassified meteorite for more than $1/g only because it looked like a pointy finger. The same type meteorite I normally sell for .20/g to .60/g. This is a good example of a sculpted shape, increasing the value of a meteorite.
Some other aesthetic sub-factors include:
• FUSION CRUST
• WEIGHT & DENSITY
FUSION CRUST: If a stone meteorite is fully crusted it is worth more than a partially crusted specimen. Usually the higher the percentage of fusion crust the higher the value. The quality of the crust is also important. If a meteorites crust cracked and weathered it is typically worth less than if the crust is pristine and “fresh”. A newly fallen meteorite will have a freshly blackened crust, whereas a meteorite that fell say, 10,000 years ago might have weathered brownish crust. Desert varnish is sometimes mistakenly referred to as fusion crust.
REGMAGLYPTS: Or Thumprints, are the small indentations, scoops, and ridges on the surface of a meteorite. Usually the deeper, larger and more thumbprinted a meteorite is, the more it’s worth.
SHAPE: The shape of a meteorite is a major factor when considering value. Highly sculptured specimens are more valuable than rounded and featureless meteorites.
WEIGHT & DENSITY: This is not a huge factor but it does have some affect on a meteorites value. Meteorites tend to be heavier than Earth rocks of similar size. However we’re not comparing weight with terrestrial rocks, we’re comparing to other meteorites. Higher iron content in stone meteorites will make the specimen weigh more than a meteorite of similar size and by weight alone will be worth more. Aesthetics do play some part in this as well. When a meteorite is sliced and polished it reveals the interior of the stone and therefore the iron inside. Some meteorites like the Gujba meteorite which fell in Nigeria in 1984 has iron nodules that increase its density weight, therefore increasing it’s weight to size ratio. This makes it worth more, not to mention its beautiful aesthetic value. Meteorites like the Gujba are also rare.
WEATHERING: A meteorites weathering also plays a large part in determining how much a meteorite might be worth. If a meteorite is OLD, in other words it fell tens of thousands of years ago, it will have been subjected to thousands of years of erosion and corrosion caused by weather fluctuations over time. For example, an iron meteorite that fell on a beach in Florida wouldn’t last very long; perhaps 50 years or less depending on it’s size and how exposed to the elements it was. The Nantan meteorite is a perfect example of an iron meteorite that has been subjected to corrosion. Meteorites contain iron or are all iron. An iron meteorite will deteriorate at a much faster rate than a stone meteorite in a humid environment. Imagine what happens to meteorites that fall in our oceans. Oceans cover some 70% of the Earth’s surface, given this fact, it’s not surprising to learn that 70% of the meteorites that have ever hit out planet have landed in the water never to be found. Deserts are prime meteorite hunting grounds because of the lack of water or humidity. The arid climates are what saves the meteorite from certain doom. Eventually however, over hundreds of thousands of years, wind-blown sand, earthquakes, floods, and other natural phenomena will weather away to dust even the heartiest of meteorites. If a meteorite is highly weathered it’s worth less. If it’s been well preserved and in good condition it’s value is increased exponentially.
TKW: Or TOTAL KNOWN WEIGHT plays a large part in a meteorites value. If a new fall meteorite, or old for that matter, has a low TKW then it will obviously be worth quite a bit more than another similar sample of the same type and classification. It’s basically all about logic. If you own all of something rare, and there’s a demand for it, then it’s worth more. Pretty simple really. A fall of a single stone meteorite weighing in at only a couple hundred grams, will be worth more than a meteorite of the same type with a higher TKW. Think of gold as an example. If gold were abundant and everyone could own a few pounds then it would decrease in value. However since we know how rare gold really is, and that it’s very hard locate, it’s worth is increased. Gold’s value is also affected by aesthetics, just like diamonds, rubies, emeralds, etc. You get the point.
RECOVERY COST: This value factor is based on how much it costs a discovery team or individual hunter to procure any given meteorite. Some meteorite hunters and scientists spend tens of thousands of dollars to recover meteorites from remote parts of our planet. You can imagine how much money is spent to recover a meteorite in Antarctica for example versus finding one in the deserts of the southwest. If you live close enough to an area where meteorites have been found and you happen upon one, then unless it’s a rare type it’s not going to worth very much. Maybe a $1 or so per gram. Lunar and Martian meteorites sell for thousands of dollars per gram and meteorite hunters spend thousands hunting and buying samples from other hunters and dealers. When selling any meteorite the recovery cost is a significant factor in determining value. Cleaning and prepping a meteorite for sale is of course yet another factor.
A meteorites worth is governed by a huge number of factors and is subjective at best. As you can see, determining the value of a meteorite is not easy. Irons are typically worth more than Ordindary chondrites, Pallasites more than irons, and of course Lunars and Martian meteorites are worth more than all of the types combined gram for gram.
Meteorite collecting is a great and fun hobby and many people are fascinated by meteorites. When you realize that the value of any given meteorite is dependant upon a great deal more than the fact it’s a meteorite, you’re one step closer to finding out how much your meteorites are worth.
© Copyright 2008 Eric Wichman - MeteoritesUSA.com