When he took it to a local rock shop, they told him it was worthless nickel ore... That's what led retired Oregon postal worker Paul Albertson to consign a scarce and very valuable meteorite to his garage for 30 years.
It was decades later that Albertson got an inkling that the find may be something more. He attended a lecture on space rocks by Dick Pugh, a scientist with the Cascadia Meteorite Laboratory at Portland State University. Impressed, Albertson approached Pugh with his rock.
Since then, chemical analysis has revealed that Albertson's rock is, in fact, a 63.6 gram (or 2 ounces) space rock belonging to the IIF iron meteorite group. Better still, the group includes only eight other recognised meteorites thus far discovered on Earth.
The rock is likely worth tens of thousands. Yet, admirably, Albertson has made it clear that he doesn't want to sell it, and apparently wants to keep it in the local area of Lakeview as a tourist attraction.
Albertson's discovery of the so-called Fitzwater Pass meteorite may sound like a one-in-a-million scenario. But it isn't - and you too can get involved in the astounding and lucrative world of space rock collecting...
Meteorites aren't as rare as you might think
One of the great things about meteorites is that they're rare and coveted - though not-so-rare at the same time. In fact, some scientists think that it's possible to find at least one meteorite in every square mile of a state like Oregon, where Paul Albertson found his Fitzwater Pass specimen.
And of course, they keep on coming. Some collectors specialise in 'witnessed falls', when the fall to Earth of the rock was actually seen by credible witnesses. Many famous meteorite falls, like the iron Siknote-Alin (February 12, 1947, Russia) had witnesses to prove the rocks' authenticity.
They're more accessible to private collectors than ever before
It used to be that space rocks were the sole preserve of major museums and ultra-wealthy collectors. But not anymore, mostly thanks to the power of the internet. Today, meteorites have become widely available - and relatively affordable.
You might expect space rocks to sell for tens-upon-tens of thousands. Yet recent auctions have thrown up a number of prized specimens at entry-level investment prices. For instance, a full slice of Moon rock was recently sold by Heritage for $11,350, while a Martian slice was priced at $14,500.
What's more, the internet has also expanded and eased communication among collectors from around the globe to share information, buy, sell and trade. Thanks to the web, the divide between affordable investments and the top auction blocks in London and New York is now easier than ever to cross.
Rocks linked to historic events can be more valuable
Like any kinds of collectibles, some are more historic than others. For instance, a meteorite may have been linked to an important past event...
A number of the Apollo space missions brought Moon rocks back with them, for instance. Or there are specimens that are valued in the history of meteorology, like the first pallasite which was discovered in Krasnojarsk, Siberia in 1749.
There's also the possibility that the rock in question has formed part of an important collection (great collectors include Harvey Nininger and Glenn Huss) or has belonged to a prominent researcher or hunter. These are particularly sought-after.
Also look out for vintage identification labels or hand painted collection numbers.
Obey the laws...
Which say that meteorite collecting is completely legal. That's despite the efforts of certain government bureaucrats, scientists or museums to discourage the hobby.
Also be aware that some scientists in meteorology show disdain for private collectors. Yet, in doing so, they conveniently overlook the fact that many private space rock collectors have played important and helpful roles in the advancement of meteorology.
As for the laws... In the United States, for example, meteorites are the property of the person upon whose land they fall or are found. Likewise, if the rock has fallen on federal lands then it would be considered the property of the government.
But if it's on your land, or you buy a meteorite from someone who found it on their own private land, or have the permission of the landowner, then the meteorite is legally yours.
Fragments, slices... And finding value in the aesthetics
"Natural space sculptures" is the term often given to meteorites, whose intriguing shapes are melted while travelling into our atmosphere at high velocity. And these "sculptural" pieces have sold for thousands on the world's top auction blocks.
For "sculptural specimens", iron meteorites in particular are far more likely to acquire striking surface characteristics in flight.
'Complete individuals' are usually more valuable. As the name suggests, they are meteorites - normally irons, stones and stony-irons - which have made the journey to earth without disintegrating. Broken-up specimens are known as fragments.
That said, broken fragments can offer striking glimpses of both the interior and exterior of a space rocks. Some are truly a sight to behold, and consequently more likely to appeal to bidders. Ditto slices and end cuts, which are dissected for display or laboratory purposes.
How to ensure the authenticity of your space rock
Firstly, buy from a reputable source. Meteorite collecting is a hobby of long standing and there are a number of dealers who have been in business for many years. Again, thanks to the internet, it is today possible for you to research them fully.
Of course, there are still frauds out there. As with any area of collecting, knowledge is power. A trusted expert advisor will very quickly be able to tell you the difference between a real space rock and a fake.
And - as with any area of collectibles - also beware the dubiousness of buying through eBay. There are plenty of stories of people blowtorching, tumble drying and smoothing the edges of terrestrial rocks they've found in their back garden. Unsurprisingly, fake specimens are rife on the popular auction website.
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