The Collections of Darryl Pitt

New Yorker Darryl Pitt became fascinated with meteorites at the tender age of 13 on encountering a 1.2km diameter crater in Arizona (often known simply as Meteor Crater) and being told that it was likely to have been caused by one.

Soon after, he bought his first meteorite from that same Canyon Diablo impact - scarcely believing that such objects were simply available for individuals to buy - which he owns still.

Pitt is now curator of the Macovich collection, regarded as unequalled amongst collections of aesthetic iron-based meteorites such as octahedrites, ataxites and pallasites. These are much rarer than their rockier counterparts.

Pitt's responsibilities include passing on meteorites for sale at major auction houses such as Heritage Auction Galleries and Bonhams, recently including a spectacular piece at an I M Chait auction. Pitt and the Macovich collection were at the earliest Natural History themed auctions in the 1990s.

iron meteorite
Swedish iron octahedrite from I M Chait auctions
(Click to enlarge)


In May 1998, the Macovich collection was present at a sale run by Phillips auctioneers in New York and the American Museum of Natural History paid what remains a record price for a slice of meteorite: $137,000.

The next month, the Macovich collection also sold an 18 pound iron meteorite in San Francisco for $97,500, whilst in Chicago, the collection sold a gram of rock from Mars, previously held by the Natural History Museum in London, for $16,000. This was over a thousand times the price per gram of gold and achieved a place in the Guinness Book of Records.

Pitt by this stage had already created the Mars Cube: a 2.5 inch transparent cube containing a tiny fragment of the Zagami Martian meteorite. It was a big hit and thousands of them were sold.

Despite this success - and meteorite collecting has been boosted immeasurably by press coverage of these sales - Pitt started as and remains a collector. A photographer by training, he has always concentrated on particularly aesthetic or unusual pieces.

When African dealers noticed that he was picking out very specific pieces out of those they had on offer, they wanted to charge more for them. Pitt negotiated that he would pay the same price as before but buy other pieces as well, and then he simply sold on the stock he didn't want, becoming a dealer as a result.

"I had to give up some of the most visually compelling meteorites if I was going to inspire others to jump on this train," Pitt once told Meteorite-Times Magazine.

"I thought of it as a necessary sacrifice. Sure, I made money, but I really miss a few of these meteorites. And the value of the best of the specimens will continue to escalate far more quickly than the rest of the meteorite market as the appeal of such specimens is to a broader audience."

Gibeon meteorite
Macovich Gibeon meteorite to be sold next year


Nevertheless, Pitt's collection boasts meteorites from hundreds of sources - mostly in storage at any given time, but given an airing on a rotational basis.

Besides, being part of the early auctions allowed him to see celebrities joining the meteorite collector ranks. The 1998 films Deep Impact and Armageddon spiked interest in other-worldly materials and the likes of Steven Spielberg, Jerry Brückheimer and Bruce Willis (who starred in Armageddon) all bought pieces.

It must also be satisfying that meteorites presented for viewing or sale will often have "...from the Macovich collection" tagged on as a mark of quality.

Thanks to people like Pitt, meteorites are increasingly appreciated, both as pieces with the romance of being from outside our world, and potentially as beautiful objects too.

Meteorite image: Macovich collection/I M Chait auctions


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