I received the image below in my email today. The sender had purchased a collection of 700 “minerals”, none of which had any labels or other identifying information. He wanted to have testing done to determine this iron meteorite’s identity. Unfortunately, all testing will do is determine which chemical group (for example: IAB-MG) this meteorite belongs to. Canyon Diablo, Campo del Cielo, and Odessa (all once commonly sold as large hand samples) are all IAB-MG irons. Chemical tests will not distinguish these from each other.
So this meteorite joins a very large group of meteorites who have lost their identity. This makes them almost useless to researchers, and also makes them less valuable to collectors. I see this much too often. Sometimes it is because a collector didn’t bother to label things, but not always.
A few years ago, we got a call from a brother and sister. Their father had died abruptly (and way too young – mid 50s). He had an extensive (and carefully documented) collection of meteorites. Unfortunately, the brother and sister had pulled everything out and separated the samples from their boxes and labels. Now they needed help trying to match things back up. We were able to match most, but not all of the samples to the inventory. The identified samples were put on ebay for a quick sale, and the unidentified samples were given to the lab (as opposed to being tossed). I am sure the collector would have been horrified to see what happened to his meteorites.
So, if you are a meteorite collector and you care about your collection, what should you do? First, think about what would happen if you died abruptly (car accident, drive-by shooting, etc.). What have you done with your collection? Hopefully, you have everything accompanied by a label. But, as labels can be lost, you should also have an inventory with images of each sample accompanied by all the information you have about that sample (where did you obtain it/from which dealer did you obtain it, when did you obtain it, how much did you pay for it, weight of sample, approx size of sample, etc.).
Now, who gets your collection when you’re gone? You’ve left it to you nephew. Does he want the collection? Or does he want the money he could get from selling your collection? Do you care if he sells your collection? If not, then no problem. If you want to keep your collection intact, you should think about leaving it to a meteorite repository (such as the Cascadia Meteorite Lab). You can find a list of official meteorite repositories on the Meteoritical Bulletin Database website (look for the green check mark next to the name–it means the repository has been approved by the Meteoritical Society). Contact the repository. Check them out to see if you’re happy with them. Give them a copy of your inventory and a copy of the relevant page(s) of your will. Let your lawyer and your heirs know that you intend to leave your samples to the repository.
Please, think about it. We don’t need more meteorites that lack identities.