Meteorite Market Analysis 2022
Posted by MikeG on Nov 16th 2022
First, before I dive into the analysis, I will put down some boundaries and conditions.
This analysis is based on my own personal experience as a collector/dealer. Some additional insights were taken from discussions I have had with a handful of fellow dealers who shall remain anonymous.
I do not present this article with the purpose of being authoritative. There will be mistakes and there will be statements that are considered hot takes or might not age well. The views expressed here are my own and do not necessarily represent the views of the other dealers I talked to. When I told these dealers what I was cooking up (this article), one of them wanted no part of it. LOL.
Finally, any dollar values I mention below are based upon my imperfect recollection of a time that is now over a decade in the past. I did not do a scientific accounting of the math or numbers.
Ok, let’s dive in and start with “Moon Rocks”...
One of the biggest changes has come with lunar meteorites. When I first started collecting back in the early aughts, the average retail price for lunar meteorite samples was $1000 per gram. This is about what the average collector would pay directly from a dealer or on eBay. Prices varied somewhat, and some lunars had a higher perceived value at the time (NWA 482 for example). There was no such thing as a cheap lunar unless you got lucky on a no-reserve eBay auction. This price held firm for a several years, but started to drop when large lunar finds were recovered from the Sahara with increasing frequency.
As with most things, supply and demand plays a big role in value. More and more lunar meteorites were being found, classified, sliced, and sold. In the span of a few short years (starting around 2015), dealers started dropping their prices to unload their growing inventories. Eager buyers snapped up the bargains as dealers raced to the bottom with their pricing. Now, as of this writing, the average market price for lunars seems to be about $100 per gram – give or take, depending on the type of lunar. It’s not unusual to see “ugly” lunars (irregular weathered fragments) selling for well under $100 per gram. So, in roughly a span of eight-ten years, lunars lost 90% of their market value. If a buyer bought a bunch of lunar back in the early 2000’s thinking it was a good investment, that decision is now looking regrettable. There are some exceptions for highly-aesthetic or “rare” lunars like NWA 5000, which still retain a larger portion of their original value, but they are the exception now and not the rule. As a collector, these are good times to be buying lunar meteorites because larger and more impressive specimens are now available without spending thousands of dollars.
As lunar has dropped, Mars has held most of it’s value. While literal tons of lunar meteorites have been recovered in recent years, the recovery rate for new Martians has remained largely steady in terms of total material brought to market. There are more Martian meteorites available to collectors now, but we have not seen multiple large recoveries of tens or hundreds of kilos like we have with lunars. While the market is flooded with lunar, it is not quite saturated with Martian yet. Retail prices for Martians seem to be hovering around $250 per gram. Just like with lunars, there are some rare Martian types that sell in $1000 per gram neighborhood – finds like “Black Beauty”, or historic falls like Zagami and Chassigny. Those high-dollar exceptions are more due to their rarity, especially with falls like Zagami which always hold more of their value over time regardless of type. Also like lunars, you might find a few bargain pieces of “ugly” or “common” shergottites priced closer to lunar values, but those are the exception. Generally speaking, if you purchased a bunch of Martian many years ago, chances are it has held considerably more of it’s resale value than lunar.
MOLDAVITE AND LDG :
Not a meteorite, but popular with meteorite collectors. In terms of monetary value, Moldavite has done the opposite of lunars. Up until about 2015, one could still find quality Moldavite specimens for $1/g. Finer aesthetic specimens fetched considerably higher prices in the $5-10/g range. Lower quality pieces (chipped, broken) could be purchased in bulk lots for less than a dollar per gram. Those days are long gone. If you bought a bunch of Moldavite ten or more years ago, you are sitting pretty right now. Your buck-a-gram Moldavite is now fetching $25-$50 per gram now. And again, just the opposite of lunar meteorites in terms of supply and demand. While new lunars continue to be recovered on a regular basis, the amount of new Moldavite is steadily dwindling as the deposits are mined out and picked clean. As the supply of Moldavite on the collector market continues to shrink, the price will continue to climb accordingly.
Much of what I just said about Moldavite also applies in some measure to the market for Libyan Desert Glass (LDG), although the price swings are less extreme. LDG that used to cost under a buck per gram is now going for double or triple that. Like Moldavite, the area of the Sahara where LDG is found is being tapped out with a much lower volume of newly-recovered material hitting the market. A wild-card factor here that cannot be ignored is the increasing interest and demand for moldavite from the New Age community, which doesn’t seem to have taken root in the LDG market to the same degree.
DEATH OF THE SO-CALLED “CHEAP IRON” :
Remember when you could buy a middle-grade lump of Campo del Cielo iron meteorite for ten cents a gram? It wasn’t that long ago – back around 2008 to 2010, you could go on any big dealer or auction site and find a selection of Campos in the bargain bin. Prettier examples with nicer shapes sold for around 25-50 cents per gram. This pricing structure was generally the same for Nantan iron meteorites as well. Nantan and Campo made up the bulk of “cheap irons” that one could acquire for nickels or dimes per gram.
As of this writing, it is not easy to find an iron meteorite for under a dollar per gram. You can still find the occasional Campo or Nantan for under $1/g, but you won’t find them for anywhere close to the old prices. For all but the ugliest lumps, expect to pay north of fifty-cents per gram and closer to the buck-a-gram new standard. Why?…...once again, supply and demand makes it’s presence felt. Argentina cracked down on the export of Campos. The Chinese are now actively involved in the meteorite market and Nantan isn’t being offered at bargain rates any more. Fewer cheap irons available and more buyers waiting to buy them creates a market where cheap irons no longer exist. There are still a few dealers who are sitting on sizable inventories of these irons, but they have read the writing on the wall and have adjusted their pricing accordingly.
OLD FALLS :
Witnessed falls have always maintained a higher value than comparable finds. Falls are of greater interest to both private collectors and scientists, thus they tend to fetch higher prices. Quantities of older falls are well known and established. The older a fall is, the less likely that new recoveries will be made, so the amount available on the collector market is stable. Large falls like Holbrook still produce new finds, although most of the recent recoveries are small, but this is more of an exception than the rule. You won’t see new recoveries of historic falls like Ensisheim or Murchison, so their prices are relatively high and stable with no danger of the market crashing later due to new recoveries (like lunar meteorites did).
Speaking of Murchison, let’s talk about this old Aussie fall for a moment. Prices on this fall have always been a bit higher because it was a carbonaceous CM2 type, which are far less common that ordinary chondrite falls. In the decades since the Murchison fall, a flood of CM2 types have been recovered from the Sahara. If you want a pretty CM2 that looks a lot like Murchison, you can get an NWA imposter for a small fraction of the price. Meanwhile, the price for Murchison has steadily climbed in recent years. Flash back (again) to 2008-2010, and you could find Murchison on the collector market for under $100 per gram. Small broken fragments often went for $50-$60 per gram.
Now, the going rate is close to $1000 per gram for smaller pieces of any type, even the little crumbs without crust. This is a price closer in line with Tagish Lake – a much newer (and fresher) carbonaceous fall with a smaller quantity of recovered material. So, again, the question is : Why? Of course, supply and demand plays a role, but in this case it is more complicated. The overall supply of Murchison available to dealers and collectors has remained the same because no new Murchison finds have been brought to market. What has grown is the pool of interested collectors willing to pay a premium for a piece of this historic and scientifically-interesting meteorite. Collectors love it and new collectors are being born every day. Another factor is the Australian government, which closely regulates the export of Australian meteorites. Existing dealer stocks of Murchison are dwindling and sellers have adjusted their pricing accordingly. You aren’t going to find any bargain Murchison these days.
NEWER FALLS :
There has always been an unspoken policy among dealers and hunters when it comes to fresh meteorite falls : don’t leave money on the table. In other words, if you have a fresh meteorite of a new meteorite fall, start out asking top dollar for it – just in case some eager buyer is willing to pay a premium to be the first kid on the block with the shiny new fall. There have always been fervent collectors of new witnessed falls who are willing to pay more for a new fall over some equally-interesting, but older fall. New things have that allure and sparkle to them, whether it’s a new car or a freshly-fallen meteorite. Later on, as the newness wears off and time passes, the price for meteorites from a recent fall will drop.
Let me give a couple of examples. First, the 2013 Chelyabinsk fall. Within the first two weeks after the fall, fresh specimens were selling for $40-$50 per gram. It didn’t matter if it was a whole crusted stone or an ugly broken fragment, the price was the same. Within a couple of months, that price had dropped to $20-$25 per gram. Now, nearly 10 years later, you can regularly find nice Chelyabinsk stones for $5 a gram.
The second example is the Osceola fall from 2016. Early specimens offered to collectors were priced around $150 per gram. Now, nearly seven years later, it is a difficult meteorite to find and still costs over $100 per gram, if you can locate any at all.
The difference between these two falls is obviously supply. Chelyabinsk captured world attention and was a spectacular “hammer” fall that damaged buildings and injured hundreds. It got a lot more press and attention than Osceola did. Osceola fell in the Florida swamp and barely made the local news before it was quickly forgotten by the general public. On it’s face, one would think that Chelyabinsk would be more expensive because it’s famous and has high collector demand. But, the Chelyabinsk fall produced thousands of meteorites that collectively weigh tons. The Osceola fall was just a handful of small stones weighing a combined one kilogram. There is a lot less Osceola available to collectors, regardless of demand. So, although fresh meteorite falls fetch a premium, that price will go down over time if sufficient material is available to meet collector demand.
What has changed in recent years is the amount that new fall premium demands. The unspoken going rate for freshly fallen ordinary chondrites in the US has gone from about $50 per gram to about $250 per gram. Falls that are rare types and/or hammers can climb to nearly $1000 per gram. One expects hammer falls or rare types to be costly, but some random fall in the middle of nowhere that is a common type with no remarkable circumstances surrounding the fall?
In my opinion, this dramatic increase in new fall prices is due to a combination of factors in addition to the usual supply and demand. One, we are seeing the pressure of overall economic inflation in society. Everything has become more expensive in recent years, including rents, fuel, and food. Meteorites are no different. The hunters and dealers need to make a profit and costs are increasing. It’s not cheap to chase a meteorite fall. You have to buy plane tickets, rental car, hotel room, fuel, and food. Dealers are paying higher wholesale prices from hunters/finders. So that extra cost is passed down the ladder to the collector.
Secondly, interest in meteorite collecting has been increasing and the public is more aware of meteorites as a collectible. The number of collectors (and dealers) has increased steadily in recent years. More buyers are competing for a finite supply of material, so dealers raise their prices accordingly.
Thirdly, and this is a hot take for some, but dealer greed cannot be ignored. There seems to be a climate of profiteering thriving in some sectors of the meteorite trade. A lot of new faces are acting as dealers, and some of these people are more interested in profit than serving the community of collectors. They pay lip service to the science and special nature of meteorites, but their primary focus is making as much money as possible, as quickly as possible. Placing such a high priority on profit is the kind of behavior one would expect from a big corporation, not some guy selling meteorites from a laptop on the kitchen table. It’s not illegal, but is it ethical? That is a debate for another venue and another time.
CHINA ENTERS THE MARKET IN FORCE :
The last point about meteorite profiteering is a good time to transition to our next point of analysis : China.
Meteoritics and planetary science has always thrived inside of China, but Chinese involvement with the retail aspect of meteorites was largely limited to native examples like Nantan. In recent years, the Chinese have made significant inroads into the global meteorite collector market. On both the wholesale and retail ends of the market, they are increasingly active. They are also becoming more involved with hunting and classifications in areas outside of China, including the Sahara. On the upside, this increased activity contributes to the science of meteoritics by growing the collective knowledge base through classifications and the associated scientific research. On the downside, we have seen an exponential growth in commercial dealers who have a profiteering mindset.
In addition to the overall growth in the Chinese market, we have seen a corresponding increase in fraud. Fake specimens, altered specimens, and cheap trinkets are flooding the market from the Far East. China has always been a hotbed of fake fossils and minerals, and now you can add meteorites to that dubious distinction. There is a history of this kind of behavior going back to fossils, minerals, and amber. The Chinese have been buying up large quantities of fossil amber for many years to melt it down and mold trinkets or make varnish. We are seeing something similar happen now with meteorites (mass produced trinkets or low quality trade specimens). Some Western dealers are jumping on this bandwagon by purchasing this stuff wholesale and flipping it for a quick profit without a single thought towards what they are encouraging and the damage it is doing to the integrity of the meteorite market.
MERCURY METEORITE WHERE ARE YOU?
Remember when NWA 2999 (angrite) ignited speculation that it might originate from the planet Mercury? Suddenly every NWA 2999 specimen was pitched as “Possible Mercury Meteorite?” - as if framing the marketing hype in the form of a question somehow made it more plausible. Flash forward a few years to ungrouped achondrite NWA 7325 with it’s distinctive green fusion crust. The Mercury hype started anew. Why were these meteorites marketed as Mercury meteorites? Well, it’s fairly simple. Dealers got wind of a scientific paper that suggested that a particular meteorite might be from Mercury because studies did not rule it out, so they decided to juice up their sales by passing along the Mercury speculation into their marketing language. It worked. Lots of buyers snapped up these meteorites while hoping future research might definitively tie them to Mercury. In the years since, additional research as been done and the jury remains out. There is still no definitive link between any meteorite and Mercury.
You can bet that if future research does confirm a Mercury origin for any of these meteorites, the dealers will be shouting it from the rooftops. In the meantime, be cautious with any specimen that is marketed as being from Mercury. I have a rock in my driveway that might be from Pluto, because science has not ruled it out.
THE FUTURE OF THE MARKET :
I will now put on my prognostication hat and attempt to glimpse into the future. What might collector expect to see in the coming years? Well, if I could do this with any degree of reasonable accuracy, I would be a wealthy man. Some things can be foreseen, like the steady climb in prices for Moldavite and LDG – those are dictated directly by supply and demand. I had seen the lunar price-drop coming for years because more and more lunars were being recovered and classified : it was only a matter of time before the market became flooded. What was harder to foresee was wildcards like the Chinese bum-rushing the market and new falls commanding unheard-of prices. Despite the difficulties of predicting the future, an astute observer can keep their proverbial ear to the ground to discern what may be approaching in the distance.
One thing that seems inevitable is the flattening out of the planetary meteorite market that will follow in the footsteps of what happened to Vestans. As little as fifteen years ago, almost any Vestan meteorite commanded a premium. Eucrites, howardites, and diogenites used to fetch $50 a gram regularly. As hundreds of Vestans were recovered over time, unusual examples would surface that might fetch a premium (remember when “olivine diogenite” was a thing?), but the overall trend in pricing was downwards. After a few dump trucks full of HED meteorites were hauled out of the Sahara, they have settled around $5/g and have largely stayed there across the board.
You might still see older HED’s offered at higher prices, but these are generally from sellers who paid a premium for their material years ago and are reluctant to sell their specimens at a loss. Somebody who paid $40/g for a pretty howardite fifteen or twenty years ago is not going to be in a hurry to sell their piece because the going market rate has dropped to $5/g. They’ll either keep their specimen, or offer it at a high price and just let it wait for the right buyer to come along eventually. Now we are seeing something similar happen with lunars and martians. It’s taking a little longer to happen with martians, but the overall trend is in the direction of cheaper planetaries. I wouldn’t be surprised to the see the prices eventually settle in the $25 per gram at retail. Wholesale prices are already there (or lower), depending on who you know. Unless the current rate of recoveries dramatically slows down, expect to see a market where everyone can own a decent-sized planetary for under a hundred bucks. It might take a while yet, but I think it’s coming.
If I had to pick something that will maintain it’s interest, allure, and financial value over time, it would be ungrouped meteorites. Why? Each unpaired ungrouped meteorite is a type unto itself. It’s a one off, an oddity, and a curiosity. They often look different than most meteorites or have unusual features that catch the eye. In chemistry and composition, they are of great interest to researchers and are often studied. Because they are the subject of increased scientific interest, they are frequently the subject of research papers published in peer-reviewed journals.
One day you might wake up and see a click-bait headline in your news feed that says a meteorite from Mercury (or some such thing) has been discovered and suddenly the monetary value of your obscure ungrouped meteorite has just multiplied significantly. At worst, unless a paired find is discovered, your ungrouped meteorite (Mercury or not) will retain it’s value because it is unique and the amount available to collectors will remain static.
ONLINE MARKETPLACES :
In the early aughts, the meteorite collector market consisted of snailmail mailing lists, in-person rock shows, eBay, the Meteorite Central Mailing List, and a small handful of dealer websites like Eric Twelker’s Meteorite Market.
Now, snailmail mailing lists are all but dead, with Blaine Reed being the last holdout. In-person rock shows are still a thing (Tucson, Denver, etc), but they are still mostly for locals or monied dealers who can afford to travel. Ebay has transformed dramatically. At one time, long ago, eBay was a thriving venue for meteorite collectors to get good deals. Now, it’s a minefield of fraud and Buy-It-Now listings with top-dollar asking prices. Ebay as a venue manager has no interest in policing their market for fakes, forgeries, and just plain crazy listings. Bogus meteorites and moldavite are common, and the so-called “good deals” are getting a lot harder to find. Legit good deals get snapped up within minutes of being posted, so if you don’t have email alerts set up, you better watch the listings closely and frequently to catch those elusive good deals that everybody else is waiting for. Combine this with the fact that anybody with a smartphone and a credit card can be a “dealer” now, and you get a marketplace where reliable sources are hard to identify and good deals hard to come by.
No-reserve auctions and .99 cent auctions used to be a big thing and that meant a bidder could get lucky and score an occasional great deal. Auctions are a rarity now, so even if you can find a dealer who starts the bidding at .99 cents with no reserve, the very existence of such an auction draws a ton of attention and the bidding is almost guaranteed to climb into the range of full-retail prices or beyond. My advice with eBay is : know your seller, be wary of fakes, and don’t get sucked into a bidding war and end up paying a higher price than you’d pay somewhere else.
Let’s acknowledge the 900-pound gorilla in the room : Facebook and social media. My opinion of Facebook would be the subject of another article entirely. Suffice to say, I don’t use Facebook and I do not recommend it to others. The hey-day of meteorites on Facebook ended back around 2012-2013, so it’s a place of declining returns now for collectors and dealers. Algorithms decide who is going to see what and when. Facebook as a business has destroyed independent venues, mailing lists, and web forums. Many new dealers and wholesalers have popped up there and it’s impossible to account for them all. Everybody is a hunter, dealer, or middle-man and it’s hard to know who to trust in the long run. Today’s hot dealer might be next year’s ghost. It’s a big “Smiley Glad-Hands” affair where everybody is your best pal and Mark Zuckerberg laughs all the way to the bank with your privacy, data, and dignity. Sage advice for eBay also applies to social media : know your seller and be wary of scammers.
Before social media was a thing, the Meteorite Central Mailing List was the place to be for dealers and collectors. It was a thriving watering hole of news, discussion, and trading. Any event of note or new meteorite of interest would surface there first before it trickled out into the larger market. It was where you made contacts, found great deals, and got solid information about meteorite science. On an average day, you might encounter a reputable meteorite scientist discussing chondrule formation, reliable dealers announcing their latest offers, and newbie collectors asking questions and getting helpful answers. Today, the Meteorite List is still all of those things, but to a much reduced degree because social media (mostly Facebook) has sucked the life out of it. If not for the List admin’s dedication and hard work (thanks Art!), it would have quietly vanished into obscurity along with Yahoo Groups and independent web forums that social media murdered for profit. Scientists still post there, but it’s mostly to announce seminars and conferences, with little actual discussion happening. Dealers still post occasional offerings there, but they are fewer and farther between. Collectors still wander in and ask questions, but it’s a rare sight now. In summary, the Meteorite List is still a valuable resource, but it’s on life-support as social media continues to siphon away all of the traffic and attention.
WordPress, Shopify, and eCommerce websites have become a common occurrence now. It’s easier than ever to pay $20-$50 per month and get a turn-key website to sell meteorites. Upload your pictures, type out some text, and click a few buttons and you are up and running. A lot of the action quietly takes place on these websites now (*cough cough*) and they aren’t hard to find. A couple of Google searches or some browsing on social media will yield links to dealer websites where deals might be found. Many years ago, it was easy to count these websites. There were maybe ten or fifteen big dealers and a handful of wannabes with crude websites built with HTML. Now, everybody has a flashy and professional-looking website stocked with space rocks. It’s a lot harder to keep track of now, with new dealers showing up almost weekly, and old dealers falling off the face of the Earth for reasons unknown.
Lastly, a brief word about other online venues where one might see meteorites for sale. Sometimes you will see a thrift store, outlet store, classified ad, or small auction venue that does not typically offer meteorites for sale, but a space rock may occasionally appear amongst the other mundane offerings of collectibles, antiques, estate finds, etc. More often than not, the meteorites for sale in these venues will realize prices well above the going market rate. In other words, you will often overpay. A store or auction site that typically deals in antiques or vintage ephemera may receive a donated rock collection and decide to sell it’s contents. Such sellers are usually not very knowledgeable about things like meteorites, which is an obscure (for many) niche collectible. The seller might not be that familiar with space rocks and the target audience for that venue might be of similar disposition. A bidding war ensues over the sheer novelty of a meteorite being offered by antique or coin dealers. I’ve seen it happen. I recently saw a $5 example of NWA 869 sell on an online thrift store auction for $100. Another thing to keep in mind is the ability of the seller to properly identify, authenticate, and valuate the meteorite they are selling. An antique dealer who specializes in vintage toys, or a pawn shop website might not be the best judge of meteorites and they might unknowingly pass along a bogus rock or a mislabeled specimen. This doesn’t mean you can’t luck up on a good deal in this way, it just means that you should exercise increased caution when dealing with these kinds of sources.
SUMMARY OF TRENDS :
Moldavite is way up.
New falls are way up.
Sikhote Alin is way up.
Murchison is way up.
Quality unclassified NWA meteorites (bulk or singles) are way up.
NWA ungrouped meteorites are up (chondrite, achondrite, iron, pallasite)
Unclassified NWA meteorites (bulk lots or individuals) are up.
Libyan Desert Glass is up.
Campo del Cielo is up.
Almost all irons are up (Gibeon, Canyon Diablo, etc)
Historic falls have remained steady or gone up.
Tektites and Impactites are steady.
Pallasites are steady, but Sericho is cheap.
NWA (also Oman) common chondrites are down.
Vestans are down.
Martian is down a little.
Lunar is way down.