April 12, 2006

Meteorites Get High Prices at Art Sale

NEW YORK -- A meteorite believed to have come from an asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter sold for $93,000 at an auction of rare space sculptures.

The 355-pound chunk of iron, thousands of years old and discovered in the Campo del Cielo crater field in Argentina, was one of 10 meteorites that went for high prices at a Bonhams' New York natural history auction.

The pristine meteorite, known as "Valley of the Sky," was purchased Tuesday by a private collector in the United States who bid by phone and plans to display it as a work of art, said Thomas Lindgren, acting director of the natural history division for Bonhams auction house.

"This is art, not from man, but from outer space," Lindgren said. The auction house had expected it to sell for between $40,000 and $50,000.

"He was absolutely ecstatic," Lindgren said of the buyer. "There was no way he was going to walk away without it."

The high bids reflect the soaring interest in meteorites not just for their scientific value but also their natural beauty. Lindgren said the bids for the space rocks come mainly from private art collectors and interior home designers.

"They have found their place in the art marketplace," Lindgren said.

The meteorites came from the Macovich Collection, considered the finest collection of aesthetic meteorites in the world. Most sold above their estimated pre-auction value.

A two-gram piece of the Moon sold for $4,250, and a space rock with an unique, naturally formed hole that was found in Africa went for $42,000, nearly twice the pre-sale estimate. The second highest price for a meteorite at the auction was for one with naturally occurring glittering gemstones. It sold for $11,950, well above its estimate of $3,200.

One of the auction's featured extraterrestrial items was a tiny slice from the Willamette meteorite, the crown jewel of meteorites. The piece sold for $12,000.

The Willamette is North America's largest meteorite, deposited by the last ice age and discovered in Oregon in 1902. The entire 15.5 ton Willamette was purchased in 1905 by Mrs. William E. Dodge for $26,000 and donated to the American Museum of Natural History in New York where it is now on display.

The prices of the meteorites include the actual purchase price plus a 19.5 percent purchaser's premium paid to the auction house.